Zen of Facticity: Bull, Ox or Otherwise?


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Herding Facts and Their Alternatives in a Post-Truth-Era


27 Mar 2017 – In a post-truth period in which the very nature of facts has been called into question — challenged as they are by alternative facts — there is a case for exploring this condition by every means possible. Clearly there are implications for both global governance and how individuals can now best navigate daily life and its opportunities — whether they prefer to indulge in the reality of “facts” or the surreality of “imagination”.

The following exercise follows from the recommendation of Johan Galtung regarding the need to experiment with Forms of Presentation — made in the context of the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development Project (GPID) of the United Nations University, as variously discussed separately (Forms of Presentation and the Future of Comprehension, 1984).

The exercise interrelates implications from several disparate frameworks — deliberately exploiting poetic licence and metaphor. It was inspired by the manner in which “alternative facts” can readily be defined as “bull” in popular jargon — or even more explicitly, as distinctively clarified by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt (On Bullshit, 2005; On Truth, 2006). This had evoked the need to derive new insights from “bullfighting”, metaphorically understood (Viable Global Governance through Bullfighting: challenge of transcendence, 2009).

Any response to “bull” also calls for recognition of the centuries of insight derived from the successive phases in the evolution of insight, as frequently depicted in Zen Buddhism by a traditional set of Ten Bulls. Rather than as a “bull”, of potential relevance is the extent to which the animal is ambiguously identified as an “ox” — through a set of 10 “ox-herding” pictures, each with a brief commentary (cf D. T. Suzuki; Kubota Ji’un, Ten Ox-herding Pictures with the Verses Composed by Kakuan Zenji, 1996).

The bull/ox ambiguity offers an interesting implication for the manner in which the dangers of the bull in the chaotic reality of the wild may be tamed and domesticated through a cognitive form of “castration” (“emasculation“) — as with other truths of reality held to be dangerous. The threat of any such animal also recalls the famous comment by John Maynard Keynes regarding the challenge of “animal spirits“. As noted, for example, by Robert Shiller (Animal Spirits Depend on Trust, Wall Street Journal, 27 January 2009; George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits: how human psychology drives the economy, and why it matters for global capitalism, 2008).

There is then of course the paradox as to the appropriateness of dealing with chaotic wildness forms of “domestication”, recalling the argument of Aldous Huxley:

To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet… Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. (The Doors of Perception, 1954)

Donald Trump is now upheld as an exemplar of chaos, perhaps to be recognized as corresponding to the trickster archetype (Coyote, Loki, etc), as discussed separately (Identity in question via Trump: Narcissus vs Loki? 2016). The question here is whether the stages and possibilities of individual or collective insight (into the nature of facts and evidence) can be fruitfully reframed in relation to imaginative engagements with the surreal and with “bull” — as an effective strategic response.

The surreal could be characterized by the many mutually contradictory declarations of politics, religions and the sciences, with their “creative” approaches to concrete proof in which people are insistingly called upon to believe. These are echoed by insights into the social construction of reality, and more especially through use of “fiat”, as with the fiat money now characterized by previously deprecated quantitative easing.

More specific use of the Zen 10-bull framework was previously made with respect to degrees of comprehension in governance of the global problematique (Progressive integration of the shadow of non-self-reflexivity in Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007).

In implying degrees of self-reference here, the use below of the 10-bull framework, is further elaborated by the device of recursively embedding the cognitive challenges of each into each. Each of the 10 phases then constrains and colours understandings of the other 10 phases within that embedding — making a potential set of 100 distinctions. However, rather than a linear sequence of “stages”, of greater potential relevance are the dynamics between their emergence and co-existence in practice — and how these might be understood in the present rather than in the hypothetical future. Hence the use of “phases”.

The pattern as a whole then offers a fruitful means of exploring the variety of possible understandings of “fact”, “existence” and credible “proof”, notably as addressed by the philosophical concerns with facticity. As might be expected, the latter has a multiplicity of meanings from “factuality” and “contingency” to the intractable conditions of human existence. The approach here is necessarily only suggestive and exploratory — without any claim to definitive closure. Rather it could usefully evoke discussion as to whether the additional articulations are appropriately made or could be more meaningfully distributed otherwise.

The primary concern is how to engage with “bull” in this period, thereby calling into question the currently preferred use of fighting metaphors in response to Donald Trump, typical of “bull fighting” (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998).

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