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Saving our lives

We live at a time when the truth is either relative, or comes in too many flavours or is too big to describe, so I felt liberated when I encountered the truth as the Old Frisians, Germans, Scandinavians and Old English understood it.

They had the breathtaking idea that the truth was consistent with the facts. The truth was something they could rely on – something that was constant and reliable. Once a "truth" was found to be unreliable, it was no longer the truth.

That reliable facts are the source of workable inventions and successful businesses, that the truth can save our lives, and that lies can kill us, are among the reasons that we still value the truth. Or as the British mystery writer Ellis Peters remarked, "Truth can be costly, but in the end it never falls short of value for the price paid."

People have died who might have lived if they had known the truth, and people have been unhappy and poor because they could not tell that someone dear or important to them was lying to their faces - or utterly mistaken. It's odd - you would think we ought to be pretty good at telling whether someone is telling the truth, but most of us aren't able to tell, even when we think we are.

In my experience it's difficult to tell that a person is lying because I wish the lie were the truth; because I don't want to face an uncomfortable truth - and do something about it; and sometimes because the person or people telling me the lie believe it themselves and make it sound extremely convincing. Their reasons for saying what isn't true include the reasons I believe they are telling the truth along with the fundamental need of most people to think they are right and they are doing the right thing.

There are people who lie for evil reasons, and their lies can be difficult to uncover, too, because they are clever at concealing them, but many people don't lie. They are just plain mistaken. They have 'the wrong end of the stick', their facts are not reliable, and their plans are going to end in disaster.

This seems to me to describe the majority of politicians. I realize that many people think that politicians are venal liars, and they may be correct, but in addition, politicians don't seem to have a grip on reliable facts. Many of them have very little work experience outside of politics. They have been community organizers. They have sat in state legislatures or jockeyed in parties for safe seats, but they have not run a business and been responsible for meeting a payroll. They have not been an engineer or an artist, a builder or a banker or a farmer or, like my co-editor, a doctor.

This was not always the case. It was not the case as recently as 19th century Britain.

We ought to require that any man or woman who wants to represent us be a success in another field. It would not keep fact-challenged narcissists out of politics, but it might reduce their numbers, and it might save our lives.