Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#060: I Swear to Tell the Truth…

Truth — and our increasingly truth-less society — is on our host’s mind in episode 060 of the Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz.

In politics, in society, and in our culture, the assertion of fluidity when it comes to objective truth is becoming a critical issue. What can we do to bring truth back as a core value?

In this episode, Mel discusses…

  • the actual definition of “truth”
  • the difference between perceptive truth and consensual reality
  • the creeping threat to society when some deny consensual reality
  • how we can urge our children to honesty when the inverse example is all around
  • what happens when consequences are removed from lying
  • what a truth-less society might look like
  • how we might bring truth back to politics

What do you think of Mel’s idea of how to bring truth back into governance, and so, to society as a whole? Be sure to leave a comment!

Want to watch this episode?

Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #060

Hi everyone, and welcome to today’s episode.

I’m going to be deviating a bit from where I typically explore, and we’re going to reach out today into the world of culture, society, and politics. But more fundamentally, I’d like to address a poignantly, essentially, critical topic that we just don’t really seem to get into.

We have, over the last number of years, or a decade or so, begun to live with a battle over whether we’re going to be residing in and creating a world based upon what we consensually agree is true, or truth, or we’re going to succumb to what I’m calling a truth-less world. Truth-less.

What has been happening is just absolutely unthinkable. I’m talking about, in the United States of America and elsewhere, what’s going on in our political systems, and a ripple effect in terms of how this impacts us as a culture, as a society, and as human beings.

So, I started at the start; I went to the dictionary and looked up the word “truth.”

Miriam Webster’s dictionary. It reads: “the body of real things, events and facts; actuality; the state of being the factual case,” and “a fundamental of spiritual reality.” It’s “the body of true statements and propositions.”

But what happens when we can’t agree as to what’s true and what isn’t true?

I’m going to try to be apolitical in my discussion here, but my bias will certainly leak through.

Let me start by taking a step backward. Of those of you who are familiar with my work and have read my books and listened to my podcast, I am not an absolutist in terms of truth. I’m informed by quantum physics and my belief that perception participates thoroughly in constructing truth. Our personal truths, how we experience each other, and reality.

But here, I’m not speaking of perceptive truth. I’m speaking today about what I’m going to call “consensual reality.”

Until recently, the things that we might all agree upon — at least those of us in healthy rational mindsets — we might agree that the twin towers came down on nine eleven. We might disagree as to the elements of how, why, who was involved, who wasn’t, but we can agree those buildings fell. We can agree that the holocaust happened and millions and millions of people were terminated; their lives extinguished.

But now, we live in this world of what we’re calling “fake news” when frightening numbers of people are doubting that. So we have this battle going on between fake news and what’s true, and we don’t dive underneath and take a look. There’s a horrible loss of critical thinking. Everybody asserts the truth, but we don’t look at the fact it is our beliefs that are informing our truth, and how did we come to those beliefs?

So coming back into my thesis for today around consensual reality and what’s happening in our body politic.

So in the United States, we have begun to descend into a fact-less and truth-less reality. The actual predicate of the truth being important is rapidly vanishing. We used to tell our children “tell the truth.” How can we any longer teach children to tell the truth when our leaders and our politicians and our elected officials are having little regard for the truth.

The normative ethic of the word truth; the value of it, is under intense attack, and it’s giving away so fast. This intrinsic value around the idea, the construct of truth? It may now be irrevocably shattered.

Politicians and elected officials, invariably, have dodged and obscured the truth as they have lied and prevaricated on their way to achieving their goals. I’m not naive; you’re not naive; we know that. But here’s what happened: in the past, when an elected official was caught red handed in a bald-faced lie, there was a consequence, a price to pay. They may have left politics; given up their office. President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath. He, there, was under oath. Do we have to be under oath to be compelled to tell the truth?

We’re going to return to that. But there was a consequence for Clinton’s lying. He was impeached.

So, historically, elected leaders have told the truth because they were afraid of the consequences. It wasn’t due, perhaps, to their greater ethics and morals, sadly (and there are always exceptions), but now, there aren’t consequences to lying. The greed of pursuing success. Has made truth irrelevant.

The consequences of this are unimaginable. These leaders and politicians who know better lie for personal advantage and from the greed of ambition. Now we know, not naively, that wars have started over lies, our government has deposed and installed foreign leaders, whether it was a Republican government or a Democratic government, and we have suppressed inconvenient truths in the process. I am an old anti-war activist from the sixties; I am not being naive here.

But what has happened now is it has become mainstream, commonplace. Businesses lie to distort and maximize profits. But that’s why we have agencies to oversee what they’re doing. People lie to each other. We lie to ourselves, knowingly and unknowingly, but going back to the political system: the gray area between what was or wasn’t true was often blurred by the perpetrators and their spin.

Our dance with truth is as old as human existence. Did Columbus discover America, or did he invade it? All depends upon which side you’re on. The battle over critical race theory now is: do we teach a more accurate and truer history of what happened, or do we choose to suppress it because it’s inconsistent with how we want to see ourself and our country and our history. But now, the truth in our political system has become largely irrelevant. truth as a concept, as ethic, seems to be an anachronism. It ceases to be a standard of behavior. No consequences to lying.

This radical shift of values; there aren’t words to aptly describe it. What would our world look like if truth and lie blurred as they are, and they became indistinguishable, and irrelevant? What happens to a culture when honesty is no longer a value? Not even a virtue?

That society withers.

Honesty, or the standard of it, is the social capital that binds us together as a society and as a people. Honesty — the premise of honesty — is the basis of communication: “Do you believe me? Do I believe you?” It’s the basis of governance, commerce, relationship, love, friendship. They all require some premise of honesty as our currency for social capital.

The semblance of the truth is a necessary foundation for society. We’re losing that foundation.

When the premise of honesty evaporates, what is left, other than greed and avaricious self-interest? That is the reality at our doorstep — this is dystopian.

How do we teach our children any longer to tell the truth?

So the floodgate of lies are open, and the value of truth is going down the drain.

Now. What can we do about it.

How can we reestablish the necessity of some aspect of honesty in our political arena, so we can uphold the moral tenor of truth; verity; as a society?

I have an idea. We can start here:

Simply swearing to serve and protect the Constitution, which are elected politicians and officials, as they are sworn in, they say they are swearing to serve and protect the Constitution. That is too vague. It’s meaningless, and it leaves the doors wide open to lying.

Here’s the thought: if every elected official, as they are sworn into office, have to raise their hand as if they were in a courtroom under oath, and swear to tell the truth.

If someone purges themselves in the judicial chamber, they risk a significant legal penalty: perjury. But our politicians, our judges, and our presidents, can lie at will, as long as they’re not under oath.

We can stop that. We can overturn that. The way to hold our elected officials accountable, and to repair the core value of honesty in our society, is to require them to not knowingly lie.

Imagine: when you’re sworn into office you swear that for the entirety of your term of office you are effectively under oath. Anything else leaves us, the citizens, as fools.

What kind of insanity is it to spend billions of dollars to elect individuals to represent us and govern for us who at the same time are free to lie to us? We anoint them the stewardship of our country, our planet, our lives… shouldn’t we be demanding their truth?

If we lose the value of truth we lose our meaning, and our purpose. if our government and our politicians hold no regard for the truth, this will have a horrible trickle-down effect: the floodgates open for our loss of society.

So my proposition is: when the elected official is sworn into office, they are under oath for the entirety of their term and they cannot knowingly — knowingly — lie.

Now: How will we be able to evaluate and judge that? That’s beyond the scope of this episode today. It’s going to require more thought and collaboration. But it is doable. If you’re under oath in the courtroom, why can’t you be under oath for the entirety of your term as an elected official?

Now, I have talked with you in the past about critical thinking, personal beliefs that distinguish between beliefs and truth and our own lives. We can apply the same standards to our government and our elected officials. I can’t begin to impress upon you that the loss of truth as a value is as great a threat perhaps as climate change (or what I more properly call global warming).

Global warming may render our planet uninhabitable, at least as we know it. The absence of truth will turn us back to the stone age. We’ve worked so hard to come to a place of relying upon some structure of honesty, and it is vanishing right in front of our eyes. We need to fight back. We need to assert ourselves, and we need to demand truthfulness, whichever side of the aisle you are on.

Thank you for joining me in today’s episode. Wishing you the ability to share and spread your truth; your beliefs; to engage critical thinking and ask yourself, “Why do I believe what I do? Why do I think that’s true?”

We need to put some rigor and energy and vitality into our thinking, and how we hold our elected officials responsible.

Be well, be safe, and I look forward to speaking with you again shortly. Bye for now.

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