Truth and the Market

Otit de ja, o ku ta; owo l’w li nra eke. (When truth is offered for sale in the market, it finds no buyer; but lies are bought with cash in hand.)

(Yoruba saying, quoted and translated by J. D. Y. Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of  the Yoruba)

Okay, let’s turn our attention away from the witches a little (not too far, mind you) and talk a little more about the market that is the world. We’ve talked about how unsettling this association between market, wealth, and home really is, but this quote highlights another axis of concern, truth and lies.

There is a familiar structure here. Just as wealth and witches found their place in the market, so too do lies. Truth, coming from home, remains unbought and so must return from whence it came, home.

Here, too, we find the market’s allegiance with gossip, another dangerous thing that the Yoruba prefer to keep clear of their home. For those of you who have been around the Afro-diaspora scene, you are probably aware that one of the most commonly articulated (and therefore least upheld) prohibition is that against gossip.

As before, the straightforward division between the two is quickly unsettled by closer examination.

If truth goes to market and returns, what has it lost? If truth returns from the market, what has it brought?

Lies.

By entering into the world-market, truth carried by spirit loses its self-referential quality and enters into relationship with other truths. This isn’t a simple relativism that gives to all truths an equal weight, but a more stark denaturing of truth itself. Just as the world of spirit is anchored in this world with alien wealth, it finds its voice through alien words.

It doesn’t lose its pretensions to truth, though. Oh, no. The spirit has a sense of truth deep in its very nature and senses around itself the falseness of the world. It weighs into that falseness only to discover that it itself has become false. It is not alone in this market and this lends itself to some nasty jousting. No longer possessed of truth, the lie cuts and is cut.

Spirit exhausts itself. In answer to the question of why spirits come to this material plane, the answer seems to be: so that they may die.

Of course, anyone who has some experience with spirits knows that many of them can be quite benevolent and are concerned with our well-being. How are we to understand this?

I can’t be sure, but my bet lies with two related but distinct possibilities.

  1. The spirits giving aid are struggling to come to terms with the death-making reality of the market world. Scared, unable to let go entirely, they attempt to deny it by ameliorating it as best they can from just outside it.
  2. The spirits that enter into this world don’t want to die any old way–they want to die in a specific way that transforms them into a new truth. Some spiritual aid comes from powers seeking to facilitate that for them.

That second possibility suggests that we become embodied in order to discover a new way or form of truth. It also suggests that we should be careful about the spiritual aid we accept. While some of it is for our own good, some of it may make it more difficult for us to enter into that new form of truth. Inversely, some apparent cruelty is kindness.

The second sort of spiritual aid also recognizes that this world can go wrong, that the cost of becoming lies is that the truth may become deeply flawed. That aid can serve as a mid-course correction or a radical salvage operation for a spirit far from its truth.

This way of thinking outlines an argument against dogmatism that nonetheless supports restraint. While dogmatism preserves the old form of truth and attempt to resist the function of the world, a libertine disregard for truth ignores the substance of life’s work. Both can have remarkably similar results–the radical deformation of the spirit and hindering its capacity to undergo transformation.

This doesn’t make spiritual work easy. You come to this word to get lost, but you don’t know exactly how lost. More often than not, we find our way to where we want to go by not getting there, by overshooting or undershooting the mark, and then scrambling to get back on track before this lifetime of opportunities goes to waste.

But that’s part of it: by making mistakes, by wasting time, by coming to an awareness of what has been missed, the process of transformation at the heart of market world gets engaged. It is also why dramatic distortions in the market world (e.g., empire) are so toxic. The wealth they concentrate makes it easier for one lie to masquerade as truth while preventing others from engaging with the world deeply enough to have their lie tested and transformed.

And, just because, let me end with a trailer for a gnostic movie that explores the theme of truth, lies, and transformation:

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