There are two steps to trust. Being trustworthy itself of course; but as well, making that trustworthiness clear to impacted stakeholders. If one does not serve the latter, then neither have they served the former.
In The Parallel Lives by Greek Platonist biographer Plutarch, a recount from 62 bce is related concerning the somewhat perplexing conduct of Julius Caesar, upon being presented with a potential infidelity on the part of his wife Pompeia. The tale behind this is sometimes referred to as the ‘Bona Dea Affair’. Its allegory serves as genesis to the philosophical apothegm ‘Caesar’s Wife Must be Above Suspicion’.
10 At the time of which I speak, Pompeia was celebrating [the annual female-only Bona Dea Vestal Virgins Festival], and Clodius [in love with Pompeia, who requited this love as well], who was still beardless and on this account thought to pass unnoticed, assumed the dress and implements of a lute-girl and went to [Caesar’s House], looking like a young woman. He found the door open, and was brought in safely by the maid-servant there, who was in [on] the secret; but after she had run on ahead to tell Pompeia and some time had elapsed, Clodius had not the patience to wait where he had been left, and so, as he was wandering about in the house (a large one) and trying to avoid the lights, an attendant of Aurelia came upon him [and alerted the ladies attending the sacred ceremony being held therein]… Then at once, and in the night, they went off and told the matter to their husbands, and when day came a report spread through the city that Clodius had committed sacrilege and owed satisfaction [before trial], not only to those whom he had insulted, but also to the city and to the gods…
Caesar divorced Pompeia at once, but when he was summoned to testify at the trial, he said he knew nothing about the matters with which Clodius was charged. His statement appeared strange, and the prosecutor [Cicero] therefore asked, “Why, then, didst thou divorce thy wife?” “Because,” said Caesar, “I thought my wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”1Plutarch, The Parallel Lives
What transpired here was an act of ‘cutting the deck‘ on the part of Julius Caesar. By divorcing his wife prior to his bearing any knowledge of an act of infidelity, he exonerated Pompeia from that act of infidelity itself. He obviated any necessity on his part to formally testify against (defacto accuse) Pompeia under Roman Laws of infidelity. His purpose in doing so was (aside from a scheme to provide an embarrassing court loss to his opponent, Cicero) both to preserve the relationship between his House and the House of Pompeia’s parents, Quintus Pompeius Rufus, a son of a former consul, and Cornelia, the daughter of the Roman dictator Sulla, as well as to gratify the populace who were in favor of Clodius’s exoneration. One must remember that Caesar’s overarching political aspiration during this time was to unify the fledgling Empire under his Dictatorship. Offending two powerful houses inside the Republic as well as a large portion of Roman citizenry itself, would have been unwise.2
While this excerpt in biographical history stands exemplary of clever manipulation of Roman Law, as well as the politics of the eventual Empire on the part of Julius Caesar, the important principle of skepticism (allegorical rather than literal logical calculus) to consider here is this:
Caesar’s Wife (Must be Above Suspicion)
/philosophy : skepticism : science : neutrality : verifiability/ : a principle inside the philosophy of skepticism which cites that a mechanism, research/polling effort, or study which bears an implicit a priori claim to innocence (i.e. soundness, salience, precision, accuracy and/or lack of bias/agency) must transparently and demonstratively prove this claim before being assumed as such, executed or relied upon as scientific.
As a younger consulting professional, I was once asked to provide expert testimony in a civil case involving a conflict between a large automotive company and a supplier of theirs who had helped develop their operations. My firm was paid to objectively survey the operations and determine whether or not the automotive company or the vendor had been primarily at fault in a particular failed aspect of their mutually-developed processes. My personal objectivity had to be above question in such a circumstance. Of course, I knew in my heart that I was going to examine the case sans bias or agency; however neither client, nor more importantly, neither the prosecution, court, nor defense would assume such to be the case. Legal counsel for both sides stressed the fact that I must also establish objectivity beyond a question of a doubt, through both my actions and the critical path diligence of my research.
During the discovery process, I put forth a particular effort to both demonstrate and obtain acknowledgement from each interviewee, as to the objectivity of the process we were undertaking. I took under advisement, wise counsel which had cautioned me that a losing attorney may sometimes resort to accusing the expert witness in a trial, of bias or incompetence. Sure enough, during the trail the counsel for defense, who was losing the case, pointed the finger at me in a deposition and accused me of ‘a bias so extreme in favor of the prosecution, that it intimidated engineers and employees into tendering false assessments of both damage and cause.’ Please note, that this extreme form of bent technically would have constituted agency and not bias (acting as an agent of one or more parties or even self-interest). Nonetheless, suddenly now I was on trial.
It was at this point that the prosecution presented the court with over 20 affidavits from those involved and interviewed, on both sides of the case, as to the objective and salient process I had undertaken. The court accepted the evidence and moved on without further ignoratio elenchi argument. I had learned the principle of skepticism called ‘Caesar’s Wife’ many years prior to this event. It proved critical in both the integrity of this trial, and to my ultimate career success. While the prosecution was very grateful for my work, its client however could not thereafter hire my firm to enact the appropriate solution. Caesar’s wife.
An Example Involving Human Rights
As a note, I condemn the acts of insurrection on the part of a minority of the protestors of 6 January 2020. As well I condemn the Antonesque rhetoric of President Donald Trump earlier that day, which stood as a permissive for such action. He understood the potential and should have made it clear that the use of violence, or disruption of US Congressional Election Proceedings, was not to be tolerated.
That being said, there exists legitimate scientific and ethical concern that our election system was compromised for the 2020 election – that 2020 was itself a year-long process of violent insurrection. Employing a virus, man-made or natural, or violent extremist marches to intimidate a voting population, to exploit changes to the outcome of a nation’s elections through the opportunistic introduction of fraud and a non-level playing field for voters, is a human rights crime of the highest order.
While both sides in the matter made mistakes, this latter action set constitutes the darkest of human activity, falling just shy of genocide in its heinous nature.
From March 2020, and up through the November 3rd election, many modifications were made to State election laws; rushed into effect ostensibly as being necessary in countering the spread/risk of Covid-19. As it turned out, many of these changes were not only politically motivated but in some cases violated those very states’ own election laws.3 As well, these rush actions constituted an unnecessary expression of panic as very little transmission of the virus was eventually attributed to the actual election polling places themselves.4
Now let’s set aside the human rights implications of inciting panic in order to influence the outcome of a democratic election. In total, 40 of 56 Unites States states, territories and provinces modified their election laws immediately prior to the 2020 US Elections. As a result, a completely out-of-context set of results and massive counts of invalid ballot submissions occurred when compared to historical voting statistics.5 This does not serve to imply that one or the other of any particular candidacy should have won. The American People are supposed to be the actual winner in this – and sadly were not. Rather it simply serves to support the idea that confidence in this election was brought into scientific and ethical question (not an accusation), regardless of who received the largest tally of votes.
The issue at play is not that votes were switched by software, as some Republican pundits claimed and to which leftist ‘fact checker’ sites misdirect attention.6 The issue is the risk of mail-in ballots and votes rejected for manual adjudication in unmonitored hands. Voting tabulation systems conspiracy theories aside, this was not an instance of the normal losing side claiming election fraud, as that happens every election cycle.7 A comprehensive Navarro Report, election law violations and circumvention of legislatures representing the people, the sheer massive increase in unaccountable mail-in ballots, a 15.5 million vote increase (23.4%) over the previous election for a man who sat in his basement for months and did not campaign and could not even deliver a coherent sentence, along with numerous other deductive or suspicion-inducing evidence sets, not to mention these 40 rush election process changes – all collectively served to harm the Republic through engendering a deep mistrust of our governing and election officials. In all of this, our State election officials’ irresponsibility threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful succession of power, incited harmed citizens to riot, and imperiled the legislative and executives branches of government. They thereby betrayed our trust as election officials, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. This served to introduce rather ironically, the same Empire-effect which resulted in part from Caesar’s cleverness in dealing with Cicero in the Bon Dea affair. The set of 40 changes enacted can be viewed at the link below:
BallotPedia: Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020; https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_to_election_dates,procedures,_and_administration_in_response_to_the_coronavirus(COVID-19)_pandemic,_2020#Summary_of_developments
As a voter and stakeholder at risk, I do not bear the burden of proof in asserting a skeptical concern (not a claim to fact) that any particular voting process was honest or dishonest. Those proposing and developing the voting mechanism (especially if mostly from one political party as was the case here), be it process, people, hardware, software, or security – all these things are guilty until proven innocent. They bear the burden of proof.
Sufficient proof of integrity was neither tendered prior to, nor after the 2020 elections. It was merely claimed as fact through ad verecundiam and ad populum.
I am not impugning anyone’s character nor creating harm, simply through the act of not taking their word for it.My Rights as a Voting US Citizen
As the base argument, they bear the burden to certify transparently that all their mechanisms bear integrity. This is the essence of the precautionary principle, and stands as a stark matter of human rights. If any municipality rushes a voting process into development, solely as a reaction to some factor other than ensuring the manifest integrity of the election itself, then this process is dishonest from its very start. It is fraud in the inception, regardless of the inner soundness of the process itself.
Caesar’s Wife Must be Above Suspicion
When a matter of human rights is at risk, any implicit claim to innocence must be established and agreed-to in advance, and by neutral scientific processes. They must be established and vetted as sound well prior to any employment. It does not matter whether such process is ‘honest’ or not. It must be proved to all concerned that the new process resides above suspicion, or it is not honest in the least.
The Ethical Skeptic, “Caesar’s Wife Must be Above Suspicion”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 13 Dec 2020; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=46144
- The Parallel Lives by Plutarch, Section 10; published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919; University of Chicago, Bill Thayer; http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Caesar*.html#9
- The Parallel Lives by Plutarch, Section 10 footnote; published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919; University of Chicago, Bill Thayer; http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Caesar*.html#9
- Pennsylvania Senate Letter of 4 Jan 2020 to Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy; https://theethicalskeptic.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/election-letter.png
- FiveThirtyEight: Voting In The 2020 Primaries Didn’t Worsen The COVID-19 Pandemic; 15 Oct 2020; https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/voting-in-primaries-didnt-worsen-the-covid-19-pandemic/
- Cyber Ninjas; Maricopa County Forensic Audit: Executive Summary Version Final 092421; https://www.scribd.com/document/527331055/ExecutiveSummary-VersionFinal-092421-Draft
- FatCheck.org; Audit in Michigan County Refutes Dominion Conspiracy Theory; https://www.factcheck.org/2020/12/audit-in-michigan-county-refutes-dominion-conspiracy-theory/
- LSE USCenter of United States Polotics and Policy: Many Democrats think that the 2016 election result was rigged; https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2018/09/11/many-democrats-think-that-the-2016-election-result-was-rigged/
Wish I had read this one earlier! Opinions mean little. And I have one. All of Trump’s presidency read like a badly written play, where I felt I knew the ending. I am not certain how I got to that point. I never believed any of the contrived political BS against him, nor any of the medias puffery. So as 2020 approached… my gut knew everything felt wrong. I felt like I knew the ending of the play. The results were totally expected. The campaign contrasts illuminated the fake results in a swath of anger. January 6th and most of… Read more »
This “Caesar’s Wife” concept for elections should be enshrined at the highest level, possibly even as a constitutional amendment.
But of course that will never happen because it would require a supermajority of legislators to essentially vote to place a very high burden of proof on the very system that installs them.
An interesting insight into a somewhat alien system (for my German self, at least !)
At the very least, strange things are happening …