The 1967 film A Guide for the Married Man (Walter Matthau, Robert Morse) contains a disturbing scene that I thought of as the Palin situation began to develop. Joey Bishop is caught in bed with a lady not his wife, by his wife. He ignores her accusations, responding to her only with his own monosyllabic questions: Who? What? Where? Why? When? Finally the wife looses confidence in her own eyes and accepts that the complete rejection of her observations and total ease of her husband must mean that she didn’t see what she clearly did. The McCain campaign is following the same plan. They didn’t vet Palin, she has no experience or depth suitable to the presidency (standard that must be used) and she has an increasing list of untoward behaviors and situations surrounding her; and so the campaign responds with deny, deny, deny. They are stonewalling as though it is all in our heads, as though they have done nothing wrong, expecting that the American people will finally be beaten down and expecting that the fantasy of this Palin person will be accepted as if it were a new and better reality.
In an added twist of gutter ruthlessness, the sort of thing the MSM calls “brilliant” campaign strategy, “affirm, affirm, affirm” has been added to the repertoire. If enough balls are tossed into the air, the audience may not realize that they are just falling to the ground and not being artfully juggled, especially when canned cheering and yells of “great juggling” are projected from the bought, paid for and otherwise compromised press.
Of course, Palin is only a symptom of our political disease. The sideshow magician has taken over where honest debate on matters of real concern once took place, not a new phenomenon, but increasingly troublesome as our options and opportunities are reduced by our increasing environmental, energy and resource challenges, exacerbated by our general failure to correctly evaluate our true role and responsibility in the changes of our world.
The most basic value that is being lost is honesty. Lies misdirect and disable response systems; which is, of course, why they are told. Lies are different from confusion. Simple confusion can be in the pursuit of veridicality. A lie exists to obscure veridicality. The very most dangerous and difficult human problem is believing and acting outside of biophysical reality. Our acceptance of lying as a “natural” human condition through which we expect to navigate is a first order change that we must make. Humans that lie must be shunned; intentional dishonesty rejected.
Recognizing lies is a great responsibility. Not only an abstract dedication to truth is required, but both a willingness and a capacity to reflect on one’s own thinking and nature, and an ethic of study of all that is neutral to or challenging of your own beliefs and knowledge. Darwin carried a notebook in which he wrote down only those things that challenged his positions; he said that it was easy to remember those things that he already believed, but difficult to keep in the mind that which was foreign to his understanding.
Add to a practice of challenging one’s own prejudgments a dedication to being as truthful in both substance and style as possible and, with like-minded others, to form communities that value and support deep truthfulness as an essential and primary value. Such communities can have incredible power through their renewing connection with reality. And they would tend to contain both honest conservative and honest liberal viewpoints. A dedication to exposing and dissolving the lie would draw together the complimentary strengths of the different thought habits.
McCain is a liar. Obama is a liar. Palin is a liar. Biden is a liar. Bush is liar. Cheney is a liar. It is sad for the world that this list would go on for thousands of pages. A “realist” would say that we must judge the degree and depth of the lie and pick the least offensive. But the damage is done. The lie, whether about the significant or the “insignificant”, takes away our power to respond. The most offensive liar should be shunned first and most aggressively, but it is ultimately the lie that must be overcome. If the basis of our “truth” is a lie then ultimately only the application of physical force is decisive, it becomes our only recourse to reality. We are clearly moving in that direction both internationally with our endless wars and more locally with police-state responses to dissent.
Even though all the major political actors are lying to us, and very likely to themselves, there is a difference at this stage of our situation that we must pragmatically recognize. We need to shun all liars for veridicality to be our standard, but when no one is telling truth distinctions in motive need to be made. This is very difficult and is the very reason that we have come to this pass in the first place, but for now we must shun the worst and challenge the rest. It is increasingly clear that the McCain campaign is affirmatively lying while the Obama campaign is lying as the standard practice and expectation of our time.
So who does one support and vote for in the coming election? First of all, this question conceals a major lie. Our elections are devices to select who will hold office, but they are not about the actual direction or leadership of the nation. No one with a real and possible agenda to invigorate the power of the majority can gain more than minor office. The present structure of governance is to support and protect extreme wealth and power and to increasingly weaken the greatest number’s access to the power to control, not just their governance, but even their own lives. To control their own lives the majority would have to have powers that would inhibit the desires of the elite. Political parties, the relations of the branches of government, the media reporting on government, most academics studying government and the beliefs of the ‘lied to’ public all support this truth, but as a truth that must not be told.
The question, ‘Who does one vote for?’ is not as important as making a struggle against what seems to you to be lies. Paul Krugman recently wrote in the NY Times that he recognized as lies many proclamations from the 2000 Bush campaign and assumed that lying would be the style of Bush’s presidency. It is certainly likely that many people recognized as lies statements from the Gore campaign. Krugman was able to satisfy himself that Bush was the more serious liar. The element that was missing among the masses was the attempt to discover a veridical version of events. It is clear in retrospect that almost any evaluation of the statements and counterstatements would find Bush and his people the more egregious liars. It is here that we see the power of lies to remove the capacity to respond. Tell many lies and people cannot act. Get people to believe one lie and they will act in ways that benefit the liar.
The millions of words spilling from the media maw about the present campaign’s truthfulness or lack there of reminds of noticing with surprise that shit comes from a puppy and then diving in it and rolling around. Does it not occur to these word dribblers to wipe up the mess? The answer, of course, is no. Outrage at Palin’s dishonesty and incompetence is simply rolling in the puppy poop, hardly different than repeating in wide-eyed wonder, “and did you know that Obama is a Muslim.”
We cannot either expect or force the MSM to report daily as the ‘above the fold’ lead: “Today’s Lies From Political Campaigns.” Such fully fact checked listings would change the nature of campaigns and could change the nature of governance. We could compare the NY Post‘s, the NY Times‘, the WSJ’s and other’s listings for consistency; the expectation would be that, while some slanting of opinion would be inevitable, the fact checks should be roughly the same. But this is not going to happen, not without a fight.
Though there is a model. In the sciences the ethic is absolute transparency. A proper scientific report must have every statement verifiable either by reference to a peer reviewed source or by showing clearly how a result was obtained so that others can repeat the test. It is not perfect, but the ethic is to strongly reject the liar. As a result it is possible to act on the vast majority of the information produced by the sciences. The ethic of honesty and transparency is the reason, not the scientific method or some other special “science” thing.
We have come to expect that our social and media information is of questionable honesty. We have accepted this. The natural history of this process and the deep nature of misrepresenting, while interesting, is ultimately not the issue. Our very survival depends on being able to act with some accuracy in the world from the information that we gather, and to do that we must have a ethic of honesty in our social communications since that has become almost our only source for the information upon which we act.
The first action to change the nation has to be a dedication to personal honesty in our own dealings and to the diligent study of events so to measure the truthfulness of others. Just as we will not drill our way out of our energy troubles, we will not vote our way out of our governance troubles. Be honest in your own dealings, respect and support honesty in others, shun the liar (personally and politically) and create community with those who do the same. Let me tell you honestly, no one is going to lead us out of the perversion of governance we presently endure, not Obama, not McCain, not a Gandhi, Einstein, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln all rolled into one. It really is our turn this time.