Polity by Rob Salmond

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Polity: Post "post-truth" post

25 Responses

  • Michael Meyers,

    Here's my take: Politicians lie. They are known liars, being as trust-worthy as real estate agents and car salesmen. Because of this when a lie is exposed, no one cares because they all do it. Or they were misquoted. Or they didn't understand the question. Or they were misinformed.....

    The polls don't change in the event of lies because if my blue (or red or green) politician is found to have lied, the voter won't immediately switch to support red or green, they'll just tell themselves that the other side lies too so it's all ok.

    And if politicians aren't lying then they are telling half the truth. Think about the debate about health spending: National says they are spending more than ever on health, Labour says that health spending is not keeping up with inflation and population growth. Both statements are truth but both only tell half the story.

    Do politicians actually lie more now, or do they just get found out more?

    Wellington • Since May 2014 • 56 posts Report

  • Hilary Stace,

    I think some (maybe even most) politicians are very honest and ethical and do not lie. They might have a version of the truth that others disagree with but they do not construct a truth just because it is convenient. Trouble is, many of these people do not go far because they don't play the media versus politicians game properly or are not good at manipulating power.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report

  • simon g,

    Not all politicians lie, and they certainly don't all lie to the same degree. Claiming that they are all equally cynical is the way to a) ensure the liars win, and b) deter decent people from standing.

    "They're all as bad as each other" is a lazy line that only helps the worst.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1333 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to ,

    What's unhealthy about the MSM is precisely that they're not "hard arse" about critiquing the government, but rather, lick-arse.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to ,

    would it not be better if journalism maintained a healthy neutrality?

    Sure, if that were possible. Since it's not, it would be better if all journalists were honest about their biases.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 585 posts Report

  • andin,

    Whatever the motivation, the truth has gone out of fashion.

    WTF! Is truth a fashion accessory now.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report

  • izogi,

    Hi Rob.

    Politicians aren’t punished for lying partly because too often the media chooses not to punish them. The media is the closest credible witness to the statements our leaders make.

    I don't know if that's entirely fair. To use a tired metaphor, modern media is fighting a war on multiple fronts. It's less powerful than it used to be because the government doesn't need it to communicate its message any more.

    Dirty Politics was an excellent example. At least some of the media tried really really hard to hold the government to account. Ministers just stood there, ignored it, and talked past the questions, confident that so many people these days augment their understanding of issues, if not entirely replacing it, with independent media. Blogs, social media, comment threads below media articles, cherry-picked opinions that help people feel good about what they already think instead of obliging them to reconsider. It's never been easier for audiences to choose not to reconsider their view of the world, merely by selecting their sources of information. To a point, we're doing it here right now!

    After a couple of weeks of the same old denials, audiences just got bored, started blaming media for boring them, and bleeding away. What's media meant to do in that scenario, when pointing stuff out doesn't work?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    A diminished and pressured pool of journos rely on being fed packaged points which only one political wing has been doing reliably. It is faster to do a 'he said, she said' story than to analyse and probe for truth. You can also get away with cheaper, less-experienced staff.

    Blaming only the media for the political left's appalling inability to frame and communicate for the last 8 years will not produce the improvements needed to win. Well past time to pull our socks up, Labour and allies.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens,

    There is a considerable Anglocentricity about posts like this. Now, that is fair enough as far as it goes. We all speak english and we are all, by and large, monolingual. But the thing is, the depth of the rot is largely (but not totally) confined to the Anglosphere. And we need to ask ourselves why that is. It seems to me the set of economic and social ideologies that have dominated the Anglophere for the last forty odd years have produced a society that is completely atomised, In Spain, for a direct example, people don’t like the idea of moving 100km from their home town for a job. For them, family, community and culture is central to their lives, not work, materialism and hyper-individualism. The same applies, although to a somewhat lesser extent, to countries like Germany. In fact, to practically every non-English speaking non western country. This of course produces economic and social problems of their own, but in my experience, Almost all Spanish and German communities seem much happier places on average than New Zealand or the UK are. And even if we park with reflexive Anglosaxon racism the indolent Spanish, if the high productivity Germans can maintain happy communities then we need to seriously rethink how we orgainse our society.

    Our atomised, over worked and debt riddled non-society no longer has the anchors in the community of a decent civil society that moderates wild swings of extremism, filters nonsense, and provides a widely understood ambient understanding of reality and the truth. Couple to this is a Murdoch media that constantly reinforces fear and materialism. The result is a wierdly schitzophenic Anglo culture where people want to be part of a community of decent humans who believe 99% of their fellow humans are good people but are constantly fed a diet of Hobbesian brutalism; isolated, and subjected to relentless media propaganda people no longer believe or trust their own basically good instincts. This represents a fundamental loss of civic moral confidence that leaves a society where dishonesty is no longer a particularly morally reprehensible act, and increasingly savage compliance governance replaces the self governance of functioning communities.

    To my mind, any call for the elite media to behave in an ethical or responsible way in telling the truth will always fail in societies as shattered and broken as ours. If we want to get back to lying having consequences, we first need to rebuild communities and society that understands what the truth actually is.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • tussock,

    This certainly isn't new, in NZ, or I assume from what I've read, anywhere else.

    Machiavelli didn't write about how things could be, he wrote about how they really were, behind all the lies. Where the powerful serve the interests of the very few who keep them in power at the expense of everyone else, and that they do so with the cruellest of methods imaginable if it fits their purpose. Offshore torture camps to keep the racist party donor happy? Why not.

    French oil interests in Lybia. US/British oil ambitions in Iraq. German banker loans to various poor Euro states. No one really thought cutting taxes for millionaires and wages for the poor and middle class would "trickle down" the wealth, or no one who mattered, when obviously it just creates new landlords for an ever-more indebted underclass. Which politicians always promise to "fix" by giving us more loans and subsidising our landlords, funnily enough.

    Democracy hasn't changed that. It just makes for less revolutions, because we get to swap the puppets for the puppet show now and then.

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to ,

    Neither did all those hand cranked Gestetnered flyers we used to print after hours at the local high school, but we did it anyway.

    *remembers the smell of purple spirit when making handouts*

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    purple spirit


    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Meth – an foetid meme

    the smell of purple spirit when making handouts*

    or - when the spirit mauves you…
    …there ends the purple reign?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • John Farrell,

    Purple spirit was used in "Banda" copiers. Gestetners used a thick goopy black ink.

    See here: http://publicaddress.net/system/cafe/cracker-flashback/?p=16763#post16763

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 499 posts Report

  • despud,

    One of the things I really liked about having Helen Clark as a PM (at least for the first two terms), was she appeared to tell the truth. It wasn't always shiny, and at times she appeared to get frustrated trying to talk about real-world complexities in short sentences. But she spoke the truth.
    I think in her third term some laziness or arrogance started getting in the way.
    John Key, in my view, started reasonably honestly. But after a couple of years it all turned to spin, and memory holes, and evasions, and barefaced lies.

    I wonder if some of the attraction of Trump is that he's prepared to stand up and say "they lied! they're a big fat liar! Lying Ted! Corrupt Hillary!" We all know this is true, but the american political establishment is all sufficently dirty that no-one on the inside wanted to start that sort of war.

    Why do we not see headlines of the form:
    "John Key lied about X"
    "Andrwe Little said X, but last week he lied about Y so until we check X we're not sure"
    "Gerry Brownlee mislead the country"

    Since Nov 2015 • 6 posts Report

  • Moz, in reply to despud,

    I wonder if some of the attraction of Trump is that he's prepared to stand up and

    ... lie like a champion? Trump is almost the definitive post-truth politician, at least in the west. We're all used to the Communist menace telling the most unbelievable whoppers while everyone involved pretends to believe them. Now we have the same thing happening here. "Our five year plan for Auckland's housing market has been achieved" "yes, your worship, the peasants are crying tears of joy".

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report

  • Alfie, in reply to despud,

    Why do we not see headlines of the form:
    “John Key lied about X”

    Where's "Murray McCully lied and misled parliament" over the Saudi sheep bribe?

    While Phil Vine's excellent report Inside the Saudi sheep deal on The Nation finally provided proof and exposed McCully's lies, none of the MSM have picked up on the fact.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1440 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens,

    none of the MSM have picked up on the fact.

    Maybe they should have put it on outbrain as "New Zealand sent some sheep to Mecca. You'll be amazed what happened next."

    t seems though that nowadays no one will report someone elses story, because you know, ego and money.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • oga,

    Didn't this whole post-truth thing have its genesis in the removal of the fairness doctrine in August 1987? All of the language related to fairness in broadcasting was removed completely from the law in 2011, and ever since, the practice of straight-up lying on the media has spread and spread until elections are won based on who can spread misinformation the best.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Mash media...

    ...they should have put it on outbrain as “New Zealand sent some sheep to Mecca. You’ll be amazed what happened next.”

    Brilliant scheme!
    I like it!

    I can see that right next to "He assured them there were Weapons of Mass Destruction, so they went looking. You won't believe what went down after that!"

    More and more the Jon Stewart/John Oliver approach to feeding facts to the public gets more cut-through than serious reportage and the more common once-over-lightly flimsy filler.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • william blake,

    Isn’t it just that the lies have changed? It used to be self serving politicians lying about what is best for the country, then it was ssp’s lying about a third way and the centre ground, now it is ssp’s lying to a shrinking middle class about aspirational maintainance of wealth, property and employment in a society with areas of economic liquefaction. The lies are going to become more shrill and strident as the wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Then there are the self serving voters who lie to themselves.

    Or community serving politicians are going to point out a blinding, self evident truth to the majority of detruthed voters and effect real change.

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report

  • Dennis Frank,

    Well, a politician will only provide moral leadership if there's a societal reward for doing so, right? Since mainstreamers re-elect Nat/Lab leaders regardless, there's no incentive for the establishment parties to select leaders who tell the truth. Call it failure of the political market, call it failure of democracy to live up to it's (illusory) promise, both apply.

    You can understand why a political leader would be reluctant to inform the public that he was obliged to tell the truth because his conscience requires it. People would fall about laughing, many would fall on hard objects and hurt themselves, and we can't afford another public health crisis.

    Telling stories instead of telling the truth is much more rewarding. Media need to recycle interesting stories to entertain readers. Truth-value is irrelevant to this public need - in fact, a lot of people are bored by the truth. Hitler understood this well: his stories became myths that inspired many, inducing mass psychosis.

    If society is not to degenerate into a relativistic morass of competing interpretations, a body of public opinion must remain grounded in what is real. Kiwi pragmatists look askance at prominent folk who display a self-indulgent tendency to mislead the public. Politicians who seem to believe their own spin risk their reputations whenever their interpretation makes it seem as if they are telling lies. Notwithstanding any teflon factor, our court of public opinion will eventually drift toward a harsh verdict.

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2016 • 292 posts Report

  • Kevin McCready,

    Rob you are wrong. A journalist's job is to tell the truth and challenge lies. Lucy is also wrong thinking this is not possible. I smell the postmodernist fallacy that truth is relative and that bias cannot be handled within a science or journalistic community.

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 119 posts Report

  • Marc C,

    An intelligent discussion, provided by Colin Peacock, and also commentary by a not so convincing Andrea Vance, but better commentary by Mr Bill Fish from Massey University. This tells us what is going on, in regards to conditioning and brainwashing, misinformation and so forth, which helps Nats to stay in power:


    Over inundation with information, now via social media, leads people to simply cling to and believe their own bias.

    We do live in a post truth era, this is fact, no further convincing needed from my point of view.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Marc C,

    Recommended further listening:
    the most recent few episodes of BBC Radio 4’s series The Human Zoo cover a range of cognitive biases and their impact on decision-making:
    As a matter of fact (14/6/2016) – on the nature of “facts” and their surprisingly tenuous connection to our decision-making process;
    Shortcuts to the Simple Life (21/6/2016) – on our tendency to answer simple questions as proxies for the harder ones we actually need to answer;
    That Post-Referendum Feeling (28/6/2016) – on how we justify our decisions after the fact and become more convinced our position was right, regardless of the outcome;
    Trust me, I’m an expert (5/7/2016) – on human inability to judge who is a credible expert (cf. Kruger-Dunning effect), leading us to value our own irrelevant experience and ignore the informed “elite”.
    (The programme does not say this, but it’s of course made much easier if you also demonize, or merely “other”, that group.)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

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