Have you ever dealt with someone that has a serious drug problem? It is one of the most frustrating experiences you will encounter, because most of the cliches end up being true. Rapidly, the person is subsumed to their addiction until it is very much the drugs talking.
This manifests as an instrumental approach to truth. “Hey, can I borrow your wife’s car, I’ve gotta uh pick up some furniture. Yeah no she said it was cool. Why are you being a dick man, I’ll be back in like a couple hours. I mean sure I could use mine, I just need some gas money, I left my wallet at home with my car. Yeah I just took the bus. No he’s just a friend, I’m just uh doing a favor. It’s cool. It’s fine, just lemme use your bathroom quick. What, no I don’t know what happened to your motorcycle. Why am I always such a bad guy, it’s like you don’t want to help your own brother? Man, maybe you have a problem.”
What happens is that every claim is laser focused on the actual priority. The truth only matters to the extent it can be cut in to provide a veneer of plausibility, but the lacking element is trust. So much of day-to-day communication doesn’t matter in terms of specifically advancing a concrete goal, but serves to provide social context – building social capital. You discover what people’s priorities are, how they interact with each other, what they consider admirable or shameful, how they live their life. Trivial and reciprocal favors build up to more significant cooperation, but it is because it is not continuously goal-oriented that you can generally trust people you have known for a while to not put on a years long facade building up to a big grift. The sheer difficulty of doing so means that you find yourself able to discern character, and notice when things are out of character.
When communication becomes purely instrumental, and the only question is “what do I need to say in order to get my next fix”, there is no character left. If you find yourself convinced by a junkie on an object level (totally believable they’re out of gas, tbh), you merely need to recalibrate in light of the fact that they will say anything in order to get what they want.
Which brings us to politics. It is well known that politicians and various apparatchiks deep in the bowels of government departments are junkies for power. When they realize there is a kilo’s worth squirreled away inside some crisis, they will move heaven and earth in order to crack it open and spike it straight. “What do I need to say in order to convince you?” This is orthogonal to the truth.
We saw this dynamic play out repeatedly with covid.
Did you know? Masks don’t work, or only work once your RN certificate comes in. Cloth masks do nothing for anyone. Even N95 have too much risk of cross contamination if you screw up your donning and doffing, it’s very dangerous! Wait, actually no, what if I told you a facerag was the only thing standing between you and death? It’s okay, anyone can do it. Don’t bother with N95 still, you just need the cloth. Two pieces of cloth, actually. But not a particle filter. But not if you’re vaccinated, then you can’t catch it. Actually no, silly, of course you can still get it, no one ever said that, you’re misinterpreting what we said, it just lessens the symptoms. But you can still spread it. But you shouldn’t be tested if you’ve been vaxxed, that could confuse the issue. You keep misunderstanding what we never said. Can I borrow ten bucks?
The US government still hasn’t gotten their story straight on their actions just regarding the mask aspect of the covid debacle, but has claimed at various points that:
- we never said masks don’t work; you misinterpreted what we said,
- we were lying to the public about mask efficacy to preserve supply,
- the “science changed“, meaning our entire understanding of respiratory infections up to that point was very confidently wrong
- the science didn’t change; the virus evolved to be more infectious (but also more preventable via masks)
No one at any point was fired for getting it wrong or lauded for getting it right, because to these power junkies, communications with the public are a means to an end. Even the notion of “credibility” is treated as a chip to be cashed in when you need to tell a particularly glaring lie. “The science” exists purely to be cited to justify a preordained policy, and actually reading its contents is somewhere between discouraged and illegal, to the extent it isn’t just fabricated wholesale during data collection.
Such circumstances don’t mean there isn’t a danger, just as the disheveled man hawking catalytic converters may just be a humble auto scrapper. But it does mean it’s impossible to merely take their word for it, decontextualized from the fact that you’re dealing with liars. If they wanted to be taken seriously, they would mea culpa with a costly signal – making a list of people wronged and where possible amends (New York nursing homes might be a good place to start). Failing that, the only people they can appeal to are those who would rather engage in wishful thinking and live in a world where they don’t have a serious problem.