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December 05, 2007

What is genuine? Does it matter?

"Fakes" take on a variety of forms: children's stories, works of art, novels, news stories, plays, politicians, etc. Some, such as children's stories, are seemingly innocent. For example, fables merely fabricate a tale in order to teach some important moral lesson or cultural value. Likewise, novelists often make up stories to establish a specific theme or propose an idea. Art is also "fake," in that it often creates new "realities" and draws us into them. So the question is, if such fabrications are beneficial, is it necessary to distinguish the "fake" and the "genuine"? Is it even possible to make this distinction?

Our "reality" makes it very difficult to distinguish what is real and what is fake. The novelists Alan Sokal and Stephen Glass certainly proved to us that it is easy to fabricate stories and successfully package them as true. Their sagas also suggest that people truly want to be able to determine what is true and what is false. But why? If it seems nearly impossible to determine, why should we even try?

The reason to want to know the truth lies in our fear that fabrications lead to unwanted consequences. At times, this fear is unwaranted. For example, the story of Rigoberta Menchu comes to mind. Menchu's memoir regarding the Guatamalan Civil War and the atrocities/genocide committed by the Gautamalan army from 1960 to 1996 was criticized for its embellishments. It seems that Menchu changed several parts of her life story in order to gain some extra attention. However, the tragedies she suffered were real - she lost both her parents, two brothers, a sister-in-law and three nieces and nephews to the Guatemalan army. The embellishments surely did nothing more than add a bit of drama to the story. Furthermore, her novel put the Guatamalan crisis and the plight of indigenous people on an international scale. Perhaps her fabrication should in fact be praised for its positive effects.

And yet there are instances in which fabrications lead to negative consequences. A good example here is that of the conflicting National Intelligence Estimates of 2005 and 2007. It was reported yesterday that Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003. However, in 2005, U.S. national intelligence agencies proclaimed Iran's nuclear program a serious threat - a good article on this topic can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/washington/05intel.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. The 2005 report contributed to sanctions placed on Iran, America's fear of attack, an anti-Iranian diplomacy by the administration, and discrimination of Middle Eastern nations and peoples. These were serious consequences, all caused by not unawareness of the truth.

So with examples like these, I think that it can be safely concluded that knowing what is true matters - at times. It is entirely dependent of the consequences that particular fabrications lead to. If an ingenuine tale leads to empowerment of an oppressed people, then fabrications is a good thing. But if it leads to oppression, then the truth must be exposed.

Posted by leslieph at December 5, 2007 06:40 PM


What a treat it would be to have absolutes that were definitely absolutes.

And it would be a treat to know how to respond better to honesty about dastardly undertakings, honest disclosure instead of repackaging to deceive and derive some form of personal gain,

but the honest discloser may still be seen as a criminal; honest mistakes can have extreme consequences. But the deceptive practitioner may be rewarded for the ruses --and indeed, it might require impressive skills to succeed at some elaborate schemes, but the system of reward and punishment, and the terminology gradients are flawed.

Something believed, even proven true may later be exposed as false (I think of the wrongly convicted Ronald Cotton for the rape of Jennifer Thompson; you can read a synopsis of the situation here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dna/cotton/summary.html)

The active system of enclosure shapes the protocols of how truth is configured; each situation, each active situation may shape truth differently, so versions and points of view believed true persist, even when it is obvious that all versions can't be true at the same time in this universe.

But this is a truth of what we have.

Posted by: thyliasm at December 23, 2007 01:11 AM

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