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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The truth paradox: can we get to the truth without the lies and idle speculation?

An establishment paedophile ring?

Plenty of names are doing the rounds online.  I previously blogged that secrecy ultimately hurts more people when wild speculation fills the void.

Just because allegations of a cover-up are being taken seriously doesn't mean everyone smeared over the last twenty years is guilty.

Whether it is possible to get to the truth so long after the fact is itself a major concern.

Even when credible and honest victims and witnesses can be found it doesn't prevent their testimony suffering from the same flaws in human memory as any other honest and reliable witness.

"I never forget a face" - well I once asked the man opposite me on the train if he was Michael Fish. Turns out it was a solicitor from Hampshire.

"My abuser told me he was a powerful politician" - it's reasonable to expect a sadistic abuser to inflate their standing.

Two things make the task of investigating historic abuse 20-40 years ago even harder.  Firstly, people lie for the attention; and secondly, memories fade over time.

Many of these problems get to the root of identity. How did the abused come to know the names of the people alleged to have been abusing them, especially in the pre-internet era?  After all an abuser is hardly likely to have introduced themselves by their full name and title.

A name overheard? Maybe read from e.g. a credit card? Names circulating amongst other children in the care home?

Once the abuser has a name it sticks.  A distinctive surname matches with a name frequently in the public eye and the human mind can't help but form a bond.  Their abuser is that person.

The name might have been incorrect in the first place.  It might have been the correct name but that of a namesake: a sibling or cousin, or someone completely unconnected.

Mixed up in all this mess is the role of the internet.

I previously wrote that idle speculation is potentially smearing innocent people.

But there's a kind of truth paradox; the storm being kicked up around what might turn out to be falsehoods may be the only reason the truth is ever uncovered.

If rumours hadn't been bubbling under the surface for so long -  percolating up into a noise on Twitter, reports in the mainstream press and promised government action - any attempt to investigate the truth might never have happened.

If two senior politicians had not been implicated online, even if these allegations turn out to be incorrect, might this all have escaped the Prime Minister's radar?

I'm not justifying this as a means to an end, and I doubt few set out to deliberately smear an innocent person of abuse.

Rather I'm pointing out the long-lasting implications of an alleged cover-up: a void filled with speculation, low public confidence in authorities and persistent demands for a proper investigation decades later.

Whether we'll ever learn the truth is debatable but hopefully judges and other officials issuing injunctions (Waterhouse) or signing 70- (David Kelly) and even 100-year secrecy orders (Dunblane) will one day get the message that revealing the truth in a timely manner might be the least-worst option.

@JamesFirth

1 comment:

  1. A little update, on reflection this is not a "truth paradox" but a paradox created by laws designed to encourage truth, like libel.

    In setting out to only allow the truth to be spoken they prevent public discussion, which ultimately hinders getting to the truth.

    ReplyDelete

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