Politics, Lying, Personal Agency and Oppression

The assault on truth is not a new phenomenon in our politics but it has gone to new levels with the current administration. Deception wages a war on our social milieu and causes members of society to feel de-centered and uncertain because we never really know if what we are being told is truth.

Obfuscation is quite common in politics; the classified papers that never see the light of day, the intelligence briefings that happen behind closed doors and the discussions that happen in secret all shape our political reality. However, the common people are not aware of what is genuinely happening behind the scenes. We are given a tiny fraction of information that the power brokers decide we should have and then we are expected to make informed decisions that have long lasting implications

Hannah Arendt, in her essay “Lying in Politics” said, “Truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings.” Arendt goes on to discuss the fragility of truth as a simple twist to the memory, misdirect of the events, a collective re-telling of the story and suddenly, the truth is obscured.

Arendt says, “It is this fragility that makes deception so very easy up to a point, and so tempting. It never comes into a conflict with reason, because things could indeed have been as the liar maintains they were. Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear. He has prepared his story for public consumption with a careful eye to making it credible, whereas reality has the disconcerting habit of confronting us with the unexpected, for which we were not prepared.”

When viewed this way, I believe lying is a form of oppression and a tool that is used to keep people from having the power to make informed decisions. Although hindsight is always 20/20, one can’t help but wonder how being fully informed might have changed things. Had people who were on the fence in the 2016 election known about the Russian interference, might they have voted differently? Had people known that there was massive corruption taking place, would they have chosen a different path?

Of course, we will never know how the truth might have changed things but there is one thing that is absolute — when truth is obscured, in any context, it is a way of stealing personal agency. Personal agency is the ability to make independent choices based on one’s own free will. When personal agency is stolen, the person is no longer free, but a pawn in a game of chess they don’t know they are playing.

It is time for us as a people to demand more — more from our government, more from our leaders and because all social change starts within, it’s time to demand more from ourselves. It is time we demand honesty be the guiding light in this dark time and that we require our leaders to be candid. When they aren’t, there ought to be loud outcries, disruption and pushback until they learn that we the people will no longer stand for business as usual. No more political manipulations, no more games in the name of “protecting” others from the harsh reality. Just the raw truth — let us decide how much of it we can handle.

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” (commonly misattributed to Orwell).