Now, I know that–consciously or unconsciously–we all engage in spin; what each of us sees as reality is shaped to a considerable extent not just by our individual beliefs and/or prejudices, but by how much we really know about the subject at hand. But more and more, people are spinning whole cloth?what we used to call lying.
I hope I’m not just becoming a cranky old woman—one of those “senior citizens” who is always comparing today’s degenerate ways to a past that never really existed. But it sure does seem that truthfulness has become a casualty of our ever-more-polarized public debates.
Now, I know that—consciously or unconsciously—we all engage in spin; what each of us sees as reality is shaped to a considerable extent not just by our individual beliefs and/or prejudices, but by how much we really know about the subject at hand. But more and more, people are spinning whole cloth—what we used to call lying.
A few years back, I was the guest on a call-in radio program in Charleston, South Carolina. The discussion had turned to posting the Ten Commandments in the public schools. A caller who favored doing so “quoted” James Madison to the effect that the Bill of Rights could only be entrusted to people who lived by the Ten Commandments. The quote had been previously circulated by an extremist organization and thoroughly discredited; Madison had never said anything of the sort. I politely informed the caller that his information was incorrect, and referred him to a Madison scholar for verification, whereupon he yelled “Well, I think it’s true!” and hung up.
Too many of the loudest voices in today’s policy debates are like that caller: confronted with inconvenient facts, they simply turn up the ideological volume. At a recent Indiana Senate hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, proponents of the measure didn’t just argue that government has an obligation to write their religious beliefs into law; they also trotted out ugly stereotypes about the “gay lifestyle” that were debunked years ago.
Well, why not use a few specious facts to bolster your arguments? Everyone is doing it. Want to make war? Find evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and suggest a link between Saddaam and Al Quida. Is a Medicare windfall for insurance and drug companies too costly for even your own party to swallow? Lowball the financial estimates and pretend you are helping the elderly. Lying—or the nicer word, “disinformation”—has become so prevalent that publishers do a brisk business in books written to expose the other side’s fabrications.
The complexity of many issues makes it easier, and safer, to misrepresent reality. Who is going to take the time and trouble to look up contested facts about funding for No Child Left Behind? How many citizens will ever know whether the President really appropriates the promised funds to fight AIDS or build a hydrogen car? Who among us has time to check out competing arguments about the real cause of our massive deficit—or the expertise to understand the federal budget if we did? It’s easier to believe what we want to believe—easier to accept whatever spin produces the fabric we’d prefer.
We used to say “the truth will out.” Instead, I’m afraid we may be spinning out of control.