Posted by Ginny on May 29th, 2007 (All posts by Ginny)
This should probably be filed under new examples of age-old conflicts – a discussion which gets us nowhere:
The lack of response to the “torture manual” by so many who decry the very existence of Guantanamo is discouraging, but the comment string on Surber’s post raises a different (more theoretical if perhaps no larger) question. An early comment by Talboito argues:
Yes, the United States must be above even “false stories” of torture.
We are the United States.
Most of us (probably all) would agree that the United States needs to hold itself to a higher standard than such barbarism. A telling if minor reason is that while beheadings may be seen as a recruiting tool in some cultures, they are not likely to be in ours. Recruiting people drawn to swear allegiance to the party of the torture manuals is not likely to lead to a very disciplined or very intelligent army. Then of course, as my student said of Hester’s “adultery thing”, there’s always that “moral thing.” And, of course, we become what we do. A country that values both self-consciousness and action needs to intertwine the two.
This comment, however, raises another question. How well does the open marketplace work when rumors are treated as truths – and how can Cesar’s wife appear pure when beset by those who would spin her very virtues as vices? We see Iago at work and recognize that while he may play upon Othello’s frailties, those frailties are ones we understand. Besides, we know this happens, apparently innocently and apparently quietly, as in this office watercooler talk to which Instapundit links. I understand gossip because I do it and my motives are not always pure and my facts not always straight. I am more likely to credit virtues to my friends and vices to my enemies. Writing, I try to modify my points, acknowledging my tendencies & the vagaries of my memory – still, those are my tendencies.
Few of us believe these women should have been fired because we know how often and often innocently we speak of others; we know how little we expect verification for those passing comments. We believe this even as we know that such rumors can, if repeated often enough and strongly enough, be toxic in the workplace. I suspect we know that to gossip is human nature & efforts that try to corral it are unlikely to succeed and quite likely to have extremely negative consequences.
Because we know this and we know the preconceptions lead us to accept some spin and not other, then, finally, how can we hold America to a standard by which even our sworn enemies can not possibly murmur against us? (Even if we assumed they valued a truth overriding their loyalties). The writer’s comment, prompted I’m sure by motives that respect rather than denigrate America’s approach and America’s heritage, is vacuous.
An example is the AP’s reflexive reference to Bush and Kyoto. Of course, Bush’s impatience with the “look” that we are taking this treaty seriously, his oil patch background, his Republicanism softened his audience’s reaction, leaving it vulnerable to a belief that the defeat of Kyoto was the result of Bush’s position in 2001 rather than Hagel and Byrd’s (and 95 senators) in 1997. So, some could argue, it is Bush’s fault, just as it may have been the sins of America in setting up Guantanamo that led to the false rumors of Korans being flushed into its sewers. But however these rumors began and even if we acknowledge that little in this (or any) administration is as spotless as Desdemona, they are still untruths. Exactly how do we gauge the generalized truth when we assemble such “truths” to define it?
And so we conclude with one of our old whipping boys – the argument that all that the truth lies in the perception rather than the action – and yet another example of how such a belief wreaks havoc in the great marketplace of ideas. Of course, attempts to regulate the “truth” of these arguments is likely to ban the inconvenient or uncomfortable but quite true truths as well. It is up to us to use more reason and ask for more proofs – that helps, of course. It doesn’t end with this, however.