Which Is Worse?

Does Political Policy Lack Honesty Or Knowledge? Or Both?

When a person says something that isn’t true, they either don’t know the truth or they are lying. Which is worse depends on who is doing the saying. If your neighbors say something that isn’t true, and you know what is true (assuming you are correct), you could discuss it with them (if they are willing to discuss). If the president of the United States says something that isn’t true, what can you do?

A lie is a powerful political tool. If a president is willing to lie, it is a powerful strategy to deal with the opposition. A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes, Mark Twain. Ignorance in a president is also politically difficult to deal with, especially if he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know or doesn’t admit it. The political ignorance of the American voter, one of the best-documented facts in political science, makes it hard to counter-act the falsehoods and makes them easy to miss. Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects, Will Rodgers.

This is what is scary about the future of politics in America. Falsehoods have always been a problem. What we still need is an immune system for political falsehoods that can travel fast and often. The free press is supposed to function as our immune system against such gross errors of fact and understanding. However, today’s uncensored and open Internet won’t be helpful. When we Google-know, we no longer take responsibility for our own beliefs, Michael Lynch.

It has never been easier for people (or the president) to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they are right. Fact, truth, objectivity, and reason are fundamentally different from opinion, prejudice, subjectivity, and irrationality. Not acknowledging that difference obstructs or delays political progress and interferes with political action.

What the American public believes to be true is what they want to be true and therefore they hear what confirms what they believe. It doesn’t have to be true. The “real truth” may never get its shoes on. It is hard to know what the solution to this problem is in a democracy. Perhaps we will find out in the coming years.

People who are wrong, but feel strongly that they are right, usually have the least  knowledge about the subject. And they are least likely to change their belief when given facts. Kathryn Schulz


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  1. Marianne says:

    Alternative facts, please, not lie. Kellyann Conway announced that there are alternative facts. Amazing that from our White House comes such outlandish alternative facts!!
    This is really a scary time.

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