Imagine a world of perfect candor where any hint of deception or inaccuracy is considered a blot on a man’s character. Everyone is raised to answer every question as honestly and forthrightly as possible. When the wife asks the husband if he thinks she is getting fat, he tells her he does think she is getting fat. Instead of getting upset and running into the bedroom, she excitedly hugs him because he was perfectly honest to her regarding an extremely sensitive matter.
This Vulcan-like candor would alter social relations. For example, stores would seek the best way to show their customers that they are completely honest. When they put something on sale, they would say it was because no one liked it or that they mistakenly bought too much of it and now need to unload it. The sign at the customer service window would read, “The customer is usually wrong.” Clerks would never say “have a good one” to customers.
That would still leave room for deception, so the stores would insist the product makers use candid labeling for their products. Frozen pizza boxes would read, “It tastes like cardboard, but it is cheap and easy to heat in the microwave.” Ingredient lists would include all of the ingredients, even the ones that cause cancer and those would be highlighted so the customer could see them. Organic food would not exist as everything about it is fake and therefore a lie.
Keep in mind that this imaginary world is not enforcing honestly at the point of a gun but as a matter of cultural preference. For some reason, the people in this society came to believe that only through perfect honesty can they have moral society. Therefore, the customs, folk legends and religious practices are all geared toward enforcing this idea that honesty is the highest virtue. Because honesty comes with status, everyone in public engages in honesty signaling contests.
It may seem ridiculous at first, but every human society selects for subjective qualities and against other qualities. The English prefer interesting over boring, which is why their popular figures appear eccentric and weird. Americans dislike phonies so popular figures try hard to look sincere, even when lying. There is no objective reason to prefer interesting over dull or sincere over inauthentic. Preferring these qualities is not more or less strange than celebrating candor.
Now think about this in the American context. Walk into any grocery store in America and the first thing you will experience is a lie. Typically, the produce section is located at the front of the store. There will be piles of fruits and vegetables labeled organic, but as a practical matter there is no such thing. Even if the fruit is grown according to the rules of the organic cult, the suppliers lose track of it long before it reaches the store, so there is no way to know what is organic and what is inorganic.
The stores know this. They put the best-looking stuff on the table marked organic and jack up the price to reinforce the lie. The suppliers know this, and the growers know it too, if you can get them to be honest about it. Everything about that organic tomato you bought is a lie, including your belief that it is better than the other tomato. You reward yourself by accepting the lie. You reward the store for lying to you and the store rewards its suppliers for lying to them. It is liars all the way down.
You have made it a few feet into the store, and you are deluged with lies. Venture further and you are swimming in an ocean of lies. The packaging of food is carefully designed to trick consumers. Tens of billions of dollars have gone into figuring out how to trick people into buying things. Of course, everything about the American diet is a lie perpetrated by the government at the behest of agribusiness. A man from Planet Candor would be horrified by the frozen food section.
Now, think about what sort of government would work best in a society run on the principle of complete candor. Monarchy could work, but it would be less than honest to claim that the son of the king is the most qualified to rule. A ruling council of the most honest citizens, maybe picked by the people, would probably be best as it would reward candor with the highest office. Candidates for seats on the council would prove their worth through campaigns of total honesty.
In fact, democracy would work well on Planet Candor. One of the foundational principles of democracy is that “all members must have equal and effective opportunities to learn about the consequences and alternatives of a proposal.” In a society where honesty is the highest virtue, the pressure to make sure everyone is as well informed as possible would lead to the most informed citizens. You would not have to worry about voter fraud or ballot stuffing on Planet Candor.
This is where you might think something is wrong. America is more democratic than any society in history and it is riddled with lies and corruption. The man holding the highest office recently claimed he was at the World Trade Center on 9/11. He repeatedly tells outlandish whoppers like this about himself. He is in office because he was the beneficiary of the most corrupt election in American history. That was made possible by a tsunami of lies from the mass media.
We seem to have a dilemma. On the one hand, the society of perfect honesty seems like the ideal place for democracy. On the other hand, democracy in practice results in a society ruled by the least honest people. When you think back to how our marketplace operates on a foundation of lies, it suggests any open market, whether it is for goods and service or ideas, becomes an elaborate game of liar’s poker. The marketplace rewards deception, so you end up with a lot of liars.
There are some possible solutions to this dilemma. One is that humans naturally want to live in a society controlled by liars. We have steadily become more democratic because mankind is slowly reaching its desired end. Alternatively, democracy and the marketplace turn even the most honest people into liars. If someone unleashed democracy on Planet Candor, it would quickly devolve into Planet Deception and come to resemble modern America.
There is a third option. Let us suppose that Planet Candor operates on perfect honesty because long ago a powerful force came to their planet and told them that unless they stamped out deception, their planet would be destroyed. Over time this belief in the risk of deception became a central part of who they are as a people and who each person is in relation to society. Put another way, honesty has become a religion for them, one that leads to salvation for themselves and their posterity.
Under such conditions, the acid of democracy and the free market would land on a society immune to its corrosive effects. All those snakes selling organic apples in the produce section of the grocery store would find no takers. Similarly, the fig leaf makers would have no reason to exist. After all, those they did manage to tempt would be selected out of the gene pool due to low status. In time, democracy would be a mechanism to select against the dishonest.
John Adams said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Outside of the various forms of authoritarianism, this is true of all governments. You cannot have an honest monarchy if the people over whom it rules are immoral. You cannot have a benevolent dictator if his people are liars and crooks. Morality is what ultimately controls the behavior of the people and what makes good governance possible.
That is the source of what plagues us today. The structures we inherited assume a specific moral foundation. When the ruling class that emerged with the American empire in the middle of the last century exiled the principles that made up that moral foundation, society was left without any protection from the temptations that lie in the marketplace for goods and ideas. The endless haggling over what we ought to do is only possible when there is no moral authority.
It also explains the panicked frenzy by the ruling class to conjure a moral framework to justify their behavior. The endless chanting about diversity is not intended to convince anyone that it is a strength, but to prevent anyone from asking who gave them the authority to fill our communities with strangers. The weird sexual fetishes they have unleashed are squid ink to prevent anyone from asking them upon what moral authority they are basing their sweeping claims about society.
The great critic of the Enlightenment, Joseph de Maistre, famously said, “Every country has the government it deserves.” Most people think this means the people deserve punishment for supporting unscrupulous politicians. What de Maistre meant here is the morality of society determines the type of government. In the case of France, stripping away the Catholic Church and the monarchy left French society without a moral foundation for government. Tyranny is what followed.
That is what we see happening in the West. The American empire jettisoned its moral foundations a century ago and the result is an empire that imposes cultural and spiritual chaos on the West. Democracy and the promiscuous lying that we see are just symptoms of the moral hollowness of the empire. The West is now ruled by moral nullities who demand to be treated as moral arbiters and in the end, they are left to operate as dictators holding power by force.
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