Politicians say untrue things. Shocking, I know. The more powerful they are, the greater the percentage of things they say are untrue, or at best, unproven. That may have been less obvious. This is also true in a good way. That may have been least obvious of all.
The more powerful they are, the more they are usually speaking in hopes of moving the dial on some short to medium term issue. The are not speaking for posterity, but to achieve action now. If the dial needs to be moved, the debate must be close. If the debate is close, then all force, with no reserve, must be exerted in the desired direction. Let others say "On the one hand...on the other hand..." They did not get their position by being that sort of person.
The occasion for this is a powerful American political figure made a pronouncement yesterday. It was a mean statement. It relied on asserting an opinion as if it were a scientific fact. This politician has no expertise in that field. He stated a belief that is suspected by some experts to be true, or at least "have truth values," as the saying now goes. But it is in no way established. It is not even adequate to say that it is "unproven," as that would allow an escape for him to say or others to think "Well, it's probably close to be being proven, then." This ain't that. It was therefore a lie, a third cousin to the truth.
It occurred to me that the only time I hear from this guy is when he makes statements like this. Untrue, but he wishes they were true, because it would be good for his side if it were true. As I thought about it, other names occurred to me among the powerful, that everything they say is highly doubtful, but asserted with great confidence because they want it to be true. "Speaking truth to power" used to be a respectable inspiring statement that came out of the African-American political and cultural experience. As with all such really great statements, it increasingly got borrowed by others whose causes were less clear, more particular to themselves than universal, less true. The statement now means "Telling your friends what they want to hear."
Then the surprising part occurred to me. In thinking about whether this was much of what Hitler's dramatic speechifying was about (it was), I thought of his great opposite, and realised that this is what Winston Churchill did as well.
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...
He said that at a time when morale was low, when many even in England wondered if Britain would surrender. I love Winnie, but this was in no way something he knew to be true. Even "unproven" would be a stretch. We know in retrospect that Britain did show a great deal of courage in a very tight spot. But we don't know what another year would have brought. Like all war speeches, he said it because he hoped it was true, and hoped that by saying it he could help make it true.
There is something different about such unproven statements that one hopes to make true by inspiring. I don't think it is only Good Cause/Bad Cause that is what makes the distinction. I have a little thought, but I would prefer to think about it, and also hear what you have to say before going the last bit.
My counter point would be that Churchill said 'fight' and 'defend' not win, that the RAF was 'growing' in confidence and strength not that it was superior to or even a match for the Luftwaffe, and 'never surrender' can just as easily mean no capitulation while a defense is possible as much as it could mean until we are victorious. So to say his claim is even unproven in 1940 is to make certain assumptions about what path of future events is likely.
“Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, courage and virtue mean everything ; that power and money … money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this…. that love….true love never dies ! Remember that boy … remember that. Doesn’t matter if it is true or not, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in…… got that ?”
It would be nice to know exactly what you were talking about...
I think the key word is inspiration. A good coach will say "I know you can do it, I know you can win the championship / set a new record / etc." not because he knows it, but because he believes in your ability and talent and wants to inspire you to your best performance for your sake and primarily for your benefit. There is an element of altruism there, and sometimes the motivation from the message can make a difference for the athlete.
In the political arena, the motivation for the message is usually not altruism, and almost never for your sake, in my opinion.
This cannot be reduced to a rule. It is only in an actual concrete situation that you know the difference between telling your friend what he wants to hear and telling your friend what he needs to hear. The key is actually being his friend, and not someone pretending to be his friend. This leaves the politicians out because they are only pretending to be our friends. That's why they can't tell the difference between telling us what we want to hear and telling us what we need to hear.
Everyone's ideas were better than mine.
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