Monday, December 8, 2008

Fact Vs. Fiction

Like most people, I receive quite a few email forwards from family and friends, with politically flavored forwards being far from uncommon. In fact, since most of my friends and family are quite aware of my interests and activities, forwards of a political type may actually be more common for me than is average. Such is the life of a politically oriented blogger.
I was discussing the nature of some of those forwards earlier today and decided that I should expand on a concept here. That concept is simple: Dishonesty has no place in a political discussion no matter whose side you take nor whose side is made to look bad by the false claims. While the concept is simple, the practice is, apparently, something else entirely.
Setting aside the moral aspects (Most of us have been told repeatedly that telling a lie is bad but how many people actually listen to this lesson on a consistant basis?) there are really very practical reasons for taking this concept to heart. Perhaps more important, there is a very practical loss for all of us when this concept is forgotten.
We who wish to live in a free society must make decisions on a regular basis in order to keep our society free. Those decisions must be grounded in reality if they are to have any practical value and, in order to ground decisions in reality, we must have information untainted by falsehood. Faulty information, whether the fault arises from honest mistakes or intentional deception, results in faulty decisions. Faulty decisions, in a society such as ours, can be fatal.
Of course, those who have an axe to grind won't always have the same idea of what "free society" means as I have. In fact, it is safe to assume that they will often have different ideas. They may honestly believe that, so long as the faulty information shifts things toward their desired outcome, things will work out well in the end regardless of the bumpy road used to reach the goal. To those people I offer a small reminder: The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
In this age of easy information, the possibility of keeping a lie unchecked gets smaller and smaller. Sooner or later, the odds are definitely in favor of people discovering the truth and, once that happens, the credibility of the liar takes a nosedive. For those with political goals, this can result in even greater consequences than one discredited person. For right or wrong, people often associate a movement with those who speak for that movement. When a person is discovered to be falsifying information to push a political agenda, the entire agenda can be painted with the same brush of dishonesty. That thought, alone, should be enough to keep true believers in check. If only this were so.
True believers tend to leap first and think about the consequences later, if at all. If only they knew how much harm they were doing to their own movements, maybe this would be different. If you are a true believer - of any cause - if this applies to you, you would do well to slow down and look at that forward before sending it along.
At the beginning of this post we set aside the moral aspects of the argument, but there is one more point that should be addressed and it does hinge on the moral aspect. If you are using dishonesty to support your agenda - or if you are supporting those who do so - you completely lose any possibility of moral high ground in condemning your opponents for doing the same. If you do not stand opposed to dishonesty in political discussion, even when that dishonesty favors your cause, there is no reason for anyone to believe anything else you say. I would even take that a step further. If you really want credibility, be the first to step foward condemning a lie that favors your cause. Let your opponents try to discredit you then.
Sometimes the simplest lessons, the ones we were supposed to learn in our childhood playgrounds, are the most important. A lie makes you look bad. Honesty makes you look good. Lies will be found out more often than not. Personally, I would like to see honesty in political discussion because we all truly want the best outcome we can achieve and we all know we need honest information to achieve that. However, I'm a realist. If I cannot appeal to the best in people, at least I can point out that honesty really is in your own best interest.

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