Sunday, November 05, 2006

Misinterpreting Kerry

Another theory weekend is over and it is time to once again get back to the realm of practical application.

Only, this time, I want to start the week by applying the principles that I wrote about over the weekend. I wish to apply them to the incident in which Kerry said, Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

Interpreting Kerry’s Statement

Apparently, Kerry meant to suggest that Bush did not study hard or do his homework before he made the decision to attack Iraq. However, the Bush Administration sought to interpret the comment as a claim that only uneducated people go to Iraq – and intelligent people have alternatives that will allow them to avoid service.

What we have is a case in which the Bush Administration was able to sell a misinterpretation of Kerry’s remarks, and to use this incident to make gains in its campaign to hold on to political power. Indeed, with this trick, they might have even succeeded. There are a number of close races that will determine whether the Republicans or the Democrats control the Senate. (A tie will go to the Republicans because Vice President Cheney has the power to cast any tie-breaking vote.)

So, for the most part, we have a case in which the ability to control trillions of dollars of government spending and to direct the flow of trillions of more dollars through regulation could well be handed to a group of people who managed to skillfully market a lie.

With the people of the United States willing to grant this type of power to liars, it would be foolish to have any reluctance to lying. It’s not the honest people who get control over all of that money and power – the money and power go to the best, most efficient liars.

In other words, in such a society, lying is not irrational. Whatever we have to say about the Bush Administration’s handling of Kerry’s comments – it would be hard to make the case that they acted irrationally.

Irrationality is not the evil that brought us to this state. It’s dishonesty. And, more importantly, it is the public’s willingness to grant such huge amounts of wealth and power – to offer the most valuable rewards in the country – to people who are not only willing to, but who actually engaged in the act, of mass deception.

Of course, we can go further and ask about the rationality of fostering no particular desire for truth or aversion to deception. It is because we live in a society in which our neighbors reward deception and punish honesty that we find ourselves surrounded by so much deception and so little honestly – particularly in political campaigns. If, instead, we rewarded honestly and punished deception, then we should expect campaigns to become more honest.

If we treated the discovery that a candidate’s contribution to a dishonest campaign add the way we treat the discovery of a candidate writing sexually explicit emails to underage pages, we would expect dishonest campaign ads to become as rare as sexually explicit emails to underage pages. They would still show up from time to time – but the discovery of such a candidate’s participation in a dishonest message would force the candidate to immediately withdraw in disgrace.

We could start now, with the Bush Administration’s actions regarding Kerry’s remarks. Their intentional misinterpretation of those remarks involves exploiting a deception for political purposes. To the degree that we reward liars, to that degree we can expect to bring more liars into politics. So, let us start now to condemn liars, rather than reward them.

On this issue, it is interesting to note how widespread this lack of concern for the truth – this absence of aversion to dishonesty – has come. There is such a huge body of influential people (people rewarded with money and power) who care nothing for the truth that the Bush Administration can saturate the media with this lie for over a day.

Try this in a society of people who love the truth and have an aversion to deception, the story might still dominate the media for a day. However, it would dominate the media from a different angle. It would be in the form of condemnation of the Bush Administration and their spokesmen in the press who repeated this lie for their lack of concern with the truth. It would be in the form of casting shame and blame on Bush, Cheney, Fox News, and the rest of the conservative clan until they were forced to apologize for attempting to hold on to political power through such an act of deception.

In seeking to oppose this culture of deception, it is not enough to condemn the deceivers themselves. It is also important to condemn those who support this deception – those who give it life, food, and energy in the form of financial reward and political power. Fighting this deception means cutting deceivers off from financial and political gain, and giving them instead to non-deceivers. It means shaming those who support deception and praising the friends of honesty and truth those who join us in fighting this type of practice.

The Place of Religion

On the idea that religion is to blame for society’s ills – and that the task at hand is to fight religion, I want to point out the fact that the dominant religions that these deceivers claim to support and follow is a religion that, itself, condemns “bearing false witness” against others. Yet, these people “bear false witness” without the least sign of guilt or reluctance that we can conclude that they have no aversion at all to this activity. They clearly are NOT getting their morals from their religion.

Their religion also condemns those who collect interest or who work on the Sabbath – saying that such people should be put to death. Yet, they not only refuse to call for the execution of those who violate these rules, they violate the rules themselves.

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that something else - something other than religious teachings is giving them their moral rules.

All I am doing here is using simple observation to test a theory. Observation does not support the theory that these people are getting their morality from a religious source. Rather, they are getting their morality somewhere else and using religious sources to support it where convenient, and ignoring religion as a source of morality where it is not convenient.

If this were not the case then they would NOT be bearing false witness against others (and would be condemning those who did so as they condemn those who engage in homosexual acts). They would be condemning those who work on the Sabbath or who collect interest. Though there is, perhaps, a small number of who follow such practices – but not enough to justify the claim that these people draw their morality from religion.

Though they condemn homosexuality and justify their claims through religious references, there is no evidence to suggest that they would cease to abandon their condemnation of homosexuality in the absence of religion.

It is just as likely that they would find some other excuse. For example, they may draw upon some ‘Darwinian’ argument that procreative sex is evolutionarily unfit, or that it is intrinsically wrong.

They may seek to make a moral subjectivist argument. “A subjective feeling of disapproval is the only thing that makes murder wrong; and a subjective feeling of approval for killing murderers is sufficient to make capital punishment right. Well, I’ve got the same subjective feeling of disapproval for homosexuality and the same love of the idea of killing off all of the fags. Therefore, this is all it takes to make it right for me to support killing all the fags. Right?”

So, where are they getting their morality if not from a religious source?

My suggestion – they get their morality from the praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment of others. They have acquired their lack of aversion to deception from the fact that deceivers are rewarded with great wealth and power. They have little or no aversion to collecting interest on loans and working on the Sabbath because these actions are not condemned – and those who violate these rules collect the rewards in the form of interests or the furthering of goals that working on the Sabbath provides.

By using praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment it is possible to influence what others like and dislike, even to the point of getting them to ignore religious text. It has gotten them to ignore religious teachings on collecting interest and working on the Sabbath. It has also gotten them to ignore religious teachings on bearing false witness against others (though, in this case, those religious teachings are correct and the deviance found in the Bush Administration is harmful to society). It can influence their other attitudes as well.

3 comments:

Mike said...

I feel bad for Kerry, all this flak because he can't tell a joke.

michael u said...

Firstly, I don't think you have to resort to the wrong means (religion) to get to the right ends (lying is bad). An analogy could be gravity as it works on earth: you don't have to say that gravity is really the weight of outer space pressing down (wrong means) that makes an apple fall to the ground (right ends). If religion is used as such, namely, don't lie because God said it is bad, it may cause people to stop lying, but this is little more than simple authoritarianism or consequentialism.

That lying is "rewarded" in the current gestalt is also debatable. As we can "go further and ask about the rationality of fostering no particular desire for truth or aversion to deception", we can also examine further this concept of reward, which I think you're presenting over-simply. What do you mean by reward? Immediate gratification? Long-term sustainment? Obtaining power? Is power in and of itself to be considered a reward, and if so, why? Do you simply mean reward in the sense of getting that which is desired or do you mean it in any sense of "being good for" etc.

I'm not sure if I agree with your argument that being dishonest in a system that temporarily rewards dishonesty is the rational thing to do. It certainly may be the expedient thing to do, but what about long-term consequences, on one level, and furthering transgressing an ethical boundary simply because there is no punishment? Even if things often operate on a level of punishment and reward, I have to wonder if ethics should be judged based on a system of punishment and reward as opposed to, to quote another source, "moral reasoning based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles... with laws valid insofar as they are grounded in justice and that a commitment to justice would carry with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws [and, presumably, unjust systems of benefit or gain]." I'll not digress any further, but, roughly, I'd argue for universal ethical imperatives on the basis of a socially aware categorical imperative. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

When viewed in the context of Kerry's long history of attacking America's military, there can be little doubt that his comments were not misinterepreted - intentionally or otherwise.