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Is Telling People the Truth Enough?

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."


+1 # Princess Peach 2014-04-06 00:59
I thought that this article was interesting because it made me realize that telling the truth is not enough. Just because someone is told the truth does not mean that they will understand it. The only political power that the majority of Americans have is to vote. They cannot handle any more political power because they do not truly understand how society functions. I saw a connection between this article and the article titled, “To Know a Pear One Must Bite Into a Pear”. One cannot truly understand something until they actively experience it themselves. I think that this article is referring to a society in which conflict theory is in place. Shared values of the public are not important, and the majority of political power belongs to the elites, not the public. This creates more conflict in society.
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+1 # Slovebee 2014-04-06 21:03
This article was quite convicting for me. To raise the question of power and democracy, and how is our "democracy" really benefiting us when we're merely deciding who will rule over us was something I hadn't brought up to my conscious. I myself am not completely invested in politics, even as a college student, which I'm embarrassed to say. And the main reason for that is that I believe that a times there's a lot of mumbo jumbo, confusing terminology, a million opinions and perspectives, and too much arguing. Also, like the article states, I've been deprived of the truth and haven't really been trained. And yes as a citizen who is older than 18, I can vote for policies and my choice in the next president; but after reading this article I ask myself how is any of that benefiting me, or fellow and future citizens? I think there's a lot we have to consider when it comes to investing in our political world.
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0 # tiamari 2014-04-06 22:08
I found this article to be very interesting and deep. In order understanding anything, especially social issues, one must understand the history behind it. In addition, one must be able to know how to analyze the truth. If one is trained on how to critically analyze the truth better decisions can be made.
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0 # tiffany 2014-04-07 01:10
In general I believe truth to be tough to understand. It seems merely impossible to 100% understand someone or something. For the whole truth there is so much that must not just be known but understood. In terms of politics everything just gets a little crazier. The reason why we elect representatives to make decisions for the people is because it would be so much work for the average citizen to be educated on everything politics related. It would be so hard to manage our lives because if we had to vote on every decision we would have to study the material. Yet truth in social issues is hard to understand because you are not always given all of the information. Yet gov't is so open yet so closed off because of the elites and the average citizen.
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0 # MarieB 2014-04-07 02:03
I think this article brings up many points that even educated people do not often address. The definition and literal purpose of democracy is the basis of America, and we are taught that democracy is great and to fear certain words like communism as its opposite. As a person trying not to be ignorant of our own government, it is still very hard to know the answers, as addressed in points a)not being told the truth & b)not being trained. Being a knowledgeable citizen requires a personal quest for the truth and active desire to understand it. Although citizens are the "ruled", the rulers are the result of voters and their knowledge or lack thereof of their government.
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0 # Michaelo 2014-04-25 22:07
"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"

-This is exactly what I was referring to when I said "Ignorance is Bliss" in the article "How Can I Figure Out What's True?" The truth can sometimes be very personally inconvenient and many people just don't want to break out of there comfort zones to seek/accept the truth, even when it is told to them, simply because it is convenient for them to remain there. The basis of my comment was just from personal experience in witnessing this exact event where people are shown inconvenient truths and there is no reaction or no concern given.
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12