Saturday, March 21, 2009

Strange Defense

What a strange defense!

Reading reports of the Ward Churchill trial, I cannot believe what I just read! The testimony has been weird!

A professor from Cornell University defended the paper that Churchill wrote. The paper accused the government of intentionally sending blankets that had been laden with Small Pox virus to the indigenous peoples of the US in order to wipe out the Native American population. The professor's argument in favor of Churchill's argument is that the US Government is always denying the accusation of genocide in this manner.

That's pretzel logic if I ever heard it. If I understand the line of reasoning it goes something like this: "It must be true because they are always saying that it isn't true!" Steely Dan would be proud!

Sure, some people think that denying an accusation is the action of a guilty party, but it is also the act of an innocent party! Would you say that they are innocent if they admitted to it? You seem to have boxed the US into a Catch-22!

One has only to look at some of the evidence that has already come out; whole passages of essays and books directly quoted and unattributed, photographs claimed as original art which are nothing more than photos printed from a backward negative image… you needn't look too far to see that there is a case to be made for intellectual property theft if not plagiarism. His academic ethics could euphemistically be called "questionable!"

Mr. Churchill has the right to believe any crazy thing he wants. He has the right (under the First Amendment) to say anything he feels like saying (provided it does not present a clear-and-present danger to the life and safety of others) so firing him for this reason would be constitutionally indefensible. But with so many good reasons for his termination, it is a fools errand he is on to prove that this one indefensible reason is the one THE ONLY reason he was terminated.

But I have a soft spot (in my head) for people who embark upon fools errands.

Wherever you are today, I hope that you are well and happy!

Don Bergquist – March 21, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA


Anonymous said...

Individuals and governments that do things that are wrong will sometimes get a reputation for always doing things that are wrong. For this reason sometimes people will blame them for a wrong thing that they might not have actually done (these individuals and governments leave themselves open for attack by doing corrupt things that they get caught at and for this reason they become easy prey for false accusations blaming them for things that they did not actually do).

And individuals who are sloppy thinkers and believe things that probably did not happen and would be difficult to implement even if if someone wanted to do it (like killing people by putting smallpox vacines in blankets) would also probably have a lot of other weaknesses. There would probably be a lot of other good reasons to remove them from their jobs.

When I read things like the smallpox/blanket story I get frustrated. I would like to say "that is very wrong. I do not approve of that". Yet, on the other hand, from my background and from what I know about history, I don't believe that it would have actually happened. So I can't express outrage about something that didn't really happen. If it did happen I would definately disapprove, but I don't think it did happen. Thank you for allowing me express my opinion that I would be outraged if something like a smallpox/blanket attack were to actually occur.

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader:

I believe that we agree entirely on this point. People get blamed for things they don't do, the report of the accusation in the mind of sloppy thinkers (as you put it… I like the phrase!) equates to proof of guilt.

Guilt by association is at least logically defensible. Even though it doesn't prove anything that you associate with drug dealers, people who do are more likely to be into something nefarious than people who do not even know drug dealers. The logic falls down here when you consider that they may not know that their friend is a drug dealer, but at least there is some logic to the way of thinking.

There is no logical defense, however, to guilt by accusation. There is no line of logic to the syllogism:

People say you are up to something no good.
Therefore, you are up to something no good.

To make this logic defensible you have to read it as follows:

People say you are up to something no good.
What "people" say is always correct.
Therefore, you are up to something no good.

Since the sub-premise of the syllogism (that people are always correct) is demonstrably false, the syllogism is not logically defensible. It can be shown that "people" are often wrong therefore just because people say it does not make it true.

I agree that the reports of the US intentionally committing genocide are disturbing, but as there is no defensible evidence to support the accusation, it is the accusation which is more disturbing.

There is a well documented affect which shows that the accusation of wrong-doing is more memorable in the mind of the public than the exoneration of the same accusations. How many people remember that Richard Jewell was accused of the bombings at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics? Now for the clincher: How many people remember that he was exonerated of the crime?

He was, you know. Anyone who remembers the name is more likely to remember it for the accusation than for the fact that he was cleared of the charges when it was found that he was in no way associated with the act.

Your comments are more than welcome. This is what my blog has evolved into; a mélange of my travel stories, and commentary on the large and small issues that it occurs to me to write about. I hope you will keep reading and keep posting input!


Anonymous said...

The reason that false accusations such as the one you mentioned in your blog bothers me so much is that it steals my time and also steals the time of a lot of other people. Considering myself to be a somewhat fair and liberal minded person, I feel that I must do a little bit of research when I hear about something like this because such a disgraceful attack would be something that I could not afford to ignore as a fair minded person.

What ends up happening is that perhaps thousands of fair minded people, who would not think of purposely doing something that would waste another person's time, end up spending hours of their own time looking into the claims that have been made. At the end of it all they are right back where they started and have nothing to show for the time that they have invested (time that could have been better spent doing something more rewarding).

I'm also afraid that there may be thousands of people around the world who secretly admire people who get away with making false accusations like the one you mentioned. Not only is the person who committed the mischievous deed wasting the time of fair minded people everywhere, but they are also becoming a hero to the many thousands (if not millions) of people in the world who prefer muddy water over clear water and love to see people get away with things like this.

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

This, alas, is the price of a free and open society.

Demagoguery is a logical side-affect of political freedom. By allowing the free exchange of ideas, you ipso-facto allow the free exchange of misinformation as well as valid information. That is the price of the freedom.

It demands that every person in the society take some minimal steps to shield themselves from the demagogue. Unfortunately, human nature runs counter to this ideal. Humans are (no offense) lazy as a rule. Sure, there are motivated individuals within the whole, but they are the exception and cannot server to define the masses.

Therefore it is the responsibility of the individual in the free society to seek-out the truth behind the lines they are being fed (either from official or non-official channels) and suss-out for themselves what is right.

The profusion of scammers who feel they can cast unfounded aspersions upon the individuals and institutions around them makes this responsibility, at times, arduous, but as I have said, that is the price we pay. The alternative, living in a restrictive society where free exchange of ideas is suppressed and "right thinking" is enforced is both unthinkable in the short-term and unsustainable in the long term!

Thanks again for the comment and for reading my blog!