We must refuse to become the subjects of society’s supposed truths. What do I mean? Everywhere we look we are being influenced by different societal forces, some good, some not so good. The media is telling us what to believe about Tiger Woods, the church is telling us how to worship, our roommates are telling us not to eat out of the pan and pretty much everyone is telling us not to wear socks with sandals. But how often do we stop and ask why?
Power is manifested in many different ways. Usually, we think of a powerful person as forceful, dominating, loud, demanding and even egotistical. However, there are other, more deceitful ways of wielding power. Manipulation centers on one skill, a capacity to construct a “truth.” However, this “truth” is not transcendent and universal but is largely the product of humans and the institutions surrounding them. In other words, we put ourselves into submission if we allow ourselves to be manipulated.
According to the theorist Michael Foucault, “Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with what counts as true.” The challenge, then is to avoid falling into our society’s “regime of truth,” especially if it is unethical and illogical.
When I was in tenth grade, I read Niccoló Machiavelli’s The Prince, which basically stated how a ruler should gain power. However, most of the techniques seemed unethical and just plain mean. But since this guy wrote a book, a famous one at that, I saw it as truth. Not that I started going around making people bow down to me, but I started to think that maybe the “lessons” from The Prince could be useful to my life … wrong idea. Machiavelli wasn’t a very good person.
We have to stop to analyze how easily we are influenced by someone or something. Otherwise, we won’t question the evildoers. If we constantly question “truths” we can take control back from the all-powerful soothsayers. There are several things we need to question, including who creates “truths” why the “truths” were created and are there any alternative “truths.” The following paragraphs offer some examples of some supposed truths in our world.
In American society, we are expected to go to college, get a job and then move away from our families. Independence is everything! But why does it have to be that way? People are much happier when they are around those who care about them, and it is obvious everyone relies on others at least some of the time. Therefore, why does our society place so much value on individualism? If we ask this question, maybe things will start to change, and we will go knock on our neighbor’s door to introduce ourselves.
Furthermore, why do we need to live in big houses with two-car garages when others around the world don’t even have homes? It’s because we are manipulated into thinking that we need unnecessary conveniences. The fabricated truth is that without all the conveniences we see on sitcoms, the news and the Internet, we can’t be happy. It’s sad, because that attitude is actually what is making so many people depressed. America’s depression rate is a lot higher than many countries that lead simpler and, dare I say, more primitive lives.
Finally, there’s religion, one of the hardest contexts in which to discuss “truth.” I do not know one right way to worship, and I do not even want to claim worshipping is something one should do. However, I get flustered when I am told by society’s expectations how I am supposed to worship; They’ll tell me to stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, recite this prayer and recite that prayer. But I want to bump some beats and jump around when I worship. In fact, rock concerts lift my spirits more than church. Breaking free from the shackles of supposed truths is often the way to go.
Therefore, don’t listen to anyone telling you what to do and how to act without questioning who made it a “truth” and why it was made a “truth.”
In fact, don’t forget to question this column you just read. Heck, I don’t know the truth. Who can?