Radical Truth Telling; An Immodest Proposal

by Claude Steiner Phd

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The most significant political act in the Information Age is lying. Information has always been used as an avenue to power. Denial of information and deception are age old power plays. But at this time when information can reach every corner of the globe, instantaneously, when information is becoming the premier conduit to power, beyond wealth, beyond armies, and when good information, broadcast around the world, can be immensely useful and bad information hugely damaging, lying has become a major source of political power to those who have access to cyberspace, that new dimension of reality which will rule our lives in the next century. (Click here for Cyberpsychology)

It is not commonly acknowledged that all life, humans particularly, hunger for information. Life cannot be sustained without it and to obtain information we will exercise a great deal of effort and go to extremes as far reaching as addiction and crime. Information has become a hugely profitable commodity and our economy is totally dependent on it. We are, for the first time in history, in a position, world wide, to satisfy the most basic of human hungers, information hunger; we have the information terminals and processors, we have the networks and we have the information economy. Unfortunately, however, we have a great problem with the information itself, namely that it is badly polluted with a variety of information toxins, variants all, of lying.

The powerful refinement of the production of information could, if used correctly be very beneficial to humanity. On the other hand, when what is being produced is increasingly synthetic and noxious information --lies-- it has infinitely damaging potential. Lies without the amplifying power of technology are harmful but manageable. The process is similar to that of the refinement of coca leaves into crack, wine into whiskey, pot into sinsemilla. The high-tech lies of today are as overwhelming to the system as are crack, whiskey or sinsemilla against which the body has no way of protecting itself.

As early as 1947 Albert Einstein in a letter to Harry Truman pointed out that, as technology advances, our development as human beings is not keeping pace and that catastrophe threatens to be the outcome as technology outstrips people's capacity to make appropriate use of it. As information technology proliferates we cannot afford to allow our parallel development as human beings to lag behind. What that means is that we have to reorient ourselves vis a vis information and that in turn means that, as a first step, we have to become info-literate. In particular, we have to develop an understanding of lying and truth telling.

The quality of information that we are exposed to and expose ourselves to has an extraordinarily important effect on our everyday lives. Unfortunately, in a manner similar to our environment's degradation, in which the food, air and water that surrounds us is becoming increasingly toxic, the information which we are encouraging, permitting, asking for and consuming is in large measure disinformation, misinformation and info-junk.

Let me propose, then, that a most important aspect of our environment is the information environment. The information environment we are immersed in is badly polluted and there are several levels in which corrective measures could be taken. One such measures, which I am proposing for people to practice at the personal level is "radical truth telling."

Lying is always engaged in order to stay in control and is part and parcel of the constant power abuse that our culture encourages and demands. In spite of the fact that every major religion proscribes lies, lying is an aspect of everyday life even in the most devoutly moral and religious households. Certainly, by the time a child is able to speak, parents are lying to it routinely and, eventually, the child is expected, as an aspect of proper socialization, to learn to lie as well.

We tell our children not to lie, yet we lie to them constantly. We tell them to be truthful as we continually do otherwise and we never tell them what a lie is, how it is different from the truth, and what we mean when we tell them that lying is wrong. To be sure we have all manner of rationalizations for lying to children; we assume that children could not take the truth or don't want to know it or would be harmed by it, we believe that little white lies are harmless. But the real reasons for lying are far more practical; the fact is that we lie to stay in control and that to be truthful means to give up power and comfort, to have to be responsible for our actions and feelings and to face truth and reality especially the reality of other people's responses to us and our acts.

The capacity to perceive, to understand and effectively deal with the world is severely curtailed by the presence of constant lies in our lives, the process of sorting out what is true and what is false, when to lie and when to tell the truth what to believe and what not to believe. Given all of these uncertainties the mind is prevented from working at its optimal level. It is said that we use only a small fraction of our mental capacity. If this is so, it surely is because most of our mental capacity is squandered by confusing information; misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods and lies. We are, if you pardon the very apt expression, "mindfucked".

What this suggests is that we might do ourselves a service by adopting an entirely new policy regarding the way we handle information in our everyday lives which I call radical truth telling.

Clearly this is an extremist proposal which, if taken seriously, has to be approached with care. Any person who insisted in being completely truthful would be so out of phase with the rest of the world that he might soon be jailed or hospitalized. If one considers that being radically truthful involves never lying about anything as well as saying everything of significance that one wants, feels or believes it can be seen that the project has its dangers. In fact, it only makes sense, initially, in the most intimate and close relationships and only by mutual agreement.

If we are to begin taking the information age seriously, we must learn everything we can about information. We must become info-literate, that is to say, we must learn what information is and what noise is, what is a lie, what is truthful and what is true (and the difference between them.) Having made these determinations we ought to commit ourselves to a truthful path by beginning this process close to home, in the personal realm, before we can expect advertisers, teachers and politicians to follow suit.

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