Newsweek run an excellent piece about the cultural implication of the Petraeus scandal, with which I largely agree. However, modern technology is not the main culprit nor is it really a privacy issue. Think of Seneca, Wallenstein, Petraeus, DSK, J. Assange and others . There is a recognizable pattern here. All of them were not destroyed by Gods, but by powers in the background. For anyone who has risen too high, no distinction between guilty and innocent is made, merely if that person causes a problem or complies. Petraeus sloppy attitude to privacy was just a convenience factor. The question actually is – qui bono? Is the archaic setting the journalist Kaylan notes, one of Roman decline or a just a witch-hunt where witches’ hunt? Both.
Truth knows no friends anymore only interests.
What is today the difference between a good quality blog and a non-paper news outfit, say like The Daily Beast / Newsweek (which I still give a lot of credit)? Little. Some are top notch blogs to me. Other media not even that. In cases in which I knew by chance the background, it seemed to me the quality press does not significantly care more than social media on the whole about checking sources or presenting the facts. In the economic crises, the lies distributed by the media are so evident to anyone, I started to process numbers and ignore words. When there are breaking news, I switch off CNN and subscribe on Twitter.
It is up to you to create order within this chaos.
In stories, newspapers, and the spoken word, politicians are trying to convince us to think for example about America (or Europe) as they do. They are bombarding us with facts and figures, opinions and projections. Look at the third Greek bailout today in Germany. One of the last reliable sources, Bloomberg New York has just reported that the ECB should have known already during the Greece application for EU membership of those swap transactions concealing the actual financial situation of the country. The General Court of the European Union ruled yesterday: “Disclosure of those documents would have undermined the protection of the public interest so far as concerns the economic policy of the European Union and Greece”.
It is up to you to create order within this chaos and find the patterns that will help you to understand what is true, what could be true, and what is outright false. In order to do all this, you need to have a firm grip on what is objective and what is subjective, on not touched by the writer’s previous experiences or interests. It is verifiable by looking up facts numbers or performing mathematical calculations. Subjective is a statement that has been colored by the character of the writer. It is, I am sorry to say, also an element of trust and hunch. But often one knows a bit about a country or an event. If a source lies once, discard it. Petraeus case has a basis in reality, but reflects the perspective through with the powers in charge want or paint reality. Another rule is: There is always more than meets they eye.
Even, or especially good journalists like Kaylan feel the pinch. Either way their time is running out, if communication stays free they will become useles otherwise they will be severely restricted and hate themselves.
Roman times or witch-hunts where witches’ hunt?
As the author Kaylan, a journalist in New York observes correctly, we live now a police state in which we are both the persecutors and the victims. We, including journalists watch helplessly how open societies are slowly committing suicide and moving to back dark ages. Lies are sold as truth, we slide back to witch-hunt or Roman times where anybody could be brought down anytime.
In 41, the weak Emperor Claudius succeeded the crazy Emperor Caligula, and then, at the behest of his very shady wife Valeria Messalina, banished the famous stoic philosopher and adviser Seneca on a charge of adultery with Caligula’s sister Julia Livilla. He had a lot to say about truth and sins like:
- Speech devoted to truth should be straightforward and plain (Seneca)
- Other men’s sins are before our eyes; our own are behind our backs. (Seneca)
It is not the weapon which kills.
It is the cultural climate in which we have given up objective law – some of the best the Roman culture gave to us – for non-objective (subjective) law which leaves its meaning open to a wide variety of alternative and contradictory interpretations which are not . This makes it impossible for a man to know what is and is not legal for him to do until after he acts and is hauled before a court, mob or public opinion for violating that law. And even then, if judges, moral prosecutors, media, or government officials, can chop and change how the law is to be interpreted, so nobody can be certain what the law means or the rules are because the (manipulated) public opinion can revoke that interpretation at will and use another. JFK would be brought down today in no time.
Aristotle and Plato came up with a list of virtues that we need to acquire, through education and habitually, in order to take responsibility. But now it is said from ethicists that values change, and different societies hold up different virtues as desirable. What is virtuous, according to them, is relative to the context – relative to culture, varying throughout history and, focussing on the ends ( more money, more power) or purposes of our actions. These leads right to McCarthy or Machiavelli. Britain’s Lord Palmerton stated over a century ago, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”.
Big Money gets along with terrorists and with dictators, generals and presidents. When those come under fire. No problem. They have outlived their usefulness? Dump them. A few weeks before his arrest Strauss-Kahn had spoken in Washington to students about the IMF lessons derived from the financial market crisis and announced a strategy change: “the Washington consensus is now behind us. In Petraeus’ case CIA officials lately indicated, that it deleted the al-Qaeda references, not the FBI.´and said the CIA changed the reference to al Qaeda for “several valid intelligence and investigatory reasons.”
Well, since Seneca nothing has changed: Four things does a reckless man gain who covets his neighbor’s wife – demerit, an uncomfortable bed, thirdly, punishment, and lastly, hell (Seneca).