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The ethical foundation of knowing the truth

For Ranciere, to speak is not only to express one’s knowledge: speaking one’s truth is neither founded on knowledge per se, nor the expression of pure rationality. Speaking does not have to be scientific, instrumental, in this sense, and does not need to be based in pure rationality’ to make sense. The kind of speaking that one knows for sure is coming from you, one’s own voice and words, has something to do with morality and ethics first, and is essential not for producing blind knowledge, but rather for giving “the power to know” (Ranciere, 1991, p. 57) a proper context.

The kind of rationality Ranciere is talking about is a rationality based on selfreflection over one’s ability to tell the truth, while realizing that if one can speak in such a way, others can do the same. A reasonable person is, for Ranciere, “first of all a being who knows his power, who doesn’t lie to himself about it” (1991, p. 57), and who can extend this insight to others as well. So the laziness Ranciere talks about, through Jacotot, is the laziness of no longer hearing oneself, one’s voice: “to no longer listen to what a reasonable being owes himself’ (Ranciere, 1991, p. 57), and therefore also an inability to hear others speaking their truths.

A reasonable being is therefore not someone who says he or she “knows” their goodness, and through such goodness identifies the same in others. Such comparisons would only be based on self-indulgence and putting oneself in the centre from which others are judged. It is not self-indulgence and self-righteousness which is the driving force for Ranciere. It is not the idea of political liberalism either, that all under the same conditions would choose the same truth (Rawls, 1996); rather, what we all have in common is the ability to live our truth.

Therefore the reasonable person does not assume his or her truth to be the starting point from which to judge the value of others’ lived truths, and therefore does not have the right to speak for others. A reasonable person knows to listen, and can detect the truth in others, to hear the other speaking (Todd, 2003). As such, a reasonable person is for Ranciere (1999) also a political subject, in that he or she is claiming equality with all other speaking beings. The assumption of equality is at the ver)' beginning of politics, and when such an assumption clashes with a social structure of inequality, the political subject appears on the scene. That is the reasonable person (or will, as Ranciere says) is also a political subject who appears in the dissensus of assuming equality in a social order of inequality.

The political subject is the very embodiment of dissensus, which is the embodiment of the simultaneous equality of intelligent beings and the social inequality' in which one recognizes oneself and others. The dissensus is releasing emancipatory powers when one judges oneself “equal to everyone else and judges everyone else equal” (Ranciere, 1991, p. 56) to oneself.

Therefore it is also essential to make a distinction between the inequality of the social order and the equality of being. If we define a person with his or her social positioning or socialized state of mind, we cannot break away from already assuming the inequality of social order. The being who has emerged as a node in the social structure is, by definition, already assumed to be unequal to any other person in that structure. It is, therefore, says Ranciere, only humans who can be equal, not the social structure as such.

That also means that a person who defines her or himself as a node in a social order of inequality lacks a certain humanness, and denies him or herself as a reasonable voice in truth. What the ambitious persons within such a structure of inequality gain “in the way of intellectual power by not judging themselves inferior to anyone, they lose by judging themselves superior to everyone else” (Ranciere, 1991, p. 56).

In a characteristically poetic expression, Ranciere says: “The individual cannot lie to himself; he can only forget himself’ (Ranciere, 1991, p. 57). So it is fundamental to emancipation to remember oneself in the act, and in that remembrance of oneself, to be attentive to others’ truths as well. Teaching then is fundamentally the act through which attention is given to one’s own as well as other truths based on verification of intelligence. Teaching is therefore also an act of intervention into the language of schooling, as this language uses terms such as abilities, talents, comparisons, grades and explanations.

Concluding thoughts

The reading above helps us to see the basically inhuman role of schooling in recreating the social order of inequality — schooling is all about comparisons and judging, but seldom about education. The latter is always based on the assumption of the equality of intelligence to emancipate rather than to stultify students. Schooling, on the other hand, is the name given to the socially acclaimed activity of sorting students into categories and differentiating between them by comparisons of more or less intelligent students, all coded into terms such as assumed natural abilities, talents and skills.

The interest of schooling is to recreate a social hierarchy of winners and losers, of rich and poor. Schooling is, in other words, as I understand it, a name for the functioning of a social order of inequality. To be properly schooled means to accept the social hierarchies as a necessary and natural construction of the social and one’s place within such an order. To be educated, in contrast, means to assume equality, and therefore to be emancipated in such a way as to be able to see inequality as well as to hear others speaking their truths.

In chapter 4 I will expand on the concept of teaching, placing the discussion in a political context in which education and teaching need to be defended against many threats due to the violent enforcement of elitist schooling.

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