From time to time, the press indulges in outbursts of indignation over the use of false or misleading information by the U.S. government in support of its policies and programs. No one endorses needless deception. But consider this historical analogy. It is known that Christopher Columbus, on his first voyage to the New World, deliberately falsified the log to show a shorter sailing distance for each day out than the ships had actually traveled. In this way, Columbus was able to convince his skeptical sailors that they had not sailed past the point at which they expected to find the shores of India. Without this deception, Columbus’s sailors might well have mutinied, and the New World might never have been discovered.
So, to re-cap --- the author says, essentially, it was kinda sorta a good thing that Columbus deceived his men, because --- look, he discovered the New World (which, BTW, someone else, such as Magellan, definitely would have done if Columbus hadn't, but that's another story). By analogy, the argument is suggesting that is might be kinda sorta a good thing that the US government is deliberately deceiving its citizens. In a way, it's a kind of ends-justify-the-means argument. For any American who cares about civil liberties, the authenticity of our nation, international justice, etc. etc., this argument is likely to get our hackles up. If a real politician made this argument, and claimed that it was in my best interest as an American that, from time to time, the government deceives us citizens --- I would be absolutely furious at that guy, so much so that I would be willing to protest in the street against him.
(As a side comment --- it can really show that you understand something about an argument if you feel a bit of an emotional tug toward one side or the other.)
So, in a way, the question is --- what's so upsetting about this argument?
Which of the following is the main weakness of the historical analogy drawn in the passage above?
(A) The sailors in Columbus’s crew never knew that they had been deceived, while government deception is generally uncovered by the press.
Is the worst thing about deception the fact that the people who are deceived discover it? If the government happened to lie about something in such a way that no one could overturn the deception, then that wouldn't make it any better. Whether it's discovered or not, we have broad grounds for arguing that if the democratically elected government deceive its own citizens, this is wrong in and of itself. This is not a satisfying answer.
(B) A ship’s log is a record intended mainly for use by the captain, while press reports are generally disseminated for use by the public at large.
This is similar to (A)
. Again, whether the deception is written in private or public place --- that is, whether it kept hidden or revealed --- doesn't make a difference whether it right or wrong. Again, the government deceiving us and hiding it successfully is just as bad as the government deceiving us and our eventually finding out about it. This is also not a satisfying answer.
(C) The members of a ship’s crew are selected by the captain of the ship, while those who work in the press are self-selected.
This is interesting --- the crew was selected by the captain, so in some sense, they "belong" to him. OK, perhaps that would make it justifiable, in the fifteenth century context, to deceive them. The trouble is --- the analogs in the other case, the parties deceived --- it's not just the press, but the electorate as a whole. The sailors are chosen, but the second part can't be limited to the press and their act of choice. If the government lies, it equally affects all of us, not just the folks who work in the press. This is not a satisfying answer.
(D) The crew of a ship is responsible for the success of a voyage, while the press is not responsible for the use others make of the factual information it publishes.
Again, the comparison made is between sailors and the press, and this comparison misses the point. In the Columbus example, the sailors were deceived. In the government example, it's not just the press who is deceived --- rather, it's every citizen, all 300 million of us. It's a much much bigger issue that just something that affects only those who work for the press. Again, the comparison is incorrect, so this answer is not satisfying.
(E) In a democracy, the people are expected to participate in the nation’s political decision making, while the members of a ship’s crew are expected simply to obey the orders of the captain.
Ah, now we get to the crux of the issue.
On a ship, the captain is the boss, and the sailors work for him. We might debate morally whether deceiving is ever justifiable, but certainly if we are going to grant an "ends justifies the means" argument, then the one person who is allowed to decide both means & ends is the boss, the captain. who is the ultimate authority on the ship.
In a democracy, the power relationships are quite different. In Abraham Lincoln's stirring phrase, in America, we have "government of the people, by the people, for the people
." This means --- I don't work for the government, but rather, the government works for me, for all of us. Ultimate authority rests not with the government but with the citizenry. "We hold these truths to be self-evident ... Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
." Therefore, if anyone gets to decide about ends and means and whether the ends justifies the means, it should be the ultimate authority --- the citizens. Citizens get to call the shots in a democracy, and an analogy that compares the government to the authoritative captain of a ship misses this crucial point. That's precisely why this is a faulty argument, and precisely why I would be upset if the government did anything that suggested that they call the shots instead of the citizens. This is by far the best answer.
Does all this make sense?
Magoosh Test Prep