On Conventional Truth and the Disintegration of Consensus Reality

Thus they divided into parties, and each party into two, and each of those two into two again, until at last every individual stood alone, misunderstood and reviled by all the others and reviling them.”  —Gene Wolfe

     In Buddhist philosophy it is said that there are two kinds of truth, conventional and ultimate. Conventional truth applies to ordinary human interpretations of reality, which is to say that it is true merely because people agree that it is true, and so it’s not really true at all. It’s conventionally or relatively or virtually true. The idea that the sun goes around the earth instead of vice versa was a conventional truth for thousands of years, until a new conventional truth came along that was more believable…but even the idea that the earth goes around the sun is just a new conventional truth. Ultimate truth lies beyond the perceptual capacity of common worldlings. Abhidhamma philosophy asserts that ephemeral, submicroscopic bundles of qualities and elementally simple mental states (like a perception of the color blue) are ultimately real, and so accurately describing them could represent ultimate truth; but I am inclined to opine that only a formless unthinkable Absolute would qualify as ultimately real—Brahman, Tao, “God,” or what Buddhists sometimes call Nirvana.

     In my older, now retired blog I wrote a few articles describing my theory of everything, explaining how the phenomenal world of form and conventional truths “arises” from the formless Absolute: It’s like an infinitude of overlapping statues existing in potential form within an uncarved block of marble. Every atom of every possible statue is already there, in exactly the correct position already, and all that has to be done is to remove the excess stone, if only in one’s imagination. So what happens, according to the hypothesis, is that within the infinite everything/nothing of the Absolute there are patterns that are so complex that they become reflexive and self-referential, and begin considering themselves to be separate from everything else—a “self”—and that we are thus a kind of epiphenomenon of the infinite potential of the Absolute, which itself transcends all limiting dualities and can’t even really be said to exist or not to exist. So of course the whole hypothesis is paradoxical and seemingly self-contradictory, and so I may as well just move on.

     Consequent to all this, I really am not a materialist or even a realist, and consider the phenomenal world to be a kind of artificially generated simulation, and so I feel obliged to admit that there is some validity to the new paradigm of postmodernism. Postmodernism, as you may know, claims that there is no real truth that can be described, and that what passes for truth is just a cultural construct, something subjective and more or less arbitrary. Nevertheless, I can’t go to the extreme of saying that even conventional truth is nothing more than a cultural construct, because we humans agree on as much as we do because we are similar, and our means of perception are similar. No culture is going to assert that objects fall up instead of down, for example, or that time runs backward, or that people normally have six eyes instead of two. Interpretations of reality are not purely arbitrary because we are human, and we perceive the world in a characteristically human way. So even if there is no material universe out there doing its thing even if nobody is perceiving it, nevertheless we can have a body of self-consistent scientific, empirical “knowledge” that is reliable and useful. It may be that we just dream up more or less the same kind of world due to constitutional factors, and that if we perceived things radically differently from other people we’d be in some other world than this one, or else just psychotic. But this isn’t the sort of thing that can be easily explained in a paragraph or two, and some of you are no doubt already lost with regard to what I’m trying to say, so again I’d better just move on. If you’re interested you’re welcome to read the old blog posts.

     So postmodernism is in error, it seems to me, in saying that “it’s all a social construct,” and worse yet, as I’ve also discussed elsewhere, socialized globalists have undermined their own position, and have done much to doom themselves to failure, by adopting postmodernism as part of their new world view. This is because globalism is hardly likely to work if each society accepts the idea that truth is just a cultural construct and designs its own truth in the teeth of other interpretations, including that of the New World Order. This is what is happening as nationalists around the world are taking the postmodern ball and running with it, resulting in ideological balkanization resembling the way things were before 20th-century modernity. Why should people all accept the neo-Marxist interpretation when it is no more valid than any other, even in the opinion of the neo-Marxists themselves? For that matter, why should all people accept socialism when a century of failed economies, totalitarianism, and genocide have demonstrated to those still capable of objective empiricism and critical thought that socialism sucks and doesn’t work worth a damn?

     The advent of the Internet was a Copernican revolution for modern civilization, especially in the west where it was invented. In addition to creating a kind of new sense faculty, the computer with Internet access, which allows people to access the vastness of human knowledge with a few clicks, the web has done much to subvert official narratives. Not so long ago a mixture of facts and propaganda was carefully maintained by a handful of media corporations and educational institutions cooperating with governments to guide the beliefs and attitudes of the masses; and now an increasing number of people are looking up things for themselves, seeking out alternative sources of information, and loathing more and more the propagandists promulgating an official story that is liberally mixed with deliberate lies. Government-endorsed propaganda agencies no longer can lead us by the nose, or not all of us anyway, maybe not even most of us anymore. Now there are men and women working out of their bedroom with a webcam who are heard by more people than announcers on mainstream cable news, and who convey alternative narratives that may be much more reasonable and plausible than the semi-truths manipulatively spewed by the propaganda outlets.

     One drawback and danger of this is that beliefs and attitudes are diverging within cultures. A person’s ideological community may consist of a few hundred people scattered all over the world, communicating on some kind of social media, with one’s neighbors doing pretty much the same, yet believing something radically different. This, plus mass immigration and multiculturalism, is causing a geographical sense of community to break down—which is a major reason for the mass immigration in the first place, if not the Internet.

     But this ideological and social fragmentation isn’t necessarily something new under the sun; in fact this sort of thing has existed to some degree since practically forever. For at least two thousand years people within a single society have followed different religions, and have thus followed radically different interpretations of reality; and some of these people following these mutually incompatible ideologies have been next-door neighbors. Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, or, more recently, Hindus and Muslims in India, are pretty obvious examples of divergent interpretations of reality existing within a single society. In the modern west, religious devotion and/or fanaticism has been largely replaced by political partisanship, with Capitalists and Marxists, for example, being the hostile sectarians sharing the same cities and neighborhoods. This political ideological divide has become painfully obvious in recent years, not only in the USA with Trump and in the UK with Brexit, but pretty much everywhere, as nationalism and globalism butt heads with increasing vehemence.

     However, such mutually conflicting interpretations of the world are not restricted to religion and politics. A good example of this might be a strange phenomenon I have noticed on social media: People in favor of mandatory vaccination of children and the so-called anti-vaxxers, or people fervently opposed to mandatory vaccination, engage in some very acrimonious, hostile arguments over their respective beliefs. Even people who state that each person should have the right to decide for himself can be met with angry insults. Such ideological disharmony can potentially arise over just about anything, especially when official narratives are thrown into doubt and disarray.

     It used to be that a culture, a civilization, agreed at least on the important things. Great nations like Rome and the USA reduced the number of points that people were compelled to agree on, but still there was a kind of civic nationalism or traditionalism that allowed people worshipping different gods, or none at all, and who had very different ideas about many things, to agree on fundamental civic ideals like freedom and justice and individual dignity. I’ve heard it said that America isn’t just a nation, it’s an idea.

     Now even that much is in free fall, partly because radical leftists have been trying hard, and very patiently until very recently, to undermine western civilization in order to supplant it with ultraliberal neo-Marxism (or whatever one wants to call it) which, castrated and deprived of half its rationality, will certainly work this time—if only because the new leftists are so special and enlightened and anti-masculine, and because now they know that truth, being just a social construct, can be modified to suit themselves. Objective empiricism is a tool of white patriarchal oppression. What tough, radical fighters for the working class (ultimately led by power-hungry revolutionaries) couldn’t achieve, degenerate social eunuchs will somehow manage, or so they evidently believe.

     As a wise man once said, a house divided against itself cannot stand; and so we’d all better start agreeing on some basic principles pretty damned quick. There simply must be an agreed upon narrative, or set of values and ideals, even if it is conjured up and ultimately arbitrary or mythological. Roman paganism was not exactly empirical, and the same goes for medieval Christianity; even scientific realism or “scientism” has its own forms of artificial bogusness. The inevitable new paradigm may even wind up being applied by force; but whatever it is, it is necessary to hold society together as a coherent system.

     In summary, the main gist of all this is that: 1) Ultimate truth is beyond the reach of common worldlings, and to some degree we must choose out of ignorance what to believe; to that extent postmodernism has validity. And: 2) To complicate matters, now the possible choices are legion, due to postmodernism and the World Wide Web. Belief systems are no longer simply inherited from our parents and our culture, and to some degree we as a society may have to choose our beliefs more or less at random. We may have to choose, out of sheer necessity, a mythos that, though not exactly true in an empirical or ultimate sense, is nevertheless conducive to the health of society as a whole, and the relative happiness and well-being of the individual. Furthermore, neo-Marxism manifestly does not fit those qualifications. May the gods grant us sufficient wisdom to choose our bogus mythological narrative wisely. Or, contrariwise, may they grant us sufficient good fortune that the charismatic messianic figure who rises up and leads us in a new direction be wise and benevolent.


  1. Sometimes I go on Omegle or Chatroulette and talk to people with the purpose being to spread the dhamma and indulge in sensual craving. After some idle chatter, I ask their opinion on The First Noble Truth, without calling it that. They usually agree that The First Noble Truth is true. I then move onto The Second Noble Truth, without calling it that as well. They tend to agree on it as well. I try to make it to the last two truths, but it is hard to get there without turning into an internet preacher. I also talked to an escort about The Four Noble Truths, and after some resistance she started to get it.

    Anyway, my point is that I think quite a few worldlings are ready for the dhamma. Heck, a potential argument that I have for people who cannot get over the idea of there being a God is: God created the universe in such a way that the dhamma is true, but there is no point praying to him because he is like an architect that built a house (existence) and then moved to The Bahamas. Sure, he exists, but he can't be reached (because he's too busy banging busty vacationing MILFs) and he really doesn't care about fixing problems in the house he built because he doesn't live there! You fix them!

    1. Making it from truth 2 to truth 3 should be easy, since 3 logically follows from 2 pretty obviously: if desire is the cause of suffering, the cessation of the cause results in cessation of the effect. But yeah, truth 4 is only verifiable experientially, by people dedicating their life to verifying it.

    2. That helps, thank you Ven. Paññobhāsa.

    3. The Ariya Dhamma of the 4 noble truths are very important but from the worldlings perspective the comprehension of kamma is most necessary for their long term happiness and also requisite for them to penetrate the noble doctrine.

      I read a book by Ledi Sayadaw not long ago that made this clear. The books is called "The Manual of Light". In it he says (I'm paraphrasing) that the law is Kamma is the first light of the world. Light as in "knowledge".

      It is said, that even when we are not in a Buddha age this light is here for people. Without this light how can a Bodhisatta even make progress during the dark ages. There is the kamma of making merit and demerit and also the kamma to put an end to becoming through wisdom.

      Wise men hankering for the truth always seek thinking what can I "Do" for my long term happiness and well being. This implies that there is some comprehension of kamma whether they call it kamma or not.

      So to me this is a guiding light and principle that I strive to comprehend. Other religions externalize their salvation and rely on "good shepards". This is fine I guess so long as the shepards are teaching and encouraging them to act in ways that bring about wholesome states...

      This is just my personal take on it.


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