Democrats & Liberals Archives

No Truth

Bear with the philosophy, for this entry. Also bear with what may be amateur in my thoughts, for what I have to say is a roughly formed theory at best, and I don’t have much experience to more finely shape it. I’ve long been a student of communication, a writer who started from an early age, and a student of the visual arts as well. Issues of truth and communication also are important to me for other reasons.

Experience shapes us, but so does biology, and my biology, neurobiology in particular, gives me a peculiar perspective on communication, at least compared with most in the general population. For me, it's not always easy to figure out from the nuance of social cues, small non-verbal hints, what people are really thinking.

I don't like to be misunderstood, or misunderstand people, but what I like hardly speaks to what I get.

What I've learned relates to walking in a metaphorical sense. Walking is essentially falling forward and catching yourself. Good writing and communication is often about starting out from greater misunderstanding and working your way towards less misunderstanding. Still, there's no complete removal of misunderstanding. it's natural when you have two separate minds, even, I've observed from experience, if you have the ability to read a great deal of what people think from what they say and do.

Politics is multiplying that by a certain number, whether that's tens, hundreds, thousands, or millions, and then trying to work out the differences. It's emergent, more than anything else. On the first order, it's emergent from people themselves, from what they want, need, believe, know- generally speaking, shared states of mind, shared needs and desires in the real world, and most importantly, shared experience of the consequences of the common decisions made. On the second order, politics feeds back into itself. There are two streams we can talk about, not necessarily exclusive of one another, but not necessarily out of competition with one another either. The first feedback is what people think, and the second is those consequences.

On top of that, we can see a third order consequence: the actual shape of government and policy created by what came below. We talk a lot about interactions on this level, as if they are important, but focusing too much on these, to the exclusions of the layers below, is like looking at satellite pictures of the weather and ignoring both the elements that feed up to this complex system, and the turbulence that shapes the flow and the behavior of the systems.

No truth.

What does that mean? Is it that there's no truth that we can know, so why bother trying to be honest? No. Quite the opposite. I speak of whether truth isn't rather than saying that it isn't somewhere itself. In fact to be honest, I consider truth the most important object of any politics. The more the turbulent eddies of spin move away from the truth, in politics, the more we move towards disaster, bad government, and other not-nice things. Truth must be a bedrock of policy and politics. Unfortunately, people claim the truth, claim to know and even be the truth all the time.

Who do we trust? Trust often divides along predictable lines, but not predictable because there's some law, rather predictable because of historic habit. But is that absolute truth? No. People can and have changed their minds. It's just that people can choose not to. They interpret things to their liking. Is that inevitable? No. Like I said, it's habit. It can be unchosen. What binds people to it is their feelings.

We would like to believe that we are rational beings, but there, modern science has demonstrated that rationality in human beings is a tangled affair, emotion playing a crucial role in how people interpret things logically. It affects the salience or relative value of things in memory. It gives weight to our decisions when we are uncertain of how things can or should transpire. Our ancestors didn't survive long enough to be our ancestors by carrying out debates about what to do in the moment that a tiger jumps at us, nor what to do when somebody raids the village. Beneath all the rationality of the modern brain lies one another we have little conscious sense of, yet one which determines much of our perception of things.

This is the point here where the low-impulse control crowd is going to be cheering, but let me say this: inhibition is not always a weakness. Introspection and meditation, while not always appropriate responses, have their place, and those who shun them, do so at their own risk. Left to ourselves, we can follow our feelings of what might be true right off the edge of reality. Correction of bad guesses, bad hypotheses are a crucial part of intelligence's survival value, and its utility to us today.

What the "No Truth" of the title means is two things: What we think isn't truth, and what we communicate can only bring people a symbolic representation of what we think. My message here comes of my long, often bitter experience with communication.

Philosophy must be a guide to thought, but not a tyrant of it. We will never know enough, or be wise enough to encode the truth in one package. It's only human that we gather with like-minded individuals, and nothing would get done if nobody organized things politically. In Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, he writes of the fact that no organization can seem to exceed about 150 people before it starts bureaucratizing itself. Because people gather and continue to gather in large numbers, large political parties are a fact of life. Their form, composition, identity, and other components, however, are not so inevitable. That said, the bureaucratizing has its own second order effects, and those are among the many things we must deal with and work with in dealing with government.

There is no truly pure government to be found. All good government emerges from what is expected and allowed of it, and people aren't always consistent or wise about that. However, the imperfection of government does not mean that low quality government is inevitable. It merely makes it work, rather than an inevitable result itself.

One part of that work is the notion that truth is something to be found, to be learned, rather than something to be possessed. Only God possesses all truth, all wisdom. We have it in bits and pieces. The sheer enormity of it requires an overall culture of curiosity, rather than the attempt to hope, especially in these times, that one person will somehow be wise enough to grasp the totality of things for everybody. it's impossible, now, more than ever, to contain in one head all the wisdom and knowledge of the world.

We must realize that government is a matter of judgment, not merely received wisdom. Just because somebody hates all tax cuts and believes that no tax cut can do good, or because they believe that tax cuts inevitably create a better economy, doesn't necessarily make it so. Those beholden to such theories can ignore obvious signs of their malfunction, and let the dysfunctional policy break things down until it's become screamingly obvious something is wrong. Some people pride themselves on certainty in the face of such discouragement, but they fail to realize that sometimes discouragement is a good thing.

Our feelings and our thoughts form our judgment in their weighing of things. we should not forsake on or the other, developing them poorly in order to rely on the other. certain professions might require a greater balance of reliance on one side or another, but none relies entirely on one or the other alone.

As far as communication goes? We must not look out just one window at our world. We must handle what we see and hear in the media as if there is a real world out there that it must portray, and that we must look beyond the individual stories and purported facts to see what is going on. We must recognize, though, that this is not an open license to let our impulses and prejudices take the wheel. We must realize that our own biases can make our own beliefs unreliable as a guide, that we can misjudge events and decisions, and communicate those misjudgments to each other.

This is not a call to believe that all is uncertainty, but rather to reflect and get in the habit of reflecting knowledge of our own limited wisdom and knowledge, in the way in which we treat information coming to us from outside, and the thoughts we have from within. We have to avoid being trapped inside the figments of our own imagination, the inventions of our own mind. The truth is not within us, or within our words. It is within the world around us, and waits to be found. We must seek truth beyond ourselves to find truth within.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at July 22, 2007 9:16 PM
Comment #227149


In summary, wisdom and knowledge are most readily found in willing students. The world’s population is generally well aware of their inadequacies in areas of knowledge and wisdom, and thus rely on specialists for these in the areas in which the people are not versed.

For humanity, at this time of our history, the crucial determinant of how humanity fares is in the people’s selection process of which experts advertising their expertise are chosen. Democrats, or Republicans, or, a third party, or an independent, for example. But, political parties, and indeed most candidates for office, are not experts themselves, and must themselves select experts on whom they will rely for policy and legislative decisions. These experts (political advisors) while considered experts, rely upon the assumptions and biases of those from whom they received their education and certification as experts.

Specialization of knowledge makes us all dependent upon millions of others whom we shall never meet and whose credentials we will never know or evaluate for ourselves. Yet, most of us can recognize an intelligent person when we hear them speak for a bit of time on various topics. Most of us can also recognize wise persons if we are fortunate enough to have interacted with one for any length of time, though far too many of us in the world have never had this opportunity, beyond the predictable bias toward regarding one or both of our parents as wiser than ourselves.

Truth, rarely has anything to do with politics. And when it does, it is a truth of consensus experienced by the majority of persons subjected to a particular political agenda. In modern western societies, reaction to good governance is typically a maintenance of the status quo. Reaction to bad governance is typically found in a shift of political parties in government. But, history has shown that truth is not the province of any political party, for political parties’ chief function is winning control of power and maintaining it.

And maintaining the status quo is not necessarily the best governance. It is only an absence of consensus that governance is bad.

Throughout the various analyses of political paradigms and policies, exists one truth. A more educated populace will make better informed decisions about representation than a less educated populace. This truth is a double edged sword. The more educated the populace, the more discordant will become popular debate and the more factionalized will political parties become.

Hence, the more difficult to acquire consensus along idealogical or philosophical grounds. On the other hand, the upside is that any errant philosophy or ideology that achieves power will be short lived. Which insures a continuous pressure to return to political pragmatism, compromise, and common sense.

The real danger to democracies is that a lack of consensus of a fairly well educated populace can result in challenges posed to the nation’s integrity or survivability going unresolved for too long, and the nation succumbs to failure to act decisively and appropriately to overcome the challenge.

National debt and entitlement spending is just such a scenario in the U.S. today. Time is running out to avoid devastating consequences to the nation and the people, and yet, an absence of consensus to deal with it prevails.

A review of how Germany resolved similar circumstances in the 1930’s after catastrophic economic failure, can be instructive of what America could face should she fail to meet the debt/entitlement challenge. For when a nation is in a failed state, the people will arrive at a consensus to elect very strong willed leaders to take drastic measures to bring the nation back from its failure.

Chavez in Venezuela is another example. Or Putin in Russia. Such times when the people are more than willing to place their trust and faith in a very strong leader, are the most dangerous and risky times for a nation. It is up to the American voters to both educate themselves on the impending crisis and demand resolution BEFORE the crisis becomes a reality. How likely is that? Not as likely as most of us would like.

The time to have invested in the best educational system in the world was these last 50 years. Having failed that, America is now facing a crisis its political system is unprepared to deal with for lack of consensus and demand from the voters. Much rests on the caliber and consensus of the politicians elected in 2008 and 2010. Failure to remove sufficient status quo’ers, or elect enough consensus makers to legislate a viable solution to the debt/entitlement looming crisis, will see America fail economically.

And then, America will find consensus on one or more very strong leaders and tolerate their extreme measures to deal with a failed economic state, in what will also be a challenged global economy which is dependent in no small measure on our own.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 23, 2007 12:04 AM
Comment #227151

Of all of your paragraphs above, I agree with the last one the most.

Religion, politics, and philosophy are a farce.
What man can know all truth, or attain to all understanding?
To do so would require one to be able to harness an eternal and unchanging spirit which knows all things.
Yet, what man can trust even the spirits without; whether they be good or evil, lest first he judges them?
And how shall he judge them without having understanding?
But, blessed is the man who finds favor in the heart of God, and is granted the spirit of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding that he may judge that which is good and evil, truth and falsehood.
He shall be the pillar upon which his house will stand firm. And by him many others will also be blessed.


Posted by: JD at July 23, 2007 12:35 AM
Comment #227161

The aim of the framers of the Constitution was to create a more perfect union. After announcing that all men are created equal, they endeavored to make sure the union was not perfect. It was written in the climate of distrust and insecurity. Not only were they worried about the government they were trying to over-throw, they were distrustful of each other. Each one tried to make the outcome favor the interests they represented. They framed a compromise that was not the best for any one party It insured that all interests should be heard and balanced.

Compromise by its definition is not truth or the best form, it is a mediocre middle ground. No program is fully what its originator planned but a weakened replica. While this keeps an “evil” leader from taking over and doing great harm, it also insures that no great leader will ever lead us on the “right” path.

Every bill passed by Congress is displeasing in some aspects to all interested parties, therefore we always have something to complain about. Because of our current system for electing leaders, we emphasize the negative, what the “other” side, did to ruin the bill, so vote for me next time. This insures that each side will fight harder and use more rancor over the next bill, making accord almost impossible. The result, a lower compromise that has less to do with the original intention of the bill and more mediocrity.

Our only chance at changing this course and reversing the trend is for the leaders of the two main groups in our political system to start finding common ground and stop emphasizing the divde so that our compromises will not be as base. I am not holding my breath.

Our government was never based on finding the truth and we would not agree on what that was even if we found it. Those professing to seeking the truth are even more divided than our governmental system and are at the root of our current conflicts. Truth is not something that can be legislated.

Posted by: chef phil at July 23, 2007 9:56 AM
Comment #227166

when you were a child and you mom or dad told you not to cross any streets they did it because you were incapable of judgement on your own. I think you need to contemplate this deeply in context to your post about judging something you cannot comprehend.
Another way to say this would be to use an example in physics:
I have no thought before i throw my motorcycle into a deep , fast turn. yet i also dont have enough comprehension of all the physics that make it possible. I just trust that it is possible. this may be a bad physical example, but i trust you get the point.

Posted by: john in Texas at July 23, 2007 11:26 AM
Comment #227171

I believe in not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I do believe that Christianity is the better faith among all those out there. I believe, though, that respect for others is crucial to those who seek to pass it on. Otherwise, they only pass on the worship of one’s self, of power, of all the different things people try to use to push the choice in others.

I also believe two things: If people aren’t making an enemy of me, I shouldn’t make an enemy of them, and that even enemies should be shown respect and compassion. I do not know the full content of people’s characters, not even the Republicans and Right-Wingers I so often criticize. I work off of partial information, like everybody else.

I believe we are not aware of the full possibilities within people’s characters, not even our own. I think that’s one of the key things underestimated by modern politicans, Left and Right. Hell, it’s what’s often misunderstood by the media in general. But it’s key to bringing about any kind of change.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 23, 2007 12:14 PM
Comment #227175

“I also believe two things: If people aren’t making an enemy of me, I shouldn’t make an enemy of them, and that even enemies should be shown respect and compassion.”

I believe that the strong have a duty to protect the weak from mal treatment and opression. EX: If i were a Kurd during the time Saddam had decided to eliminate them, I would pray for some power with greater strength to save my children from the evil of genocide. The coalition then established the No Fly zone to keep Saddams helicopters from decimating the Kurds.
Similarly, if i saw you being attacked on the street, i would not even have the luxury of a thought process before my instincts took control and I take action. I have paid for this a few times, but i dont have a choice because of my belief system, the core of my personality.
Lastly, i have an intense dislike and a total lack of respect for those that intend harm on the innocent. It is my firm belief that these people are evil and not human. I tend to view them as sub human and not deserving of the respect i show to Joe sixpack on the street. The result is that I am capable of doing harm to the evil without remorse for it or violating my core beliefs. Like supporting the death penalty or using physical force.

Posted by: John in Texas at July 23, 2007 1:22 PM
Comment #227177

“Our only chance at changing this course and reversing the trend is for the leaders of the two main groups in our political system to start finding common ground and stop emphasizing the divde so that our compromises will not be as base. I am not holding my breath.”

I think you just wrote what most moderates feel. I have always claimed that America Lives in the middle. Forced into a “This one or that one” choice makes us choose sides rather than create an amalgum of both sides using the best of each. The fix is a real nightmare of competeing interests. Your assertion that making the 2 parties we have now look for common ground is more realistic than the rise of a 3rd “superparty” that works for all of us. 3rd parties attract so many competing interests that they wind up imploding like Ross Perot’s UNITED WE STAND.
I always thought that the first of the 2 major parties to move way to the middle would be elected in a landslide. Yet we never get that choice. The moderates get whacked in the party nomination process and the actual candidates get further and further away from each other like its a tug-O-war.
I am watching the GOP and Guiliani closely. Guiliani is a pro life, gay rights Republican. Very interesting, but can the GOP step to the plate and get him all the way to the nomination?

Posted by: John in Texas at July 23, 2007 2:09 PM
Comment #227181

To correct my previous post, Guiliani is PRO CHOICE not pro life. ( i never liked the “pro life” label, anti choice seems more accurate) nobody is anti life as far as i can tell. lol.

Posted by: John in Texas at July 23, 2007 3:03 PM
Comment #227183

Chef Phil-
There’s another way to see and also approach compromise, not as the diminishment of some perfect vision, but instead the fulfilment of the common need.

The importance of this distinction comes to the fore when we realize that often our ideas of what is best are flawed, based on our own limited perspective. Additionally, the ultimate compromise doesn’t necessarily have to be a degenerate version of one or both side’s plans. The Constitution little resembled everybody’s original vision of what they wanted.

Divides will always crop up, but that’s no reason not to seek after the truth. What I mean by truth is not philosophical truth, but simply the one reality in which we all live. We can’t simply wipe out the division. We must learn to moderate them, and not take advantage of each other’s moderation to push our will on them.

John In Texas-
You can trust that a sharp, fast turn on your motorcycle will come out right, and maybe it will. Even then, though, an oil slick or unexpected obstacle can ruin your day. Like I said, judgment is a combination of our rational, deliberative sides, and our emotional, intuitive, impulsive sides.

You’ll get no argument from me on the protection of the weak and the helpless, but for me it’s also important that I not make the situation worse. There are all kinds of issues that come up with helping people at the national scale that don’t figure into things when you’re peeling someone off of somebody they’re beating up. The number of people, the complexity of the targets and fulfilling the aims makes impulsivity a poor means of judging the situation correctly.

Additionally, You can’t fight everybody’s fights for them. We tried doing that with the South Vietnamese, and it lost us the war.

Lastly, on that particular comment, I’d say this: most enemies are just human beings on the wrong side of a dispute, even when they do horrible things. I’ve seen and read enough about history to know that just about anybody and any country is capable of horrible things. When I say respect and show compassion for your enemies, I do not mean let them walk all over you. I mean don’t let war and everything skew your focus on what is moral to do to other people. Once you walk down that road, you might as well give up your claims to being any better than your enemy. If we wish to be better than our enemies, then our philosophies and beliefs must not be the only distinction. Our behavior must preach that particular gospel as well.

People, in my experience, have an ability to rationalize just about anything. If we allow ourselves to bend too many rules and principles based on our beliefs. we will end up making an ironic joke of our principles.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 23, 2007 3:30 PM
Comment #227195

Yes i can see the need to make sure we dont make matters worse. The real problem is one of perception. And perception is reality. Unfortunately our perceptions are formed mostly by our press here and I have yet to find a press outlet that is without agenda. You and I dont really know if we are making Iraq better or worse. All you have are the words of people that want you to see certain things, not others, hear certain things, not others and even bend things into a more palatable presentation for the exclusive purpose of making money. Simply put, good news does not stick around and bad news that cause fears, well that sticks around and becomes capital in one form or another for one entity or another. Also consider how much worse things can get left unattended. Like Cambodia for instance.
So far i have read 3 books written by the grunts comming back from Iraq. The message is the same: the war is being run very poorly (until very recently) and the effort is paying off. The entire country is NOT at war and life actually does go on rather normally in most of Iraq. You wont get that in the press here. Nobody wants to hear it. Get on Amazon and order yourself a few first hand accounts written by combat reporteres or even the grunts in the sand. Then ask yourself the question not one single democrat congressman will answer: What happens in Iraq when we leave?

Posted by: John in Texas at July 23, 2007 5:34 PM
Comment #227205

“when you were a child and you mom or dad told you not to cross any streets they did it because you were incapable of judgement on your own. I think you need to contemplate this deeply in context to your post about judging something you cannot comprehend.”
Posted by: john in Texas at July 23, 2007 11:26 AM

No, John.
My parents cautioned me not to cross the street realizing that I already had the good sense not to do so, yet out of love, they attempted to remind me of the consequences of my actions if I chose to pursue the wrong path. Many times I wished to cross the street, sometimes out of sheer rebellion.
Some choose to believe the way they believe out of sheer rebellion for anything traditional or good. However, it is no longer politically correct to caution them as my parents did toward me. Some, unfortunately, have to get hurt, and learn the hard way, as per your motorcycle analogy. The point of my first post is that there is absolute truth and goodness. It is the confusion and chaos of this world that make it so difficult to find.

“Our only chance at changing this course and reversing the trend is for the leaders of the two main groups in our political system to start finding common ground and stop emphasizing the divde so that our compromises will not be as base. I am not holding my breath.”
Posted by: chef phil at July 23, 2007 09:56 AM

If what you say is correct, then why is there such an utter disdain for the likeness of both parties? Many on this blog say there is absolutely no difference between the parties, and one simply replaces the other, doing the same things as the party they replaced.
You say compromise is the solution; a blending of the parties to attain the best of both worlds. Yet, when the nation is at a crossroads, perhaps what is needed most is to “choose you this day whom you will serve”. Then, refrain from belly-aching about the consequence of your choice.


Posted by: JD at July 23, 2007 7:13 PM
Comment #227213


You can never arrive at THE truth. You can arrive at a practical working truth. Truth is statistical. It is like making many observations. None of them are right, but you can interpolate a more correct result than ANY of the observations.

You are looking at Pragmatism (the philosophy, not the shorthand). May I suggest reading some things by William James, Charles Sanders Pierce. In addition you might also like “the Metaphysical Club,” “Fooled by Randomness”, “The Black Swan” & “Decision traps”. You also might also check into Kahneman and Tversky’s Prospect Theory. Also a very good book is Robert Rubin’s “In an Uncertain World.”

You mention “Tipping Point”. That is an interesting book, but he kind of takes these theories and gives you the lite version.

Sorry to give you the lecture if you already know these things, but it sure seems like you are seeking the kind of truth these guys discuss.

Posted by: Jack at July 23, 2007 9:09 PM
Comment #227233

Jack, such relativism. I am mildly surprised. Is it not truth that government derives its power to govern from the assent of the people whether those people be Iraqi, Chinese or American? Is it not truth that freedom with responsibility amongst citizens is better than freedom or responsibility alone? Is it not truth that barring ‘insanity’, all peoples wish to live full and productive lives with meaning and dignity intact? Is it not a truth that for the human race, that living on a planet that provides is preferable to living on a planet exhausted?

There are many political truths that the human population has an overwhelming consensus about. Truth is not hard to find if one looks to what is common amongst the people’s of the world. Looking for truth in our differences is what tends to be a futile exercise. Race is a perfect example. Religion is another.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 23, 2007 11:42 PM
Comment #227239


Just so you know, I avoided commenting to your article sooner for one reason and one reason only, and this is a direct quote from your article:

“Only God possesses all truth, all wisdom.”

I don’t care to argue about god in any way. That can get very tough. Many people have died over disagreements over which god is THE true god and quite honestly it all gets down to a “my dad’s tougher than your dad” thing. Unfortunately as an international issue it’s resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of humans rather than just a black eye on the playground.

JD’s response exemplifies that.

Quite simply nothing can be called “truth” unless it’s already happened.

One example would be: the American public was misled to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD’s and had ties with AQ possibly even prior to 9/11.

None of those proved to be true.

I “suspect” that Bush & Co. lied, but in fact I can only say they were wrong.

OTOH, I can state as absolute “truth” that W used the term “CRUSADE” at least twice describing his invasion of Iraq.

Truth = Fact!

It’s true that I respect Stephen Daugherty. From what I’ve seen he respects everyone regardless of their beliefs.

It’s true that, in spite of being agnostic myself, I believe Joe Biden is the best Democratic candidate for POTUS even though he’s a devout Catholic. Most Americans recognize that faith is a personal thing whereas the promise of democracy is that we’ll all be free of discrimination.

Posted by: KansasDem at July 24, 2007 12:28 AM
Comment #227256


With regards to the two parties being the same i disagree completely. As for “one replaces the other”, i couldnt agree more. How is that possible? BOTH parties, no matter how different they are in philosophy, manage to put the best interest of the American people on the back burner. Oh we usually wind up with something, but the vast majority of either parties time is spent trying to destroy the other. We, the people, are the battleground and it is our inheritance they use for their war chest. The constitution is their weapon and both sides bend and twist it into a new look weapon to catch the opposition unprepared.
I sat on a jury a few years back and the week long debate in the jury room left me a different person. To see different people from differing backgrounds and education sit together in a room for a week and hammer out a compromise that would satisfy (as close as possible) everyone and get 12 people to vote as one, that was special. i want to know this: if 12 average people can do it , why cant the people we hand the septre to do the same? Are these people not supposed to be our best and brightest?

Posted by: John in Texas at July 24, 2007 9:43 AM
Comment #227261

This is perhaps one of the most sane blog discussions that I have had the pleasure of being involved in.

To me, this discussion truly lies at the crux of the political and ideological impasse that we all seem to find ourselves in.

I find myself agreeing with KansasDem (amazing), except that I would add an additional aspect to truth other then Truth= (historical) Fact.

That has to do with Truth=Belief. Belief can be very relative, but it does drive people to “truths”.


If one believes that life begins at conception or that life begins with viable birth and that it is a truth. One would act and/or vote accordingly to this truth.

If one believes that all war is wrong or that wars are justifiable and needed, one would act and/or vote accordingly to this truth.

If one believes in the government to intervene in a certain way or not a certain way, one would act and/or vote accordingly.

To act disdainfully and denigrate others in their truth/belief structure is hypocritical and myopic at best. To understand and recognize these “true” differences, (without compromising ones own truth/belief structure in order to cater to the masses politically) is divine. (I don’t see much of that out there on either side BTW)

Posted by: Cliff at July 24, 2007 11:10 AM
Comment #227265

John in Texas-
Perception is not reality. That’s been precisely my point. Too many on the right have taken up the view that this war has a bad reputation because of liberal media bias against it.

But what of the events they covered, like the escalating violence in the Summer of 2003, the explosion of Najaf and Fallujah in violence in Spring 2004, and subsequent outbreaks? What we’re seeing in Iraq are objective failures of security, of infrastructure, of economy and government. By making media perception the primary focus, the Republicans and the right have ended up chasing a ghost in the media machine, hoping to appeal to this Deux ex Media Machina for a bail-out in this war.

They look to the propaganda of past wars and convince themselves that what has been lacking is people’s positive perceptions. What they fail to realize is that its what’s lacking in the real progress of the war that has created that problem. If they had, early on, tackled the objective problems behind the perceptual ones, they could have solved both problems at once. Instead, they chose to try and win the war by using blunt force media tactics to win back support.

It’s not working. What’s been neglected is that people think these things through, rather than being passive receivers. People can react very negatively if they perceive that somebody’s just trying to B.S. their way out of admitting a mistake and dealing with it. It gets even worse when they get the sense that the folks in Washington aren’t listening, and are forcing their agenda without regards to their wishes.

As for the books, why don’t you post the names of the books in question. At the same time, do me this favor: don’t just read those. Even soldiers can be wrong, and it would be good for you to find out why people like me feel that this has become an unsalvageable mess.

Believe me when I say, I never wanted us to lose. I too worry about what happens when we leave. But I also have other concerns. For me, the question is whether our efforts can turn the tide. I don’t think so. We need the help of the very people we’ve alienated worse, and we can’t just erase the consequences of four years of insufficient security. As early as 2004, State Department official Philip Zelikow (correct me if I got that name wrong) made a report that essentially laid out Iraq as a failed state. That was three years ago. Now, we have reports that say to get a country in worse shape, we would have to go to Sudan.

The government can’t control its own territory, the country doesn’t have a real army of its own, and what army it does have has uncontrolled competition from local militias. The surge has not made this better. If it were working as it should be, even just the increase itself should have made a difference.

If we can’t make things better, than our staying will be pointless, a way of prolonging and probably inflaming the eventual outcome, not to mention complicating our departure when we do finally have no choice but to leave. Moreover, it will continue to extend the damage that this war has done to our ability to fight other wars, and don’t think that our enemies do not take advantage of such realities. People worry the hell out of perceptions, but they forget that objective strengths are just as important. What’s worse: a perception of weakness about us by the terrorists, or the perception of an open security hole we haven’t covered? One might give them hope enough to try an attack. The other might give them the means to do it. The perception that our ground forces have been badly weakened or the current one that we are militarily over committed lends all kinds of encouragement to those who wish to do mischief.

We’re too wrapped up in trying to manipulate states of mind. We should manipulate realities instead, and let the consequences of those realities change people’s minds. It’s more complex, and you can’t do as much spinning to avoid the consquences, but if we do our job right, then there is objective reason to give positive responses to our policy.


You can never arrive at THE truth. You can arrive at a practical working truth. Truth is statistical. It is like making many observations. None of them are right, but you can interpolate a more correct result than ANY of the observations.

Truth is not statistical. You can’t average it out. We use statistical methods to describe how systems might act, but that’s dependent on two things: identifying the contingent factors, that is those on which the probability rests, and getting the right information to start the models off. You can’t, however make precise predictions. Moreover, it’s not truth that you get. Truth is what actually happens. Statistics, at best, give you an idea of what you can likely expect, and at worse is utterly irrelevant to what’s going on.

I agree with you on The Tipping Point. Mark Buchanan’s work is good to read on this matter; I think his Ubiquity and Nexus books have excellent lessons to teach us about the shape of how populations, especially voting populations act Emergence is a good book by Steven Johnson about the phenomena.

My point of view is this: if we want a particular outcome, we have to observe and work out the structure of the systems in question, because the simple reactions we expect are rarely going to be the one you expect.

Substitute whatever deity you worship, whatever universal force you envision. My point is, we can’t know things perfectly, can’t understand perfectly, and we need to allow for that in our approaches to these things.

The future follows from the present, and though our ability to gain knowledge and understand wisdom is imperfect, we have to try.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 24, 2007 11:25 AM
Comment #227270

Stephen D.,

You’ve opened a can of worms, and wiggling out are questions of ontology, epistemology, psychology, and communication theory.

The issues explicit and implicit in your article can never be resolved; indeed, the very beginnings of Western culture dealt with these issues. The earliest comprehensive examinations in our culture of such issues are fraught with tension: Truth is real and almost unapproachable, but in practical terms, the only way we can approach it is through self examination and dialogue. The test was whether internally consistent accounts of the Truth can be produced. And yet, an assumption of this method was that we, as souls pressed into flesh, already know the truth if we can but remember it. This was a radical synthesis of notions in the air — Truth is of the gods, and truth is indivually or communally ascertained.

What can we take from our earliest speculations? For some this is not a real question; truth is found in religious texts. For others, these speculations lie at the heart of what it is to be human. For my own part, I find these speculations necessary, but their fruit lies in the perspective we gain and not in any belief that we’ve answered the questions. As a practical, daily matter, I think we have to turn to communication theory and rhetoric. Our goal is to provide the best accounts of phenomenon, and communicate/create those accounts through dialogue.

These communicated/created accounts must survive the tests of logic, but also they incorporate our values. Take the Iraq War, for instance. It is unquestioned for most that an American life has more value than the life of a foreigner. All our discussion is predicated on that assumption, and when someone tries to challenge it, they are dismissed out of hand. Nationalistic identity trumps concern about individual life. I’m not saying that a country should not be more concerned about its own citizens; I’m simply pointing out that we are talking about truths and not Truth.

Frankly, I get worried when I hear politicians or partisans talk about Truth because they rarely acknowledge the contigent nature of their construction. It’s often a ploy to cut off dialogue.

Posted by: Gerrold at July 24, 2007 12:03 PM
Comment #227274

Book titles as follows, one by a journalist and 2 by soldiers:
The Last true story i will ever tell
Among warriors in iraq
No true glory

One theme that is common among these books is the lack of caring by the Iraqi on the street. They seem to have no understanmding of freedom actually means for their future. if i have any doubts they are in the “are these people worth it” context. But in any case a person such as yourself that wishes to make commentary on the situation needs to have information other than what can be collected from media sources. Maybe the Time/life country wide survey of 2005 or maybe the movie “Voices from Iraq” in which video cameras were distributed to the average Iraqi and they each made a documentary on their perspectives. Maybe even a look at google earth, take a tour of Bagdad from space. There are at least 40 books written by soldiers, politicians and even Iraqis on the subject. I get the feeling you are relying on off the shelf media that centers on the insurgents efforts in Bagdad. And given that perspective it would be helpful for you to picture the same situation in a city like Detroit and the problems you might encounter given the rules of engagement, the lack of respect for human life the insurgents demostrates and the common sense of morality. The gangs seem to thrive there despite the general dislike for them. Then postulate on what you WOULD do instead of what you would not.
I agree with some of what you say, not all. The statement I made “perception is reality” holds true for those that dont investigate as deeply as possible looking for actual reality. At this point, i cant agree with your reality. i may have to eventually, but not right now.

Posted by: John in Texas at July 24, 2007 12:28 PM
Comment #227276

“My point is, we can’t know things perfectly, can’t understand perfectly, and we need to allow for that in our approaches to these things”

Should we not also apply that reasoning to those whom we are judging?

Posted by: kctim at July 24, 2007 1:16 PM
Comment #227286

Cliff, you are now defining truth as relative to any particular person who holds a belief. Truth is not, and has never been defined in such an arbitrary fashion. The definition of truth is debatable, but, not as an arbitrary belief held by a single individual. Truth stands up to certain tests, differing kinds of truth to differing testing standards. But, truth has never been synonymous with belief as you postulate.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 3:10 PM
Comment #227291

David R,

Sorry, but your answers beg these questions…

Is there such a thing as absolute truth, or is it a moving target?

How do “you” define truth?

Posted by: cliff at July 24, 2007 4:11 PM
Comment #227303

Absolute truth, if exists, exists whether mankind exists or not. Since, we cannot test whether such a truth exists in the absence of the human species, the answer is NO. There is no verifiable absolute truth.

There is however absolute belief that there is a truth that transcends the human species. That is the subject of religion and philosophy. But, the truth proposed by religion or philosophy is not verifiable absent the human species, hence, there is no absolute truth. Only subscription to a belief in an unverifiable absolute truth.

Absolute truth is a very different kind of truth from consensual truth. We all experience gravity on earth. Objects sent into space also conform their trajectories according our experience of gravity. Gravity is a consensual truth, verifiable amongst ourselves through common experience.

Which is why I earlier referred to truth being found in what is common amongst people, not in their differences.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 6:07 PM
Comment #227304

I understand your attitudes about “truths”. That’s why I take the somewhat zen-like approach of saying there is no essential truth in what we think and say. We have to think of brains in evolutionary terms, as adaptations that worked well, but which worked well in a context, rather than all by themselves. I’m not going to get into a religious debate about whether it was accidental or designed, but I will say that intelligence works at its best when we don’t think about it as self-sufficient.

I wrote something about C.S. Lewis’s attitude towards patriotism a while back. My attitude reflects his: we should be humble enough to acknowledge the real source of our love of our country, that it is home, and there’s no place like it, and that we defend it for the same reason we would, as he put it, punch a burglar in the nose: because what would be taken from us would be something we missed.

Americans don’t want to live in fear in their own country, and are angry to be struck at here. That is why we defend our country, not because it is God’s gift from on high. To deal with our country on those terms is to turn our patriotism itself into a God to be worshipped. In C.S. Lewis’s apt quotation of another author, the love which is turned into a God becomes a demon.

Anything we define as absolute truth, short of absolute truth itself, can become a controlling, fixating obsession with us. We must realize our limits, if we are to be open to recognizing and correcting our mistakes.

John in Texas-
In 2005, some cautious optimism was possible. Hell, it took until August of 2006 before I really came down firmly on the side of thinking it was unwinnable. The books you’re writing about there are all published Around summer 2005. So was that book in particular. Those books actually look interesting and I might take a gander at them, but I think it’s only right to point out that these books reflect a situation more than two years in the past. A lot has happened in those two years, especially to the soldiers.

What would I do? I’ve stated it plainly: a controlled withdrawal, with parallel efforts to keep things under control by diplomatic and economic means. I do not see a reckless withdrawal as an option, and part of the reason that I insist we start this gradual withdrawal sooner, rather than later, is that things will become more difficult to get right as situation deteriorates further. Let’s not make any mistakes here: we are part of the reason the situation is deteriorating. We are the big club everybody wants to wield against everybody else.

If we want things to work out, though, we have to know who to set in opposition to who, who among Iraq’s neighbors to deal with concerning putting out the different fires. We have to get them involved, or rather get them involved constructively. That’s not happening while we’re there.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 24, 2007 6:22 PM
Comment #227314

“Absolute truth, if exists, exists whether mankind exists or not. Since, we cannot test whether such a truth exists in the absence of the human species, the answer is NO. There is no verifiable absolute truth. There is however absolute belief that there is a truth that transcends the human species. That is the subject of religion and philosophy. But, the truth proposed by religion or philosophy is not verifiable absent the human species, hence, there is no absolute truth. Only subscription to a belief in an unverifiable absolute truth.”
Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 06:07 PM

But, David you speak of absolute truth as if it is only defined by man. With the vastness of the universe, why would anyone see truth as defined only by man? Therefore, abosolute truth can exist even without man as you said, but may also be verified by others than man. Man is not necessarily the central figure of the universe, thus all things are not necessarily defined or verified by him. So, I disagree with your verification theory. Stephen touched upon a key principle to finding truth. He mentioned our humility in assessing why we believe the things we believe. I’ve always thought the wisdom of a man is directly proportionate to that of his humility. There are much greater forces than the force of man.

Which is why I earlier referred to truth being found in what is common amongst people, not in their differences.
Posted by: David R. Remer at July 24, 2007 06:07 PM

But, often times David, it is within one’s differences that the truth is most powerfully revealed.


Posted by: JD at July 24, 2007 7:27 PM
Comment #227433


And what happens to haji sixpack on the street in Iraq?

Posted by: John in Texas at July 26, 2007 9:16 AM
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