Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Blessing, the Curse, and the Hope of Democracy

Is knowledge, truth?

Is knowledge, truth?

By Thads Bentulan

The greatest faculties of man that separate him from other animals are the faculties of thought, imagination, and reason.

And from man’s faculties of thought, imagination and reason, arise concepts not enjoyed by other species such as the concepts of equality, freedom, and truth – and then, there is that concept invented by modern society – the concept of profit.

Summum Bonum

And all of these are just means to obtain man’s summum bonum, the highest good.

However, between the spheres of the highest good, on one side, and man’s essence, on the other, is man’s existence.

With man’s existence, the concepts of equality, freedom, and truth occupy greater relative value than the summum bonum. Not because the former are more important than the latter, but simply because equality, freedom, and truth are more temporally current than the summum bonum.

In a way, the concerns of today outweigh the concerns of the future.


Yet, even given the currency of man’s existence, the concepts of equality, freedom, and truth are situational – that is, their relative value depends on the situation.

Perhaps, there is no debate as to what is meant by equality, freedom, and truth when man’s actions, and his interactions with other men, and with society in general, are questions of life and death. There is no ambiguity, there is no middle ground, there is no spectrum of gray, when life and death are involved.

Torture, murder, and genocide are situationals that require no debate: man’s inhumanity to man ought to be preempted by the implementation of the concepts of equality, freedom, and truth.

In our times, the implementation of equality is democracy. The implementation of freedom is rebellion when oppressed. The implementation of truth is the freedom of the press.

Truth conundrum

And now comes, the Truth Conundrum – the relevant truth versus the irrelevant truth.

When the truth does not directly impact a particular man’s life: Does that particular man deserve the irrelevant truth?

Specifically, in no other era in the history of man has there been a wholesale leakage of the truth and lies maintained by enterprises and governments than that one offered by Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

Some of these truths and lies are irrelevant to others. Do they deserve this wholesale truth?

Lie Conundrum

After the truth conundrum, comes the lie conundrum.

The Lie Conundrum: To preempt man’s inhumanity to man, does society need to rely on deliberate lies as part of its survival strategy?

The social contract requires individuals to surrender certain rights and freedoms to enable the state to sustain society’s survival. Does this include deliberate lies as part of the disinformation strategy? Does this include the withholding of truth? The absence of truth is but another form of a deliberate lie.

Man’s inhumanity to man

The common thought used in the justification of the lie conundrum as part of the survival strategy of the state is the reality of the evil human mind.

It is man’s capability and intention to inflict inhumanity to other men that requires the existence of a system of confidential flow of facts, information, and most of all opinion.

State defense and secrets rely heavily on candid and frank formation of opinions about other states, persons, event, or ideas. And indeed, a case can be made for such opinions to be confidential in nature.

Shades of gray

The truth has its own spectrum; the lie has its own spectrum.

Does man’s survival depend on his ability to manage the shades of gray?

The reality of human interaction is that, on a day to day basis, it is extremely difficult, even for a reasonable man, to judge in which part of the gray spectrum he is currently in.

At what point of the spectrum does he realize he has switched to the side of evil in the fight between good and evil?

At what point of the spectrum does the state realize it has switched to the side of evil in the battle between democracy and terrorism?

At what point of the spectrum does the fourth estate realize it has unnecessarily exposed the security of the state in revealing the wholesale truth?

Wholesale truth

Never in the history of human civilization has there been a technology that enabled a single person to distribute information directly – yes, directly - to every other person in the world in a matter of seconds far more efficiently than the internet.

The World Wide Web, like any new technology, is a double-edged sword. It could be equally used for good and evil. What if the wholesale truth is available to the terrorists?

Security and leakages during the Cold War are nothing compared to the potential information leaks of today. There were a few dozen spies who came in from the cold but the information and disinformation they brought in were sealed among a few in the intelligence community.

The secret of the atomic bomb was revealed by a spy deep within the Manhattan project but such leakage was limited to a few persons.

But the frightening speed and dispersion of the web mixed with the never ending debate on individual liberties and his social contract with the state is a thermonuclear combination of damaging consequences.

Information voyeurism

Technology-enabled wholesale truths and lies are now available even to persons would find this information irrelevant.

Thus, the mere thought of having access to such wholesale truths and lies have created a new addiction: information voyeurism.

Does the citizen deserve to know how an ambassador thinks of the credit card transactions of another diplomat? Of course, when it is information about genocide, the resolution of the debate is simple. How about cover-ups of military misjudgments? How about government Big Brother espionage of your neighbor’s trash?

Julian Assange and Wikileaks

Given man’s faculties of thought, imagination, and reason, it would not be illogical to contemplate on the ramifications of the web technology and the concepts of equality, freedom, and truth.

Thus, the emergence of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is a logical, rational, and natural consequence of the new technology and man’s faculty of reason. Have you noticed, this is exactly the process of thought and reasoning we followed in this discourse, leading to the possibility of wholesale leakages?

It is just coincidental that it had to be Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Were Assange unable to initiate Wikileaks, then in a mere matter of months, somebody else would have initiated it.


The reaction of the empires and states to Julian Assange and Wikileaks would go down in modern history as one of their greatest monumental strategic failures. It is a great loss of opportunity. It is history repeating itself.

Instead of cooperating with Julian Assange and Wikileaks, the states have chosen to wage war with him. History is replete with histories of empires and states that have been destroyed and created on the basis of equality, freedom, and truth. And the statistics and history have favored those who fought for these concepts.

After all, in the long run, how could not man’s essence of thought, imagination, and reason not side with concepts of equality, freedom, and truth?

Freedom and responsibility

Just because you have the freedom to act does not always mean that acting on it is the best course of action. Freedom comes with responsibility. The freedom to act, comes with the responsibility for the consequences.

It is probably the reason why, that with the invention of truth, comes the invention of lying.

Human relations is not all about the truth. Human relations is a main course of truth, with the occasional dessert of the lie. That is not the ideal situation, but then humans live in the stark realities of life, not in the concept of the ideal.

The states could have interacted with Julian Assange and Wikileaks on the basis of cooperation founded on freedom and responsibility, instead of choosing to wage war with a person standing on the pedestal of truth.


Profit as a legitimate, openly-discussed , socially-accepted goal, is a modern invention. How should freedom of the press handle the needs of the enterprises for confidentiality, which in turn is a basis for profit? For instance, a Wikileak exposé from government missive could mention about a corporate secret or strategy.

Quo Vadis?

The current debate on Julian Assange and Wikileaks and the states can be partitioned into these two areas: 1. The reaction of the states against the expose of Assange and Wikileaks and; 2. The thorny and difficult debate on the freedom of the press versus the security of the state.

The reaction of the states against Julian Assange and Wikileaks, although the most current and most heated debate involving the freedom of the press in the world today, is actually the easier one to resolve. This involves basically tactics and strategy.

The second main area of concern is extremely difficult to resolve, and one that involves long term solutions, and with deep ramifications.

This area of concern has been a recurring theme since the beginning of man. The other species do not have this problem because they do not have faculties of thought, imagination, and reason.

Being a recurring theme, these issues have been resolved with tenuous compromises. Our society has come to terms with the truth conundrum, the lie conundrum, the shades of gray, individual liberties and the social contract.

There is no ideal resolution because human relations is a complex web of compromises and consequences.

But the coals of almost forgotten fires have been rekindled into a conflagration of truth debates. This time the debate has enormous consequences.

Is knowledge, truth?

Julian Assange and Wikileaks have provided us with lightning-fast, mass-distributed, yet direct person-to-person information. But is such information, knowledge? And is such knowledge, the truth?

Is such unfiltered massive knowledge, the truth that we seek? Does freedom of the press contemplate knowledge or truth?

The marriage of technology and untruth, especially on issues not immediately identifiable as black or white, is a never ending struggle for the refinement of the tradeoffs between individual liberty and state security, given the extremes of potential exposition of information enabled by the speed and the dispersion of the web.

I do not see a simple resolution but we should not stop seeking for one. After all, we have the weapons and faculties to arrive at one. And don’t forget, the greatest faculties of man that separate him from other animals are the faculties of thought, imagination, and reason.

With these essential human faculties, adjusted for current technologies, we hope to originate a solution relevant for today and in the near future.