Wednesday, January 25, 2006

True statement

I was doing a quick browse of the news before heading off to my campus office and I saw that Alberto Gonzales said at Georgetown University Law School that NSA citizen surveillance -- the "terrorist surveillance program" -- is not illegal or unconstitutional. I thought, who cares what Gonzales or Bush or Cheney says? I mean, really. Does anyone actually give such statements any credence any more? They are statements, flat claims or even fiats. Yet, they aspire to being truth claims. The basic method of the administration is that if you say it, it is true.

There is an entire history of philosophy and there are hundreds of intricate theories built around the nature of truth and of truth-claims. The basic guidepost regarding true knowledge, found in Plato's Socrates, is that knowledge is justified true belief. That is, we know something when it is true, we believe it to be true, and we can provide an account or convincing evidence of its truth. For this administration, knowledge and truth seem to be simple belief. Not even... rather, a demand that you the citizen believe, whether the speaker -- Gonzales or Bush or whoever -- believes the statement to be true or not. Justification hardly ever enters into the equation. And truth is always tenuous at best. In fact, we could say that knowledge and what citizens and non-citizens should believe is, for the administration, whatever the administration says it is. This method only has purchase on claims to truth and knowledge if one is an omniscient god. The administration, in other words, assumes it is god. You, therefore, must believe the statements of the all-knowing. If day is night and night is day, you must believe.

Fortunately, this method appears to have run its course with most people. There are still the clingers-on: the cowering conservatives whose fear leads them to any security blanket in a supposed storm, the person incapable of basic inference, those who have something personally to gain by lying or by pitching the party line. But for the most part, it's difficult to pay any attention any more to anything the administration says. Unfortunately, it often appears to believe its own lies and dictates. Unfortunately, what is said -- unjustified false belief (or maybe non-belief) -- is "news" and reporters repeat this news as if it says something of substance. It thus takes on the appearance of being information that contributes to the supposed justification of true belief.

We have neither justified true belief from the administration nor information nor any reason to believe anything further they say. Yet, their words are constantly in front of us forced there by the mediators, the media. The system is broken. The ship is rudderless. The emperor has no clothes. It's no wonder there is little sense to American policy.

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