Is It True that There Is No Such Thing as Truth?

Thus Spake Zarathustra
Thus Spake Zarathustra

After a day or two among the people of one village he visited, the prophet Zarathustra began to see that they were a tight-knit community where everyone took an interest in what others were doing and readily offered help when it was needed. But as a consequence of this getting along, they had all come to think and behave similarly and there was little of diversity to be seen. So that day he addressed them thus: “O my people, don’t you know that diversity is the salt of the earth. As it is written, you may talk in the tongues of men and angels but if you have not diversity, the sound you make is no more than the drone of a bagpipe or the fart of a dog which has gorged itself on raw meat, whereas with diversity the sounds combine to make a symphony. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” At this the people looked confused for they were unaware of the narrowness that encompassed their minds and hearts, but one small boy in the crowd piped up: “Yes, I know what you mean,” he enthused. “I have dog like that too.” “Well,” retorted the prophet grudgingly, “if people do not have ears to hear and eyes to see, at least they have noses to smell.” And with that he dusted off his feet and went on to the next village, where again a crowd quickly gathered because, it seemed, the preacher’s reputation had gone before him.

But not all in this village were as well-disposed towards the prophet and some there were who would conspire against him. This worried the prophet little since one will always be opposed by those concerned to defend their privilege, not least those who believe themselves not to be in possession of any. “O my people, don’t you know that diversity is the salt of the earth.” he began again. “Can I put it on my chips then?” piped up a voice from the crowd. “I am trying to help you understand a deeper truth,” came back the admonition.

“But what is truth?” asked the heckler. “There is no such thing as truth,” replied Zarathustra instinctively. “If there had been I would have told you so.” “How then can we believe you,” retorted the heckler, with a sneer. At this the crowd rose up against the heckler and with one voice declaimed him: “Cast out the unbeliever! He has no place in our midst.” But Zarathustra chastised them for their precipitousness: “Why do you speak so hastily to this person, making use of a male third person pronoun, when you have not yet ascertained if he is transgender? Let zhe who is without gender cast the first stone.” And the crowd murmured to themselves but could not answer him. So the heckler, emboldened, persisted in his challenge to Zarathustra.

“We had a fellow round only last week, banging on about the need to celebrate diversity.” “As you should,” averred the preacher. “But how should we celebrate diversity? Put candles on a diversity cake? Give diversity presents?” “Well, no…,” the prophet struggled to come up with a concrete proposal as to what he meant: “It is more of an attitude than something you do. It is about having respect for those oppressed by the privileged classes.” “I see, so you are referring then to highbrow folks like you having respect for common villagers like us, whom you oppress by telling us how to behave?” The preacher, somewhat piqued, retorted “The celebration of diversity is always a liberation not an oppression. Especially,” he added, “when race and ethnicity are concerned.” He was much relieved when his interlocutor here changed tack.

“On that subject I have another question. Is it true that a behaviour which is perceived to be racist becomes racist by that token, whatever the intent of the speaker?” “You know that is true,” replied Zarathustra confidently, “as surely as you know there is no such thing as truth.” The heckler, encouraged, continued: “So when a Labour Party activist causes offence to Jews by condemning Zionism as a racist ideology, arguing that this is her perception, which is the racist?” “Clearly both are,” came the immediate reply.

But the heckler was a subtil fellow and had laid a trap, since he knew there were both Labour Party activists and members of the Jewish community in the crowd, who immediately set upon one another with indignant outbursts of “How dare you suggest that I am a racist.” So the heckler slipped away, which caused some relief to Zarathustra because, although there is no such thing as truth, the heckler had come quite close to exposing one on that occasion.

Disclaimer: references to Zarathustra in the above are an allusion to the eponymous protagonist of Friedrich Nietzche’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not to the Iranian religious reformer and prophet, traditionally regarded as the founder of Zoroastrianism.

By Colin Turfus

Colin Turfus is a quantitative risk manager with 16 years experience in investment banking. He has a PhD in applied mathematics from Cambridge University and has published research in fluid dynamics, astronomy and quantitative finance.

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