A house of mirrors
3. a. Faith, trust, confidence. (Cf. TROTH 3a.) Obs.
b. Belief; a formula of belief, a creed. (Cf. TROTH 3b.) Obs.
If the Oxford English Dictionary says so, who am I to disagree. Scientific communities arrive at “truthiness” through social negotiation. It is not consensus. Battles for credibility and some empire building decide who is silenced and who is conferred authority. We get winners and losers. We get convention and we get dissent. Communities reconfigure alongside the intellectual controversy, some will go in and some out, some distant and some close.
Do we have truth in the history of economics? We have a few programs that promise to interpret the historical record in a single sweep, such as the Graz-Rome and the Notre Dame-Nijmegen. But it seems unlikely that any of them will succeed in shaping our community. Instead we are fragmented in little specialties, experts on some authors, periods, or themes, which mostly do not communicate. Beatrice and I will share a desire for a more encompassing history of economics, less feudal. In her suggestion that we “find THE four histories of such and such event,” I read openness to have many historians piecing the mosaic of their work to compose a broader and more complex view of the past.
As I enter the house of mirrors, I am expected to apply my understanding of scientific communities to my own. So I should be calling for truth, to distinguish convention and dissent and regulate insiders and outsiders. But gazing at my disformed reflexivity, I am not sure this image I see is me. For me what makes a good history is not its explanation of how WE got here. Good history is not the history of the big white men and the “important.” I suggest that our truth lies not in THE narrative but in the ways we write them. Any “THE four histories of such and such” will exclude the n-4 histories of such and such. I feel committed to defend the historical record of that destruction. Volumes and volumes are still being written on the French revolution, not because we are still looking for THE histories, but because we indulge in changing the questions and always finding in that record something fresh.
With aimless curiosity we should reshape our community.