Back in graduate school at an American university many years ago, I had an Indian friend, a pilot. Our group at that time was mostly made up of other Indian grad students, getting their MS or PhD. Unlike the rest of us, our pilot friend was the only one with a well-paying job, while we were scraping through on meager stipends. Having come to the US while still in his teens, he had little or no accent, making him, at least in his own legend, much better placed on the dating scene. He would frequently tout his American street-smarts as being superior to the fancy pants education we were pretending to get. For all the lofty disdain which he expressed for formal education, however, one could still discern some rankling of academic inferiority. A school dropout, he was somewhat sensitive about his education level.
Then one day, referring to some incident involving his department, one of the grad students remarked that merely having a PhD did not mean a person was smart. Our pilot friend immediately interpreted this to mean that ‘if you had a PhD, you were not smart’. He felt his long-held view vindicated by a so-called academic himself. He saw no gap in this reasoning. We all had a quiet chuckle at this leap of ratiocination, and there it remained.
Until the fuss over the CBS memos brought it back to mind.
I had not realized there was such a large number of people whose thinking resembled our friend’s. He was only lampooning us for our stereotypical ethnic quirks to contrast his own acclimitization to everyday America in dress, mannerisms, etc. Now it would seem he had acquired not only a Texan accent but grasped the logical skills of the populace as well, why, even a president’s way of thinking.
President Bush’s supporters have advanced arguments whose logic has an impressive name. The Dictionary of Philosophy defines it as argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument to ignorance).
Arguing that something is true because no one has proved it to be false, or
Arguing that something is false because no one has proved it to be true.
When Dan Rather says, quite correctly, that the authenticity or otherwise of the documents does not obviate the question of where George W. Bush was when he was supposed to be in Alabama, or whether he got preferential treatment getting in or out of the National Guard, he is ridiculed by his colleagues in the media, gleeful that the man has got it in the chin at the twilight of his career.
No one has seen Bush in Alabama; he skipped his physical exam, something quite unusual in the military; he did not report for sessions in Boston as promised, and yet never got penalized for anything. And now, instead of answering these questions, Bush is tut-tutting the CBS report, saying that the documents issue ‘raises questions which need to be answered’. Whew! None dare call him timid. And why not, when he faces such a demanding band of reporters?
You would be hard-put to find in the media a strong call to pursue this simple but important point. The holier-than-thou snickering which has dominated the coverage, from Don Imus to the deranged talk-show maniacs all along the AM dial, is pathetic. Dan Rather may be whistling in the wind today, but at least he had the heart to chase down an obvious story. I personally think a lot more that remains to be told about Bush’s National Guard career, and it will all come out one day, only, like the Iraq deception, too late to do very much about it. And even then, where is the guarantee that a country not upset by all that has happened already will be troubled by it?
It was George Santayana who said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Comedian Jay Leno’s Jaywalking gives us an idea of how familiar Americans are with history. And it was Walt Kelly who said ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings can be found at http://www.indogram.com/gramsabha/articles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org