top of page
  • Writer's picture738

The facts of life (II)

Yesterday, I noted that “facts” were effectively invented in the sense that they developed into “empirically verifiable” entities that were allied to theories, hypotheses, and methodologies—to science, essentially; and to Hume’s empiricism specifically. Before, in the medieval world, “fact” did not exist in English—except in Latin as a legal term related to “an action”; it was a “doing word” and it’s where we get “fatto” in Italian, “fait” in French, and “hecho” in Spanish from—these all mean “to do”; so “a fact” was a done thing.

You can see how the concept evolved into “empirically verified” as in “the event happened, we have corroborated it”—it then became a noun, “a fact”, and so it has become the case, in English anyway, that we live in a “factual world”; and to adhere to the facts is somewhat seen as good and possibly synonymous with being truthful (as discussed in the previous article, truth is not reducible to facts). As it happens, due to its Latin legal connotations, “factus” in the 15th and 16th centuries had morally evil connotations—“facts” were evil things done, as proved in court (“after the fact” in legal jargon).

“Relax. I’ll need some information first. Just the basic facts, can you tell me where it hurts?” as Pink Floyd sang—the facts here, brute facts perhaps, being taken to transcend the state where you are “comfortably numb”. To continue: “There is no pain, you are receding. A distant ship, smoke on the horizon. You are only coming through in waves. Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying.” In this case, a doctor—we presume—speaks to a patient who is not really sick but encased in some comatose psychic state; and that state is, in fact, the factual adulthood world: “When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now; the child is grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb.” Factuality does not actually prevent you from being comatose, since the patient wants to recover the dream—itself obscured by a factual world.

To channel Foucault and Heidegger: factuality is used to discipline and constrain our existence. Hence “the facts of life” started out in the 1850s as a statement about “brute reality”, as in the Darwinian struggle for existence; but by 1913 it had come to refer to “the sexual facts of life”. “Now, son, when a daddy bee loves a mummy bee very much, they go and, a-hem, sit on a flower…” “Dad, Dad <blush> it’s okay we did this at school…” “Ah, that’s good, son. That’s good.”

Now, this idea that there are “facts of life” is different to the typical Heideggerian peasant; he learns about sexual reproduction quite young when he leans over the pig sty wall and watches the family pigs copulate—he sees them “facere”, “feck”, “fuck”; in other words, the pigs “do it”, it’s a “factus” (from “facere”). It’s the “acts of life”. The schoolchild, even by 1913, already lives in a “fact-based” world—if he’s in Britain, his family almost certainly doesn’t have pigs (it’s already a modern industrial economy); and, actually, per middle-class Victorian morality, that is “unmentioned”—it’s a “dirty thing” (like pigs).

Hence he learns the “facts of life” at school, these being empirically verified pieces of information—perhaps the teacher starts with a diagram of a flower to explain the principle; and the context is Darwinian—these facts occur in a situation whereby there is competition within a species for mates to produce more offspring.

By 2022, there is a government department that collates the latest peer-reviewed research about what is no longer called “the facts of life”—very old-fashioned and regressive euphemism—but is called something like Personal and Social Skills. The research indicates the optimum time, from these data we analysed, to teach children about sexual reproduction—if we introduce the topic in the 9-10 age group, with age-appropriate material, the model predicts an x% decrease in teen pregnancy in this cohort at 13-16.

The difference between the world so described and the peasant world is that it has become a static noun-based world; it has lost its dynamism, you’re no longer “doing it”—“You know, fuckee, fuckee,” you might say to someone who doesn’t speak English as you move your left index finger in and out of a hole formed by your right-hand (the sound is enough to convey meaning). It’s a static “denatured” world where you are “enframed” by factuality derived from techno-science, upon which you must base your decisions (whether you do or not depends how good the indoctrination is).

This is a worldview, it is debatable as to whether it is superior to when a peasant boy peers over a pig sty wall and sees pigs “doing it” (“Did you see them ‘doing it’?”). It’s the sense that people no longer see the world in terms of “doing” that Heidegger notes; it’s seen as this dead collection of empirical facts (about your “Personal and Social Skills”)—its metacontext is that life is a brutal Darwinian struggle, “the brutal facts”, to survive and reproduce; it’s not a peasant’s folk tale, there’s no fact in that.

So we are imprisoned in this conceptualisation that makes life static; and it’s very much connected to techno-science—perhaps “the facts” are evil. The “facts of life” have replaced “the acts of life”—and hence the world is dead; it’s dead but alive—that’s why people like zombie movies so much, we are the zombies (fact zombies). You see the system try to recapture the act, channeling Foucault, when it talks about “adulting”, “gifting”, “gerund-ing”—this craze is an attempt to escape the invisible prison created by the total techno-scientific world, to make it alive when it automatically dissects anything that is alive; to turn the noun back into a verb.


Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page