The Private-Public Divide

It’s no news to most of us that the public record is stilted, pretentious, ceremonial, sterile, and ultimately false. When we hear a public figure speak in the news media, we know that what she is saying was written by a speechwriter and then vetted by lawyers. But, although news media reports themselves are not written by speechwriters (except insofar as that’s what news writers are), they have that same taint of vacuous falseness about them. So do statements made by lawyers and judges at a public trial or other on-record legal proceeding, such as a cross-examination on an affidavit. Very often, you also find movies and TV shows promoting socially required banalities, and sometimes you catch WordPress bloggers parroting socially prescribed tropes. Meanwhile, reality happens behind the scenes, off the public record, in the back rooms and around the dinner tables of the world, where few of us ever find out about it unless we’re participating. Private speech is down-to-earth, realistic, effective, fertile and ultimately true. Most of us already know that. We know that reality happens behind the scenes, while what gets publicized is a false and misleading coverup of what’s really going on.

What’s ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the hegemony of critical realism. This type of realism is based on one central claim: that there is a difference between superficial appearance and an underlying substratum constituting reality. This is the true foundation of science–not the scientific method, but the underlying belief that what presents itself to us is ultimately a false appearance that requires digging into in order to unearth what’s really going on. Although as old as thinking itself, this view became dominant during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and it has reshaped the human world; so that, these days, everything we lay eyes on is necessarily a false appearance, and the true reality is hidden. It’s entirely responsible for the distinction between public and private speech.

Is this the way people really want to live? I doubt it. If we had the choice, we’d live in a world in which things were exactly what they seemed to be, so that we could give our weary minds a rest from constant suspicion. But I don’t know whether anything can be done about it any more. Time is entirely linear, so that nothing ever repeats itself, and the present does always stand on the shoulders of the past. Now that we’ve let the demon of critical realism out of the bottle and allowed it to achieve world domination, it would take extreme effort and a long time to rehabilitate the very nature of our perspectives and the very nature of the human world itself.

NOTE: This is a repost.

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