Truth in Politics?

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The current Canadian election is rife with politicians trying to capture the electorate’s imagination by being their performative best – and unfortunately – by being their substantive worst. But there’a shift, a murmur, an unrest among people of goodwill watching modern day politicians tossed between far-right and far-left, populism and progressivism, truth and truthiness.

Thomas Koenig writes about cross-partisan cooperation based on – get this – the epistemology of truth telling – where “truth seekers” are “those who are weary of extremists—on both the left and right—come together to emphasize the truth above all else (“Instead of a New Party, How about a New Faction“).

Koenig suggests that cross party participation could see that they would continue to vote differently on various issues of the day, but they would “openly acknowledge that they share an epistemological framework. That is, they both hold the simple yet profound assumption that in politics, truth matters, and that politics ought to respond to and cope with reality rather than seeking to overcome it.”

Truth Matters to Truth Seekers

In this current state of democracy – check that – in this current era of post modernity – where truth is entirely self-referenced – this seems like a radical idea.

But should it be?

Shouldn’t it be the norm to believe that truth matters? I am not talking about the most smarmy of all current quips – “speaking my truth” – as if you are the centre of all truth – as if you are wise enough, or all-knowing enough to know “the truth.”  I am talking about the ontology of truth – a truth that is true despite not knowing all the evidence, in spite of falsehoods spread to obscure it, and in defiance to all that would diminish it in favour of truthiness.

Truth seekers would not be those who would purport to “speak their truth”; they would be those who rise above their own self interest to be willing to do as Koenig writes:

“Truth Seekers would be willing to allow reality to continually mug them and then press charges time and time again. They would take pride in allowing events, experience, debates, and reflection to shape and even change their thinking on important political matters, and then revise their opinions and policy positions accordingly. They would prize epistemological openness and humility—the values most necessary for seeking the truth—over ideological consistency and purity. Truth is complex and messy, so a capacity to cope with contradiction and complexity won’t be scoffed at, but valued.

And if those on the left and right who value truth and seek a reality-cognizant politics did in fact openly form this sort of pro-truth, cross-partisan faction, they could find a sense of political belonging within this shared process of finding truth. As social animals, we do need to feel included, recognized, and valued as members of an in-group in the political sphere. But there is no reason to believe that we cannot find that sense of worth within a process-oriented group.”

Will Truth Prevail?

Many years ago in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that,

Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; … she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

Thus as a starting point, says Koening, “this new faction of Truth Seekers can begin with a vigorous, unbending commitment to the principles of free speech. And from there, they can declare themselves loyal adherents to the truth-seeking process in politics. They can take pride in changing their minds when the facts change.”

Thomas Koenig is a student at Harvard Law School and the author of the “Tom’s Takes” newsletter on Substack.

While we’re in the maelstrom of deliberate misinformation and slight twists of truth (because that is all it takes to turn it into falseness), somehow free speech is needed to sift truth. And this stands in contradiction to modern movements by those on the far-left or the far-right who attempt to smother freedom of conscience and speech. Whether it’s China or Canada, we need always be vigilant.

What is Your relationship with Truth?

I am not interested in which political team wins this election. I would rather that democracy win – I would rather that truth “win” over truthiness.

So I ask you:

What is your relationship with “truth” – and in this election – how will you demand truth from the person you will vote to represent you?

Now: Go and Vote.


For more on relating to “the truth” as a person”, see “If Love is the Soul of our Existence.”

For more on the need for free speech for a healthy democracy, see “Freedom of Conscience and the Health of Democracy” written during the 2015 Canadian election.