“I didn’t think it was cheating because I didn’t even stop to think about it.”
My guess is neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin have stopped to think about the morality of lying their way into the White House. I believe any two people who lie as religiously as McCain and Palin must be beyond worrying about it.
I am downright curious, however, whether it disturbs anyone at all that we here in America might be on the verge of electing a couple habitual frauds to positions of great power over us, our friends, our spouses and children — to say nothing of the rest of the world. Does that bother anyone?
Before I go on, let me pause to state this post is most certainly not about establishing whether John McCain and Sarah Palin are liars. I think by now any informed and reasonable person will grant they are liars. Indeed, that question has been answered here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here — among many other places. So, if there might remain anything to establish about their lying, then perhaps it’s only whether John McCain and Sarah Palin are mere compulsive liars or are actual pathological liars. In my opinion, the latter is more dangerous than the former.
At this point in the campaign, John McCain and Sarah Palin are apt to get away with their lying. Only about 50 days remain before the election, and my hunch is that’s not enough time for the average American to figure out for him or herself how grievously they might be harmed by putting a compulsive or pathological liar in the White House. Why do I say that?
Well, in part, I think it’s not enough time because it seems that lying is becoming increasingly acceptable in our culture. Moreover, the increasing acceptance of lying seems to be a well established, long term trend. Now. I can’t be absolutely sure that lying is on the increase because I can’t find any research that bears directly on the subject. But if you believe like I do that lying is closely related to cheating, then perhaps you can see something of a disturbing trend in this report on cheating from 1999:
“In a recent survey conducted by Who’s Who Among American High School Students, 80 percent of high-achieving high schoolers admitted to having cheated at least once; half said they did not believe cheating was necessarily wrong–and 95 percent of the cheaters said they have never been caught. According to the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, three quarters of college students confess to cheating at least once. And a new U.S. News poll found 90 percent of college kids believe cheaters never pay the price.”
“Crib sheets and copying answers are nothing new, of course. What’s changed, experts maintain, is the scope of the problem: the technology that opens new avenues to cheat, students’ boldness in using it, and the erosion of conscience at every level ….”
So, I think there are just way too many voters today who are deeply tolerant of lies and liars for the fact that John McCain and Sarah Palin are liars to make much difference to the outcome of the election. It seems many people no longer understand how lying harms them. And I believe it would take more than a mere 50 days for it to sink in with those people that John McCain and Sarah Palin are dangerous to them.
Now, so far as I can see, the social acceptance of lying is just a small part of a much larger problem.
In America, we have a culture war going on. Many people describe that culture war as a struggle between “religion and secularism”. There seems to be some merit to that description, but I myself think it’s a bit more accurate to say it’s a struggle between the fantasy-based community and the reality-based community. I prefer to describe it as “fantasy versus reality” for a number of reasons.
For instance: it’s my experience that many — perhaps even most — religious people are fairly rational and realistic. So it seems misguided to lump all religious people together. Instead, some religious people belong in the fantasy camp, and some don’t. Just as some secularists belong in the fantasy camp, and some don’t.
Again, the core issue isn’t really “religion versus secularism”. It’s reason and evidence on the one hand versus what amount to mere wishes and desires on the other.
So, the larger problem here is our society has developed a thriving culture of fantasy. The tendency of so many of us to tolerate liars like John McCain and Sarah Palin is only one small trait or characteristic of that culture. Other traits of that culture include irrationality, willful ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, epistemological hedonism, and so forth.
To really grasp the magnitude this fantasy culture, consider that so many issues in our society now come down to battles between realism on the one hand, and fantasy on the other:
- Evolution versus intelligent design and certain other variants of creationism.
- Global warming versus the denial of global warming.
- Science versus superstition.
- Sustainable economies versus non-sustainable economies.
- (Something that doesn’t yet have a name) versus imperialism.
- Liberty versus authoritarianism.
- Spirituality versus fundamentalism (Sometimes called the spirit versus the letter).
- Gay rights versus the denial of gay rights.
- Comprehensive sex education versus abstinence only sex education.
- (Again, something that doesn’t yet have a name) versus consumerism.
- Stem cell research versus opposition to SC research on superstitious grounds.
- “The epistemology of reason and evidence” versus “the epistemology of hedonism”.
If you’ll notice, the way I’ve described the battle lines is not always the cliché way of describing those lines. That’s because in each case I am looking at the underlying epistemology or truth theory of the opposing issues.
In other words, I believe I’ve noticed for some time that issue after issue is coming down to a difference between two separate methods of establishing truth. The first method is to consider true those propositions that are supported by a weight of reason and empirical evidence. The second method is to consider true those propositions that make us feel better if we believe them true.
Now, I do not for a moment believe I myself am always on one side or the other side of that division. I would like to think I always base my beliefs on reason and evidence. But if that’s so, then how come I can from time to time catch myself believing something is true simply because I am more comfortable believing it’s true. Yet, I do believe that, increasingly, one social and political issue after another is shaping up as a struggle between those who have most of the reason and evidence on their side, and those who have most of the wishful or hedonistic thinking on theirs. Edward Bernays would most certainly approve of the mess we are in.
In some future post, I’ll give my reasons for believing Barack Obama and Joe Biden are largely aligned with the reality-based community in our culture war, while John McCain and Sarah Palin are largely aligned with the fantasy-based community. I am also thinking of some time spelling out in extraordinarily painful detail several reasons why it might be in our own self interest to not tolerate aggressive liars and lying. Last, I have a post in the works on the history of the culture war, which I will argue began at least as far back as the 1920s, if not earlier.
So, for now, please allow me to leave you with this quote, which I found thought-provoking:
“Honestly, I’m not sure that schools are here to teach honor or integrity because those are value judgments that we are not experts in, are not paid for, and have not been hired based upon.”
It seems to me that person has a point. We are not preparing our teachers to pass along our most necessary values — values such as honor and integrity. Nor are we paying our teachers wages that are even close to being competitive. What, then, do we expect to be the result, if not generation after generation of voters who require neither honor nor integrity of the people they vote into power over us and the world?
So, will John McCain and Sarah Palin defraud the American People? Of course they will. By now, that should be obvious to any reasonable and informed person. But does it matter to us? Do we care?
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