Saturday, July 30, 2016

“Trumpian Ethics” – Lies and Intellectual Recklessness

As a writer, I recognize an obligation to make certain that what I write is true.

This does not only mean writing what I believe – refusing to include claims I know to be false. It also means going through the effort to make certain what I write is not false. I have to check my claims and make certain that I have the evidence to support them.

There have been too many times where I have written a brilliant post filled with tight logic and insight, where I then went online to make certain that I could support an essential claim on which I built that argument, only to fail to find what I thought I had once found, or to discover that I was wrong. My brilliant post ends up in the trash bin - because it would be fundamentally dishonest to post it.

In spite of these efforts, I know there are false claims in this blog. Sometimes, I misread a source, or I misinterpret it. Sometimes I fail to appreciate some of the context. I swear I looked up those numbers on the Nebraska primary. I have no idea where those numbers came from. I was framed! (Okay, I wasn’t actually framed.)

Sometimes a reader will point out my mistake.

That's embarrassing. I kick myself for whatever oversight resulted in the error. It shouldn’t happen.

There are many and strong reasons to have and promote these values - not only among obscure blog posters in the dark corners of the internet, but in society as a whole. Many may consider these reasons as too obvious to mention. However, it seems that they need to be mentioned since there seems to be a lot of people who currently do not care about either honesty or intellectual integrity. They shrug these off as unimportant - and that threatens to cost us a great deal.

The value of true beliefs is found in the fact that they are useful in reaching our goals.

Let us assume that you wish to drive from Los Angeles to Miami. True beliefs about the route are essential to making a successful trip. False beliefs could put you in Anchorage. When you ask for directions, you want that person to provide you with a set of true statements. This means that you want him to know what he is taking about, or admit that he does not know. If he does know, you want him to report what he believes, rather than report what he knows to be false.

Let us assume, instead, you are trying to get your child to a hospital. She has been stung by a bee and is having trouble breathing. You ask for directions - and the person who sees your child lies to you and sends you into the wrong direction. Or, he gives you directions even though he has no idea where the hospital is at. At this point, the failure becomes nearly - if not actually - criminal. Such a person deserves our contempt.

Republican nominee Donald Trump is clearly this type of person.

These reasons to condemn the dishonest and intellectually reckless become stronger - not weaker - when we get to the realm where people are making policy decisions and making decisions on whether or not to go to war. Here, lies and intellectual recklessness do not just cause you to drive to the small town. They cost the lives, health, and destroy the well-being of innocent people - lots of innocent people - sometimes for generations to come. They result in commanding soldiers (and the police) to kill people who they have no good reason to kill, and being killed by the people we have wrongly attacked.

On policy issues such as infrastructure improvements, health care, minimum wage, and prescription drug regulations, there are lives and well-being at stake. When we get these wrong, people suffer.

On the scientific issues of climate change, nuclear energy, vaccines, GMO foods, and the like intellectual recklessness kills people - or gets in the way of preventing disease, feeding the hungry, and saving lives.

Honesty and intellectual responsibility should be among our highest values.

We have reason to condemn - harshly - those who habitually lie or who are intellectually reckless. We have reason to praise and to hold in high regard those who are honest and who put the effort into making sure that the claims they make are true.

It is particularly foolish to take somebody who shows a total disregard for truth and praise and make him President where he can serve as a role model for the next generation, teaching them to show the same disregard for truth as he does. It is one thing to fail to condemn the liar and the intellectually lazy. It is quite another to praise him, cheer him, and reward him. The latter can only be expected to promote lying and intellectual laziness the standard of the community - and that will cost us a great deal.

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is one of the greatest liars and most intellectually reckless people in politics.

There are measures for these. I am an evidence-based person. If we look at the claims that Trump has made that PolitiFact identified as “Pants On Fire” it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Trump simply does not care whether the claims he makes are true or false - or even consistent with what he has said only days before.

Lying is harder to prove than intellectual recklessness. A person lies when a person asserts something that they believe to be false. In order to prove lying, we have to know what a person believes – and that is sometimes hard to discover. A charge of lying requires providing evidence that the agent believed that what he said was false but said it anyway. A charge of intellectual recklessness requires only showing that he doesn't care whether it is true or false.

However, there is one type of lie that is built into intellectual recklessness. A person who makes an assertion and says, "Believe me" or "Trust me" is saying that he has put the effort into making sure that the claim is true. When the phrase "Believe me" or "Trust me" accompanies what anybody who put the slightest effort into it would have discovered is false, then he is a liar. He has not put the effort into verifying what he tells us to believe and trust that he claims to have done.

This willingness to cheer and promote one of the most intellectually dishonest and reckless people of the age, let alone try to make him President of the United States, is not only insanely foolish, it is morally bankrupt. The whole nation will pay for this disinterest in honesty and intellectual carefulness. If we give such a person four years not only to recklessly guide national policy and determine whether there will be war or peace, but to promote these values of dishonesty and intellectual laziness across the community, we will suffer for it.

As a final remark, I suspect that a reader cannot read this without thinking, "What about Hillary Clinton's lies? What about her dishonesty?"

This raises two questions.

First, even if it is the case that Hillary Clinton is also basically dishonest, that is not relevant to the discussion. We do not - and we should not - excuse a rapist or a murderer because he is not the only person who commits rape or murder. Instead, the existence of a second rapist or a second murderer implies that we should hold them both in equal contempt.

If we fail to condemn both equally for equal wrongs - if we say one rapist that his rapes do not matter, while we harshly condemn the other, we are saying that rape is not what matters to us. We could not care less about rape itself. We are simply trying to use our condemnation of rape for some other end - to serve some other interest. There must be some other difference between the two that we are reacting to - something that makes one person different from the other. It is not the rape, which they have in common.

Similarly, if we discover a group of people condemning one liar in the harshest terms, and utterly ignoring the lies of another, we can conclude that they really do not care about lying. If they really cared about lying, they would condemn both liars equally. If they do not condemn them equally, then there must be something true of one person and not true of the other that is the true source of their hostility. Perhaps, it is the fact that one is a man seeking political power, and the other is a woman, that they don't like, and claiming that they do not like the woman's lies is just something they tell themselves.

Second, is it the case that the accusation of being a liar accurate, or is the accusation that she is a liar also, itself, a lie (or, at best, an intellectually reckless belief)? On this matter, I will refer the reader to Clinton's Politifact record and this article: Why Can't You Believe Hillary Clinton Is Inherently Honest?" This could be another example where the lies of other people about Hillary, and the intellectual laziness of those who believe those lies, risks causing people to do things that an intellectually careful person presented with the truth would not do (and potentially suffer for the errors).

It is widely claimed that civilizations fail when the people living in them lose their sense of morality – of right and wrong. This is one of the ways in which that happens. When lying and intellectual laziness become acceptable, when people quit caring about truth, they lose their ability to create successful plans. Good intentions lead to disasters. Ultimately, a civilization can be brought down.

Those who care to avoid these consequences are people to condemn liars and the intellectually reckless - and we are particularly careful not to hand them political power where their lies and intellectually reckless attitudes can cause a great deal of harm.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another Hillary lie from this weekend:

Meanwhile, look at the two latest "lies" for Donald Trump, according to Politifact:



Neither of these constitutes a lie as far as I can tell. At most, (2) should have been rated as "False". (1) probably shouldn't have been checked at all, since it is an expression of one's opinion ("They don't know what the hell they are doing.") The fact that someone from his campaign was forced to sign an agreement to comply with certain safety standards to hold the event at all doesn't suggest that Trump agreed that those standards were the correct standards to apply in the situation. But at worst, it should still simply be rated as "False", since he accused the Marshall of political bias, when that appears to be false. But to say it is a lie? Nonsense. If these cases are a microcosm of Politifact's judgements of Trump's statements, I'd say the institution isn't worth trusting, at least as far as its Pants-On-Fire ratings go.

You can't compare Trump's "lies" and Hillary's lies because they aren't the same. Trump certainly says a lot of thoughtless off the cuff and false things. But Hillary says statements she knows to be false, as evidenced by her most recent lie about the FBI's investigation of her handling of classified information.