Balances of Power

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) argues that most people assume things that aren’t true:

  1. Other people need a reason to lie
  2. People are about equal in their desire to share information
  3. If information comes from multiple sources it is more likely to be solid

The first assumption falls apart in many of the environments that I spend time in. People who live extremely marginal lives, unprotected by society and surrounded by people they can’t trust (most criminals) need a reason to tell the truth. Disinformation is habit. Giving people in power (not just might power, but also ego stroke power or emotional leverage power) what they want to hear is habit. Most of what you have read derived from interviews with criminals (or written by criminals themselves) have been self-serving lies. It just is. If that rankles and feels judgmental, that is a measure of your value system, and an indicator that you do not understand theirs. In that world, lying is neither right nor wrong, it is simply smart.

The second assumption falls down in some very important places and some very important ways. Sometimes the people with the most information are prohibited (by law, policy, or morality) from sharing that information. I am aware of a case of a fairly highly placed person in a certain local government publishing some pretty outrageous lies. The truth was well-documented, but was documented under a work-place disciplinary status. Completely forbidden to be shared. The lies went unanswered. In some venues, information has to be limited because leaks can cost lives. Simple as that. The people who could explain the best are afraid that even a slight, accidental slip could lead to disaster — and so they say nothing.
The third assumption… people confuse different sources with independent sources. Radioisotope decay and estimated mutation rates and changes in DNA over time and geological layering and the fossil record all independently support the concept of evolution. Different mythologies (and nothing else) support the theory of creation. Some of the more interesting pseudoscientific political issues are worth a look: in a few of them (I’m thinking of a specific example for this) you will find hundreds of sources. Those sources will quote other sources, who will quote others… but in the end almost everything goes back to a single opinion — and this guy has been known to quote people quoting him to bolster his argument.

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