Connect with us

Americas

Noble and Ignoble Lies in the Era of Post-Truth

Published

on

On January 20, 2017, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the US, the era of fact-free information (or misinformation, or fake news, as the case may be), the era of the tweet as policy determinant, the era of Post-Truth will have officially been inaugurated.

For quite a while now, there is around journalistic and even scholarly circles an ominous tendency to ignore facts (empirically, or rationally and logically arrived at) and simply manufacture and propagate outright lies with little if any challenge by the media.

After all, if we are to construe lying in a subjectivistic Machiavellian mode, truth telling and lying is ultimately in the eye of the beholder and the intentions of the liar. The rationalization seems to be this: if the ends are noble and worthy, then a lie said for that end and specifically for the love of one’s country is amply justified. In more modern terms such an ethical approach toward lying for political reasons can also be construed as utilitarian, that is to say, the results are what count, never mind moral codes, the Kantian categorical imperative, intentions and means.

In fact, such an approaches would be rejected as specious by deontological ethics. Kant insisted that categorical imperatives, such as that of never to lie under any circumstances, are universal and are one’s duty to be considered such at all times. But even within that universalistic approach there are disagreements. Some neo-Kantian philosophers distinguish between prima faciae duties in conflict with each other and suggest that we need to establish and observe priorities when such is the case. They point out that the guidance of ethics is needed exactly when duties and values are in conflict. For example, if one is hiding a Jewish family in one’s attic and the Gestapo knocks at the door to inquire, one may weight the value of duty toward life in general against the value of being truthful at all times and favor the former over the latter. The Gestapo has no right to invade one’s privacy and ask questions to begin with. So even as a deontologist one has a loophole available when it comes to lying. Kant would of course counter that to begin down the slippery slope of lying, even that of telling white lies to avoid inconveniences to oneself, something most people engage in, is to contribute to the undermining of the general trust and the very foundations of a civilization or a community.

Be that as it may, to come down to the current concrete examples of American politics, I suppose the crux of the problem lies in the now accepted political demonizing of one’s adversary introduced by the Tea Party and its final product, Donald Trump, some two years ago to be soon inaugurated as official policy. In other words, when the lie is told by oneself or one’s party, it is a noble lie, when it is told by one’s opponent then it is slander or pernicious propaganda. If I go around slandering the legitimacy of a sitting president for a whole five years (the so called birther movement), that’s ok; but it is not ok when representative questions the legitimacy of the same propagandist, now president, due to reprehensible Russian interference. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Hence the past sad spectacle of congressman Wilson from South Carolina yelling “you lie” to President Obama as he delivered a state of the union speech before Congress. It would never have occurred to him to do like-wise to a Republican president; in his mind, a Republican president would ipso facto be a real bona fide patriotic American and he would only be capable of noble lies concocted via tweet for the common good. One may now begin to wonder what ever happened to the old myth about George Washington, that he never told a lie. But wait a minute, isn’t that myth too a falsehood or a lie? It appears that we have a real conundrum on our hands, which, if truth be told, goes back to Plato’s Republic, the first philosophical tract to talk about noble lies.

In fact, in The Republic 414 b-415 d, Plato talks about the noble lie, a phony reality given to the people for their own good. Some have interpreted this function as the very role of Socrates, to corrupt the youth of Athens with a noble lie, thus explaining why he was put to death. So, lo and behold, we find out that Plato precedes Machiavelli in dealing with this conundrum by some 2000 years and a case can be made that Machiavelli is closer to Kant when he unmasks the myth of the noble lie and ideals on paper which are then disregarded in practice, and proceeds to tell things political exoterically and realistically, just as they are, as they have always been; that is to say, from time immemorial might is right and the end justifies the means.

Many have in fact criticized the dissemination of information from ruling body to constituency as mere propaganda, assertions aimed at convincing the target audience of a specific agenda. The prevailing logic seems to be this: governments should keep their citizens ignorant of sensitive data that could potentially distract them from what is paramount: promoting the stability of the state. Only those in the know, deserve to know; hence classified information. The public, primarily concerned with following its immediate interests, is ill equipped to dictate the fate of a nation; that is reserved to philosopher kings. Of course the emperor may be going around naked but the public has to admire his sartorial splendor. A representative such as John Lewis who calls him “illegitimate” imitating the boy who has the courage to say that he goes around naked, is branded as a racist unpatriotic American, that is to say somebody subverting the theory of White Supremacy.

Curiously enough, Platonic thought follows this line of elitist argumentation, claiming common laborers and ordinary people do not possess the training, nor the constitution required to properly rule, nor would they ever. Administering the government is simply not within their nature. What sort of individual would then be qualified to fulfill the role of legislator? Plato is not comfortable to leave such a decision up to chance or even up to a democratic selection; rulers are not found, they are cultivated. Dividing the population into three distinct groups: producers, auxiliaries, and guardian-rulers, Plato outlines the steps necessary to establish the best city imaginable. Most importantly, the founders of this perfect city must convince the inhabitants that they should not strive for more than they are capable, a daunting task given the covetous envious nature of humanity.

How could such a Herculean feat be accomplished? Plato believed his doctrine of the Noble Lie held the answer, persuading the people of a falsehood, so that a greater good than satisfying their immediate desires could be met. To contemporary society, which espouses the belief that all things are possible for the individual willing to apply themselves, the notion of sanctioning a rigid caste system seems counter-intuitive. They prefer Machiavelli’s transparency. For Plato, on the other hand, for the sake of the common good, individual freedoms must submit to the will of the community. That of course goes against the grain of rugged individualism and self-reliance buttressed by the guns one owns with which to “stand one’s ground” even against what one perceives as a tyrannical state. Enter the Tea Party and its hero Trump, and the rest is history. Vico would describe such a situation as one of decadence, what he dubbed “the barbarism of the intellect.”

There are in Plato identifiable traditional myths, such as the story of Gyges (Republic 359d–360b), the myth of Phaethon (Timaeus 22c7) or that of the Amazons (Laws 804e4). Sometimes he modifies them, to a greater or lesser extent, while other times he combines them. There are also in Plato myths that are his own, such as the myth of Er (Republic 621b8) or the myth of Atlantis (Timaeus 26e4). Many of the myths Plato invented feature characters and motifs taken from traditional mythology The majority of the myths he invents preface or follow a philosophical argument: the Gorgias myth (523a–527a), the myth of the androgyne (Symposium 189d–193d), the Phaedo myth (107c–115a), the myth of Er (Republic 614a–621d), the myth of the winged soul (Phaedrus 246a–249d), the myth of Theuth (Phaedrus 274c–275e), the cosmological myth of the Statesman (268–274e), the Atlantis myth (Timaeus 21e–26d, Critias), the Laws myth (903b–905b).

The question arises in all its urgency: why did Plato who in many instances in his dialogues expressed the desire to replace Homer and his poetry with rational philosophy, as the teacher of Hellas, then resorts to myths or noble lies? The answer seems to be that as a philosopher he did not believe that philosophy should be an esoteric discipline for the few and the chosen, but that he should share his philosophy with others. But since others may sometimes not follow his arguments, Plato is ready and willing to provide whatever it takes—an image, a simile, or a myth—that will help them grasp what the argument failed to tell them. In some way, he becomes a competitor with Homer whom he recognizes as a poet and a teacher. The myth or an image, or analogy becomes a good teaching tool, just as it was for Homer. Myth can indeed embody in its narrative an abstract philosophical doctrine as Vico, the one who truly understood the true nature of the myth, has well taught us in his Scienza Nuova. A whole book in that work is dedicated to Homer and poetic thinking.

In the Phaedo, Plato develops the so-called theory of recollection (72e–78b). The theory is there expounded in rather abstract terms. The eschatological myth of the Phaedo depicts the fate of souls in the other world, but it does not “dramatize” the theory of recollection. The Phaedrus myth of the winged soul, however, does. In it we are told how the soul travels in the heavens before reincarnation, attempts to gaze on true reality, forgets what it saw in the heavens once reincarnated, and then recalls the eternal forms it saw in the heavens when looking at their perceptible embodiments. Among other things, the fantastical narrative of the myth helps the less philosophically inclined grasp the main point of Plato’s theory of recollection, namely that “knowledge is recollection”.

In conclusion to this cursory examination of the Noble Lie it can perhaps be stated that it will yield various truths concerning American politics. Amongst them, how seemingly “noble falsehoods” are used as a means of meeting dubious ends. It also has implications on how one conceives philosophy, as an esoteric or as an exoteric discipline. The choice one makes in that regard will in turn lead to different implications concerning the future of American and, more generally, Western politics; for indeed both the US and the EU, for better or for worse, are in the same boat called Western Civilization. When truth is prostituted, so is civilization. As per Vico, so is the return to barbarism.

N.B. This article, in a slightly modified form, appeared in Ovi magazine on April 23, 2012. It was relevant four years ago, it is even more relevant today.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

Addressing the infodemic should be the key priority of a Biden administration

Published

on

The 2020 election underlined the growing tribalism in the United States with many seeing it as a referendum on the soul, identity, and future of the United States.

One reason for the growing divisions is that Americans increasingly self-segregate, living in communities that reinforce their political, social, religious, and philosophical views facilitating the growth of visceral political anger. Consequently, everything is political and personal and compromises virtually impossible. 

The election and the result highlighted that millions of Americans, despite plenty of factual evidence to the contrary, hold views not based on empirical evidence. Millions believe the 2020 election was neither free nor fair and that Democrats support globalist cabalschild-trafficking, paedophilia rings.  

The tribalism is most visible in the way many Americans respond to the Covid-19 pandemic with 76% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents asserting the US had done a good job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, even though the virus continues to run rampant across the country. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary around 29% believe Covid-19 is an intentional bioweapon, others believe Bill Gates had planned the pandemic or that 5G technology is responsible for the outbreak. 

Without tackling the infodemic, a Biden administration would struggle because proponents of disinformation (the intentional spreading of untruths) and adherent of misinformation (belief in untruth) have increasingly moved from the fringe to the centre. 

A study from the Cornell Alliance for Science identified President Trump has the world’s biggest disseminator of COVID-19 misinformation. It is therefore unsurprising that so many Americans question not only the root of the pandemic but how to combat it. Consequently, many doubts any information that does not come from Donald Trump, especially as many of his supporters look at life in a binary way, of either full support or full resistance.   

Soon after being declared winner, Joe Biden announced the establishment of a COVID-19 advisory board composed of public health experts, whose role would be to aid in coordinating the response to the pandemic. However, relying on science is problematic as the hyper-politicisation has meant many Americans mistrust scientific findings, holding it to be equally biased.

Beyond a highly partisan Congress, which is likely to stall many of Biden’s policies, the administration would need to grapple with President Trump’s judicial legacy. President Trump not only appointed three Supreme Court justices thus altering the political leaning of the court, but he reversed the trend of promoting diversity. For example, in 1977, the judiciary was predominantly white and male, but successive presidents worked hard to bring forth minorities onto the bench to reflect the nature of American society. President Trump’s nominees could end up slowing down or torpedoing an ambitious, reformist agenda. Challenging the legitimacy of the courts would only add to the growing division, especially as studies indicate that over 60 percent of Americans have faith in the judicial branch.

Joe Biden is uniquely suited to address many of these challenges. Firstly, his age may be an advantage; he has lived through many changes, and he can rely on those experiences as he reaches out to people. He has blue-collar roots, and the fact that he attended a non-Ivy League university would appeal to many Americans suspicious of the elites. His religious commitment gives him a unique ability to speak to many of President Trump’s religious supporters; he just needs to find the tone.

Biden’s principal task should be to use to White House pulpit to speak with people, connect with them, and persuade them to abandon their hyper-partisanship. He should reject President Trump’s usage of executive orders, regulatory discretion particularly when things will get tough, such as Senate refusing to confirm his nominees. As an experienced bridge-builder, he must spend more time speaking with people, bringing them to the Oval Office to persuade them to support empirically-test policies. Reminding opponents, he secured the support of over 80 million Americans. 

The Biden administration will also face many demands from Progressive claiming they worked very hard to get Biden elected. They will argue, with merit, that having a moderate agenda, one designed to win over moderate Republicans and Independents is a betrayal. However, Biden emphasises his goal is to heal America, to bring an element of stability. To pacify the Progressive, he must emphasise he is overseeing a transitional administration, designed to restore civility and unity and lay the foundation for Kamla Harris.  

Reversing the infodemic would take time as it calls for healing divisions and encouraging many Americans to abandon many strongly held ideas, which requires empathy. Joe Biden has the skills to do bring about positive change, and for the sake of many Americans and the world, we must hope that he succeeds.

Continue Reading

Americas

Fakhrizadeh’s Assassination Could Endangers Biden’s Diplomacy

Published

on

Image source: Wikipedia

The international political situation heats up, especially in the Middle East, after the killing of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Apart from Mohsen, several other Iranian nuclear scientists have also been killed in the past decade.

Mohsen was attacked in eastern Tehran on Friday (27/11). He was ambushed by an armed group and the target of a Nissan car explosion before a gun battle broke out. He was rushed to the hospital, but his life could not be helped.

Iranian political and military officials have blamed Israel and US as the masterminds behind Mohsen’s assassination and attack. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said he would retaliate and appoint Israel as the mastermind behind the attack.

Iran and Hezbollah are currently said to be targeting Israelis and Jews around the world. Places owned by Israel and Jews will be the main targets of their retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Israel is also raising its guard. The Israeli government is reportedly on standby and is tightening the security of its embassies around the world. Jewish communities around the world are also asked to be on high alert. The Israeli military has also increased its vigilance along the country’s borders.

What is interesting is that the US secretly deployed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier to the Arabian Gulf region last Wednesday. Although US Navy Fifth Fleet Spokesperson, Rebecca Rebarich, denied the movement of the fleet was unrelated to Mohsen’s assassination, the international public interpreted the aircraft carrier in order to anticipate the escalation of threats that might arise after the murder case.

There is not much information about Mohsen. Mohsen is the head of the research and innovation organization at the Iranian Ministry of Defense. He’s the main figure behind Iran’s secret nuclear development.

In April 2018, PM Netanyahu mentioned Mohsen’s name when uncovering a nuclear file which he said had been smuggled by Israeli agents from Iran. He named Mohsen as the head of a secret nuclear project called the Amad Project.

In its 2011 report, the UN nuclear weapons watchdog also identified Mohsen as the mastermind behind Iran’s nuclear technology. He was considered to have the ability to do so and at that time it was suspected that he still had an important role in these activities.

Mohsen’s assassination is certain to provoke a new confrontation between Iran and its enemies, including the United States and Israel, in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mohsen’s assassination is considered as the culmination of the US and Israel’s strategic plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, various parties consider Mohsen’s killing to be the culmination of Israel’s long-term plan.

Mohsen has long been the target of several Israeli prime ministers as well as several directors of the Mossad spy agency. This murder was also predicted to aim at uprooting Iran as a country of nuclear knowledge.

However, some international observers have speculated that the main purpose of the assassination was actually to obstruct the US administration in the era of President-elect Joe Biden who will dialogue to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict with Iran.

What’s more, President Biden has expressed his intention to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which has been largely devastated since President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018.

Statement from Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence and head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Amos said whoever makes the decision to assassinate Mohsen should know that there are still 55 days left in which the White House has someone who sees the Iranian threat as they do. In fact, Amos says Biden is a different story. Amos’ statement certainly points to President Trump who is still in power in the White House.

Continue Reading

Americas

Biden’s victory: An Opportunity for Transatlantic Reconciliation after Trump and Brexit?

Published

on

Joe Biden’s victory Last November came at a critical point during the Brexit negotiations between The European Union and the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether a change in the American presidency will substantially affect the talks between Europe and Britain. Realistically speaking, the effect the Democrats’ victory in the US will have, at least on Brexit talks before the end of this year, will be minimal.

On a positive note, now that Donald Trump has been defeated, this leaves very little room for the UK to use the threat of a quicker and better deal with the US to try to subdue the EU and make them accept a more pro British agenda. The UK has no longer the US is an alternative to fall back onto if no deal is the result of the negotiations by December 31st.

Since the 2016 British referendum, the decision to leave the EU was enthusiastically greeted by Donald Trump. In very simplistic terms, Trump saw The British “Yes” vote as an act that vaguely resembled his campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” The long standing, more loyal foreign policy ally of the US in Europe, was slowly showing signs to move away from the multilateralism Donald Trump greatly despised.

Ever since the outcome of the Brexit referendum became official, Donald Trump voiced his strong support for the UK to pursue a hard Brexit, and even enticed the British government with the prospect of a robust trade deal between the US and the UK, to convince the UK to drop out of the EU without a deal. In reality, none of those big American promises ever materialised. From 2016 to 2020, Donald Trump did absolutely nothing to support the UK. Biden’s victory last November, makes any past promises made by Trump impossible to fulfil.

Biden will, in principle, follow a diametrically opposed foreign policy to Trump’s. He sees the EU, and not the UK, ask the key actor that will help him advance American interests in the European continent. While there have been mutual expressions of willingness to strengthen the relationship between the Americans and the British, Joe Biden has always been skeptical of Brexit, and has made it clear from the start that one of his priorities in foreign policy will be to rebuild the relationship with the EU rather than pursuing a trade deal with the UK.

Ideally, should the UK try to have some sort of leverage to negotiate with the incoming American administration, they need to aim to strike a workable deal between with the EU before the end of this year. That, however, seems unlikely to happen. From an American perspective, it is highly probable that the Biden’s administration will not prioritise any UK-US trade deal in the foreseeable future. There is a strong possibility that Joe Biden will focus on domestic and close neighbours (Canada and Mexico) Issues during his first year in the presidency.

While this is understandable, considering the legacy of the Trump, Biden also has to be careful enough to avoid the temptation to play hardball with the UK because of Brexit. If he does, this could prove to be a fatal mistake with long lasting consequences, specially in a moment when the West is struggling with its own internal weaknesses and the rise of external threats to its unity.

One aspect that both Europe and the US have to acknowledge is that the importance of the UK goes beyond striking a trade deal with the EU. Looking at the rise of more geographically widespread authoritarian and antidemocratic pressures from central, Eastern Europe, China and Russia, the UK is still plays an important role on the continent’s security. Talks on further cooperation on how the EU and the UK will cooperate on foreign and security policy once the transition period ends on 31st of December 2020 have not yet been held. The UK, unfortunately, is likely to remain a crucial partner on such topics especially due to its role as a prominent and active member of NATO, and therefore, talks on this issues should not be left unaddressed.

The UK is aware of its importance militarily, and this explains the £24.1 billion investment announced by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this year. This is the largest investment since the end of the Cold War and it aims to modernise the armed forces, as well as to expand the Royal Navy to turn it into the largest fleet in Europe.

This move will enhance the UK’s status as Europe’s leading military power. The UK has also been among the first respondents to recent security crisis in Ukraine and Belarus. Not engaging with the UK altogether in security and foreign policy issues may prove to be detrimental in the long run for the security in the EU, especially considering the rising tensions and instability in the Ring of Fire, from Belarus to Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) allow for intergovernmental cooperation, this means that  states can pursue their own policies and coordinate them only when they align with the EU’s. The CSDP also allows EU member states to intervene when NATO as an alliance chooses not to. To date, there are 17 of such interventions, in all of these, the UK has been the biggest contributor.

Security is an area of opportunity for Europe and the US, Biden could potentially push for the Europeans to grant the UK an observer role in the Political and Security Committee, or the Foreign Policy Council to advance a common security and foreign policy for the region that wouldn’t only benefit Europe, but also the US interests in the wider European area.

Recently, the UK has been an advocate of what is called a “Global Britain” that echoes the times of the great British Empire’s prominence as a global player. How this will be achieved is still unclear. This grand strategy may fare impossible under current economic and political conditions in the UK and in the world, as well as with the uncertainty surrounding the future relationship of the UK with its neighbours after Brexit.

Anything can happen, the UK could pursue a close, special relationship with Europe where cooperation is prioritised, or there could be a more profound break between the two, where the UK sets its own agenda against the EU’s. For decades, the terms Europe and the EU have been used interchangeably. Now that one of the major European players is out of the organisation, both sides have not yet worked out how the future relationship will be. If it continues to be antagonistic this could send the whole continent into a spiral of chaos, reduced capabilities an increased volatility.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending