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The Truth About Truth

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Can you convincingly, with complete belief and confidence, claim that anything is true? The world was flat until it was proven that it was in fact shaped like a ball. The problem with truth is that it is plagued by the eternal question: is it true?

 

WHOSE TRUTH IS TRUTH?

Is there life beyond earth? There have been several people who have sighted objects/beings that they believe in their hearts are of another planet. Did they really see these things? Was their vision distorted by certain other factors, that made them think what they saw was something other than what it actually was? or, did they really see what they believe they saw? You may not believe them. If not, your truth may be different from their truth. But what is the truth? Who decides?

Here, even the dictionary, while defining truth, states that what is “accepted as true” is truth. In that sense, whatever is considered by a large section of people to be the truth is often deemed to be the truth.

In a true sense, therefore, truth is elusive.

Many renowned sages and saints in India are known to have discarded worldly lives to pursue a path that might lead them to discover the eternal truth. Is there a God? Is there life after death? These were some of the questions these learned people dedicated their lives to try and find answers to.

WHAT IS TRUTH?

Epistemologists (those who study truth, belief and knowledge) use a framework in their study of truth. This framework includes the following key elements:

THE PROPOSITION: It is a representation of the world or a way the world can possibly be that is language and form agnostic. For instance, a sentence in English saying that “there is water in the glass” can be expressed with different alphabets and characters in a very different way in, say, Hindi or even French. But whatever the form of the expression, the proposition is the same. A proposition is either true or false. And the proposition lies at the centre of any argument on truth.

BELIEF: A proposition that an individual accepts to be true is a belief. The proposition may be true or false, but for the individual it is true. A belief is therefore some- thing inside the mind of an individual that makes the person accept a proposition as true and behave in a manner that assumes this to be so.

Some philosophers prefer to define truth as being independent of belief, while others see the people and their beliefs as being an integral part of what is the truth.

KNOWLEDGE: The belief that a proposition, which is true, is true, is knowledge. There are conditions that must be met for a person to be justified in holding a proposition as true. When these are satisfied, it is knowledge. Knowledge therefore assumes that a person is in a right relationship with true propositions and can recognise them for being true.

Philosophers have used the above building blocks as a base for their concepts and theories on truth. Here are some of the popular concepts:

COHERENCE: The contention in this case is that a belief is true if it is consistent or coherent with other beliefs of an individual. For instance, a man who has lived his entire life in the desert cannot possibly comprehend a blue ocean, as it does not align with his other beliefs like sand is yellow. That an ocean is blue or green does not resonate with his beliefs. He is therefore unable to relate to such a proposition, that has no relevance for him, as a truth.

proponents of this concept argue that individuals can only relate a belief to the propositions they believe in. They cannot believe in something that does not cohere with their beliefs.

CORRESPONDENCE: This is the most widely accepted theory on truth and separates belief from the proposi- tion. The argument is that there are propositions that correspond with reality or the state of affairs in the world and are therefore true.

For instance, in a statement like “novak Djokovic is the no.1 ranked tennis player in the world”, the proposition is true if he is indeed ranked no.1 in the world at the time. Therefore, the proposition is true if it corresponds to what actually is the reality at that point of time.

This theory distances itself from an individual’s belief and focuses entirely on the condition of a proposition corresponding with what is the state in the world. As long as the proposition satisfies the truth conditions, it is true.

POSTMODERN: The postmodern belief is that a correct description of reality is impossible and therefore defining truth on the basis of reality is flawed. The argument is that all truth is limited, approximate and constantly evolving and, therefore, absolute and certain truth that explains all things is unobtainable.

How postmodernism goes beyond pure subjectivity of an individual is with the “community agreement” validation for truth claims. So, if one individual’s suggestion of a proposition being true is supported by several others, it results in a communal truth for all of them.

LIVING WITH TRUTH :While philosophers have examined truth from various perspectives and offered their views on how to define it, much of the exercise, to most, will appear largely theoretical. However, all of us deal with questions of truth on a daily basis. If you are a manager and you have a decision to make from several alternatives, you need to base your decision on the information you have been provided. Before you do so, you will need to take a call on how true you believe the pieces of information provided to you are. Your decision will be driven by your belief of the truth.

At a social level too, there are questions that we constantly encounter. Take the example of a couple asking each other: Do you truly love me? Whatever the answer is, will you ever know whether it is true? You will most likely evaluate the response based on your belief. But imagine that you had a theory or system of deciphering what is true from what is not. That would be a very pow- erful tool. It is no wonder that learned men have spent years working on the concept of truth.

Truth is truly worth it. We should give truth a chance!


THE RIGHT TO KNOW

THE RTI ACT

- The Right to Information Act (RTI) of India came into force on october 12, 2005—replacing the Freedom of Information Act of 2002. It entitles any Indian citizen to ask a question of a public authority with the right to expect a response within 30 days, or at the earliest.

- The Freedom of Information Act had been criticised by many for its scope—too many areas of governance were exempted—and for its lack of teeth and efficacy—there were no penalties and there was no limit on the charges that could be levied for providing the requested information.

- The RTI was enacted to address these gaps. The number of RTI applications being filed each financial year crossed the 800,000 mark in 2013-14.

THE SCOPE

- RTI covers all States and Union Territories of India, with the ex- ception of Jammu & Kashmir, where a local law provides for access to public information.

- RTI encompasses all constitutional authorities and all institu- tions created through an act of parliament or a State Legislature. It also includes political parties.

- Security agencies, and institutions specifically excluded through a notification by States, are not under the purview of the Act.

HOW TO SEEK INFORMATION

- An applicant needs to submit a request for information, mentioning her/his name and contact information, to the public Information officer of the institution the question primarily relates to. each institution covered under the Act is required to have a pIo for this purpose.

- For most requests, the pIo is required to reply within 30 days. However, if the question relates to another authority under the purview of the Act, the 30 days will be computed from the day the pIo of the other authority receives the request.

- A citizen who seeks information is required to send a Demand Draft/Banker’s Cheque of Rs 10 drawn in favour of the Accounts officer of the public institution.

- The PIO can either reject the whole or a part of the request, or demand further fees for furnishing the information. once the fees are deposited, the information has to be shared within the pre- scribed period. If this is not done, the applicant can file an appeal / complaint, and the information will need to be provided free of charge in cases where the prescribed period is exceeded.


WHISTLEBLOWERS

They are people who are committed to revealing the truth about wrongdoings—fraud, corruption, criminal acts and violations of civil and legal rights of citizens—by taking upon themselves, voluntarily and often at great risk to themselves and their dear ones, the responsibility of exposing such acts by others whom they might be associated with in some way, or whose such acts they might have information on, by virtue of their position.

In the next few pages, we highlight the whistleblowing acts of five such brave and committed individuals. Some of them ended up paying a heavy price for their mission, but they didn’t flinch in the face of the biggest threats.

Read on and be inspired by people who gave truth a chance.
 

KAREN GAY SILKWOOD
EXPOSED HEALTH HAZARD AT A NUCLEAR FACILITY
DOB: 19 FEBRUARY 1946

Karen Silkwood started working at Kerr-Mcgee Cimaron’s fuel fabrication site in Oklhahoma, United States of America, in 1972. Her job entailed making of plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. She joined the oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, like many of her co-workers and took part in a strike at the plant. Given her enthusiasm, she was soon elected to the union’s bargaining committee—making her the first woman to be inducted in such a position.

The union entrusted her with the task of evaluating the health & safety situation at the plant. Her investigations revealed several inadequacies. She uncovered several violations of safety regulations and discovered that the workers were exposed to high levels of contamination. The nuclear material was also not stored properly and the management, to speed up production, had produced faulty rods and falsified records.

Silkwood took her findings to the Atomic energy Commission, along with other union members. Later that year, on November 5, 1974, she conducted a routine test on herself and found plutonium contamination of 400 times the legal limit. The next day too, despite having done only paperwork all morning, her contamination readings were very high. She was soon exhaling contaminated air.

Silkwood believed she had been contaminated at the plant, though Kerr-McGee put this down to possible theft of plutonium by her from the plant and her storing it at her residence, where heavy traces were found.

To counter this charge, Silkwood put together documentary evidence to support her claim. She was head- ing out with this to meet new York Times’ journalist, David Burnham, and a union member, Steve Wodka, when she died in a suspicious car crash. Meryl Streep essayed the role of this braveheart crusader in the 1983, Academy Award nominated, film Silkwood.
 

JEFFREY WIGAND
EXPOSED INCREASED NICOTINE CONTENT IN CIGARETTES
DOB: 17 DECEMBER, 1942

Jeffrey Wigand earned his Masters and phd from University of Buffalo, after which he went on to work for several leading companies, such as pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Union Carbide, before joining Brown & Wil- liamson in January 1989.

At Brown & Williamson, Wigand discovered that top- level executives were involved in increasing the nicotine level in cigarettes and in changing the blend of the cigarettes by approving additives like coumarin that were addictive and carcinogenic. He was fired on March 24, 1993. This he claims was due to his knowledge of the wrongdoing by the top brass at Brown & Williamson. In an interview to CBS, on the programme 60 minutes, he revealed how Brown & Williamson had befooled and exploited smokers. He also shared for the first time in public that he had been harassed and had received anonymous death threats.

Following his exit from Brown & Williamson, Wigand decided to exit the business world. He started teaching chemistry and Japanese at a school in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named Teacher of the Year in the State of Kentucky in 1996.

Wigand today lectures students across the world and consults on tobacco issues and policies.

His story hit celluloid in 1999, with Russel Crowe portraying him in the film The insider.


RUDOLF ELMER
EXPOSED BIG TAX EVASIONS BY A SWISS BANK
YOB: 1955

Rudolf Elmer was a banker. He worked with Swiss bank, Julius Baer, for about 20 years—the last as manager of its operations in the Caribbean for about eight years. He was dismissed from service in 2002. While the case of Rudolf Elmer is not one of a self- less hero fighting for the truth, he accomplished what few others could have. He jolted the entire international financial system with his revelations. His disclosures had, perhaps, the biggest influence on international taxation systems at the time.

Elmer was dismissed from service by Julius Baer after he failed a lie detector test on questions relating to data theft. He was accused of stealing bank documents with “criminal intent”.

On release from service, Elmer reached out to various media organisations with information from the bank. He served 30 days in custody in 2005 for providing customer data to a business daily in exchange for cash—a gross violation of the Swiss banking secrecy rules.

In 2008, Elmer provided internal documents and information to Wikileaks on Juilus Baer’s gross violations. Elmer accused Julius Baer of tax evasion by declaring it had carried out bank work in Cayman Islands, whereas the work had actually been done in Switzerland. He argued: “offshore centres have multiplied since the 1960s. Trusts as in the laws of Commonwealth countries are—despite being legal—illegitimate. Privacy protection is important for banking and I am not against bank secrecy, but companies abuse this secrecy. I want to change the system.”

While Elmer has been accused of various things—including acting for selfish gains and for avenging his dismissal from service, as well as forging documents— he did lift the veil on international banking sector malpractices, which triggered calls for action and change.


EDWARD SNOWDEN
REVEALED SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMMES BY US AND UK
DOB: 21 JUNE, 1983

Computer wizard, Edward Snowden didn’t have trouble getting selected by the CIA for its computer team. After training, he became one of their technology specialists and was soon posted, under cover, in Geneva to manage the security of the computer network there. Snowden revealed that the CIA had deliberately encouraged a Swiss banker to drive in a drunken state, so that they could get him let-off by the police authorities in return for becoming an informer. His claim was publicly refuted and he resigned from CIA’s service in February, 2009.

He moved to an NSA facility near Tokyo as a contractor for Dell. Here he advised military officers and other top functionaries on how to protect their systems from cyber attacks by Chinese hackers. In 2011, he returned to the US as the lead for Dell’s CIA account, advising the technical team of CIA on system security and other matters. It was during this stint with Dell, that Snowden is believed to have gained access to and downloaded files relating to surveillance exercises conducted by the agency.

Towards the end of his service with Dell, Snowden claimed he was working on finding new ways to break into internet and telecommunication traffic across the world. He is said to have reached almost a “breaking point” before calling it quits. He took a pay cut to join Booz Allen, in order to gather data required to expose the US national Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programmes. Booz Allen fired him after his expose.

Snowden revealed that a large part of the NSA’s programmes had no constitutional sanction and violated constitutional rights. He deposed that this was brought to the attention of about 10 senior officials by him, but none did anything about it. So, after quitting his job in Hawaii, he flew to Hong Kong in May 2013 and handed over 50,000 to 200,000 classified documents—it is estimated he downloaded over 1.7 million NSA files, over 58,000 British Intelligence files and over 15,000 Australian Intelligence files—to journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of Guardian, and documentary filmmaker, Laura poitras.

He was charged by the US Department of Justice for violation of the espionage Act and for stealing government property. Snowden escaped to Moscow, where he got asylum. His present whereabouts are unknown.


EDWARD SNOWDEN
REVEALED SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMMES BY US AND UK
DOB: 21 JUNE, 1983

Computer wizard, Edward Snowden didn’t have trouble getting selected by the CIA for its computer team. After training, he became one of their technology specialists and was soon posted, under cover, in Geneva to manage the security of the computer network there. Snowden revealed that the CIA had deliberately encouraged a Swiss banker to drive in a drunken state, so that they could get him let-off by the police authorities in return for becoming an informer. His claim was publicly refuted and he resigned from CIA’s service in February, 2009.

He moved to an nSA facility near Tokyo as a contractor for Dell. Here he advised military officers and other top functionaries on how to protect their systems from cyber attacks by Chinese hackers. In 2011, he returned to the US as the lead for Dell’s CIA account, advising the technical team of CIA on system security and other matters. It was during this stint with Dell, that Snowden is believed to have gained access to and downloaded files relating to surveillance exercises conducted by the agency.

Towards the end of his service with Dell, Snowden claimed he was working on finding new ways to break into internet and telecommunication traffic across the world. He is said to have reached almost a “breaking point” before calling it quits. He took a pay cut to join Booz Allen, in order to gather data required to expose the US national Security Agency’s (nSA) surveillance programmes. Booz Allen fired him after his expose.

Snowden revealed that a large part of the nSA’s pro- grammes had no constitutional sanction and violated constitutional rights. He deposed that this was brought to the attention of about 10 senior officials by him, but none did anything about it. So, after quitting his job in Hawaii, he flew to Hong Kong in May 2013 and handed over 50,000 to 200,000 classified documents—it is estimated he downloaded over 1.7 million nSA files, over 58,000 British Intelligence files and over 15,000 Australian Intelligence files—to journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of Guardian, and documentary filmmaker, Laura poitras.

He was charged by the US Department of Justice for violation of the espionage Act and for stealing government property. Snowden escaped to Moscow, where he got asylum. His present whereabouts are unknown.


SATYENDRA DUBEY
EXPOSED THE ROLE OF MAFIA IN NATIONAL HIGHWAY PROJECT
YOB: 1973

A brilliant boy, Satyendra Dubey, was born to humble farmers, subsisting on a small parcel of land, at Sahpur village in Siwan district of Bihar. His father tilled the land and also worked at the nearby sugar mill to make ends meet. He was encouraged to study and he exceed- ed his parents’ expectations by gaining admission to IIT Kanpur in 1990. He followed up his B. Tech with a Masters in Civil engineering from Banaras Hindu University. In 2002, he qualified for and joined the Indian engineering Service (IeS). He got deputed to the national Highway Authority of India and was soon entrusted with the charge of highway development under the Golden Quadrilateral programme, as project Director at Koderma in Jharkhand State.

Dubey soon uncovered several irregularities in the development work undertaken by the contractor in the area. He confronted the contractor with his findings and got him to suspend three engineers directly responsible for the financial irregularities. He also had the contractor redevelop a six kilometer stretch of road that didn’t meet the quality specifications. This led to a big loss for the contractor.

The road contract mafia was clearly upset and looking for an opportunity to get back at Dubey. on november 27, 2003, Dubey returned from a wedding in Varanasi. His car failed to reach the station due to a malfunction and he decided to take a rickshaw. His driver waited a while for him to arrive. When he didn’t, the driver set out in search for him. He found Dubey on the side of the road in the suburb, Ap Colony. Dubey had been shot dead.

The murder ignited huge public anger. The incident became an important subject for parliamentary de- bate and prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had to respond to questions on the subject. It was decided, in the interest of a fair probe, to transfer the case to CBI from the Bihar police.

More than six years after the murder, on March 22, 2010, the three accused were convicted by the patna Court.

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