Is Telling People the Truth Enough?
By Dennis Loo (3/22/14)
The indispensable shibboleth of our times is “democracy.” Everyone says that they are for it. Nearly everyone who decries the lack of democracy believes that the problem arises from an imperfect implementation of an otherwise sound theory. What we have in actual practice, however, is the full implementation of democratic theory. What is wrong, in other words, is not the poor implementation of a great theory.
The central notion underlying democratic theory itself – that the best the people can do is decide who will rule over them every few years – is hopelessly flawed. How could authentic popular rule be restricted to the “ruled” deciding every so often who the “rulers” will be? If the ruled are really those in charge, then how come they are still called the “ruled?”
Here is how I put it in “Why Democracies Aren’t Democratic”:
Here is how prominent democratic theorist Karl Popper describes democracy:
[D]emocracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled.
On first glance Popper’s description sounds very sensible and familiar. It’s familiar because it’s the common manner in which democracy is defined and distinguished: it’s the “control of the rulers by the ruled.” But doesn’t something seem wrong here in this definition that he speaks of “rulers” and the “ruled,” yet describes the “ruled” as having control over the “rulers”? If your only real power as part of the “ruled” is to replace those who are your rulers for another set of rulers who you hope are less oppressive than the other ones, how much actual power do the “ruled” really have?
Here is where this very limited view of democracy stands out: according to democratic theorists like Popper, democracy is a barrier against tyranny. Nowhere in his discussion, either in this definition or in the rest of his work, do you find him discussing how authentic popular rule can occur in which the people can do more than beat back attempts to oppress them. The people actually governing themselves and making the key decisions in society is ruled off the table entirely from the beginning and what is left is only the shadow of authentic popular rule: the ruled’s ability, should they choose to use it, to “throw the rascals out.” As Marx put it: “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them."
The masses of people cannot exercise any real political influence or political power if they are not trained in understanding how the society as a whole really works and how political power is exercised. How could they if they are a) not told the truth, and b) not trained?
Both a) and b) matter and are intertwined with each other.
Just because someone tells someone else the truth doesn't necessarily mean that the other person "gets" it. In other words, even if Obama really meant it that he wanted to be “transparent” (which he doesn’t) and even if the government as a whole were to be transparent (which of course it isn’t), this would not really settle matters. To really get how political power, for example, is exercised, you need to not only be told the truth and provided useful facts but you need to be trained in how things work. Part of that training involves your direct participation in trying to do things politically because you will otherwise only be getting someone else's say so and that can only go so far in training/educating you. You need to be trained and gain a lot of experience in how to critically evaluate things and use critical thinking skills. And doing things politically encompasses far more than voting itself. Indeed, those who are experienced in how politics really operates know that the act of voting is either entirely irrelevant or almost irrelevant compared to other factors and activities.
To further illustrate this, here’s an analogy: If you were to learn how to play basketball and the course of your training consisted wholly of your being shown videos and books about how the game is played, just how good would you be if you were then asked to go onto a court and play against another team when until that point you had never even held a basketball in your hands, let alone dribbled it, passed it, had it passed to you, tried to guard another player, and taken a shot? You would be utterly lost in a real game situation. Anyone who asked you to do this would be seen as out of their mind.
Then why is it that people think that when they are instructed in how politics operate through injunctions about the importance of voting and descriptions of how the executive, legislative, and judicial branches operate, that they are informed and capable of participating in politics?
Let us assume as a thought experiment that we had public officials who were in fact "transparent" and did in fact tell people the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For the masses to really get this would require that the masses have training, otherwise even if they're being told the total truth, that truth isn't going to translate into the masses becoming capable themselves of fully knowing what to do with that truth.
You have no doubt had the experience in your life of someone telling you something (e.g., some verified theory in science like Relativity Theory) that is true but something that you didn't have the training to fully understand.
Since in the real world we cannot always count on public officials and others to tell others the whole truth, the public needs to be trained in how to sift through information and make considered and sophisticated judgments about what's true and what's not. That training requires a) leaders of a particular kind who are not leading out of personal self-interest but who genuinely want to raise the level of understanding of others and bridge the gap between leaders and led, and b) an economic and political system that does not require that the people be systematically fooled in order for that system to stay in place.
If you have an economic system - and a political system that reflects that economic system - that can only stay in place if the people who are being exploited are not fully aware that this is the system’s fundamental nature, then you cannot correspondingly have public officials who will tell people the truth and lead others in training them to make independent judgments. That kind of persons would be shunted aside by the system itself because they would be doing things at odds with the overall system’s inherent logic.
Thus, those who think that “campaign finance reform,” repealing the Citizens United decision, running third party candidates, calling for the end to all wars, and/or abolishing corporations, will solve the problems that confront us are not really addressing the heart of the problem. They are, instead, treating symptoms rather than the disease. The disease is the system itself. And the disease is killing us.
The primary purpose of this website is to a) expose people to the truth and to b) train people in how to evaluate facts and sort through competing claims.
People like to say, "knowledge is power," but that is not entirely true.
The truth is there to be found, but the truth has to be fought for. You have to learn how to recognize the truth and you have to want to know the truth. Not everyone wants the truth. Some people think that whatever serves their personal interest is what is "true." To want to know the truth requires that you be willing to accept things that are not personally convenient. You have to be willing to recognize hard truths sometimes. Not everyone is willing to do that. Yet they will argue with you vigorously until the cows come home.
When truth comes knocking on your door, if you don’t hear it knocking, you won’t let it in. Some people hear truth knocking, but when they look out their peep hole and they don't like what they see, they tell truth to "go away!"
But this isn't the main problem. The main problem is that truth hasn't come knocking on most people's doors yet. Most people don't know that they have doors on the boxes that they live in because they don't yet know that they live in boxes. These are the boxes that people are referring to when they say you have to "think outside the box."
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)