It very well may be that the quest to explore the nature of truth should start with an examination of the nature of lies. In this electoral season, lies are at the center stage of the debates.
The Sept 10th,2016 issue of the Economist has two articles on the subject under the headings “Post-truth politics” and “The post-truth world,” both very directly targeting Donald Trump.
While I do not particularly like Mr. Trump’s politics and mannerism, I can’t help feeling indignant about the sleazy attacks he is subjected to.
The articles make some basic points about the changes in the nature and the way most people find, handle and evaluate information. The changes affect both the acquisition and the dissemination of information.
We are getting more partisan, more tribal and more ideological because the changes in media, especially thanks to the Internet, enable us to be that way. It is much easier to find and to communicate with the likeminded. It is much easier to find information, but it is also easier to find confirmation of our existing beliefs and prejudices.
The Economist have no qualms about calling Donald Trump a liar. I don’t know how honest Mr. Trump is. I have not seen him yet being caught on an obvious lie. Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand is one of the most corrupt politicians that I know of. It is no accident that her credibility is the most important question about her in this election. Not many people care about her policies because we know what they are. Massive deficits, big government crony capitalism. Her biggest problem is that she is a pathological liar and quite likely a sociopath.
Trump may be a potentially dangerous unknown, but Clinton is well known, deeply corrupt establishment politician. There are some fundamental differences between the ‘lies’ that Clinton and Trump are accused of. Clinton is accused of lying about things she has done. Trump is accused of expressing beliefs that liberals dislike or disagree with.
I can’t shake free of the feeling that these articles have little to do with a search for the truth or lamenting the changes that make it more difficult to find it. They are targeted propaganda pieces to relativize the problems of Clinton. Their message goes like this: ‘All politicians are liars, you see, Trump is a hypocrite expecting trustworthiness from her when it is obvious that he is a liar too. What’s a lie and what’s not is relative, so can’t we just talk about something else? ‘
The examples used ALL fall into the category of the moral equivalence logical fallacy. Trump making an unsubstantiated claim or expressing an unsavory opinion is just as bad as Hillary Clinton’s blatant lies and disregard of conflict of interest.
According to The Economist, the Trump lies are actually worse. According to them, what Hillary Clinton does is just garden variety political lying. What Trump does is more insidious. “The lies of men like Mr. Trump [….] are not intended to convince the elites, whom their target voters neither trust nor like, but to reinforce prejudices.”
I absolutely agree with The Economist on the assertion that the changes in our culture can be worrisome.
Prejudices, preconceptions and bigotry are all bad things.
It is an unfortunate fact, that the discourse is getting polarized.
That it takes effort to establish the credibility of a news source.
That there is less interaction between people with opposing views.
But then I have to ask: is that any different from what we had before the internet? Did our collective critical thinking faculties work better when Life magazine and the big three broadcasting corporations were our main information source? Are we really as stupid (collectively) as The Economist and the liberal elites think we are?
What I find most alarming is the elitist arrogance the mainstream media displays. The unflinching faith in their own correctness. For every example these articles mention, I can point to another where the writer demonstrates the same lack of critical thinking as the subject of their criticism.
The Economist says: “Mr Trump’s insistence that Mr Obama founded IS precludes a serious debate over how to deal with violent extremists.”
I suggest you read the exchange at the start of the article, right bellow the Pinocchio nose. Trump expresses an opinion. Maybe his choice of words was not the best, but can anybody seriously claim that the irresponsible, hasty withdrawal from Iraq has nothing to do with the birth of ISIS? That Obama, the champion of the Arab Spring had nothing to do with the present mess in the Middle-East?
Would the media find his claim more acceptable if he said Obama’s actions ‘created’ ISIS?
How eloquent would he had to be to make the obvious, well known truth acceptable to the Economist?
And how does criticising Obama precludes a serious debate? Trump wants a debate and he has policy proposals. Obama would not even acknowledge that the problem exists as he refuses to call it what it is.
The Lies of The Economist
The Economist defines “post-truth” politics as “a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact.” And says that “If, like this newspaper, you believe that politics should be based on evidence, this is worrying.”
Just look at some examples of the “lies” in the two articles:
Obama’s responsibility for the existence of ISIS
While we could talk about the way Trump is articulating the problem, suggesting, implying or insinuating that Obama and his Secretary of state bears no responsibility for the existence of ISIS is manipulative misdirection (a.k.a. BS), a form of lie.
The Brexit vote, according to The Economist, was the result of misinformation. Is this a fact? If so, was the misinformation one sided? If both sides manipulated the truth, which one did so more? How can we measure and verify which side was more truthful? How can we measure and verify the actual effect of the alleged lies? How can we set apart the expectations and opinions from the ‘facts’? The Economist was a very vocal opponent of Brexit with slanted, biased reporting on it. Should we take their opinions as established facts? It will take a decade before we can really decide whether it was good or bad for the British and even then it will be debatable. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are judgements, not facts.
It was, apparently, the climate change debate that gave birth to the expression “post-truth politics” to describe the political opposition to the idea. I wrote a few posts on the subject, you can judge their truthfulness here.
“Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt against un-American activities in the 1950s” is quoted as a historic example of the post-truth politics in the past. It is still a much favored argument of the left, more than two decades after the opening of the Soviet archives proving beyond any doubt that while he may have been wrong on the details, McCarthy was right about the general claim. Shouldn’t respectable publications stop referring to it as a ‘witch-hunt’ for ‘alleged’ crimes?
Hillary’s parental leave proposal
The above examples are far more obvious examples of “post-truth politics” (as defined by The Economist) than Mr. Trump’s allegation that Obama ‘founded’ ISIS. Still, the best example is from a linked article. “Mr Trump’s insistence that Mr Obama founded IS precludes a serious debate […..] …..Hence Hillary Clinton’s proposals on paid parental leave go unexamined (see article)”
Clinton’s proposal is a typical socialist mess with another expensive welfare program, associated bureaucracies, business regulations and the inevitable perverse incentives, predictable market distortions and a likely outcome of overall failure. Let me quote:
“Ms Boushey found that the cost to employers of replacing workers who leave (for any reason, from a new job to parenthood) could amount to between 15% and 20% of annual pay, even in occupations paying less than $30,000 per year. Doing good for workers should, therefore, be good for businesses and for the economy.” (emphasis mine)
Analyzing the “post-truth” aspects of this quote would take longer than it is worth, but you could ask yourself: are these ‘findings’ of ‘coulds’ and ‘shoulds’ represent the kind of fact-based proposals that deserves serious debate?
I spent some time already pointing out the alarming (and still increasing) statist bias of The Economist, these articles are just the latest examples.
In the end, while I do share some of the concerns talked about in the articles, my greatest concern is the self image of media outlets such as The Economist. Their firm belief that they are somehow immune of the bias they are talking about. That their writers’ political views will not affect their writing, that the opinions they express are free of ……. well, opinions concerning the ‘facts’ they are reporting on.
To paraphrase the Economist:
Dishonesty in media is nothing new; but the manner in which some magazines now lie, and the havoc they may wreak by doing so, are worrying.
Hillary’s America- Trailer – Official Teaser Trailer HD – YouTube
Hillary’s America-Chronicles Shocking Documentary-Movie!! – YouTube
Hillary Clinton- A TOP TEN Breakdown – YouTube
BREXIT THE MOVIE – FULL FILM – Martin Durkin Crowdfunded Documentary – YouTube
Harvey Klehr on McCarthy and American Communism – YouTube