Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Full spectrum truth is seeing colors, gray areas more clearly

By Stephen Stringham

An old saying states that, “Objective truth in a courtroom is the first casualty.” For courtrooms are battlegrounds where the goal is winning, not informing. Witnesses may swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” But attorneys aren’t held to that standard. The only facts an attorney seeks from witnesses are facts that support his/her side of an argument. Half-truths make better weapons than whole truths.

Politics is even worse, whether the battle is between opposing candidates or between opposing special interests — as in the case of current ballot measures related to predator control or mining pollution.

Rules of Court, formal political debates and good journalism all aim to reduce half-truth biases and outright lies by presenting “both” sides of an issue. But, sadly, two half-truths do not make one whole truth, any more than you can mix white paint with black paint and end up with anything except shades of gray. Real life is less often gray than a riotous mix of colors.

Revealing full spectrum truth requires a different approach. It requires taking a closer look and identifying the gaps in pro vs. con arguments. It requires figuring out how each side’s “magicians” are pulling rabbits out of proverbial hats – keeping your attention focused on favorable claims so you don’t notice all the important things they aren’t telling you.

That’s where Spectrum comes in. This column’s purpose is helping you spot the magician’s tricks on controversial issues that could be important to you. Its goal is not convincing you how to vote or what to believe. Rather, it helps you see each issue more clearly so you can better understand the implications of supporting or opposing any given side in an issue — or the necessity of reframing the issue to achieve better outcomes.

Stephen Stringham, of Soldotna, is the author of “Bear Viewing in Alaska,” “Beauty Within the Beast: Kinship with Bears in the Alaska Wilderness,” and “Alaska Magnum Bear Safety Manual.” His op-ed column, Spectrum, will appear monthly in The Redoubt Reporter.

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