A bit of video has been making the rounds of the Internet lately, showing at some distance a guy on a swing set. The distance and the low light in the clip makes it one of those reversible images; he seems at first to be swinging with his back to you, then with a certain effort of perception you can make it switch, and he’s suddenly swinging as a mirror image to the first, facing you.
It’s like an animate version of those optical illusions that seem to toggle back and forth between a young woman and an old crone, or two candlesticks and two human faces nose to nose.
Although calling these optical illusions isn’t really correct, they aren’t an illusion. Both images are latent in the picture. Which you see in a sense is a matter of which you choose to see. That in turn is reminiscent of physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s famous speculation, involving a much put-upon cat, about the quantum state of subatomic particles being only definable by the very act of observing them.
Frankly it’s hard not to see the similarity in the current controversy over Attorney General William Barr urging a reconsideration of the sentence handed down in Roger Stone’s conviction on jury tampering, obstruction, and lying to Congress. The matter is being played in the press as pure political interference by President Trump to benefit a friend.
Trump and his allies, on the other hand, insist Barr is trying to fix political tampering of an opposite sort among the anti-Trump staff at the Justice Department. In this case two of the prosecutors were members of Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the jury foreperson has been outed as a vigorous anti-Trump advocate, which somehow escaped the notice of the prosecution during jury voir dire.
The political world has lined up on one side or the other, depending on their view of the DC establishment, and there is a temptation to just throw up one’s hands and call it a draw, a matter of perception. But is it really about personal preference, similar to the young lady/old crone or candlestick/faces paradox, a matter of will and choice, the truth latent not just in the situation but with the observer? Is Stone’s status like Schrodinger’s cat: undefined, dependent on who’s doing the observing?
No, because an important distinction makes the Stone case more like the man on the swing set video clip, which is different from the image paradoxes and Schrodinger’s cat in an important way: The man is actually swinging facing the camera or not. We may see it one way or the other because of the limitation of the information available to us, but there is an underlying truth there independent of how we see it.
Thus with Stone, and for that matter the president’s clashes with the DC establishment generally—environmental restrictions, shipping Agriculture Department staffers out among the populace, emoluments clause, collusion, obstruction, Mueller, Ukraine, impeachment, the purge, and all the other contretemps we’ve been watching for the last three years and more.
Yes, how we see all this can depend upon our ideological presets, which, let’s be honest, do have the effect of limiting our vision in order to satisfy an innate longing for the comfort of confirmation bias, illusory though it is.
That is exactly why the Robert Mueller investigation, and for that matter, the impeachment inquiry, shouldn’t be the end. We need serious examination of the entire rat’s nest, to tease out whether Trump really is an incipient tyrant determined to root up the very foundations of the republic, or the target and victim of an entrenched institutional state that, at the very least, has a natural interest in preserving a system that serves them so well, never mind an understandable big-state preference ideologically.
But this time let’s investigate with people who are legitimately independent, not members of one side of the dispute. Both sides are right about one thing: the future of the country is at stake. That much at least is no illusion. But we need to find out who and what poses the actual danger.