Epistemological Comment

In the last post I spoke of how the citizens of the United States are asked, by our intelligence services, to believe a whipped-up story of Russian hacking affecting the recent election.  The C.I.A., the White House, the Congress, and the F.B.I., are piling on in this regard, and about the only sources questioning “the narrative” (the term of art, among critics of the Mainstream Media) are marginal Internet sites like the Intercept, Consortium News and RT.

I would like to ask my readers whether they can recall the Election of 1980, when Ronald Reagan ousted an incumbent Democratic Party President, in large measure because Jimmy Carter had been so ineffective in getting some 50 American hostages released by the newly-installed, indeed revolutionary, government of Iran.  In what surely qualifies as a classic cover-up, two Congressional investigations found “no evidence” for the charge that the Reagan campaign staff had promised the Iranian government a better deal than the Carter Administration, if the Iranians would hold the hostages until Reagan became President.  The link I provided shows that evidence since the investigations confirms, rather than contradicts, the charge that Casey met with Iranian representatives in Madrid, Spain.

This is not the place, or the time, to re-hash the evidence for the so-called “October Surprise Conspiracy Theory” (you can see the Wikipedia article for the dismissive treatment still current today).  Rather, I’d like to point out the way the Reagan Years treated journalistic inquiry into something that swung the 1980 election, by most accounts.  Robert Parry, the primary writer, and founder, of the abovementioned Consortium News, recalls recently

That lesson was driven home during the early 1980s. Some of us actually tried to do our jobs honestly, exposing crimes of state in Central America and elsewhere. Almost universally, we were punished by our editors and marginalized by our colleagues.

Early on, Raymond Bonner at the New York Times wrote courageously about right-wing “death squads” in El Salvador, even as Reagan and his team were disputing those bloody facts on the ground and coordinating with right-wing media attack groups in Washington to put Bonner on the defensive. Amid the smears, Rosenthal pulled Bonner out of Central America, reassigned him to a desk job in New York and caused Bonner to leave the Times.

Even those of us who had some success in exposing major scandals emerging from the brutality in Central America were treated as outsiders whose careers were always fragile. We had to dodge withering fire from the Reagan administration and its right-wing cohorts while keeping one eye on the nervous or angry editors to our backs.

.   .   .    .

Sometimes even the Left media would join the mob mentality. One of my most disturbing moments came in 1993 when I wrote an article for The Nation pointing out logical inconsistencies in a House Task Force report “debunking” the so-called October Surprise case, whether Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to block the pre-election release of those hostages in Iran.

I had noted, for instance, that one of the Task Force’s key arguments was that because someone had written down William Casey’s home phone number on a certain date that Casey must have been at home and thus couldn’t have been where some witnesses had placed him. But that “home phone number” alibi made no logical sense, nor did some of the other illogical conclusions in the Task Force’s final report.

My Nation article prompted an angry letter from the Task Force chief counsel Lawrence Barcella who responded with a mostly ad hominem attack on me. After the letter arrived, I received a call from a senior Nation editor who told me I would be given a small space to respond but that I should know that “we agree with Barcella.”

The Nation was and is, of course, generally regarded as the leading progressive voice in the Mainstream Media.  And the point is — not that it would constitute a “smoking gun” — that there is documented, impartial evidence that Casey was not at home, but in Madrid.  For details, the interested reader can refer to the first link above, where Robert Parry shows that even the chair of the Congressional committee finds the evidence credible, and admits that its suppression was crucial.

Let me in this post, beginning with the atmosphere of the Reagan Election cover-up, expand a bit on how we have experienced an imposition of Two Truths.  There is the accepted narrative — there is no evidence for an October Surprise deal between the revered President Ronald Reagan and the despised Iranian government — and there is the investigative journalist view — we don’t know for sure, but there’s a hella lot of evidence the government is lying through its teeth.

One of these truths is public, and is pushed by all the propaganda outlets at the command of the government; the other is the increasingly marginalized (but increasingly widely believed) independent sources, now recently castigated as “fake news” outlets.  [You should be aware that the Washington Post, (which I call “Izvestiya-on-the-Potomac”), includes Robert Parry and his Consortium News as one of the approximately 200 websites to be avoided.]

You can see how this situation reminds me of the Soviet Union, with its news outlets which few thinking people believed, and its underground samizdat which the government regarded as threatening the social order.  But here I’d like to go a little bit further.  In medieval times there were also two truths, as almost any book of medieval philosophy will tell you.  There was the truth which was beholden to theology, and that of science.  The two might differ, but that’s not the essential point — it’s that there is not one, but two.

As an average subject of the One True Church, the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith, you were of course obliged to believe the theological truth, as indoctrinated into you at school and in sermons by the clergy.  Scientific truth was restricted to a small minority which was conversant with higher mathematics and Greek manuscripts.  Theological truth was widespread, and consistent: the Curia made sure of the consistency, and were some public figure to challenge that uniformity, he (or she) was burned alive as a heretic.

Scientific truth, in contrast, was a farrago of stuff left over from ancient times, experimental results, and stuff people just plain made up.  Back in the good old days of the War Between Faith and Science, historians made a practice of cherry-picking precursors of contemporary science as “good guys” (Leonardo da Vinci was a favorite) and condemning perfectly rational churchmen (Robert Bellarmine, for instance, who had a hand in condemning Galileo) who believed in the primacy of theological truth, as they had been raised and educated to do.

This tendency in the history of science was decisively refuted by Lynn Thorndike’s massive (eight volumes, of about 800 pages each) History of Magic and Experimental Science, which at considerable length and with abundant documentation established the thesis that magic was intimated connected with the scientific world picture, all the way down to the late seventeenth century.  Thorndike famously questioned whether there ever was such a thing as a Renaissance, given that, during the course of the 15th century, it appeared, from extensive examination of the scientific writing of the time, that more people were more credulous at the end of the so-called “Renaissance” than at its beginning.

Galileo’s crime, to the extent that he had one, was to refuse to allow for the Two Truths.  He wrote in easy-to-read, conversational Italian; he spoke out unambiguously in favor of there being one physical truth, available to all.  Just pick up a telescope, he said.  Other writers in the Scientific Revolution were more equivocal.  Kepler steered clear of theology, but he dabbled in astrology; Newton had strong theological, unorthodox, views, and made sure to write in such a manner that his book would not be legible to “dabblers”.

Every now and again some scientist will recall such a chasm between the truth, as available to the broad, unwashed masses, and the truth as tested and understood scientifically.  Fred Hoyle, in an oral interview which has become widely available, recalled that as a youth

My father was always interested in scientific things.  He had gotten a number of friends with similar interests; none of whom had a university education, but they tried to understand what was going on at the time.  For example, from about 1922 onwards they built radio equipment.  This was a great mystery in our village, and there were 20 or 30 people who were wiring up their own little radio receivers.  There was a far greater feeling that it was possible for untrained people to understand science than there is today.[emphasis added — MM]

As an eminent authority on astrophysics, co-author of the standard treatment of stellar nucleosynthesis, Hoyle opposed the Big Bang because of the existence of life on earth.

The truth is more important that one’s own predilections, a maxim which I feel is largely ignored at the present day. . . .  I do have rather strong feelings that I don’t think the big bang is right.  I happen to get those views from something that hardly anybody else believes.  I just don’t think that the huge complexities of biology could have evolved in a mere 10 [raised to the 18th power] grams of material on earth.  I don’t think that chemical evolution on the earth could possibly have produced the biological system.  I think this has to be considered as a cosmological issue.

The Accepted Narrative of Science is that life evolved on earth, and the evidence for the Big Bang is overwhelming; a marginalized view is that the appearance of life is impossible as a consequence of natural selection of macromolecules; by this means we avoid what would be unavoidable in Hoyle’s picture, a discussion of religion.

But just as with the October Surprise, I fear getting off track by explaining details.  The central point is, that the public nowadays has no belief that it can penetrate the argument for or against the Big Bang.  Amateurs are completely excluded (including by Mr Hoyle, himself).

To give an example of this exclusion by the layman, let me bring up a conversation with my son, a senior at Grant High School.  I had just found out that the Andromeda Galaxy’s speed  of approach to our home, Milky Way, galaxy had been remeasured to greater accuracy, and appears to be headed for a collision some four billion years from now.  We expect life on Earth to be extinct when the Sun burns out, approximately, given its size and structure, in about five billion years.

We lost about a billion years of possible future life, just in that.  But it’s worse.  An entire galaxy, colliding with the Milky Way galaxy, will disrupt the orbits of virtually every single planet within.  Nice, circular planetary orbits, within the narrow habitable zone where water neither boils nor freezes, will be totally disrupted by the passage of stars closely enough to those planetary systems to disrupt their orbiting planets — namely, pretty much all of them.

Not only life on Earth, but all life in the entire galaxy will come to and end.  When I told my son this, he videotaped the moment on his phone and kept it, as proof of my being occasionally insane.

We still have Two Truths.  The layman’s science, and the science of the practitioner.  The news as provided by the government, and that which independent journalists uncover.  The first is always taken on authority, and in a single version is widely disseminated, and the latter, while full of unproven assertions and even sometimes factually mistaken, is authentic and imperfect and contradictory in its details.

The Russians disrupted the election so that Trump would be elected.  Do not worry about the man behind the curtain.  That is just falling prey to conspiracy theorists, who are tinfoil-hat believers in alien beings bringing life to the planet earth.

The writer of this post is on probation for constituting a threat to his wife.  The society is in the course of providing him with the help he needs.  He is required to attend, every week for a year, a domestic violence class and provide a weekly written confession of an instance of his abuse of others.  He is permanently enjoined against ever owning a gun.

He cannot ever again run for office.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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2 Responses to Epistemological Comment

  1. Lynn Porter says:

    Interesting essay. Sorry to read the ending and wondered why you included it?

  2. M. Meo says:

    In my opinion, that factual statement was long overdue; it is put here in the interests, as they say, of full disclosure. Readers ought not to be under the impression that the writer is isolated by some internal mechanism from political action; repeated, effective legal actions have reinforced my considerable reluctance to engage in political activity.

    I do intend some sarcasm to be read into the phrase “help that he needs”. Since sarcasm cannot survive the way Internet prose is read, I have to admit some readers might be reluctant to credit anything further that I say; but that, you see, is what I want to establish; the mixed, impure nature of truth itself.

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