Some months ago, readers will recall, I decided to solve the mystery of a half-century old domestic political murder. My approach was to take the arguments in two books which believed this murder resulted from a vast conspiracy and compare them with the arguments in two books which believed one crazed individual responsible. In my research I came across an argument put forth by a member of the first school, whom, for purposes of this discussion, I will call A. One part of A’s argument stood on a “message,” reported by a man I shall call B in a book of B’s authorship. This message, A concluded, came as a “direct” order from C and constituted “conclusive evidence” of the greater proposition in which A believed.
I did not believe this proposition. And while much else argued against this leg of A’s argument, I could not directly kick it from beneath him since my local library lacked B’s book. Then recently I came across a copy at Alibris, thought to myself, What the hell, and plunked down 99-cents, (plus $3 postage). It seemed a sign that I should once again re-engage with this twisted bowel of American political thought.
There turned out to be no “message,” as A described it. He had clearly considered it a single communication. (“(T)his message,” “this same message,” “this announcement,” “the… message,” and “that message” is how he referred to it.) It is also clear that he believed this message contained two factual assertion. The first of these, which we’ll call “a,” asserted something’s existence; and the second, which we’ll call “b,” asserted the non-existence of something else.
In point of fact, B’s book reported a series of communications – not one – and they, neither singly nor in any combination, recreated what A said. There was, to be specific, an “a”; but there was no “b.” Viewing his thinking most favorably, A seems to have reasoned that since none of the communications discussed “b”’s existence or non-existence at all, they were denying it. Of course, by this measure, these communications could also be said to be denying the existence of chicken noodle soup.
Furthermore, none of these communications were attributed to C; nor was he referred to in any of them. A seems to have divined C’s responsibility for the messages from the fact of their existence, coupled with C’s alleged authority over the location from which some of them issued. It should be noted in this regard that A’s overall thesis is otherwise replete with people acting counter to what their superiors would have expected, C among them. Why those ostensibly under C’s command might not have acted similarly is not apparent; but, irregardless, C-directed or not, since there was no“b,”this portion of A’s argument collapses.
It is hard for me to believe that someone could read as carelessly or report as inaccurately or reason as shoddily as A had. (His greater argument, by the way, did not even require the existence of this “message.”) It is, of course, possible that A was not inaccurate or careless or shoddy but that he was deliberately duplicitous. I am, however, too positively disposed toward my fellow man to believe this. I prefer to think his ardent belief in the importance of the truth he had to deliver to the rest of us led him to overlook the troublesome aspects of the product he was selling. Sort of like Mormon missionaries and the Angel Moroni.
Besides, this inability to read, this indifference to facts, this insult to reason, this presumption that your assertions will not be checked is not the point. Who these people whom I have alphabetized are and what was and was not said in this “message” is of secondary concern. What is significant to me at this moment in history is what that which I have described says about the difficulties involved in determining what – and whom – to believe. Every day, from any number of sources, we receive an uncountable number of assertions which we are asked to accept as true. But we rarely have – or take – the time to check the ins and outs or twists and turns of these assertions.
It may be that the public has been so discouraged by discourse of the caliber of A’s that it has given up hope of discovering truth. It may be, before you can turn around, the Republican Party will have nominated for president a bozo whose lies are larger than his ego, which is vast, more numerous than his slanders, which are plentiful, and more repellant than his comb-over, which is stomach-turning.