Politics and seeming genuine


in Politics, Psychology

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker argues that “the best liar is the one who believes his own lies”.

I wonder if this has anything to do with who succeeds in politics. Often, people think favorably of those who promise things they want. At the same time, they want people who seem genuine. The ideal candidate, then, is someone who genuinely believes that they will keep their promises. That is easier to do when your plans are vague or when you assume the sheer force of your personality will produce your desired outcome.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

oleh April 16, 2011 at 9:04 am

Three comments: Politicians are held to a much higher level of scrutiny and accountability. In effect, it is much more difficult for a politician to lie than the vast majority of other people.

Politicians make promises where they cannot necessarily control the outcome, but somehow I think people feel they can.

Finally, politicians can be condemned when they change their mind. They are accused of being untruthful or flip-flopping. I think changing one’s position because on reflection or because of change of circumstances is a good characteristic.

I feel sympathy for politicians. I would not want to be subject to the level of scrutiny and accountability that they are.

Tristan April 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm

If you want to understand why politiciens lie, just look at the intense pressures they are under from the groups that support them, financially and otherwise. Politiciens in a democracy require the votes of the many to pursue the interests of the few, and this often requires various kinds of lying to bring the interests which they pursue in line with the interests of those who’s votes they seek.

Milan April 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Is it plausible that politicians cone across as genuine because they can be fairly easily convinced that one viewpoint or another is correct? The more easily and enthusiastically one adopts an argument, the easier it can be so seem wholly and genuinely committed to it.

Tristan April 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Being committed to an argument one is making would be a big disadvantage for a politicien, because it means they would experience emotional strife every time they act hypocritically. I think the advantage would be with the politicien who can appear genuine without actually being genuine.

Stephane Dion might be a good example of a politicien who was defeated by his own sense of integrity and honesty. I think he went with green shift because he was genuinely committed to it, and completely failed to appear committed to whatever he replaced it with. By acknowledging the complexity of issues rather than lying through his teeth, he came off as weak and un-leaderlike.

The most leader-like is the one who is completely unfazed by valid points made by an opposing speaker. This is even trained into people in debate clubs – never retract, never consider points made by the enemy to be possibly genuine. This is only possible when one is not actually committed to one’s own position – if you genuinely believed in it, you’d care if it were true, which means you’d take criticism seriously – and thereby fail to appear “strong”.

dot April 19, 2011 at 2:39 pm

The overwhelming merit of a good royal commission is that it can supply governments and voters with well-thought-out policy recommendations. In recent decades, we’ve learned there are few other ways of generating major policy options. The tradition of looking to civil servants to develop policy pretty much ended more than a generation ago. And political parties have shown themselves to be quite incapable of stepping into the policy-making vacuum left behind by the extinction of the mandarins.
   Neither our universities nor our think tanks seem to be able to command the broad basis of support to fill the void. Instead, they have a tendency to generate a cacophony of competing ideas, some good, some bad, but none with the heft and hope of swaying governments and voters that a distinguished, credible royal commission can command.

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