On The Culture of Duplicity
Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth — William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”
The whole world is a form of truth. — Rumi, Green Ears
Only a hair divides the false from the true — Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat
In our world error is continually the handmaid and pathfinder of Truth; for error is really a half-truth that stumbles because of its limitations; often it is Truth that wears a disguise in order to arrive unobserved near to its goal. Well, if it could always be, as it has been in the great period we are leaving, the faithful handmaid, a half-truth and not a reckless and presumptuous aberration. — Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine
Our souls seem to be starved for truth at our “end of history” where duplicitous speech and conduct has become the norm. The “new normal” of our time — the very “matrix” of our present being in Late Modernity, as it were — is the normalisation of a culture of duplicity. The culture of duplicity — of “noble lie” politics, “truthiness”, and perception management — is also what Arthur Herzog referred to in an earlier book title as The B.S. Factor: The Theory and Practice of Faking it in America (and not just in America either) — the Age of Bullshit.
“Duplicity” is the more general term for all forms of double-dealing and the forked-tongue — (or the “worm-tongue”, as Tolkein put it in Lord of the Rings). I’ve previously described these forms of duplicity as our own current “four riders of the Apocalypse” identified by name as Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. Duplicity as a way of life , as Jean Gebser suggested, is perhaps a consequence of “the inner division of contemporary man who, as a result of his one-sided, rational orientation, thinks only in dualisms.”
By contrast, Blake, Rumi, Khayyam, and Aurobindo quoted above insist that truth and falsehood are not, strictly speaking, opposites. Falsehood or error is a perverted or inverted image of truth, but which lacks the essence or fullness or vivifying power of realised truth. We tend to treat truth and fact as synonymous. It ain’t necessarily so. There is a great deal of difference between the “truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter”, and this distinction makes all the difference, as Aurobindo put it, whether the ostensible “facts of the matter” serve as a faithful handmaid to truth or become instead “a reckless and presumptuous aberration” that presumes to be the entirety of truth (and becomes by this presumption, therefore, an aberrant falsehood). To speak of a “culture of duplicity” at all (or a “culture of lying” as Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne once put it) is to speak not just of error, then, but of the aberrant and the deviant.
This issue is equally the kernel of Nietzsche’s important essay “On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense“, which is well worth reading carefully. I emphasise the word “carefully” because I’ve found that Nietzsche is very often completely misunderstood and misrepresented in his views on the question of truth and falsehood. Those who, as Gebser asserts, “think only in dualisms” will, and invariably do, mistake and distort Nietzsche’s meaning completely. Nietzsche did not say there is no truth. That would be a self-contradiction. Nowhere in this essay does he say that at all. But once you draw the essay into relation with the quotes from Blake, Rumi, Khayyam, and Aurobindo, the gist of Nietzsche’s meaning should be patently clear. Nietzsche draws a distinction between the intellectual and the intuitive, and that is also the parallel we are speaking of when we distinguish between the factual and the truthful.
This distinction between the intellect and the intuitive (or Blake’s “Imagination”) curiously parallels Gebser’s objection to our aberrant “dualism”, as well as the Seth material we have been dealing with hitherto — an ego consciousness which has now lost connection with its “roots” in the intuitive.
Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines. Man’s “unconscious” knowledge is becoming more and more consciously apparent. This will be done under and with the direction of an enlightened and expanding egotistical awareness, that can organize the hereto neglected knowledge–or it will be done at the expense of the reasoning intellect, leading to a rebirth of superstition, chaos, and the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge.
If you compare Nietzsche’s essay with the full quote from Seth, they are actually addressing the same issue. The culture of duplicity is a consequence of the ego consciousness having lost consciousness of a deeper connection with its authentic roots, and which now mistakes fact for truth, the phenomenal for the substantial, the image for the essence, the representation for the reality. The ego consciousness thus acts as a distorting or perverting lens, which is the aberrancy of the narcissistic condition.
The proximity of the false to the true we have already addressed, to some extent, in the Biblical images of the serpent’s tongue as forked and the tongue of Christ as a “two-edged sword”. It is, indeed, a curious thing how the first book of the Bible opens with the serpent’s tongue and the last book of the Bible closes with the tongue of Christ depicted as a two-edged sword. It is as if the two books, Genesis and Revelation, bookend the entire Biblical narrative and thus serve to trace the spiritual resolution of the tongue of self-contradiction in the tongue of the unity of the paradoxical. Duplicity and duality are not the same, even though they may be confused as such, for as it is said “Satan is the ape of God” — a mimic, that is, and the forked-tongue may superficially resemble the tongue as “two-edged sword”.
In these contrasting images of the tongue — of speech — is a very fine example and confirmation of Blake, Rumi, Khayyam, and Aurobindo, and of how the duplicitous and false can acquire the appearance of “truthiness” even though it is actually an offense against all truth and thoroughly aberrant. For how many fail to understand that the forked-tongue which is self-contradiction, dualism, and the disintegrate condition, is not the same as the tongue depicted as “two-edged sword”, which is the unity of opposites through the integrating tongue? Superficially they are similar, but essentially they are as unalike as the disintegrate and the integral, the incoherent and the coherent.
A culture of duplicity is a culture that has become divided against itself in self-contradiction, and which accelerates its own demise by taking double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and the inevitable double-bind, as the human norm, and not as being symptoms of a diseased and aberrant state.