Protecting the Truth
My last post was about the Cree syllabary and mentioned its disputed origins. Somewhat jovially, TK wanted to know: Where's the truth?! It's out there!
And I suddenly, very seriously, replied--lost, I'm afraid. I've long ago resigned myself to the idea that the truth often can get lost. That's why it's important to protect it when it's young and new and strong.
Sure, some truths--the really deep stuff--are resilient and hardy. Satyam Evam Jayate (
The Truth Shall Be Victorious)
--I do believe that for a lot of things. The Big Truths I'm not so worried about. But a lot of important things--massively important decisions about everything from war to architecture to medicine to farming--rely on a fine network of many little truths, the slight alteration of which can send people off on the most unfortunate paths.
A lot of what government does is record. People make fun of bureaucrats, but I have always had an enormous amount of respect for a large segment of them. Perhaps it is the lover of Roman civilization in me. The thankless bureaucrat, methodically filing away trivia and paperwork, responsible and productive, is the best friend of the journalist, the historian, or the curious child who should wander into a library basement and realize that her Republic lies at her disposal. I'll never forget the moment when I suddenly realized, deep below the Pasadena Public library, that the transactions of Congress were carefully recorded and sent out to my own favorite haunt--and had been for decades, perhaps more than a century.
There's a natural tension between the career paperpushers of government, who have a neutral job to do, and the elected officials who rotate through as their bosses, who have images to maintain. Any semblance of balance in that conflict has crumpled in the last few years, as Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists describes in this recent Slate/NPR piece
. I saw him speak at Columbia, and he's an impressive man, committed to the idea that our national information belongs to us, and that we need to access it and use it to better run our Republic. We are not children to be merely protected by an overclass that gets itself into power, we are the ones who should be in charge. Check out his column, and consider supporting his cause
. He wrote:
Information is the oxygen of democracy.
It's worth framing. Take a deep breath, and let's start opening some windows.