Thursday, November 10, 2011

Betting on a stacked deck

I’m going to make one more observation about the Cain controversy to make a larger point. I’m not making an observation specific to the Cain controversy. My point may or may not be applicable to Herman Cain.

It may seem self-evident that the innocent have nothing to hide. Nothing to fear from the truth. Truth is their friend. Truth is exculpatory.

Conversely, if you’re caught in a lie, that’s evidence that you’re guilty. The innocent have an incentive to tell the truth while the guilty have an incentive to lie.

However, life in a fallen world is more complicated. The innocent are motivated to tell the truth if the system protects the innocent and rewards their candor. If, however, the innocent have reason to distrust the system, then they have a disincentive to tell the truth.

Take campus speech codes. Suppose a student makes a factual, but politically incorrect statement that violates the campus speech code. The student is technically guilty. Yet he’s guilty of violating an unjust policy. A policy that rewards politically correct lies while punishing politically taboo truths

He is innocent of actual wrongdoing. He said nothing intrinsically wrong. Indeed, he stated a fact.

But he now has an inducement to deny what he said, not because what he said was wrong, but because, even though what he said was right, that will be wrongly held against him. When saying or doing the right thing is inculpatory, the innocent have an innocent reason to dissimulate. Put another way, if the game is rigged, is it honest or dishonest to play by the rules?

For the moment I’m not discussing the morality of dissimulation under these circumstances. But just pointing out an easily overlooked facet of human psychology. If fessing up gets you in trouble, even though you did nothing wrong, then that creates a dilemma for the accused.


  1. I had a similar thought a few years ago when I was renting a shed at a storage centre. Backing out, I bumped - and I mean, touched lightly - a bollard set into the concrete of the driveway. I got out and had a look. My bumper was not dented although there was a faint smudge of red paint on it. However, the bollard was wobbling loose and its bolts were nearly torn from the ground.

    "Aha," I thought, "obviously this bollard is in a position where a lot of people keep bumping into it." So I reported it to the storage centre owners, in terms of "By the way, I nudged one of your bollards and when I got out to look, noticed it was hanging by a thread. You might want to look at it."

    Then, months later - when I was closing down my rental and sorting out accounts - the owners decided I had forfeited my entire deposit (several hundred dollars) because I "knocked over [their] bollard" - and had even admitted to doing it!

    This left a sour taste in my mouth. I was brought up to believe in 'fessing up when you damage other people's things, and making payment in restitution. The problem comes when you are one of a hundred people who collectively cause $200 worth of damage (and when that many people bump the bollard, perhaps it's a matter of bad location rather than careless drivers, perhaps?) but the only one who owns up to it. Justice demands that you pay $2 in compensation. But you end up getting hit with $200. Safe to say, I would think very carefully about volunteering "helpful" information in a situation like that ever again.

  2. Am I the only one who seems to think some Triablogue blogs often disappear once a new week has begun and the old week is archived? It seems like it happens on a regular basis. Month after month (maybe week after week). For example, I'm under the impression that there were two recent blogs that had youtube videos of W.L. Craig. Yet, I can only find the one where W.L. Craig is introduced by Frank Turek.

    This seems to have been happening even in the early days of this blog. For example, there are 7 parts to Steve's "I'm Glad You Asked" (posted 2004). But if you go through the archives, you can't find all 7. However, if you type in the numbers manually in the url, they can all be loaded. So, it's not like the links are being intentionally erased.

    This is why in part 1 of Steve's series "I'm Glad You Asked" I posted the links to all 7 parts in the comments area.

    Btw, here's part 1 of Steve's "I'm Glad You Asked"

    I fear that many of the great blog posts that the Triabloggers have been posting for the past 7 years can't be found in the archives ( obviously excluding those ones intentionally removed/deleted by the author). The only way they can be loaded is if one already knew about the existence of the blog and it's url.

  3. Annoyed,

    Perhaps you are thinking of:

  4. ITO, that's the one. I challenge you to find it in the archives. I can't find it.

  5. I suspect that the archives will only hold so many entries on the main page that pulls up, but if you click on the last post and look at the "recent posts" on the right hand side, you should be able to find additional posts during the archive period.

  6. Also, I've been able to find everything I've needed through using Google Advanced search or simply typing into Google:

    site: [+ search term]


    site: glad you asked

    produces all seven parts of the series in the search results.

    It would be nice to create a sort of master index of the best of Triablogue. Some of us are working toward that as we are able, although it is a slow process.

    (And/or maybe we can increase the number of posts that are shown on the front page.)

    In the meantime, hope that helps for future searches.