Wednesday, June 4, 2008

See what you want to see

I found another tiny article in the Chicago Tribune (6/1/08, Section 1, page 14) title "Book: Bhutto dealt nuke secrets" that is of some interest. The article talks about a book that a journalist who knew Benazir Bhutto has written. Supposedly, while the Prime Minister of Pakistan, she smuggled in CD’s with nuclear data on them in exchange for missile data from North Korea. Naturally, this is unconfirmed. It is not unusual for sensitive data like this to be unconfirmed. If multiple sources could confirm it, then the secret would not be so secure in the first place. The question here is: How believable is this? It is difficult to say.

The new book about President Bush by Scott McCellen is another case in point. With all of the motives for believing what he says and also for denial of what he says, how can we really tell how much is fact? Be careful here. Remember O.J.?

I like to use the O.J. Simpson case as an example of how we can all be fooled. The verdict was that he is innocent. OK, he did not do it. But it did show that he was a BIG TIME JERK. I had seen him interviewed many, many times and watched him on ‘Monday Night Football’ many times as well. Even if innocent, he certainly was NOT the man that I thought he was.

The main point of all of this is to bring out the fact that we really do not know. In these cases, it is very easy to see what you want to. This is where it is vital that you understand what you want to see. It is impossible to eliminate prejudice. Everyone has their way of looking at things. What is important is to understand what your prejudices are so that you are not so easily swayed. I have heard this called intellectual honesty. It requires constantly working at it. Alas, it cannot ever be completely successful. I suspect that many of us do not do this enough.

This discussion is connected with warfare in that during an actual conflict, information is limited for a number of reasons. False information is planted for obvious reasons as well. Even with the much greater access to information today, the likelihood of false and misleading information is just as great now as it had been in the past. Although we cannot completely get rid of the impact of what we want to see, we can understand how it influences what we do see and hopefully make more sound judgements about what is really going on.

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