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Negative Existence

On the International and Moral Implications of Providing Positive Convincing Proof 

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2003 by RDFollendoreIII

February 6, 2003

It has been reported that sometime in the early 1950's, in a desert town called Roswell, New Mexico, a UFO crashed and the bodies of "aliens" were found by the Federal government, who stored the craft and dissected the bodies.  The United States Government has denied the existence of any such alien event.  There are many Americans that do not believe that denial. The problem is that even with all of its resources, the Government has never been able to provide convincing evidence that substantiates their denial. As a result, American UFO conspiracy theories will always be around.

The problem with asking any government to prove that they did not do something, or that something did not happen, or that something no longer is available comes down to pretty much the same problem as asking them to prove that something does not exist.  Things that do not exist prove to be very difficult existences to prove to be nonexistent.  If we were to take this issue on a personal basis, the philosophical difficulties remain the same.  For instance, I happen to know that I have never known anyone named "Jack R. Dunlope" because I just made the name up.  But, now that I have said this fact, I can't prove it.  The same is true for what I have done in my life.  I have never floated down the Rio Grand, but I can't prove it.  I have never owned a Harley Davidson hard tail motorcycle and would like to, but I can't prove that either.  These seemingly minor points might at first seem trivial if not for the fact that they have international implications.

The United States is currently demanding that a bad guy in Iraq prove that he has no "weapons of mass destruction."  On the face of it, we might as well ask Saddam Hussein to prove that he does not know the infamous "Jack R. Dunlope."  The idea that on one side of a coin there are the evil guys, and on the other there are "good guys" that don't understand this principle is what has been so hard to understand.   But it would be foolish of us to believe that the "good guys" don't understand.  Perhaps, the original plan was to build up such a case of horror that the conditions of the "negotiation" break down.  The whole process has been so irrational who knows? If so, then it is a poorly contrived means of brinkmanship.

Saddam Hussein is obviously a dictator and our government has always known that he was a dictator.  We always knew how he gained power, and how he has sustained his power.  In retrospect, it is obvious that we should never have believed him with respect to anything that would go against his personal interests. In spite of this, we have in the past ignored all of these things. We have in the past worked closely with him.  We have supplied him. We have supported him.  We chose to do these things because they benefited us.  In doing so the people who made these decisions are responsible for our part of the interaction that has contributed to his success.   But any underlying argument that by "not going to war to take Saddam out," we are supporting him as a positive act is preposterous.  The negative existence of action is not a positive action.

The truth of such a philosophy would have to be based on the conceptual proof of negative existence.  Because of that, it holds no moral high ground. A surgeon does not support cancer when he chooses not to elect surgery.  We certainly would not condemn the prosecutor when the grand jury decides not to condemn a murderer on trial, and the prosecutor consequently chooses not to personally execute the defendant. So in spite of our objectives, the only position we have made possible for Saddam Hussein through our diplomatic philosophy has been for him to hold his position pat, and that is exactly what he has done so far.  History has seen this approach to introducing proof of negative existence before.

The Salem witchcraft trials operated on the principle that an accusation and absence of innocence is tantamount to guilt.  Witches were also labeled in terms of absolute evil. The accused witch was given the opportunity to prove that she was not a witch.  When of course she could not do this, there were certain tests that were contrived. These tests worked in the negative. There was the test to see if moles were insensitive to pain.   If they were thrown in water, and if they didn't drowned then they were innocent.  In each case the proof of guilt is a negative.  Perhaps some of these women were terrorizing others by using witchcraft.  Witches were said to boil babies alive to make their brew and perhaps some of these women did this too.  The gruesome idea that there is no remaining evidence in the stewpot is still no evidence that there was ever a baby in the pot in the first place.      

This is why in reputable courts of law, the burden of proof is always on the prosecution. There can be no proof that comes from the presentation of negative existence. The problem we have is that it is up to us to find and present evidence that weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq.  Then we must prove that they are an imminent and present danger to the national security of the United States before we may choose to legally invade Iraq.  Our leaders have put this country in an untenable position of great international risk.  We have pinned our rational for invasion and justifications of death, first on terrorism and then on the existence of something that we may be unable to definitively prove. 

If we choose to invade Iraq, and are unable find weapons of mass destruction we will be forced to either manufacture  the evidence or admit that we have failed.  The government of Iraq has made statements that the manufacture of evidence may occur.  If the United Nations supports the decision of the United States to invade Iraq, then they will be caught in exactly the same dilemma.  Many countries have said that they are simply not willing at this time to take that risk.

There may be no doubt that Iraq is a sinister regime.  No one believes them. Nothing written here implies that Iraq should not be dealt with. But there also has been to date no "smoking gun." Surveillance photographs of a group of parked trucks are not missiles and tanks pointed at America, and intercepted telephone conversations taken out of context can be interpreted in many different ways.  But if we set aside these issues, the problem is not just been that there may or may not be justification to take military action.  If we are to believe the circumstantial evidence, then the problem that the administration has been faced with has been in determining the means through which it should show the world the evidence of its sinister existence and intentions.  It just goes to show the great internal struggle that has been taking place within this American administration.  

Today's open presentation by Colin Powell at the United Nations may be finally on the right track. Open disclosure of positive evidence is the only means through which evil can be exposed.  It is the duty of governmental administrators to find the appropriate means to do so.  Keeping people ignorant of the positive existence of evidence is what otherwise creates a requirement for a proof through negative existence. The protection of sources and methods that would secretly accumulate as positive proof is important, but truth through the positive existence of evidence may be considered more important when it comes to reserving the right to unilateral  invasion and the initiation of the terrors of war. 


Let me add one last note about this subject.  Knowledge makes modern man responsible for what we know and it certainly can make us morally obligated to act upon what we know.  But precisely how we then choose to act is then a separate and independent moral requirement for which we are separately judged. Our obligations to knowledge at the very least implies its ethical use. This is why knowledge is such a powerful thing.    




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