Subordinating truth to political ends

In the world of politics, is truth always subordinate to political ends? Because pinning down the truth can take time or because the truth can in fact be complex, given the need to make decisions and to convince public to support decision, is it logical then that truth should be subordinated to whatever political objectives that leaders or vested interests might already have in mind?

In my Ramon C. Reyes lecture last February, I sought answers to these questions from Doc Reyes and applied his insights to the issue of fake news.

Fake news has always been with us. Fake news and politics have always been intertwined. One of the most famous maxims of  Sun Tzu’s Art of War, written in the 5th century BC, is: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” More concisely, he says: :Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” 

Sun Tzu is echoed a thousand years later, in the 16th Century, by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince when he suggested how to win battles: ““Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” This Florentine thinker, still very influential among politicians (at least those who still read) had a very cynical view of human beings: “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” Macchiavellians find “double pleasure” in deceiving the deceivers.

Our current President is said to be a practitioner of the Art of War and The Prince. True or not, he certainly likes to stir conflict, putting all of us on our toes, igniting fires everywhere. Whether he has a grand plan,  I do not know. But only the fool would assume that he is completely transparent when he promises to resign for this or that reason or that he will not extend his term of office.

Is there an alternative view to politics for men and women of good will?

Thankfully, Doc Reyes taught us Eric Weil’s political philosophy who had such a positive view. For Weil, as explained by Reyes “Reason knows itself to be historical and political and politics acts in view of reason.” Moreover “Taken within the context of modern historical development, the government is by necessity the bearer of the common interest or the universal.” But this does not happen overnight, this convergence of the moral and the political. “Thus, while it is the modern empirical state that has led to the concept of State of law and justice, the distinction and tension remain between the formal, ideal, universal concept and the given, empirical state, consequently issuing in continuous contestation and action.” In other words, its not a perfect world and politics can in fact be dirty, deception a part of it. But in typical Hegelian fashion, Weil sees this as a necessary movement.

In the Budhi monograph, Doc Reyes has this great quotation from Weil: “Wisdom is not the truth . . . wisdom is that which leads to it. The universal exists and is one, but reveals itself to the category in the attitude, to discourse in situation  . . . under two aspects, that of Liberty and of Truth. This is the most profound duality of discourse, duality which is always reconciled but which always remains to be reconciled.”

You have to be Hegelian or Marxian to understand that phrase. But actually, its very simple: truth can only be discovered as truth when confronted with untruth. Justice will not emerge until injustice is exposed and overturned. Human beings cannot be truly human until they face their own alienation and revolt against its roots.

The issue of fake news is personal and political  for me. As an individual, I like my freedom and would want to be always free to express my opinion. As a law and philosophy professor for many decades, I have seen how freedom of thinking and speech, which includes the freedom to have the wrong opinion and to make mistakes in appreciating events, is  critical for a vibrant society. As a practitioner of governance and politics, I have also witnessed how the ability to speak, write, and publish freely is important for dialogue and consensus. This ability is also important in the search for the truth as defined by Doc Reyes as the constant dialectic of reflection and praxis.

In addressing fake news, defined as deliberate fabrication and dissemination of false facts, my overriding concern is that we do not throw out the baby with the dirty bath water. Fake news and their promoters would have won if we sacrifice in any significant way the great freedoms of speech and press.

Freedom of speech, expression, and press are all necessities of a modern state. They come with risks though, of abuse and mis-use, but I do not think there is a way around that. This is not to say though that we are helpless against fake news.

In “Philosophy in a Crisis Situation”, Doc Reyes pointed out how “In the course of this process of negation and trans-formation, we eventually shall have to create a renewed vision of man, thus, for example, pose new norms for a legal framework that would provide tighter guarantees for human rights, new norms for an economy that would be more equitable in the sharing of the burdens as well as of the benefits, and for a political system more participative, more effectively representative of the various sectors and interests of the people.”

I think we are in that moment for these great freedoms; we need to reaffirm them while creating new norms to overcome the fake news challenge.

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