The concept of ‘truth’ has exercised the minds of philosophers for centuries. Several theories of truth have been propounded, but the one that likely corresponds most closely with common understanding is what is termed ‘correspondence theory’. It says: “true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs.”
It posits a relationship between thoughts or statements on the one hand, and things or objects on the other. It is a traditional model that goes back to some of the classical Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Lest we uselessly expend our thoughts and energy here on philosophical argument about the meaning of truth, for the purpose of this piece, let us accept this proposition. Anyone interested in exploring other theories of truth might enjoy reading Wikipedia’s exposition on ‘Truth’
, which as a matter if interest features a classic 1737 painting by François Lemoyne Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy
In politics there is perpetual argument about what is ‘true’ that in itself is desirable, but there is a pernicious overlay – creating the ‘truth’ that a politician or party want the people to believe. This is achieved by perpetrating lies, through deliberate deception, and via slogans and mantras.
Just a few days ago there was an example of lies propagated about President Obama’s visit to India revealed in a YouTube video Rachel Maddow Explores
Right Wing Lying Echo Chamber
, which you can view by clicking the link.
Presenters from CNN, Fox News and the Glenn Beck Program insisted that Obama’s visit to India was costing the US taxpayer $200 million per day (another said $2 billion - maybe that was for the whole visit); that one tenth of the US Navy (34 warships) would be deployed to protect him and 40 airplanes; that 3000 people would accompany him; and that over 500 rooms had been booked at the five star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel for his entourage. When the source of these assertions was challenged, the reply was that: "it is coming out in the press"
and is "on the Internet"
! That of course confirmed their veracity; into what better sources could one tap? Enjoy Rachel Maddow’s ridicule of these preposterous assertions, made in all seriousness by presenters who enjoyed making hay out of them to Obama’s detriment.
Now that was in the United States of America. Surely that could not happen in Australia! Let’s see. We don’t have to go far to find that it is so. Joe Hockey alone provides us with enough examples, instances faithfully echoed by Tony Abbott and Andrew Robb. “Labor will never bring in a surplus budget”
recited over and again with great authority, is by definition a fabrication – a lie told when someone submits a statement as truth, without knowing for certain whether or not it actually is
true. Hockey has no way of knowing whether or not this statement will be true, but speaks as if it already is. Said often enough, more and more people will believe it is true, and begin to repeat it themselves. What will Hockey say when the Government does bring in a surplus budget? As he is equally capable of criticizing the Government when interest rates go up as when they stay the same, it should not be difficult for him to conjure up some trenchant criticism. “Labor cannot manage money”
. How many times have we heard that slogan? No supporting evidence is deemed to be necessary, nor is contradictory evidence considered applicable. What did Labor do through the GFC? Manage money.
And they did it brilliantly, placing Australia at the very top of the list of developed countries that best survived the crisis. Of course Hockey argues that almost every other factor in Australia’s success was the prime factor – a well regulated, well capitalized banking system, reforms initiated by previous governments, especially the Howard Government, and no debt at a federal level. He gives scant credit to the bank guarantee, and in particular the stimulus packages, despite all but ultra-conservative economists acknowledging the latter’s nation-saving effect, and how it kept people in work and avoided small business failures. So Joe Hockey is wrong – Labor CAN
manage money; it has demonstrated this convincingly in its first term. Hockey is lying, yet many mouth this untruth as if it is true. “Labor is addicted to spending and debt”
is a mantra that falls from Hockey’s lips repeatedly; only Andrew Robb seems to say it more often. What does it mean? Addiction is a disease, defined as devoting or surrendering oneself to something habitually or obsessively. Addiction causes loss of balance and rationality. Is Hockey seriously asserting that the entire Labor movement is pathologically addicted to spending? When pressed, he reluctantly admits that stimulus spending was necessary but insists that too much was spent, thus warranting his diagnosis of addiction. While some might argue that this is a statement of opinion, not a lie, it is stated so authoritatively that it easily passes for the truth.
Hockey is an expert at deception too. He paints as grotesque the projected Government debt and the borrowing to service it, estimated by the Coalition as $100 million a day. Now that sounds an awful lot to the average householder, but when it’s pointed out that it is equivalent to someone on $100,000 a year taking out a loan for $6,000 and paying the modest interest on that sum, it no longer looks like a huge commitment. Instead of using relative figures to put the Government’s borrowing into perspective, Hockey chooses to quote absolute figures with an intent to deceive the public into thinking Labor has incurred a horrendous debt, a debt that is a tiny fraction of similar debts incurred by comparable countries. Never does he balance the eminently modest debt against the saving of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the avoidance of countless small business failures. It’s all negative, all deception. "Government spending will lift interest rates"
is what Hockey asserted a couple of nights ago on Lateline.
He said: “Australia is a massive importer of capital and as such, when you've got the economy running at full capacity, if you've got the Government borrowing $100 million a day as a AAA-rated entity in competition with small businesses out there, with home borrowers out there, it is going to put upward pressure on interest rates. There's no doubt about that.”
When Ali Moore asked: “But how much? A small impact, medium impact, big impact?”
Hockey obfuscated with “Well, it - it varies. It depends on the accessibility of the money”
, knowing full well that virtually every economist when asked about the impact of the Government’s borrowing on the interest rates set by the RBA and the banks, insists that it is ‘miniscule’. Yet Hockey deceptively leaves the impression that it is the Government’s borrowing that is pushing up interest rates for mortgage holders and small business borrowers.
And if you think Hockey isn’t able to deny the undeniable, listen to this exchange on the same episode of Lateline
ALI MOORE: Just a final question. Tony Abbott says the banks never moved the mortgage rates independently of the RBA under the Howard government.
They did - twice.
Is it a great hindrance to you when you're trying to make an argument about the banks when your leader gets the facts wrong?
JOE HOCKEY: No because in fact, the truth is they did move but they reduced interest rates by more or, uh - certainly didn't increase interest rates by the same level ...
ALI MOORE: Indeed. Once they reduced them by less than the RBA. The second time, they hiked when the RBA held.
JOE HOCKEY: But on other occasions they actually reduced their interest rates by either more than the RBA or they certainly didn't pass on the RBA rate increase.
ALI MOORE: So he wasn't wrong?
JOE HOCKEY: No!
So is black really white Joe? Yes.
To return to the beginning: lies, deception, slogans and mantras DO
kill the truth. Yet we see them used every day by our politicians. Is there any remedy?
The only one I can see is that we must continue to uncover the lies and deception. We must do a Rachel Maddow exposé every time they occur. We are small in number and limited in influence, but eventually the tiny Lilliputians tied Gulliver down and rendered him impotent until he gave them assurances of good behaviour in the future. We can do the same.
What do you think?