Thursday, February 2, 2017

When it comes to Straussians, everybody thinks they were the last to make the cut

 [I told you we'd be coming back to this.]

After taking a preliminary pass at this topic, I realized that setting up the rules might be a bit more complicated than I first thought. With that in mind, here's my initial attempt at an oversimplified Straussian communication matrix

Members of this system pass information to each other. This information can be true or false. Recipients will not listen to information they believe to be false. The members who generate the false information have divided the population up into two groups: everyone in the preferred group is told the truth;  everyone in the other group is fed incorrect information whenever convenient. While there are many people in the matrix who are aware of the cutoff, few believe that they fall below it. The lied-to generally assume that they just made the cut, that the lies start one or two levels below them.

Unless they are to stupid to breathe, reporters covering Paul Ryan have to know that he lies routinely, that he's not a world-class marathoner, that his tastes run less to domestic beer and more to $350 bottles of wine, that he was neither surprised nor disappointed when the camera crews show up to find him washing dishes at a soup kitchen. Journalists could still consider Ryan an honest man because they felt he was only lying to those below them on the hierarchy.

Even among the lied-to journalists, there were strata. There were those who didn't believe the humble everyman bit but swallow the rest. Then there were those who (having a rudimentary understanding of the numbers) knew that Ryan's budgets were profoundly dishonest, but they put those deceptions down as the compromises necessary to make the sausage. They too believed that he was only lying to those below them on the hierarchy, colleagues who lacked the sophistication to follow detailed budgetary discussions. Ryan was, after all, a serious policy wonk who cared deeply about issues like fiscal responsibility.

Of course, every bit of evidence we have indicates this is also a lie, that Ryan is a committed Randian who is willing to inflate the deficit like a birthday balloon if that's what's required to redistribute wealth from the takers to the makers.

Almost all of the journalists who have been lied to by Ryan knew that he was lying to other journalists. This brings us to the I'm-not-going-to-believe-anyone-who-lies standard versus the I'm-not-going-to-believe-anyone-who-lies-to-me standard.

The big problem with the second (and more widely followed) is that detecting lies directed at you is far more difficult than detecting lies directed other people. First, of course, there is simply the sheer number of total lies versus the small subset directed at you. On top of that, lies directed at you are tailored to deceive you. Lies tailored to deceive other people are generally much easier to spot. Then finally and possibly most importantly, there is cognitive dissonance. We simply don't like thinking of ourselves as easily fooled. This is doubly true for journalists, particularly those in the cult of the savvy.

If we all held to the don't trust a liar standard, bullshit in the Straussian network would have a relatively short half-life, and given the increasingly dire consequences, it would be enormously helpful if we all adopted the more demanding standard. I would even go further and propose a don't trust anyone who lies or anyone who trusts a liar standard, though these days, few news sources would make that cut..


  1. Straussianism as a pyramid scheme. Most people, journalists included, who enter the pyramid at the bottom never get out the top; instead, they lose all their money (or, in this case, integrity) during their desperate struggle to ascend from Rung 1 to Rung 2.

    1. Yes, but with the added wrinkle that the "savvy" journalists believe they've made it to the top. At least with Amway, the people who are screwed eventually figure it out.

    2. Mark:

      Is it really true that, with Amway, the people who are screwed eventually figure it out? I was under the impression that people could become true believers and stay suckers for a long time.