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Bundling Lies with Truths
January 14, 2022
by William P. Meyers

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Refusing to Sort Bundles is a Fundamental Human Flaw

This essay is inspired by a lifetime of trying to sort through the lies told by my fellow human beings. And by hearing some news reporting saying Harry Reid was "lying in state." Thinking: why not, he was a politician, he lied over an entire lifetime. Note that on the political spectrum, Harry Reid is reasonably close to me. The joke will be even better when Trump dies (if he does not ascend into heaven as his followers expect).

Lying comes in two major forms: purposefully lying and repeating lies while thinking they are true. In the second category there is a spectrum of moral hazard, ranging from repeating a falsehood heard from a reasonably reliable source to repeating a falsehood that is obviously or highly likely to be false based on its content. Everybody lies, the fair question being how much and in what situations. None of us are able to personally verify all we learn about the world. We can't all go to Afghanistan to make sure it exists and the reporting about its society is accurate. We can't all conduct quantum physics experiments or count every vote cast in every election. We need to depend on others. In many cases we have developed systems to try to insure the truth is told.

I was recently in a situation where I was expected to lie for a group I was in. Generally I am in agreement with the group, a Democratic Party organizations with a high percentage of progressives. I decided to resign my official position with the group, but stay in the group to continue to fight for better governance. This really pissed the liars off. Fortunately I have been though this before many times in my life (I am an old man). Most people calm down and, though they may refuse to admit they behaved badly, will eventually work with you again when you agree with them on a specific issue. What is frightening about humans is that a lot of them refuse to speak up even when they know the majority (or a vocal and typically cranky minority) is wrong. Even I have to choose my fights. I only have so much time and energy for the local democrats. I have to remind myself that where I choose to fight, someone else might choose to save their fight for another day or issue.

Now I will back up and use my childhood sorting out of lies, and cultural bundles, to show how much people can be up against. I was born a Democrat. My mother was from Texas and checked most of the boxes for a Southern Democrat in the 1950s and 1960s. My father was from Illinois and checked most of the boxes for a northern Catholic New Deal Democrat. Both were born before the Great Depression and lived through it. My father graduated from high school, worked a bit, then joined the Marine Corps in 1938. My mother worked as the child of a tenant farmer from an early age, then left school without graduating to work in a newly built uniform factory, for the army FDR was building to conquer the world, also around 1938. Like most Woman Marines my mother was dismissed at the end of WWII, but my father stayed in the corps until retiring in 1960.

What my parents taught me was to follow orders, keep my mouth shut, and take no initiative. My parents were dangerous people, even if you behaved. On the good side they demanded that I get good grades, and even arranged for me to get a scholarship to a prep school. My mother always made us meals, and she worked full time, while my father worked a full time and a part time job. They rarely talked in the presence of their children. They were used to the command and control system of the Marine Corps, where each person does what he (or she) is told, and general plans are made somewhere in the upper ranks.

We were Roman Catholics and attended parochial schools. In Jacksonville, my home town, even in the mid-sixties, the Catholic schools were still segregated, just like the public schools. I was taught that people who belonged to other religions were at best misguided and more likely evil. Atheism and communism were evil. America was great, free, and prosperous. Republicans were suspect (almost all Catholics in that era were Democrats). But good above all other things was the Marine Corps, a heroic organization fighting for good against evil.

But it was the sixties. And I was, if I finished my homework and had not lost my privileges in some mishap, allowed to watch an hour or two of TV most nights (when there were 3 channels total). On TV I saw controversy: black people (my parents never used the N word, but called them Colored) demanding an end to segregation, anti-war protestors, hippies, and even just the idea that life should be fun and parents should not beat children. My life really began to change when my father started taking us regularly to the public library. This involved a drive downtown, allowing me to see the conditions (unbelievable by today's standards) of one colored section of town. I liked reading science books and science fiction, and those told stories that conflicted with what I learned from my parents and teachers.

I noticed too that I had a brother who seemed to be truly able to rewrite his history, like he had not done something bad (by my parents standards). He would begin by lying, but after a time would convince himself that his lies were true, and seemed unable to remember what had actually happened. Of course perhaps he had just become a very good liar.

I cannot remember the details, but by eighth grade I was convinced that nothing the Catholic Church taught was true. I told no one. I dreaded going to Catholic high school, which started at grade 9. Fortunately, as I said, I was sent to a non-catholic private school. There were more Jews than Catholics at my new school, and I found that, after some initial friction, I got along with them. Still, officially I remained Catholic, going to Saturday confession and Sunday mass, afraid to say I did not believe in God. I did try to read up on other religions, just in case.

One step at a time. Next was war. I remember at the beginning of 10th grade (fall 1969) my history teacher asked us what we should do in Vietnam. Most of the other kids said get out, but I said we should nuke Hanoi. Yet somehow, within a year, I got to the point of asking myself a basic question: who was the aggressor? Who was in whose house? And so I flipped to being anti-war. And I changed my view of the Marine Corps. Civil rights for African-Americans, as we were starting to call the group? Yes! Rights for women? Yes! The dam had broken. At seventeen I volunteered for the McGovern for President Campaign.

And so I thought I had figured everything important out. But why were so many people supporting Richard Nixon? Why did The War go on? What was wrong with people? In college I got a degree in Political Science, and took a bunch of philosophy courses, but that just seemed to make matters more confusing. I even tried Buddhism, which did give me insight into religious conversions and what a load of rot Buddhism is. The thing that helped the most, in the long run, was a course on the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who, interestingly, was from a mixed Jewish and officially Catholic family. Instead of telling people what to believe, mainly Wittgenstein talked about how to ask questions, and spot bad answers.

When the Democrat Party pivoted to the right, and then the entire country pivoted even further to the right by electing Ronald Reagan, I drifted into the far left. I checked every group out that I could: traditional communists, democratic socialists, Trotskyists, new left factions, Maoists, non-American national liberation groups, and anarchists. Here I saw bundling and lying at its worst, or at least as bad as one finds with fascists and right-wing conservatives. I would like people at first, agree with their slogans and positions, and then gradually realize their leaders were power-hungry liars. The followers just repeated the lies. On the whole, the anarcho-syndicalists were the least bad, and likely as a result, had the fewest followers. The Trotskyist groups (there were at least a dozen back then, in the 1980s) all accepted (without checking the historic facts) the original twisted historical interpretation of Leon Trotsky himself, and also his (and Lenin's) belief that propaganda (lying) is the best way to build a movement. Critical lies are often bundled with a set of truths, since that promotes trust, and trust is easy to manipulate.

The smaller a party is, the less it is willing to allow someone to stay in the party while openly disagreeing with some aspect of its bundle. In large parties like the Democrats and Republicans, when there are major divisions, they are often between local or other sets of people who don't interact very much with each other. Thus in the Democratic Party, right now, each local grassroots group is dominated by progressives (or even more intolerantly, by Berniecrats) or liberals. Candidates campaigns often reveal these fissures, as when in the latest local Seattle campaign, there was a division between those who felt crime is a problem and those who (yes, it is true) stated crime is not a problem worth bothering with.

Fortunately there are groups focussed around single issues, and they can interact with groups that espouse bundles. It can be a slow and difficult process, but a single-issue group can sometimes get the Democratic Party or Republican Party to change a position. It usually starts in some locality, and then spreads gradually, to become th dominant opinion.

Unfortunately, this process is not always about moving from lies to truth. Nowhere is that more clear than in the current Republican Party, where Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election have come to dominate the group-think bundle.

I wish younger people could remember the transition in the Southern Democratic Party in the 1960s and 1970s. The Party started white and segregationist, okay with some New Deal programs, but basically conservative (and pro-war). Over two decades the white segregationists either admitted they had been wrong, or they left the party as more African-Americans joined. The Party of Slavery founded by Andrew Jackson, which became the Party of Segregation, strangely became the party of African Americans and friends.

So there is hope, but the fight will go on as long as there is a human race and politics are legal. Democrats will lie to gain advantage, and Republicans will too. The power-hungry in each party will say and do whatever it takes to move up the ladder. And a small, but dedicated, number of individuals will try to sort out the truth from lies, and try to tell it to those whose ears are capable of hearing.

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