What if we valued honesty?
Does anyone ever speak the whole truth? In almost every sphere of society, deception seems to be expected without question. Political advertisements are allowed to lie as much as they want because free speech. Why does free speech have to be more important than truth?
Clearly, deceitful political campaigns are harmful to society. Our biggest, most convincing liars end up being our leaders and how is that working out for us?
In the USA, where free speech is enshrined in the constitution, governmental experience is no longer a requirement to become president. First they experimented with electing a movie star (professional liar) and now the man in the White House has been described by his own lawyer as a conman and a cheat. In the 2016 campaign 70% of his statements were found to be false.
Although the Australian constitution makes no mention of free speech, the High Court ruled it contains an implication of freedom of political discussion, which apparently means it is totally fine for political parties to make deliberate and blatant false claims in their advertising. No worries, mate.
In our recent election, voters were bombarded with Facebook ads containing 100% verifiably untrue statements such as, “Labor’s car tax would mean higher prices on some of Australia’s most popular cars” and “Labor has secret plans to introduce a death tax.”
This is nothing new. Completely fraudulent scare campaigns have become increasingly common from all our political parties over the past decade or so. As our ruling coalition party has proven, the safest way to win an election is to make absolutely no policy promises and concentrate instead on inventing tales about the bogeyman in opposition.
With role models like these, it’s no wonder that honesty is hardly an important consideration of daily life. A Career Builder survey found that over half of employers had busted applicants lying in resumes. Business as usual.
Any information found in mainstream or social media can either be arbitrarily believed or decried as fake news, depending on the consumer’s preference. Around 69% of adults in the U.S. said their trust in news media has decreased over the past decade.
Peer reviewed scientific research would seem to be the most trustworthy source of information, but even that can’t always be trusted. When a climate denier uses a right-wing think tank, funded by mining corporations, to donate money to a university to conduct research in his chosen field, how can we believe the findings?
Could we believe the research undertaken in the 1990s by that very same think tank, funded this time by tobacco companies, which found that the health effects of passive smoking were “trivial”?
Tell the Truth
The grassroots movement, Extinction Rebellion, has exploded over the past year, as frustrated people around the world realise we cannot vote or ethically consume our way out of the impending crisis of climate breakdown and widespread extinctions. Using mass civil disobedience to force governments to act, one of their primary demands is ‘tell the truth’.
If the general public properly understood the gravity of our planet’s current situation, there is no doubt that nations would be acting with urgency to fix it.
What if children were raised in a society where honesty was held in the highest regard? What if deceitful behaviour was socially unacceptable? What if journalists, ‘think tanks’ and speakers were genuinely held accountable for the accuracy of their statements?
At the very minimum, could we not place political advertising under the same scrutiny that we do for consumer products? Could we at least hear some actual facts before we decide who gets to represent us in government? Is that too much to ask?