Monday, 21 January 2008

Truth in Todos Santos


When I was little, I was taught that the truth is singular, black and white. I liked the simplicity and straightforwardness of that perspective. It’s probably one of the reasons why I studied Pure Mathematics at university, where there was only one correct answer (though possibly many ways to get there). As I grew up, I learned that truth was more complex; a scale of greys, due to the flavourings and interpretations placed on observations by us mere humans.

When I came to Todos Santos, I learned that, here, this dull perspective is inadequate. Truth in Todos Santos is a Technicolor spectrum, dazzling in its variety. What, in other places, might be stated as an assumption, a supposition, a possibility, a brilliant figment of the imagination, is here delivered as the solemn Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. Even for publicly observable instances such as the building of a large edifice close to the sea, or the unavailability of electricity north of Las Tunas, a whole set of vastly different stories arise, each delivered with the calm certitude of The Truth. Of course, it’s even more extreme when the topic being covered is private, or not directly visible.

When first faced with an alternate story to one I had swallowed whole, it was very dislocating. Especially since I prided my self on my ability to sift through statements to filter out conditioned interpretations, and on being able to intuitively know when I was being fed a line, traits that were an essential part of the work I had successfully carried out for the past 25 years. I soon learned that this was not an isolated example, and I felt as if I needed a complete reload of my discerning software.

So why is Todos Santos such a spring of credible artistic interpretations of the truth? I certainly don’t claim to know, but I have some ideas.

Firstly, there is no investigative journalism here, no source of data to cross-check ideas or suppositions. While my work in the UK, Canada and the US relied heavily on my ability to intuit what was really going on, these soft attributes were based on a grounding of factual research. There is no place or person to go to that will ground stories in Todos Santos, and so no pruning of deviant shoots of ideas can occur.

Secondly, given this setting, and in common with any other very small location, knowledge, or purported knowledge, becomes power or inferred credibility. Showing knowledge about any topic, when all about you there is darkness, raises you up above other mortals.

Add to this mix an unusual assortment of people. Two writers in town have noted that there are an unusually high proportion of sociopaths in town (with their estimates ranging up to 20%). I have no idea how you quantify this (asking individuals isn’t likely to lead to sound polling results), but I can personally attest to encountering several in depth in my brief time here. On top of this, it is said that Todos Santos is overflowing with people who aren’t who they claim to be – whether just as part of a creative rewriting of their life story, or, more seriously, as part of the Witness Protection Program as claimed by some, I have no idea. As some limited corroboration, I do have direct experience of discovering some key deviations from delivered life stories. An eclectic group of people with these characteristics could reasonably be expected to generate more truths than one might encounter in a normal place.

Perhaps the catalyst to ferment this heady mix, though, is a critical difference between Mexico and the rest of North America, namely the lack of personal consequences. There simply isn’t the same set of checks and balances that we might be used to North of the border. This “freedom” is what appears to allow people to happily forge their license tags for vehicles, live and work here without legal authority, whereas they wouldn’t dream of doing so in the US or Canada. The same environment provides no societal disgrace from creating works of fiction and passing them off as Fact, even should that harm individuals.

I’m sure I’ll never know exactly why Todos Santos is such fertile ground for creative truth. I do know that to survive here as a sentient human, you need to have all your senses operating on full power, check what you can, and never assume anything.

And that’s the Truth.

1 comment:

Senor Nono said...

am not sure that these observations apply to all of us. I certainly can relate to an empiricist who is searching for the truth but it is somewhat difficult to consider you as an empiricist and at the same time read the poetry which should be air born and absorb the transporting photos. Are you taking this all too seriously? Are you provoking your readers? Are to sounding more Canadian than "south" American? Are you trying to be more of a Hopper and not a Pollock. Are you complaining or observing?