At around age 24, based upon what I knew about politics and human behavior at the time, I realized most politicians took on a different set of values as compared to the average Joe whom they represented. My sentiments haven’t changed much. While publicly advocating their personal and strong commitment to transparency, some surreptitiously place a lower or no value on truth.
We see it repeatedly. Bill Clinton, “I never had sex with that women”; NBC’s Brian Williams who lied to the world for self aggrandizement; and Hillary Clinton’s, “What difference does it make?” etc.
Since I became aware of this important difference, over the past 50 years I have struggled with this built-in facet of human nature, i.e., the enigmatic relationship between truth, lying, fact and power.
Both truth and lying are internal mental processes. A person speaks the truth when there’s internal conformity of thought and word. When there’s no conformity, there’s no truth; the spoken word is a lie.
But facts are different. They are external. They happen “out there.” An external event transmits data to one or more of our five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste and tactile. Yet, two persons who observe the same fact often interpret that fact differently.
For example, a man is seen walking swiftly down the street. One observer reported, “I believe he’s walking fast because he robbed a bank.” The other person reported, “No, I believe he’s walking fast to meet his girlfriend.” The only fact here is there’s a man walking swiftly. Their interpretation of this fact is an inference, not a fact. Yet both spoke the truth because there was internal conformity between their thought and their spoken words. The two men may express their truthful inferences or they may lie.
Many powerful people engage in illegal, unethical and immoral conduct, including lying, without apparent concern for consequences. I call this judgement clouding illness “raptures of power.” Unfortunately, we often reinforce their lack of concern because we frequently allow them to evade the consequences. This is compounded when many media and allied organizations ignore, echo or exonerate the liar to further distance the culprit from the natural and logical results of the behavior. The more power we allow a politician, and the higher the possible negative consequences, the more tendencies there are to spin and lie.
There’s a nuance to this paradigm for which we, not the liar, are responsible. Liars have motives about which we often speculate even though we have no facts to back up our assumptions. Without the liar’s personal disclosure motives are unknown, only to be exposed by analysis and discovery. When we impugn a motive, that is, challenge or attack what we believe to be a person’s motive without facts or discovery, we commit one of the most serious fallacies of reasoning.
We’re now starting a new national and local election cycle. I have noted over the years novice candidates talk more about their positions on issues, while seasoned politicians tend to defend their records, quite often with lies. They have more power to escape consequences and a much higher propensity to lie than fledgling politicians and most of the rest of us.
During a campaign, it’s important we understand the differences between motive, truth, fact and power and refrain from impugning motive without facts. We should learn about how candidates use power, particularly those running for or serving more than one term.
Politicians don’t have authority to lie, but they do have the power to do so. Most important, they have no power to escape consequences, unless we allow them to do so.
In a recent Nevada Appeal column, John Bullis appropriately quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying, “Nearly all man can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Dan Mooney is a 42-year resident of Carson City and can be reached at Nevada4@aol.com.