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The Federalist Diaries

 

How Little We Know, Part 2

The main focus in my life now is to open people's minds so no one will be so conceited that they think they have the total truth.  They should be eager to learn, to listen, to research and not to confine, to hurt, to kill, those who disagree with them.

Sir John Templeton, American-born businessman and philanthropist 

          In part 1, we saw that we could not have precise or complete knowledge.  We asked, in light of this, whether we should consider carefully the intended and unintended consequences of our individual and collective decision-making, in order to do the least harm possible. 

          We already take into account imprecise or incomplete knowledge.  Judges and juries are instructed to determine guilt by certain standards:  a preponderance of the evidence for civil matters, beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal matters.  Then there are separate rules by which to determine punishment in criminal matters.  In California, we have “special circumstances” which increase the severity of the punishment.  Also, we acknowledge that we make mistakes when we compensate those who were falsely or erroneously imprisoned.  (Note that, even if our judicial system made a good-faith mistake, we still would compensate a person erroneously imprisoned.) 

          A question might arise:  if we take such care to determine facts in a judicial process, should we not take such care when determining other matters which affect us significantly?  Which other matters? 

·        hiring, promotions, salary increases, firing?

·        the veracity of statements by candidates and elected and appointed officials whose decisions affect us significantly?

·        health care? 

          With regard to health care, we may seek more than one professional opinion.  With regard to the workplace, there is often a process involving a change in an employee’s status and, failing the process, there are laws to give her redress.  The veracity of statements by candidates and officials is challenged by opponents and examined by the news media. 

          But we still make major mistakes, individually and collectively.  To reduce the incidence of these mistakes and the ensuing unwanted consequences, there would be at least three choices as to how to go.  First, we could spend more time and money determining the facts, given that anyone may say almost anything publicly and we are left to sort out fact from fiction.  (As mentioned in the essay “The Eleventh Commandment”, we could meet with friends for coffee and conversation.)  Second, we could change the consequences of decisions which affect us adversely, based on the possibility that we would never have precise or complete facts;  this would necessitate new rules for punishment.  (A possibility was explored in the essay “Is Everyone ‘LOCO’?”)  Third, we could set up a process, as in our judicial system, for the consideration of facts:  admissibility, relevance, accuracy;  this is like the first choice, except more structured. 

          In the next part, we will look at how setting up a “judicial” process might be applied to candidates and officials, in light of all the negative consequences of election campaigning and official decision-making in our democracy.

March 29, 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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