And what's Pontius Pilate, said truth

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@NIU.BITNET)
Fri, 22 Apr 1994 21:50:00 CDT

douglas st. christian asks an interesting question:

>>it's a question margaret mead never asked herself but perhaps
>>should have - just when and by what criteria do we finaly decide
>>our informant is lying to us.

Oddly enough, in lotsa many years of fieldwork I've never had that
problem. I operate on two contradictory rules simultaneously:

1. Anything that anybody tells me is true.
2. I don't believe anything that anybody tells me. Ever.

Explanation: What's true, in anything anybody tells me, is that
they told me. It's data. It's my job to figure out what it means,
and part of what it means is how it corresponds to some observable
or verifiable or external reality.

What I don't believe, in anything I am told by anybody, is that what
they say is in one-to-one correspondence with reality. Unless I get
it from several sources I can accept as independent, I don't KNOW
that it's true and I have every reason to expect that somebody else
probably has a different version. (Even when I do get confirmations
from many independent sources, I'm still willing to be tentative as
to whether something is really, really, REALLY true.)

Now who said Margaret Mead never asked that question, besides Derek
Freeman? I told her my operating rules, once, and she said "But
that's the point--not WHAT is true, but whose truth is it?"

mike salovesh anthropology northern illinois univ
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