Mises Wire

What Would Happen If American Elites Told the Truth?

What if America’s elite told the truth?

It seems a ridiculous question to ask. It’s obvious to most of us here that our politicians, bureaucratic managers, and state-associated business leaders hardly ever tell the truth. What use is it for us to ask, “What if?”

There seems to be a considerable amount of social pressure urging us to abandon our better judgment, not for the sake of reason, but for cooperation. If we don’t, the uncritical mob will label us “conspiracy theorists,” placing us in a box with schizophrenics in tinfoil hats who babble on about aliens and flat earth.

Any mature person notices the obvious discrepancy between what we see with our own eyes and what our country’s elites tell us.

When covid-19 hit, we knew from the beginning that “fifteen days to slow the spread” was fraudulent, yet the masses blindly expected us to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt. When the feds churned out as much as 80 percent of the money supply in a matter of two years and they said inflation was merely “transitory,” we again knew better yet were expected to remain silent.

Sure, we might not always know exactly what the truth is, but we can generally get an idea about what it isn’t. Something is telling us that the truth is not what the people in charge say it is.

The proper thing to do is to accept what we can’t know and home in upon what we do. We should take what our public officials do and say and ask ourselves, “How does this compare to what they would say and do if they were telling the truth?” By performing this thought experiment, we can be sure our skepticism is well guided.

When we ask ourselves this question, let’s place ourselves in the shoes of the elite: our legislatures, judges, executives, and bureaucrats, particularly those on the federal level. Let’s also consider the state-sponsored business leaders, the spokespeople of the corporate press, and established celebrities.

Let’s assume (against our strongest inclinations) we are incorrect in thinking what they tell us is dishonest. We can even take at face value that they are acting in good faith in everything they say and do, intending wholeheartedly to be completely honest both in their words and their actions.

What would they say and what would they do?

They Would Be Transparent

First of all, an honest elite would be completely transparent, and they certainly wouldn’t silence their opponents. Why hide something if there is nothing to hide? Wouldn’t an honest person be open to an honest investigation? If being transparent provided an answer to us pesky skeptics, what would be the cost?

Yet, this is not what they do. The very leaders who claim to be the bastions of progress and virtue seem to keep plenty of secrets.

After over half a century of questions, President Biden continued to withhold documents about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Nearly every edition of the Twitter Files exposed how public officials intentionally colluded with a so-called private company to silence particular narratives, some of which turned out to be likely true, such as the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop and the lab-origin theory of covid-19. Moreover, the federal government is consistently predatory toward whistleblowers and investigative journalists like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

They Would Avoid Ambiguity

If they were honest, the elites would also speak as clearly as possible. Their PR professionals would advise them to avoid all ambiguity and maintain clear and simple language.

After all, the goal of honest communication is to deliver a message, not to obscure it. If a subject is complicated—such as that of economics, warfare, or virology—that is all the more reason to simplify it.

But we know the elites don’t do this either. Perhaps there’s a reason. In his great essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell explains how politicians can use meaningless words to cover up their real actions and intentions. As an example, he cites the use of the word “democracy”:

In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.

This sounds familiar to us. It wasn’t so long ago when scripted corporate news anchors around the country repeated “this is extremely dangerous to our democracy” to warn us about what they deemed to be “disinformation.”

How many times have we heard other meaningless buzzwords—“unity,” “equality,” “equity,” and even “patriotism”—repeated time and time again as justifications for things like war, taxation, and mass surveillance?

They Would Admit Their Mistakes

Though this experiment requires us to assume that our elites are never ill willed or intentionally incorrect, we don’t have to assume they’re always right. We can and should explore how they deal with honest mistakes.

Of course, an honest person admits he’s wrong when he makes a mistake. He would never ask other people to accept a contradiction by forcing them to pretend like a mistake was never made, like the draconian Ingsoc regime does to Winston Smith in the book 1984, another one of Orwell’s great works.

When have the public officials who botched their response to covid-19 apologized for being wrong about “gain-of-function” research or suggesting that the covid-19 vaccines would prevent the spread of the disease? Did Bush or Cheney ever apologize for completely missing the mark about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Limitations

There certainly are limitations to our experiment. Our public officials could act irrationally. They could, at heart, be good, good people but act out of fear of being falsely discredited.

But shouldn’t we want leaders with some degree of fortitude? Either way, it seems they are in the wrong and it seems we’re in the right to take what they say with a grain of salt.

The elite could also simply believe that society isn’t intelligent enough to handle the truth, which, though perhaps false, isn’t such an unreasonable opinion. After all, a large part of our society is stupid enough to believe everything they say.

However, many of us are catching on. Plenty know they are being misled but care more to avoid conflict than to point out the discrepancies. The truth is good in its own right. Justice can’t be rooted in falsehood.

We know that our nation’s elites aren’t acting like people who are both honest and rational. Therefore, it’s safe to say that our public officials are either dishonest, irrational, or both. Regardless, they shouldn’t be blindly trusted, and anyone who tells us we are delusional for thinking so is wrong.

Out of respect for the truth, we ought to think critically about what our elites say and do, and we shouldn’t feel guilty at all for doing so.

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