Monday, August 27, 2018

Why I Took Out a Billboard

8/27/2018—Friends and family—and other people by now—are wondering why I would take out a billboard in Erie County that reads “Tax Cuts Threaten Social Security.” It wasn’t primarily because I am worried about social security. It’s that I hate lying.

I became enraged that politicians who plainly knew the truth would repeat the lie that tax cuts pay for themselves.

But, of course, we now live in a post-truth age and so the issue of lying is much deeper and more sinister than that. Lying about the effect of policies makes democracy impossible. The people are treated like children and cannot make effective decisions. We are encouraged to believe that money grows on trees.

But it is even worse and deeper than that. The lie is the foundation of totalitarianism, as Hannah Arendt argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

This is why I took out the billboard, so truth would have a champion.

This culture has become convinced that there are no objective truths. This view arose first on the academic Left in postmodernisn. Now it lives on in the anti-elitism of both the Right and the Left—climate change and vaccine denial.
We must reclaim realism. Not just about truth, but about the good, the beautiful and the just. I am trying to fund a podcast series highlighting the teaching of Dr. King that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Go to kickstarter:

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