Society has come to depend on one simple concept – truth. Every other concept, value, action, justice and principle resides on the fulcrum of what this one simple term means.
The reductionists who cut, scar and scorn the fundamental value of truth, and its centrality to every moral and ethical principle on which civil society is built, can only be assured of one certainty: their special place in Dante’s Inferno.
The unashamed and naked dismissal of truth, the intentional plying of lies and deception by those who have the privilege of speech, is antithetical to the maintenance and preservation of every democratic institutional principle.
We expect what we say to be accepted as true. We expect what’s said to us to be true. If these expectations were not often enough, there would be little point in communicating at all.
But this is exactly where nakedly unscrupulous and unprincipled leaders have brought us.
They have battered, eroded and betrayed every core value, every mission statement and every social contract. There’s no reason why anyone in government, business or public life should expect what anyone says can be true. And there’s no reason why they should say anything that undermines their own interests, even if it means lying and deceit.
The rules have been changed. It’s winner take all, my enemy’s enemy is my friend, and one should strike one’s adversary so hard that they cannot turn the other cheek. It’s a no-holds-barred game now, an eye for an eye. Losing is not an option and sportsmanship signals weakness. Never compromise, never give in. And maintain control of the rulebook so they can change the rules to keep their advantage.
There are no more role models, only heroes who win and villains to be defeated. Diplomacy is a sham, justice is subjective, and power is supreme.
This is the ugly reality of the world today. There’s no shame for the deluded in making bigotry, racism and partisanship their defining values – the basis of their statements and the basis for their embrace of ignorance and stupidity.
Worse, those who have severed their umbilical cords from the oxygen of humanity – the fundamental principle of moral and ethical participation in a community of civilized society – have altered the rules of communication.
This has profound consequences for our daily lives.
In judicial proceedings, witnesses have a solemn obligation “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Lying under oath is a serious crime because it undermines the very framework of our judicial system. If witnesses may lie with impunity, justice is no longer be the product of the court system, and we descend into anarchy.
Leaders ask their constituents to follow the rules, to make personal sacrifices and be patient while they bask in the sun and pretend to have followed the letter of the law, with no regard for the message and modelling it conveys to our children.
Lying has become so mainstream, so infused in our lives, values and practices, that we mock the simpleton who cannot muster the cunning to take advantage of loopholes, to beat the system, to have been caught for something they should have gotten away with.
Gone are the times when groups would ostracize the liar, the hypocrite, or the fraud. Today, those who call out the liar are more likely to be ostracized.
This is the reality from which an increasing number of political leaders are emerging.
The goal of moral and political deliberation should be to aim at the truth, to lay bare the false beliefs, to aspire to consensus in achieving the best ways to respond to collective challenges.
But we’ve learned through our response to the ravages of COVID-19 that we’re incapable of holding together. Profits will prevail; nations will squabble over supplies; partisanship will prioritize popularity over remedy, and those who can will do anything to jump the line to gain the advantage over the needy.
However, those who hold truth to power stand out. Truth is not a partisan commodity. It’s not defined by culture, religion or age. Truth is the fundamental principle of community life, personal integrity and trust.
If there’s just one value we must all commit to reclaiming, it must be truthfulness.
Anil Anand is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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