FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What is Truth?

In any war, as the saying goes, truth is the first casualty. That’s become the case, unfortunately, in the war of the sexes as well. It’s turned into a war because the abiding injustice women have suffered from men resists resolution through institutions mostly created and sustained by men. What counts as evidence, or sincerity, or credibility may have more to do more than we’d like to admit with male rather than female dispositions.

Part of the problem is the hidden nature of sexual abuse. The evidence of such assault is intensely private and intimate, with objective evidence for or against allegations perhaps harder to find than in other areas.

Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh on the face of it cannot both be telling the truth. She alleged he attacked her when they were teenagers, and he denied it. The US Senate was faced with sorting this out, and they failed to do so.

The tragedy of the Kavanaugh-Ford controversy is the substitution by our leaders (and by many of us) of subjective truth for objective truth, of belief for fact. Objective truth is factual experience that can be witnessed, recorded, publicly acknowledged, and shared by as many people as care to seek it out. Subjective truth is a personally held belief about something, a private opinion, conviction, or interpretation that can be asserted as if it were true, but which remains unproven, and is not necessarily true.

There are many reasons why anyone might believe one or the other of them, and many of us have little hesitation in taking sides. But, in the absence of confirming evidence about the alleged sexual assault, these reasons are largely subjective. They reflect beliefs people hold about what happened, or didn’t happen, not knowledge whether anything actually happened, or not.

That’s why an investigation into allegations against Brett Kavanaugh (as with anyone) was of the utmost importance. A factual determination, according to the rules of evidence, means establishing objective, publically ascertainable facts about the event in question.

It also means that, in the interest of due process and the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ allegations must have reasonable plausibility to deserve investigation. It’s true that Senate confirmation hearings are not legal proceedings, but a factual basis for allegations remains essential.

The Republicans initially dismissed Ford’s allegation as implausible, and only reluctantly admitted her testimony under great pressure, and even more reluctantly agreed to a limited FBI investigation. They are paying a heavy price for their political and cultural blindness about gender issues for dismissing what appeared to be a credible woman making plausible allegations.

The Democrats rightly insisted upon a factual investigation as the only way to settle the matter, initially gaining the upper hand in the debate. But many Democrats have continued to insist that the word of an accuser is sufficient to disqualify people from office, or worse. That too is a dismissal of factual evidence as a standard of truth.

Was the FBI investigation thorough? It’s doubtful that it was. Deborah Ramirez, another alleged victim, claims the FBI didn’t even follow through on witnesses she named for them.

Culturally, we are losing the ability to decide factual issues. I’m reminded of an exchange between a scientific geologist and a fundamentalist Christian reported in the early days of the evolution debate. The scientist points to the ancient fossils he’s uncovered as proof that the earth could not have been created just a few thousand years ago by God. The fundamentalist replies that God created the fossils with the illusion of great age in order to test the faith of people like the scientist. That’s how belief can be used to trump fact.

This kind of impasse, sadly, is nothing new. But it’s getting worse. In an age of fake news, cultural relativism, media propaganda, and a flood of unsubstantiated opinion on the internet, we have reached a point where the assertion of a belief is no longer confirmed or disconfirmed by an appeal to objective evidence. Absent such a check, there is no mechanism to settle our differences, nothing to stop the escalation of conflict and violence.

Without the ability to test beliefs by facts, we have no common standard for deciding the issues which divide us. The abandonment of the standard of public evidence, imperfect as it has been, is more than shocking. It puts into peril our political system, and indeed the very fabric of our society. Under these circumstances, anything goes. We are in trouble.

More articles by:

Adrian Kuzminski is a scholar, writer and citizen activist who has written a wide variety of books on economics, politics, and democracy. 

March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
Renee Parsons
The Supreme Court and Dual Citizenship
Eric Draitser
On Ilhan Omar, Assad Fetishism, and the Danger of Red-Brown “Anti-Imperialism”
Elizabeth Keyes
Broadway’s “Hamilton” and the Willing Suspension of Reality-Based Moral Consciousness
David Underhill
Optional Fatherhood Liberates Christians From Abortion Jihad
Nick Pemberton
Is Kamala Harris the Centrist We Need?
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Bailouts, Bernie and the Washington Post
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Blackout
William Astore
America’s Senior Generals Find No Exits From Endless War
Jeff Hauser – Eleanor Eagan
Boeing Debacle Shows Need to Investigate Trump-era Corruption
Ramzy Baroud
Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh
Nick Licata
All Southern States are Not the Same: Mississippi’s Challenge
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Sly Encouragement of Lawless Violence
Cesar Chelala
Public Health Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean
March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail