Friday, October 02, 2009

Rights, Lies and Losing Legitimacy

Readers respond to this week's entry on rights, lies and the "threat" posed by truthful accounting and honest dialog.

The central point of When Honesty Becomes "Threatening" (September 30, 2009) was the need for a open, honest dialog in this nation on what constitutes a sustainable "social contract." In essence, who gets what from the central government and who pays what to the central government. Such a dialog has yet to occur.

Such a dialog must begin from a foundation of factual accounting of financial obligations and tax revenues. But the government (central and local alike) is attempting to bypass the "pain" of an adult discussion of unsustainable obligations via lies, massaged data, slippery statistics, deceptively rosy projections and a vast host of other delegitimizing half-truths.

Reality is not being fooled. We as a nation will eventually have to face the dismaying fact that "free money" is never truly free.

Kevin S.

Right on the heels of When Honesty Becomes "Threatening"(September 30, 2009):

"Cambridge Runs Amok" (

"Those who believe that "what you don't know won't hurt you" are about to discover that most municipal governments have kept knowledge from residents that will not only hurt them, but future generations as well.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, when benefits are included in the compensation packages, federal worker compensation in 2008 averaged $119,982: more than double the private sector average of $59,909. The same report reveals that this compensation gap has been increasing every year since the year 2000.

This trend is no different at the local level and is clearly recognizable in the workforce of nearly every American municipality. The devastating impact on residential and business property owners in these municipalities seems to be a tightly held secret by most municipal governments."

The Commentary goes on to detail Cambridge's looming and unfunded city employee pension disaster. A very scathing and detailed piece, very uncharacteristic of the MSM.

It read as it were right out of Survival+, if find it ironic that such an example is home to our nations most prestigious institution of higher education.

Chuck D.

Please pass along my compliments to my fellow correspondent Harun I. for his brilliant commentary (complete with that kick-in-the-gut final sentence) that you posted along with your own comments on the blog today. It is not often I have the pleasure reading something that so well combines depth of content with conciseness and an easy to read writing style. I read it over and over just for the pleasure of reveling in good content combined with good writing. I confess that I was so moved that on a couple of passes through it I found my eyes were starting to well up. I took the liberty to forward the link to the page to Ron Paul's office -- not just because he would agree with the content, but because I can tell that he appreciates and knows good content combined with good writing. I guess I simply wanted to share it.

The discussion of honesty caused me to flip it around and consider how pervasive lying has become in our culture. Not just government lying, but everyone -- the business world, culture mavens, historians, ordinary people in their ordinary lives. The list goes on. No one is ever wrong, no one accepts responsibility for their actions, everyone is justified in whatever they do or fail to do.

No one stops to consider how destructive and pernicious this is to human interaction on both a personal or public level.

Hannah Arendt pointed out that once events emerge from the sea of infinite possibilities they exist in before their emergence, they become facts and have a sort of stubborn "thereness" or "otherness". They are what they are instead of being something else. Unfortunately facts can be maneuvered out of existence by lies and deceits that are made to look to be facts. But the liars then have a problem. The act of lying casts them back into that sea of infinite possibilities that facts (or lies dressed up as "facts") emerge from. The lie they tell can just as easily have been or become something else. This is why liars need to have long memories and usually trip themselves up in their own inconsistencies.

The problem is that we as human beings can only get through life and the world we live in by being able to believe that what we perceive around us actually real and factual. We have to be able to believe that what we sense actually exists as we sense it, that our fellow men are actually doing what they say they are doing. The moment we cannot believe these things, we literally lose our bearings and sense of position in the world for nothing is as it seems to be. We become like Yates' falcon who cannot find his falconer, where things fall apart and the center cannot hold.

When lying becomes so pervasive that we can no longer believe we are hearing the truth, a peculiar danger arises. It is not that being told black is white, we will believe it or disbelieve it. It is that we won't believe anything at all. Think about it for a moment. Confronted by a "he said-she said" event, our tendency is to discount everything the people actually say and look for some external piece of evidence to help us determine which version seems more credible.

I suppose this looks like a good deal if you are TPTB and you want to confuse the Sheeple into docility. But the damage it does to the social structure and its institutions and government is incalculable. They lose their legitimacy as people begin to sense they are being lied to. The result is the progress of corruption that we see today, and if it goes on long enough the collapse of the government, economic and social structure itself. What replaces it depends upon how well TPTB are able to preserve their positions of privilege from the old regime.

Gene M.

It's way too much to deal with all that he wrote, but I wanted to make a few comments about freedom. I think Harun shares the common American idea of freedom as freedom "from" this or that. The ideal expression of this would be to live alone on an island. Is that really freedom? The very notions he talks of about of "my property" and "the fruit of my labor", does he think these things exist in isolation? Could any of these fruits appear without the cooperation of dozens if not hundreds of other people, no matter what their motivation? Could he even walk down the street without the silent cooperation of everyone he met, that they will obey laws and respect another human being instead of waylaying him?

Fundamental: freedom is a gift of others. We may institutionalize this and we may express it as a "right" but it doesn't change the origin. It begins and ends in personal relationships.This is freedom "to" do something or be someone. To be yourself. It is most clearly expressed in a relationship of love. Because when loved, you are free to be whomever and whatever you are. No need for lies, deception, axes to grind, etc.This is fundamentally the same motivation by which we allow and encourage others to do their thing on a societal basis. The love of two people is the basis of all social relations.

There are two forces that bind society together: a spirit of cooperation and law, which is based on fear. It would be difficult to conceive any real society based on one on these alone. They are yin and yang. And they have always fought like the devil in American history, and the balance has usually tilted toward fear. In Europe, I would say, there is much more a sense of social cooperation that binds the societies there together. In any case, you could say we are dominated by law and fear now, and I think we passed a threshold in the Reagan years, when the message from on high was clearly every man for himself. That can only produce fear, lots of it, as Hobbes knew full well. The result is this momentum toward oligarchy.

And yet one looks at the service awards and the sheer amount of volunteer work that goes on, and one can only conclude that this kind of cooperation (love) is what really binds us together and keeps the whole damned thing from becoming a hell. (My Dad tells many a story about the Depression, where people who had so little helped those with even less.) But it is diluted and confused by all the things Harun and you have pointed out recently in the press and the lies from our elected officials, which sows more fear by not confronting fear. They simply bury it and it eats away at the other good forces, just as it does in the human psyche.

Yes, nature has limited resources and some of its actions are harmful. No revelations there. Hobbes, called it the state of war of all against all, where life is nasty, short and brutish. Is that freedom? No, that is exactly one reason why humans decided to cooperate, to survive. Another reason is that it is actually pleasant to cooperate. We thrive and become more of ourselves. Hobbes thought it was the Leviathan, the state, that bound us together. He was only half right. There is no yin with a yang. But the balance now is very skewed.

As an ex-soldier, Harun knows full well that survival in war depends on relying on and cooperating with your mates. And you, Charles, have written eloquently about the various forms of social cooperation the future might bring.

Ernesto M.

Your comments on "magical thinking" are instructive to the modern age.

In the "Sovereign Individual" which I mentioned to you before as well as in their predecessor work The Great Reckoning, Davidson and Reese-Mogg make a comparison which I find amusing between the Medieval church and modern politics. They make the same comments about the magical thinking which most people think existed then and the absurd faith in politics which the typical person has now. They also mention that centuries from now, future historians are equally likely to think that the contemporary belief in politics is as absurd as "modern" thought considers prior belief systems to be.

If ever there was an example of magical thinking, the modern belief in politics as the solution to all of our problems is it. Every time I watch an election celebration or a big political speech and see the crowds deliriously cheering, the question I always ask myself is this. (And the more ridiculous the promises, the more delirious the crowd.) Are those people really that gullible and naive to believe the complete claptrap which is coming out of that politician or candidate's mouth? I believe that a substantial proportion are that gullible and this true regardless of the party candidate giving the speech.

The sad fact is that there are many people who would willingly rather believe a lie than accept the truth. And it isn't just because they have been fooled but because they prefer self-deception.

Thank you, readers for a variety of views on vitally important topics.

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