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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Deepening lessons of Deep Throat....

I am just completing Woodward's The Secret Man, and while it is not the greatest read ever, it is very interesting on a number of fronts beyond the insights into the Deep Throat "mystery"....

Since I am scheduled to teach an ethics course this fall, I dove into the book hoping it might provide "manna" for the students to help make the points I try to highlight. On that count, the book is certainly a strong candidate. There are a variety of ethical dilemmas addressed in the actions and choices of the various personae related to Watergate, from Woodward himself who spends many pages in confessional mode, to the unanswered (and now unanswerable, due to his dementia) questions about the motivations of Mark Felt.

Moving from the individual to collective level, there is much in the book to challenge our notions of heroic and treasonous behavior, and the details of the story add even more complexity to such questions.

But a surprising byproduct of the book for me was how it drew my attention back to issues related to the nature of human consciousness and memory addressed by Dennett and others. Felt's responses to Woodward's questions during meetings and phone conversations in 2000 and 2002 are noted in great detail -- to the point where you can't help but feel Woodward's frustration. At times you even think that Felt is being intentionally evasive and using the skills he learned as an FBI agent -- skills he used as Deep Throat. But Dennett's "model" of consciousness (or theory, or whatever you want to label it) helps us to make sense of Felt's behavior, and (along with Woodward's comments about Reagan's condition) what emerges is an interesting case for discussing memory, mental competencies, and all the many implications of this for an aging society.

Fascinating stuff....



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