Private knowledge in relationships


If you aren’t watching closely, you might not know what to believe about Lara Brennan. If you question everything, you might not believe the button in the last scene in Pittsburgh is the button she described. How you decide what to believe might say a lot about you. But I will simply say that I believe her husband knows.

I don’t think it’s healthy to abandon the desire to be believed. But for Lara Brennan, being believed has to come from faith, and so far as we know, only one person in her life has faith in her as a human being, her husband. Locked up with women who are either guilty or without that solace for what she believes will be the rest of her life, she tries to undermine his faith to adapt to the helplessness of her situation and set him free of the isolation his belief imposes on him.

Would these conditions matter if belief were truly subjective? Would they have the same motivation if their lives were governed by illusions, empty signs, and contingent cultural conventions? Maybe it’s just them, but their struggle is out of sync with the widely hailed collapse of human existence into solipsistic mind games. Are the Brennans mythical archetypes themselves, champions of a faith in the triumph of the real that survives as a superstition in a world dominated by the surreal? They don’t resemble the real life prison breaks for love described in one of the special features on the DVD.

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” – Marcus Aurelius

Psychology, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language are deeply rooted in political life. I’m reading a history of the concept of intellectual disability right now that is in many passages fairly arcane, but seems driven by one scholar’s impression that legal competence evaluations are by and large a scandal motivated by sophistry and the posturing of average intellects as a rational elite. I question the notion that postmodernists have given us good reason to set aside any hope of firmly grasping empirical truths in private or public life. I suspect they are positing unanchored signs in language for political purposes, to facilitate flexible interpretations of written laws. But more on that later.

For now I just want to remark on how universal the experience of private observation is, and what that means for us as human beings when our private observations become contentious. Being disbelieved is extraordinarily isolating. It cuts deeper than being misunderstood, to face those who discredit what you have to say for yourself. I think this is why patients are not permitted to obtain copies of mental health professionals’ notes with their medical records. If the person you trust with your most private utterances responds by noting doubt, this is not to be disclosed. Whether they are mistaken or not, the patient’s sense of having been heard is at stake, and at times the best the treatment provider can offer for this need is a placebo. In other cultures I suppose this sort of mediation between patients and ghosts is handled by witchdoctors with ritual and herbal tea.

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Filed under Postmodernism, The Next Three Days

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