Monday, January 4, 2010


Welcome! I'll spare you the long apology for what is undeniably yet another blog on the Internet. Obviously, I believe I have something to say and, as I have been encouraged by others to simply say it, here goes.

My inaugural posting is mercifully short. (You should have seen the one I had been working on. I think I bit off more than I could chew.) By now you've either heard or heard comment on President Obama's use of the word 'alleged' when referring to the unsuccessful attempt of a Christmas Day suicide terror bombing of Northwest Airline Flight 253 by Nigerian Muslim Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. I string all these descriptives together, tedious as they may be to read, because they are all things we know to be true, and knew to be true almost immediately ten days ago when the incident occurred. If we know them to be true, why the persistent use of the word 'alleged'?

For many on the political right, President Obama's use of that word in this particular case was telling. By employing an equivocating word to describe the incident, he demonstrated a similar equivocation in his thinking, and foreshadowed a policy more or less consistent with such thinking. With Obama as representative of the Left, that word, that thinking, and that policy all proved once again the Left's utter lack of seriousness in confronting the very real threat posed by extremist Islam. Much of the commentary immediately after the event focused on this aspect of his use of that word and while I think almost all of it correct and appropriate, I think something else, something larger, is going on as well.

The use of the word 'alleged' is not unique to this case. I've noticed it for some time now in public discourse and it almost always grates. 'Alleged' is foremost a legal term and is used in order to maintain the presumption of innocence before trial. But this begs a question: If one is being tried, hasn't the prosecuting attorney, and the government he represents, already decided that the accused is in fact the perpetrator of the crime? Why else would they arrest, indict, and bring him before judge and jury? In truth, they are not asserting that the accused 'allegedly' committed the crime, but that indeed he did. The purpose of the trial is not chiefly to determine whether or not the crime occurred, or even who did it, but only whether or not the accused is criminally culpable. Or at least so 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

And that is the something larger that I think has crept into our public discourse. The use of the word 'alleged' in such circumstances is further evidence that we are reaping, now at a popular level, the bitter harvest of the epistemological crisis of late modernity. Epistemology is the study of the nature and grounds for knowing, that is, whether and how we can know anything. Radical skeptics, themselves too often cheerful champions of the crisis itself, conclude--if it were even possible to conclude--that one simply cannot know anything at all with confidence. Many of us have engaged in these abstruse conversations, usually late at night, about whether and how we can know if we are really here, whether or not we are actually conversing, whether our words have any real meaning, etc. This is all great fun, but has little place in the world in which we actually live. While there is much more to say here (grist for another posting perhaps), suffice it to say that this crisis, which was once mostly confined to intramural debates among academic philosophers, has steadily made its way into the law, and is now effecting even popular discourse. The standard of 'beyond a reasonable doubt' has, in effect, been supplanted by a new standard of 'beyond a metaphysical doubt'. That new standard causes us to torture the language with the use of words like 'alleged' when we know exactly what happened and when, who did it, and why.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. The use of the word "alleged" by the Pres. is extremely telling about the administration's outlook not just in the particular case mentioned, but about where they sit in reference to the entire issue of terrorism and those engaged in it. The suggestion is, I believe, designed to intentionally lump these individuals in with the common criminal, who as we know already, the left believes is the victim of his surroundings. Their crimes are crimes of passion, they can be rehabilitated, they can be reasoned with, and these are singular incidents not related to a global agenda by Islamic fanatics.(I dont think the left is quite aware that that actually exists yet, at the least theyre wallowing in disbelief) I recently read a great article posted I believe on the National Review that pointed out that when that scumbag Nadal Hassan shot up Fort Hood and this disgusting individual attempted to blow up the Christmas day flight, we are told that they are the alleged perpetrators or that we should refrain from jumping to conclusions about his motives, by the President. When a white cop arrests a loud mouth black professor being investigated for breaking and entering, it is indicative of the ever present racism of police nation-wide? (routinely disproven) That's also, from the President.If you could see my face you would be made utterly aware of the lack of surprise across my countenance. This President is exactly who we knew he was in 2008, its not "alleged".