Saturday, May 01, 2004

Casual Philosophy edition, Issue 2: Big Lie or Worse?

Epistemology as it turns out is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, truth, and facts. "How do we know what we know?" or the process of knowledge and its characterization could be said to be the definition of epistemology. Reason is central to our experience of reality. Without this "magical science", we could not exist in a complex and confusing world of surface appearances.

So what happens to this picture when a lie enters? One way to inquire about the effects of lying is to ask what could be more destructive to truth based and fact based mental experience than lying. This would set the upper bound on the destructiveness of lies.

What then is worse than a lie?

MaxSpeaks comments on the ridiculous extent of lying in modern government.

The remark by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson bears repeating here (archived at Daily Kos):

"I've obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way she lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness."

Max's comments invoke George Orwell's book, "1984" (searchable online edition).

We should ask ourselves, why does government lie? It lies because there is some gain to be had. This is a hard lesson to learn in life. How many of us lie? How many of us live lies? How many of us tolerate lies for the sake of pragmatism? These social illusions create the moral gaps necessary in aggregate to enable government lies.

Governments lie because it works, they lie badly and blatantly and without shame because even bad, blatant, and shameless lies are an improvement to their situation.

How many times have each of us turned our backs on someone who told the truth, who spoke what we didn't like, who asked us to give up a cherished illusion or preogative for the greater good. Government works this way in a sort of moral balance to the selfishness, shortsightednesss, and partisanship of its participatory citizens.

There's this kind of weirdness going on. We know we're being lied to like Tucker Carlson. We know the government is lying to us like Karen Hughs lied to Tucker Carlson. Like Tucker Carlson we know the government knows we know it's lying even as it lies to us. This lying is as Political Animal discusses about matters of life and death.

Here Daniel Drezner does what could have gone under another edition of my "Yet Another Conservative Sickened By This Administration's Policies" but I won't claim it since Dan himself does the job so admirably on exploring conservative discontent.

However it shows how deeply divided we as a nation have become if we can have a Republican President betray just about all that conservatives hold dear except income tax cuts and the implication is that John Kerry is too liberal to become elected.

Look, if you ask me John Kerry is a big pouting snobbish waffling smart-ass who is painfully deficient in charisma.

However, he is as far as I can determine sane.

The Agonist's review of Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack" reveals that Bob Woodward didn't report Bush as being a simpleton or a puppet of Cheney. It did however reveal him as being pathologically misinformed and absent in settling disputes among his own subordinates.

People get the government they deserve, not the government and leaders they need. What should shake us is not there is government that approaches the levels of 1984, but that we have a people that is so easily receptive to it.

The American people mirror the President that we've chosen to lead us. Putting aside the 2000 vote, clearly since then Americans have supported this President's policies tacitly and often openly. When abuses have arisen, we simply haven't called the President to account as we might have past Presidents. When failures have occurred, an extraordinary degree of public restraint has been evinced. All of this is driving the Democrats mad, because they just don't get why they can't make serious headway against a President that doesn't seem to be performing and yet doesn't have massive drops in his levels of public support.

In any other circumstance, I would probably be mirthful and blame it on the Democrats. Clearly they designed and nurtured the public education school system to its present state of agonizing inefficiency are clearly responsible for the denuded state of public oversight and discourse.

However it became not so funny a long time ago when it became apparent the degree of madness that was occuring. At this point I'm not sure if the people involved are in their right minds in either a legal or medical sense. Something really weird is going on with our nation. We can't just blame it all on Bush, or his cadre's lies. There's something wrong with a lot of us if we're putting up with this.

I ask myself one question over and over again, and that is if these words had come from the mouth of Clinton would I have believed him? The answer again and again is no. I didn't believe Clinton the liar and opportunist then, and I don't believe Bush the deciever now. Certainly if these lies had come out of the mouth of President Johnson I would have fallen down laughing at the arrogance and the error.

But a lot of people do believe. Or at least they think it's sufficiently tolerable that they'd rather have an Administration out of touch with reality that doesn't represent their interests than one they disagree with strongly politically that doesn't represent their interests. That's scary. I mean at least if you voted in the crazy guy and he was doing what you wanted, that would make sense. But it's pretty clear that on most issues John Kerry and GWB are a wash. Yet the preference seems to be for the crazy guy. That's scary on a level beyond politics and whoever you support. It means that our country is so out of it that we can no longer tell the difference between fact and fantasy.

I don't know what to do about this. This is one of those stunning moments when it all sinks in. We're back here still trying to figure out what is going on, while the people on the ground who see it all too clearly are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship.

***
At the same time, a top Defense Department official this week acknowledged publicly for the first time that the war effort was suffering a "brain drain" of civilian workers who were fleeing Iraq because they didn't feel safe.

Truck convoys in Iraq are "more like a journey through the wild, wild west," Gen. Darryl A. Scott, the director of the Defense Contract Management Agency, told a conference of government and corporate contracting officials in Orlando, Fla.

"That's a reality there. People leave every day. ... It does make operating in that environment more difficult."

***

When the Pentagon becomes the superior source of intelligence and news reporting than the White House (MSNBC), you know we're in deep trouble. "President Bush said Friday that the United States was making progress in stabilizing Iraq a year after he stood before a “Mission Accomplished” banner to declare an end to major combat operations."

In the interests of keeping this fair since this is Philosophy Friday, I don't think Kerry is being very truthful either. There is a difference though. When John Kerry lies, and he get's caught at it he then "clarifies" himself by trying to fudge himself into an entirely different position than he originally started.

This is disgusting, but at least it shows he both understands the real facts and that he is sensitive enough to public perceptions of him to try to lie himself into the opposite stance.

When the White House get's caught lying, they delude themselves that they were right all along.

So that's the choice we have. A liar and a madman. Government inept and corrupt as usual as opposed to government by not just the eccentric but the most downright weird you can get.

Btw that last cite was a WaPo article on the collapse of the Bush Administration space proposal amid complete chaos, incoherence, lack of oversight, and the inability to come up with a plan for completion. At this point I see the troubles in Iraq as not merely a stumble, or a mistake, or a political difference, but a genuine question of mental competency.

The attitude of the people involved seems to be that they will announce things, tell other people to accomplish it, and then sit back and wait for it to happen. On those other occasions that the listening parties have complied, say the IRS or US military, their will has been carried out and implemented. On those occasions when they had to fill in some blanks themselves, the whole house of cards fell apart.

So what is the big lie? The big lie is that our government is lying.

You heard me, Al Franken and the others, are simply wrong. This is not the worst government since Nixon. Nixon's Administration was a glowing epiphany of brilliance compared to this Administration.

No, the big lie is that our government is lying. They as a matter of fact think that they are telling the truth, despite all facts contrawise. That is the truly amazing thing. That they could have so twisted a vision of reality that they still don't understand what went wrong, they "don't get it".

Right now it sort of makes me nostaglic for the days of Clintonesque and Nixonian lying. I mean at least when they were lying I had the somewhat cold comfort of knowing that they were intelligent enough to know they'd screwed up. These guys?

I wish they had enough epistemological insight in order to figure out that they were wrong enough to lie in the first place.

What is worse than lying? Madness. Sheer madness.

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