Transparency and Truth

We picked this up to go beyond policy and into philosophy. For some of us in international development, where “transparency” is an established buzz-word, the last sentence cited is unsettling.

PRI Weekly Briefing, 11 April 2006, Vol. 8 / No. 15

[At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast] President Bush spoke … but with all due respect to the President, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis. gave a much more interesting speech. The gracious President pointed out that Chief Justice John Roberts was present. When this was mentioned, Roberts received louder applause than the President had when he was introduced. “I appreciate so very much the Chief Justice joining us,” said President Bush. “I’m proud you’re here, Chief Justice.”

[Bishop Morlino] noted that glaring inconsistencies in American life and law are not aberrations, but are part and parcel of relativism. After all, there is no imperative for a relativist to be consistent. “This inconsistency is especially neuralgic because the civil law is our teacher,” he said. “We have the very same individuals protesting against warrantless surveillance of possible terrorists’ activities, and then in the northwest, affirming warrantless surveillance of people’s garbage containers to ensure that no recyclables are to be found. On the one hand, warrantless surveillance with regard to possible terrorism is politically incorrect while warrantless surveillance of personal garbage is politically correct. . . .
A second example of this inconsistency has to do with killing of a mother who is carrying a child. In certain instances, the murderer is charged with the death of two human beings, both mother and child. However, if a woman exercises her alleged reproductive rights and has an abortion, the law clearly determines that no crime of murder has been committed. Thus, a human life is precious when someone thinks it is, be it a parent or be it a civil court, and when that life is deemed not to be human or otherwise be without value, then it is expendable.”

Those with a little understanding of human nature, and who have absorbed the lessons of George Orwell’s 1984, know that law and action follow language. “The second weapon in the arsenal of those who would dictate relativism to the rest of us consists in a series of linguistic redefinitions, euphemisms, and other anomalies,” Bishop Morlino pointed out. “Language, as the philosopher Heidegger said, ‘is the house of being.’ If our language is contorted and deconstructed through euphemisms, redefinitions and other anomalies, then the being housed by language becomes indeterminate. There are no fixed meanings, that is relativism pushed to its pinnacle, nihilism itself. . . . Our society speaks of openness and tolerance as almost supreme virtues, but to be open means precisely to be closed to the objective truth. If one would claim the existence of objective truth, one is considered closed and arrogant, rather than open and tolerant. So go the language games. The euphemistic approach is perhaps best captured by the words ‘late-term abortion.’ This term covers up the fact that a partially-born human being is brutally murdered in the process of being born.”

“Choice” has long been a term of great power, appealing to many Americans, but curiously, it is consistently applied to only one issue. “I’ve never heard anyone defend a pro-choice position with regard to bank robbery,” Morlino noted. “The only time this expression is used without reference to what we’re pro-choice about is when the most innocent and helpless human being is at stake. Pro-choice is synonymous with pro-abortion because no one speaks of pro-choice in any other context. Pro-choice is a euphemism that causes us to forget the baby.”

Even the very word “truth,” said the Bishop of Madison, seems to be giving way to the word “transparency” as a goal of public discourse.


  1. H.A. Page

    April 21, 2006 @ 7:53 pm


    Orwell is worth a re-read. Very prescient today. The simplistic language and use of binary terms feed partisan bickering and is fodder for news-as-entertainment. Packaged truth is being challenged from the bottom-up with new media and the conversation is becoming more horizontal rather than vertical. The nexus of the interesection will make for interesting times, truth be told.

    Cheers, MotherPie

  2. Daniel Q. Kelley

    May 1, 2006 @ 9:24 am


    I think you’re right about the invitation to pigeon-hole and trivialize. Thanks for the good comment!

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