Goals for 2100: Reduced Public Lying


Maybe there are times when it is important to deceive the public.  For that matter, maybe there are times when it is important, or appropriate, to lie in private.  This post is not about those cases.

This post is about the fact that, except possibly in exceptional cases, the public should not be lied to.  What needs to change, by 2100, is the extent to which people are permitted to lie to the public.

People who are capable of lying to the public tend to be those who are in a position to have their opinions heard.  This includes politicians, advertisers, writers, ministers, and so forth.  These are the people who should not lie to the public.

It is hard enough for people to figure out the truth of things, without being misled by opinionmakers who manipulate people’s feelings and concerns.  Finding the truth is a full-time occupation, as people discover when they try to do some educated shopping for a major purchase.  It can take weeks to make a single well-informed decision about what car to buy, where to go to college, or whom to vote for.  There is no good reason to make such decisions even more difficult by fogging up the issues.

There is no such thing as corporate personhood, for instance; it is a legal fiction.  It should not be permitted to ramify on into the further confusion of corporate free speech.

Advertisers have subsidized many forms of beneficial or desired activity.  In other words, we have been bought.  We have allowed producers of unnecesssary, inferior, and sometimes even harmful products and services to persuade us of their essential goodness.  This is a mistake.

Some kinds of lying to the public are based upon laws, procedures, and semi-official traditions.   Formal legal provisions or other actions may be needed to curtail or reduce these.  Other kinds of lying to the public may be better approached through semi-formal or even informal responses.

For instance, religious people have many valuable things to say, whether based on their scriptures or on their personal experiences and insights.  But religious people who claim to have the backing of scripture, or of personal experience, should be subject to public disapproval if their claims are not borne out.

There are limits to all rights.  You cannot use free speech to start a panic by yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  You cannot use religion as an excuse to rip people apart with false accusations.  Responsibility is commensurate with power.  The greater your ability to influence people’s thinking, the more closely the rest of us should scrutinize your use of that power.

It is impossible to speak the truth consistently.  There is too much wishful thinking in the world, and there are too many things that are hard to figure out.  But there is a limit to that excuse.  When you get up in front of those people and turn on that microphone, you had better be doing something that is good for the common welfare.

Voicing a contrary opinion is perfectly reasonable; but voicing an opinion (contrary or not) based upon willful deception or deliberate ignoring of important facts is a different matter.  We will be better off when we have less of it.


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