Law, Bloggers, Truth and Legitimacy

Law, Bloggers, Truth and Legitimacy

Via the incomparably informed and erudite Belmont Club: we discover that “Glenn Reynolds provides the key insight” to the idea that “The Truth Shall Set You Free” in this quote from InstaPundit:

“The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.

That’s because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. And, where things aren’t linkable, you can post actual images. You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check. And the links mean that you can do that without cluttering up your narrative too much, usually, something that’s impossible on TV and nearly so in a newspaper.

(This is actually a lot like the world lawyers live in — nobody trusts us enough to take our word for, well, much of anything, so we back things up with lots of footnotes, citations, and exhibits. Legal citation systems are even like a primitive form of hypertext, really, one that’s been around for six or eight hundred years. But I digress — except that this perhaps explains why so many lawyers take naturally to blogging).

You can also refine your arguments, updating — and even abandoning them — in realtime as new facts or arguments appear. It’s part of the deal.

This also means admitting when you’re wrong. And that’s another difference. When you’re a blogger, you present ideas and arguments, and see how they do. You have a reputation, and it matters, but the reputation is for playing it straight with the facts you present, not necessarily the conclusions you reach. And a big part of the reputation’s component involves being willing to admit you’re wrong when you present wrong facts, and to make a quick and prominent correction.

Although we agree with the above fully on the surface, we are a bit more sceptical than Glenn about the deeper world of “truth” and “trustworthiness”. See “what is truth?” and/or enter the search queries define:truth or define:trustworthiness in Google.

20 bishops swearing on a Bible would not make a thing true if the actual facts were otherwise. The trouble is, most people in their respective cultures or professional disciplines believe what the “bishops” or “mullahs” or “gurus” or “authorities” tell them, rather than looking to the actual evidence for truth or untruth themselves.

The internet is no exception in this regard, and it is a new information source through which people primarily follow the trends of the mainstream, especially those which are of their own persuasion. This applies both to politics and fashion.

As far as the truth of disparate environments is concerned, in our experience “everyone” – on the internet or off – has an agenda of some kind, whether serious or frivolous, drastic or sublime, hidden or open. I am reminded that the name of the former Soviet newspaper Pravda meant “truth”, which was in reality seldom found in its pages. The “real truth” is an elusive entity, and, as one of my acquaintances once opined: “the world often WANTS to be lied to”. That is one of the secrets to becoming monetarily rich or politically powerful – you give or sell the masses what they want, many of them lies.

Indeed, in the blogging or journalistic world, just as in the law, arrival at the “truth” is often not the actual objective of internet discussions or their holders, but rather “legitimacy” of opinion is the issue, i.e. “legitimate results”, (at the least, results that are legitimate in the “eyes of the beholder”). See here for example the discussion in Ronald J. Krotoszynski, Jr.”The New Legal Process: Games People Play and the Quest for Legitimate Judicial Decision Making”, Washington University Law Quarterly, Volume 77, Number 4, 1999.

On a higher level of philosophy, we can look to “the truth” as discussed by Martin Heidegger in Hegel and the Greeks, where he writes about historical (and thus political) truth:

“But every historical statement and legitimization itself moves within a certain relation to history. Prior to a decision as to the historical correctness of the representation it is therefore necessary to consider if and how history is experienced, from whence does it determine its fundamental traits.”

This statement brings us to Heidegger’s analysis of Plato’s Doctrine of Truth, translated there out of the German by Thomas Sheehan, where Heidegger writes:

“The story recounted in [Plato’s] “allegory of the cave” provides a glimpse of what is really happening in the history of Western humanity, both now and in the future: Taking the essence of truth as the correctness of the representation, one thinks of all beings according to “ideas” and evaluates all reality according to “values.” That which alone and first of all is decisive is not which ideas and which values are posited, but rather the fact that the real is interpreted at all according to “ideas,” that the “world” is weighed at all according to “values.”

Heidegger concludes:

What always gets “clarified” is merely some essential consequence of the uncomprehended essence of unhiddenness … the original essence of truth still lies in its hidden origin.”

Therefore do not ask whether the internet brings us “the real truth and nothing but the truth”, for the answer is surely no … regardless of what we read.

At best, we are only getting a part of the entire picture.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: