A Policy of Truth
After 9/11, lawmakers passed all sorts of laws to pacify the
populace. Remember that the planes were taken over with box cutters
as weapons. Pass all the anti-scissor and anti-nail-clipper legislation
you want, and anyone could still find something on a plane as
dangerous as box cutters (piece of broken mirror, sharpened plastic
knife, a pen held to the throat). It was for show. The public
demanded that they be lied to, that they be assured there were
simple solutions, and politicians obliged.
So maybe a policy of truth isn't a political possibility just
yet. Nonetheless, I thought it would be interesting to speculate
on what it might mean. Here are some of the things you might
"Yes I smoked pot in college. I did two chicks at once
one night too. What the hell does that have to do with my being
The Value of a Life
More seriously, imagine if a politician said, "We can't
make things perfectly safe, nor do we want to. We could have
an extremely safe car if we were willing to pay $120,000. We
aren't, so we have to pick a level of safety that is acceptable.
All costs of regulations and safety devices are of course passed
on to the ultimate consumer. It has been decided that each additional
life saved justifies the imposition ten million dollars in costs
on the industry. If a measure cannot save a life statistically
for this amount or less, it will not be passed into law."
This is the policy of truth, remember. Couldn't we make cars
safer at some cost? Isn't it already true that we are only willing
to pay just so much to save lives? Why not be scientific about
it? Otherwise, we might be adding $1000 to the price of a car
for measures that save fewer lives than a $500 option. This cold
calculation doesn't seem nearly as cold to me as allowing more
people to die, just so we can maintain pleasant lies.
The Cost of Freedom
Of course it costs money to maintain our freedoms, and it
costs lives too. Again, though, there is no honesty here. We
want to pretend that we can somehow have perfect safety. Imagine
if a politician said this:
"We can't win the war on terror. There always have been
terrorists and there always will be. We don't pretend that by
declaring a "war on theft" we could stop the six thousand
year old reality of people stealing things. Let's not pretend
we can eliminate terror or terrorist. Let's instead look honestly
and rationally at the various measures available to us for reducing
the threat. Then we can make decisions rationally, based on the
cost in money, lives and freedom."
What would we be hearing if we were hearing the truth
"I had to vote for the bill or I wouldn't get that campaign
"I really don't understand this issue."
"Of course there are far worse regimes, but they don't
control the oil."
"I don't care about the rest of the country. I need this
pork project for my district to get re-elected."
"If you reporters ask me questions that piss me off,
you won't be invited back."
Don't expect a policy of truthfulness in politics anytime