The art of lying
At a time when historians and political scientists worry about the future of American democracy, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley epitomizes an era when truth seems more elusive than ever.
There is a disturbing familiarity with our polarized politics, says Patricia Roberts Miller, a former professor of rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin.
Reminds her of periods in history that led to the liturgy Violence, such as America before the Civil War and Germany before World War II. She said, like then, people see it Those who disagree with them as their enemy.
But Roberts Miller, who has written books on the demagogy, political argument, and rhetoric that helped perpetuate slavery, said that lowering the temperature would require people to take the explosive path to their own conclusions about what they believe.
“Other times, people have had difficulty accessing other perspectives and obtaining so-called comprehensive information,” Roberts Miller said. “But it’s so easy now and yet people choose not to do it.”
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: How do you know that the politician is telling the truth?
A: Let’s not get into the truth of the whole thing. I would say, do not confuse sincerity with honesty.
what do you mean?
Well, I think in our culture we tend to think that if a person honestly represents what they believe in, then that’s honest. may be honest. But what they say isn’t necessarily true, just because they believe it.
What is the best way to check this, to see if it comes close to being honest?
This is counterintuitive, but the best way to do it is to find it [the] The strongest criticism of what the politician says. The only way to know if someone is making a good argument is to look at it from multiple points of view. So look for the strongest arguments for the opposition.
So, where are some places where you can find arguments for dissent?
This depends on the topic, of course. And I think it’s really hard because there are so many sources that seem to be scientific. They have this or that magazine in their name.
I tend to go to some organizations or media outlets that have completely different views. I prefer printing, because it can save you the sources, it’s easier to process more slowly and think about it. Things like taking a look at the Heritage Foundation, The Economist, and The Nation. Consider the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
This is based on the desire to challenge your worldview. What if you don’t have the desire?
The way we tend to talk about political discourse is in what is called the anti-paradigm. We talk about it as a fight. We use a lot of combative metaphors. You undermine an argument, attack someone, challenge someone, that kind of language. And I think it might be helpful to understand that what we’re trying to do is actually see something from multiple perspectives.
I’ll give you a stupid example. We have pedestrians, vehicles, and cyclists all using the streets, right? And they have different needs, and they really do differ. There is no single perspective that covers them all. So there has to be some negotiation.
My desires as a pedestrian are perfectly legitimate. But if we have a really vibrant neighborhood where people are happy, I need to think about it also from the perspective of people who drive and cyclists.
So I shouldn’t challenge my view of the world as much as I need to expand it. Nor does it mean that all points of view are equally valid. We don’t really have to understand dinosaurs.
This all seems like a huge investment of time. If I had three kids, and I was trying to get them to play baseball and school or sleep, I wouldn’t have time to check the facts. So how do you do this in a way that doesn’t take up too much of your time?
I think there are two answers to that.
So, if you haven’t checked the facts, you don’t have a strong opinion. This is an option, isn’t it? We kind of made us feel like you should have a strong say in everything. But it’s totally fine not to do that, it’s okay to say I don’t have the time to look into this and therefore really don’t know.
It’s very funny, because when I tell people that you don’t have to have an opinion on this, but right now, you have a very strong opinion and very little information, people are shocked.
So this is one.
Quakers talk about having a “concern,” in which you decide, that you’re really going to try to be informed, and you’re going to try to look at information from different points of view about it. This will be your area. You wouldn’t really try to be on top of everything, because you can’t.
But, like I said, you can have these go-to sites, where you can feel, well, if I wanted to know what the libertarian argument was, for something, I’d go to Cato. Guttmacher has really good information on birth control, abortion, and that stuff, so when you get those weird stats of people saying, this happens a lot, you can look.
Well, some of that kind of knowing that here are the places. So I’m not just Google.
Then what I think is a big problem is the cost. I try to direct my students to the available sources, but newspapers are the best business, right? her media. And you have to have subscriptions to it and that’s a problem. And so people will often rely on easier things.
Do you tell people to subscribe to their local newspaper?
I’m actually telling people to subscribe to their local newspaper. And I think it might be really good to sign up for multiple papers, you know, local and citizen. I don’t sit down and read four papers every day. I can not do that. But when I try to figure something out, I’ll check out the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
Yes. And in theory, in an ideal world, being able to read all this information, balance it, and come to your conclusion, you’d be an informed citizen and be able to get a firm viewpoint. Having said that, there are all kinds of conspiracy theories floating around here. How do you avoid falling into some of these traps, for lack of a better word?
Try to understand why we feel so strong about things.
I realized that I had very strong opinions about expert witnesses in trials. And I thought, why do I have such a strong opinion of it? I have friends who are either public prosecutors or attorneys general but have never spoken to them about expert witnesses. I have never read studies about it. from where is this? Suddenly I realized that this is “law and order”.
So try to think of why there are strong opinions on this topic? Where did you get this information? And what will prove me wrong? Can I name a clue that might make me change my mind? And if there is none, it is not a rational belief.
It is good not to have rational beliefs. In fact, this is religion. I’m a religious person, that’s okay. But I know that. If there is no evidence that would make me change my mind about whether 9/11 was an internal function, or global warming, then I have no reasonable belief about these things.
This is how conspiracy theories work. What makes them irrational is that people, when all their evidence is destroyed, only come up with new evidence.
OK. Then if people follow all of these steps, will that fix everything?
Humans are human and we make a lot of mistakes. But I think if you really try to find and pay attention to the best opposing argument, even though it probably won’t change your mind, it calms you down.
It is not binary. It’s not like there are two sides to any issue, there are 10 sides. And so you find out, well, there are all these different opinions about it and these guys have reasons. And while there are some real bad actors on any issue, there are plenty of people who aren’t bad actors, who might have different priorities than me or something, but they aren’t evil. They are not spiteful. They are not stupid. It just lowers the temperature.
What worries me is not only that we treat public discourse, public disagreements, and political disagreements as battles, but we treat them as a terrible battle between good and evil. It rarely is.