Who Do You Trust—and Why?

by L. Neil Smith
Patronize Me!

Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Reprinted from Issue Number 15, October 1, 1996

Bill Clinton is a lying sack of you-know-what. It’s obvious that Bob Dole hasn’t uttered a single word he really meant (or understood, most likely) for decades. And if Harry Browne believes everything he says, he’s crazy as a bedbug.

Most of us accept these facts with a wink and a cynical shake of the head, as a part of everyday political life, unchanged at least since Caesar ran for Senate. We all know politicians are liars, as surely as the sun rises in the morning. Trouble is, it’s getting more and more dangerous to lie politically, and if we don’t do something about it soon, a lot of people are going to get hurt.

A lot of people already have.

Allow me to state the case baldly, since that’s what this is all about: America today stands quivering on the brink of civil war. Everywhere else in the world, the century of socialism—of central planning and the command economy—is in retreat. Here, it stupidly continues fighting a bitter and hysterical holding action that has cost a surprising number of lives so far, 81 of them, just to name a single hideous example, at Mount Carmel near Waco, Texas.

As it does any thoughtful, mature individual, the idea of what’s happening in Bosnia—what happened in Lebanon—happening in America, fills me with terror and despair. For all that I’m in good condition and have been trained since boyhood in a wide variety of survival skills, I’m still a 50-year-old diabetic with a history of heart disease, dependent on high technology and a relatively free market system. More importantly, I have a wife and daughter whom I love and do not wish to see involved in the bloody chaos of a civil war. I’ve seen this trouble coming for a long time (since I was in the fourth grade, believe it or not) and have given a very great deal of thought over the years to preventing it. The plain truth is that I’ve dedicated my entire adult life—which began rather earlier than most people’s—to figuring out how to avoid the catastrophe into which we, as a nation, seem headed at full speed.

Around and around and down, into the septic tank of history.

The answer, I’ve come to believe—our national salvation—lies simply in seeing that the Constitution, in particular the Bill of Rights, is enforced exactly like the highest law of the land that it actually happens to be. It’s gratifying that an increasing number of people are beginning to agree with me. However, even if we—meaning those who share my concerns—could find some politicians willing to pledge themselves to that end (at present, all we seem to have is two parties trying to outdo each other’s fantasies of increasingly brutal fascism), how could we believe them? Dishonesty is so pervasive in politics that genuine communication—of any kind at all—has become impossible.

Think about that; it’s positively Orwellian. Nothing means anything, and that is very, very dangerous when the peace and stability of an entire nation depend on communication—and something resembling trust—between opposing sides.

Is there anything to be done about it?

We might insist from now on that all political speeches be made while candidates and office-holders are attached to a polygraph or “lie detector”. But even if we could rely on such technology (I’ve studied the matter, and we can’t) this solution, especially where the mass media and the “miracle of television” are involved, is all too vulnerable to every sort of chicanery and corruption.

At one time, much was made of “voice stress analysis”, a sort of remote-control lie detector in which certain physical characteristics of speech were examined, the claim being that telling the truth and telling a lie produce measurable differences. The idea was attractive, because it meant you could estimate a politician’s truthfulness at home, under conditions you controlled. But even if it were true (which I rather doubt), I’ve also heard that measures are now routinely taken by the media to filter out any such truth-betraying differences.

One idea that hasn’t been considered (because, as far as I know, I’m the first to have thought of it) is the creation of what Frank Herbert termed “truthsayers”, volunteers trained to tell the difference when someone is lying and report it. My college major was psychology, at a period when Behaviorists called the tune, and although I came to reject their theoretical framework (not to mention their crappy philosophy) they did have an impressive bag of potentially useful tricks. Remember now that we’re talking about volunteers, here, individuals acquiring a skill that should prove extremely valuable and remunerative.

The starkly simple idea is that we wire these individuals up and get them to watch and listen to a wide variety of speakers—some live, some Memorex with all of the voice stress filters firmly in place—some of whom are lying at least part of the time, and some of whom are telling the truth. Whenever these speakers tell a lie, a mild electrical shock will be administered to the volunteer.

We can’t be certain just what subtle cues of face or voice a person will become sensitized to under such conditions, only that it’s pretty likely that he will, and in fairly short order. Even a mild electrical shock can be very annoying. I don’t believe such training would take more than a few days, and I’d gladly volunteer myself, in order to acquire such a vitally important skill.

If such an experiment worked, if large numbers of people became viscerally capable of telling the truth from a lie, it might not protect America from an occasional self-deluded megalomaniac like Ross Perot (that’s what common sense is for, after all), but it would certainly be the end of politics as we know it.

And isn’t that exactly what we’ve been working to achieve, all of these years?