Dean's Blog: Just Enough Truth

by William Clements, PhD on 10/11/16 2:05 PM

ideans_just_enough_truth.jpgThe presidential election cycle is in full swing and heading for the finish line in about a month. You must admit that this has been one of the most colorful campaigns in many years, and it is the strangest I have ever observed. Fortunately, an enduring characteristic of our democracy is that regardless of the nastiness of the campaign season, our democratic institutions will prevail albeit occasionally bruised.

Of course there have been and will continue to be plenty of claims, allegations, aspersions and other such barbs as the campaign crescendos to a finale. The 2016 campaign is either tragic or comedic depending upon one's perspective. One filament that runs through most campaigns regardless of affiliation is an inherent characteristic of bending the truth, basically invoking just enough of the truth and no more to make a point. This typically involves distorting your opponent’s record or public statements, or bending your own prior positions. I’m watching this happen from the presidential election on down through state level contests as are you.

I recently read Larry Olmstead's new book, Real Food, Fake Food (Algonquin, 2016) after hearing him speak on the radio this summer. You may ask what food has to do with the campaign season. Not much directly, but I think the theme that runs through Olmstead's book is relevant. In essence, the food we eat may not be exactly what we think it is or as genuine as implied by labels and trade names. In fact, after reading Olmstead’s review you may begin to question much of what you eat and become wary enough to adjust your approach to food as I have in recent months. I read labels and decipher them more critically now.

A theme I gleaned from his work is that food producers, manufacturers, importers and the like will often present just enough truth to make the sale on the pretense that a product contains some fraction of the real thing, looks like the real thing, comes from a country (or passes through) where the real thing is made etc. I think you get the point. I also highly recommend Olmstead’s book for understanding the food industry, provenance of various foods, and the challenges of the global legal frameworks within which the industry operates.

So the question is this – when is just enough truth enough? I hope that our Norwich community values set the bar a bit higher than just enough. It may seem inconsequential but is in fact a foundational element of a strong democracy at all levels and within the communities we strive to improve. Transparency is a core value and necessary ingredient for democracy.

I suspect I may have invited the wrath of philosophers and pundits, of which I claim to be neither. On a more mundane level and in the spirit of local food of known origin, I think I’ll thaw the pork I purchased from a neighbor’s farm and prepare a nice Vermont meal. I wish I could say the same for the political scene.

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This post was written by William Clements, PhD

William “Bill” Clements, PhD, wears several hats at Norwich University. In addition to serving as Dean of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS), he is the College’s Vice President of Academic Affairs and a professor in the undergraduate criminal justice program. Prior to becoming Dean in 2005, he was the founding director of the Master of Justice Administration program and the executive director of the Vermont Center for Justice Research, an institutional research partner of Norwich University. Dean Clements began his Norwich career in 1987 as a criminal justice professor and was among the first Norwich professors to integrate online instruction and web-based resources into his teaching. In 1999, he piloted a mobile computing initiative with undergraduate criminal justice majors and was subsequently involved in developing the online graduate program model, which today serves several thousand students across 12 master’s degree programs, five bachelor’s degree completion program, and a variety of certificate and enrichment programs.