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Saturday, August 10, 2013

PARRHESIA - Fearless Speech:Reading Snowden Through Foucault

Edward Snowden - A Parrhesiastes

Socratic-Platonic answers to the questions:
  1. How can we recognize someone as a parrhesiastes?
  2. What is the importance of having a parrhesiastes for the city?
  3. What is the training of a good parrhesiastes?
And I would say that the problematization of truth which characterizes both the end of Presocratic philosophy and the beginning of the kind of philosophy which is still ours today, this problematization of truth has two sides, two major aspects. One side is concerned with ensuring that the process of reasoning is correct in determining whether a statement is true (or concerns itself  with our ability to gain access to the truth). And the other side is concerned with the question:
What is the importance for the individual and for the society of telling the truth, of knowing the truth, of having people who tell the truth, as well as knowing how to recognize them?
With that side which is concerned with determining how to ensure that a statement is true we have the roots of the great tradition in Western philosophy which I would like to call the "analytics of truth." And on the other side, concerned with the question of the importance of telling the truth, knowing who is able to tell the truth, and knowing why we should tell the truth, we have the roots of what we could call the "critical" tradition in the West. And here you will recognize one of my targets in this seminar, namely, to construct a genealogy of the critical attitude in Western philosophy. That constituted the general objective of this seminar. (FS pp. 170-71)
My intention was not to deal with the problem of truth, but with the problem of the truth-teller, or of truth-telling as an activity....At issue for me was rather the attempt to consider truth-telling as a specific activity or as a role. ...I could have compared the role and status of truth-tellers in Greek society, Christian societies, non-Christian societies _the role of the prophet as a truth-teller, the role of the oracle as a truth-teller, the role of the poet, of the expert,of the preacher, and so on.  But, in fact, my intention was not to conduct a sociological description of the different possible roles for truth-tellers in different societies. 
What I wanted to analyze was how the truth-teller's role was variously problematized in Greek philosophy. ....this same Greek philosophy has also raised the question of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an activity. It has raised questions like: 

  1. Who is able to tell the truth?
  2. What are the moral, the ethical, and the spiritual conditions which entitle someone to present himself as, and to be considered as, a truth-teller?
  3. About what topics is it important to tell the truth?(About the world? About nature? About the city? About behavior? About man?)
  4. What are its  anticipated positive effects for the city, for the city's rulers, for the individual?,etc.
And finally: What is the relation between the activity of truth-telling and the exercise of power? 
Should truth-telling be brought into coincidence with the exercise of power, or should these activities be completely independent and kept separate?
Are they separable, or do they require one another?
These four questions about truth-telling as an activity:

  1. Who is able to tell the truth?
  2. About what?
  3. With what consequences?
  4. With what relation to power?    

These four questions seem to have emerged as philosophical problems towards the end of the Fifth Century around Socrates, especially through his confrontations with the Sophists about politics, rhetorics, and ethics. (FS pp. 169-173)
And we all know what finally happened to Socrates. 
 And what is disturbing to me is that my tweets on Foucault's Panopticon have been picked up concerning Snowden's truth-telling of NSA surveillance (see a google search on Foucault + Snowden) but no one - NO ONE - is discussing Foucault's last works at the end of his life on parrhesia, or as Foucault calls it truth-telling, outlined in a series of talks at Berkeley in the early 1980's collected after his death from transcripts into the Semiotext(e) edition Fearless Speech.
Is this subject too frightening to touch? Are academics too scared? There are careerist academics who have made their career off Foucault's coattails. They have written dissertations on his work, books on his life, gotten tenure, prestigious chairs at universities all over the world and not one goddamn one of them has connected Edward Snowden to Foucault's work on truth-telling or the ancient Greek term parrhesia and the parrhesiastes!  This is 2500 years of critical tradition in the West, and only in the West, and no one is connecting these dots?