Champions for Truth

This is the third in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts are available here. Volume III: Bacon, Milton, Browne

Imagine that you are in a debate, say, about politics or about who is the best third baseman of all-time. Then, a new interlocutor chimes in, and he is on your side! The problem, though, is that he is not very knowledgeable or articulate. As a result, he is doing you no favors by speaking up. In fact, he is setting your opponent up for easy points. If this guy would just shut up, you know that you could win this debate, but you are being forced to defend poorly thought-out and poorly expressed arguments rather than having the benefit of crafting your own.

This is not an unusual set of circumstances, especially in a world where such “discussions” take place in the form of nesting comments to an article or facebook post. But, of course, these circumstances are not new. Nearly 400 years ago, Sir Thomas Browne offered some advice on the subject that is still eminently applicable.

In the first place, chose whom you debate wisely: “Where we desire to be informed, ’tis good to contest with men above our selves; but to confirm and establish our opinions, ’tis best to argue with judgments below our own, that the frequent spoils and Victories over their reasons may settle in ourselves an esteem and confirmed Opinion of our own.”

Secondly, just because you are right doesn’t mean that you are equipped to defend your position: “Every man is not a proper Champion for Truth, nor fit to take up the Gauntlet in the cause of Verity: many from the ignorance of these Maximes, and an inconsiderate Zeal unto Truth, have too rashly charged the Troops of Error, and remain as Trophies unto the enemies of Truth. A man may be in as just possession of Truth as of a City, and yet be forced to surrender; ’tis therefore far better to enjoy her with peace, than to hazzard her on a battle.”

And finally, you may be firm in your opinions, but if you are intellectually honest, you should be willing to abandon those opinions entirely if presented with a better argument. And, as a consequence, you should not be upset with those who disagree with you (or those who agree with you, but for the wrong reasons): “I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgment for not agreeing with me in that from which perhaps within a few days I should dissent my self.”

BBVanilla

Beer of the week: Breckenridge Vanilla Porter – Breckenridge Brewery is a personal favorite, and this offering does not disappoint. A lovely porter with lots of, but not too much, vanilla. It pours with a nice tan head, and the beer has a decent amount of body. A very good beer.

Reading of the week: Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne – Like so many good books, this tract on religion was banned by the Catholic Church. In this selection, Browne endeavors to distinguish heresies from “bare Errors, and single Lapses of understanding.”

Question for the week: Browne advocates debating our intellectual superiors to learn, and debating our intellectual inferiors to solidify and gain confidence in our positions. Is it easy to distinguish when we are trying to learn and when we are trying to build confidence? Aren’t their elements of both in most debates?

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I Cannot Join the Class Action Against Facebook AND be a Class Act

If you are on the Facebook (and I know that you are,) you most likely received an e-mail recently informing you that you are eligible to participate as a co-plaintiff in a class action suit against Facebook Inc. because they used your name or photo in a “Sponsored Post”. I am here to tell you why you ought not participate.

The details are pretty simple: the law suit alleges that Facebook unlawfully used a number of names and images in “Sponsored Posts”. Any Facebook user whose picture or name was used in such an ad is eligible to participate in the suit. The law suit will be settled. In fact, a judge has already denied a proposed settlement. According to NBC, the original proposed settlement was for $20 million. Sounds great, right? Well exactly $0 of that was going to go to the users whose names and images appeared in the ads. $10 million would have gone to the attorneys and the other $10 would have gone to not-for-profit organizations that teach people how to use social media safely. The judge in the case decided that the fact that the users get absolutely nothing was total BS, so they’ve been forced to rework the deal.

In the new proposed settlement, users can get up to $10 each. The final amount has to do with how many people join the class action. If only a few people join, each could get the whole $10. But each person who joins makes each piece of the pie that much smaller. In all probability, enough people will join that the payouts will become so small that the cost of sending out that many checks will become prohibitive. In that (almost certain) event, all the money will revert to the aforementioned not-for-profits. Still, Kwame Opum at Digital Trends says that “you should definitely sign up.” And at first, I agreed with him; it is hard to argue with free money. However, halfway through filling out my own claim form, I decided that I morally could not participate.

The claim form includes a list of declarations that I would have to make to the Court under penalty of perjury:

1. I understand that a story about some action I took on Facebook (such as liking a page, checking
in at a location, or sharing a link), along with my name and/or profile picture, may have been
displayed in a Sponsored Story shown to my Facebook Friends who were authorized by me to
see that action.

Fine. I get that much. I am not at all sure that my name or picture actually was included in a “Sponsored Story”, but I do understand that it may have happened, and that is enough.

2. I was not aware that Facebook could be paid a fee for displaying actions such as these, along with
my name and/or profile picture, to my Facebook Friends.

Again, fine. I was not aware. It seems likely that it is mentioned somewhere in the terms of service, but I didn’t read them. And I suspect that if it were in the terms of service, there wouldn’t be a law suit.

3. If my name and/or profile picture was displayed in a Sponsored Story, I believe I was injured by
that display.

Uh oh. I can imagine scenarios in which such a display could have injured me. Perhaps Nike was on the verge of giving me a huge advertising contract but they decided not to since I had publicly “liked” Puma. Maybe Paul McCartney would have invited me to come jam with him, but he saw that I “liked” meat. So I do believe that I could have been injured by a “Sponsored Story” but that is not what the declaration states. It states that “I believe I was injured by that display.” And that is simply not true. I have no reason to think that I was injured by this practice by Facebook. Even if I think this practice is sneaky, underhanded or even downright wrong, I don’t believe that I was injured by it.

The two remaining declarations are even more noncontinuous than the first two:

4. I am submitting only one Claim Form, regardless of how many Facebook accounts I have.
5. I understand that I am releasing all claims that I have against Facebook and all other
“Released Parties” as set forth in Section 5 of the Settlement Agreement (available at
http://www.fraleyfacebooksettlement.com/court).

So only item three presents a problem. Unfortunately, that problem is insurmountable. I am not willing to perjure myself for a chance at $10. I doubt I’d even perjure myself for a sure $10.

In the end, Facebook will still cough up the same amount whether I join or not; the attorneys will still get their $10 million; and the not-for-profits will almost certainly get theirs. The only difference that would come from sending in my own claim form is that I would know that I made a false statement to the Court. I would never be caught. I would not be tried or convicted of perjury. The only negative consequence would be my own sure knowledge that my word isn’t worth even ten measly dollars.

Beer of the Week: Hofbräu Münchner Weisse – Speaking of legal integrity, Hofbräu has an interesting story. The so called “German Purity Law” (the mythos of which I have previously debunked) prevented most brewers from making wheat beers, but Hofbräu obtained an exemption. This gave them a 200 year jump on the competition and they seem to have made good use of  their head-start. This cloudy wheat beer hits the nose with notes of banana and a hint of clove. The body is superbly smooth and refreshing. Overall, it is simply a wonderful beer.

Reading of the Week:  Of Truth by Francis Bacon – It was inevitable that some author should finally make a second appearance in a Reading of the Week. Bacon receives the honor (such as it is) because his essay Of Truth expresses so beautifully why I refuse to put in a claim in the Facebook settlement: “It will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear, and round dealing, is the honor of man’s nature… There is no vice, that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false and perfidious.”

Question of the week: I did not write this to be preachy. I know that I am by no means perfect. One of my imperfections is that I do lie on occasion. Is there any lie that does not “cover a man with shame”?