Category Archives: truth (indubitable)

My hand shakes; I want to interrupt, to shout

Zeven Hoofdzonden (detail), attr. Jheronimus Bosch, c. 1485 or after. Museo del Prado

Zeven Hoofdzonden (detail), attr. Jheronimus Bosch, c. 1485 or after. Museo del Prado

Dogmatism, writes Dalrymple,

is the reaction of those who want to know best but suspect that the metaphysical foundations of their supposed knowledge are shaky. Ambiguity disturbs them: how can there be rational criticism founded on argument and evidence, when at the same time there is no disputing taste? The solution to the tension is to stand behind a stockade of indubitable truth.

The search for certainty

is much more important than the search for truth. I know a man, an eminent writer, who has changed his opinion many times in his long life, often by 180°, but never admits to having done so. He has held every successive opinion with angry intransigence. Challenges by people of another opinion make him turn red with rage: they do not merely differ from him in opinion, they are attacking him personally. It is not true that bigotry is the exclusive province of the ignorant and stupid; there is the clever and well-informed variety, the more dangerous because the less easily recognised.

Dalrymple does not exclude himself.

When someone expresses an opinion that is very different from my own, I often feel a mounting tension, though the subject may be one that, if I am honest with myself, is of little importance or consequence to me. Certainly it cannot harm me that someone thinks differently from me about it; yet my heart begins to beat wildly, and I am sure that my blood pressure has risen. I feel an excitation, I tell myself to keep calm but I don’t succeed; my hand shakes; I want to interrupt, to shout. I am not defending truth, but my opinion. Generally I succeed in controlling myself, but occasionally I do not, especially when my interlocutor is young. I immediately feel ashamed of myself afterwards; I even feel ashamed that, at my age, I am still so little capable of detachment.

Academic vacuity can go no further

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 07.54.50Even at his most opaque, writes Dalrymple, one sometimes glimpses in Jürgen Habermas

a meaning, or a connotation, as one might glimpse a giant panda in a bamboo forest. It is this dialectic between incomprehensibility and meaning that has given him a reputation for profundity. His thoughts lie too deep for words, and the fault lies with us, not with him.

Habermas

tries to squeeze significance out of truisms, as a constipated man tries to squeeze stools out of a reluctant colon.

Compared with reading a Habermas book, says Dalrymple,

going to the dentist is a pleasant experience.

Habermas is held in high esteem, which is itself

of sociological and psychological interest. Audiences have been known almost to swoon at his Teutonically polysyllabic vaticinations.

Habermas, Dalrymple points out, is

largely incomprehensible; where he is comprehensible, he is either banal or wrong, or both. He is often funny, but not intentionally.

Habermas has made a career

as a torturer of language,

yet underlying his platitudinous but mistaken verbiage

is something sinister: the communist, fascist and Nazi dream of the abolition of politics, in favour of mere administrative decision-making by a supposedly enlightened élite, armed with indubitable truth from which their decisions follow syllogistically.

Dalrymple adapts Burke slightly:

In the groves of Habermas’s academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.