Thursday, January 09, 2003

Just the Truth, Ma'am

Tom and I discuss this a lot, via email and such (when we are not abusing each other's football team choices): Very little modern argument is really about what is true and what is false. We have all of us acquired the nasty habit of assuming our own assertions and premises to be true and others' false a priori. And so, very little of a conversation is given over to the illumination of Truth itself. But, since an argument has to be about something (cf., "Argument"), we spend all of our time arguing about why the other guy is wrong. (CS Lewis termed it "Bulverism" in an eponymous essay.)

But, really, there is no question of greater importance in a conversation than, "Is it true?" People keep recommending to me "Bowling for Columbine," that movie by the notorious liar Michael Moore. I keep telling them I have no intention of seeing it, because it contains a number of known fabrications, falsehoods, and lies in it. (Among the problems: the title. Harris and Klebold were at one time reported to have gone bowling before going to school to commit murder, but better information came along to show that they had not done so. But still, the premise was too good to allow its falsity to get in the way.) And the response of people to that is shocking to me: "That may be true, but even so, the larger point he makes is so important, it is necessary for us to address the terrible problem of children and guns, and this movie helps us do that!" But, I ask in reply, if the movie contains fabrications and lies, how, in fact, do we know that there *is* a problem with children and guns? This is met with either hostility, malice, or pity (pity for such an ignorant creature as me, who plainly cannot see what is right in front of my face as self-evident truth).

Now, it would seem to me, if I were concerned with truth, as opposed to a priori conclusions, if I nevertheless believed there is an epidemic problem with children and guns, that the last thing I would do is lean on Michael Moore for support of that proposition, once it became clear that he is not a reliable source. I would, in fact, want to lead the charge in discrediting him, so that he cannot be used to abuse me and my position. I would say, "Oh, you can't rely on Moore's storytelling. He's entertaining, but not very scrupulous. A much better source on the subject, that demonstrates the problem very clearly, is 'X'."

But the truth no longer outs. Instead, we discredit the messenger, because we longer no how to discern the truth.

(Bonus points to those who can "spot the Bulverism" in this very essay.)


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