By Stephen Vance, Editor
As frustrating and unnecessary as it may seem, we really do have to question everything we see and hear. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is.
When I was much younger I accepted that most people are honest, and I didn’t spend a whole lot of time questioning information that was presented to me. As time has gone on however, I have become more and more skeptical of everything I am being told in media, by our politicians, by corporations, and even by friends and family.
With the loss of trust that I have developed in what I am being told on a daily basis, I have often found myself becoming angry at all of what I perceived as lies being constantly tossed around.
I’ve been reading an interesting book lately that is about this very subject. The title of the book is “Your Call is Important to Us – The Truth About Bullshit” by Laura Penny.
In that book Penny draws a clear line of distinction between what constitutes a lie versus simple bullshit, and I have realized that where I have been angry about constantly being lied to by our governments or by corporations, what I have actually been exposed to is an ever growing onslaught of ‘bullshit’.
“The liar still cares about the truth. The bullshitter is unburdened by such concerns,” she writes.
And I think she is right. For the most part our governments, our politicians, or mass media advertisers aren’t actually lying to us. They are just full of it, and often times they are so full of it that they have lost sight of what the truth actually is, and therefore the words and messages that they spew are in fact truth to them.
The real frustration is in the fact that we as humans seem to be naturally inclined to believe what people tell us. And while most of us have no time for lies, we all to some degree seem to have become accepting of the ‘bullshit’ that is thrown our way, even when we know that what we are being told can’t be true.
Take for example the recent claim by the municipality that Meaford was the first municipality in Ontario to file their Financial Information Return (FIR) with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH).
As I discovered when doing the groundwork to write that story, the claim simply wasn’t true- but I don’t think for a second that anyone at the municipal office was lying. Someone at the municipal office made an assumption that because there were no FIRs listed on the MMAH website for any of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, that Meaford must have been the first to file.
I guess nobody bothered to make a quick phone call to the MMAH to confirm this before sending out a media release on June 10 making such a bold claim. But then if you are unburdened by such concerns as Penny writes, then what does fact-checking really matter?
“The Other Big Apple is first in the Province for Financial Reporting” was the headline of the media release sent by the CAO on June 10th.
“A quick check on the MMAH website indicates that Meaford is the first municipality in Ontario to have done so,” read part of the media release.
A great accomplishment except that it wasn’t true.
When I picked up the phone and called the ministry I was told that as of June 8th 100 municipalities had filed their FIRs. I was told though that Meaford was among the first 100, and was the first municipality in Grey County to file.
What would have been wrong with that headline?
“Meaford First in Grey County to File FIR.” Sounds pretty good to me.
Which brings us back to the lie versus ‘bullshit’ distinction.
The media release wasn’t a lie. There was no intent to tell a mis-truth. It was simply a lack of care or concern for the truth. ‘A quick check of the ministry website’ told the municipality all it needed to know. Forget about the facts, we’ve got a great headline for the media!
Sadly media outlets in print and radio ran with the press release as is, so many people heard or read that Meaford had been the first in the province to file their annual return.
True, it is really a minor story. A non-issue really. But that is what is so important here. If any government figures that it is worth ‘bullshitting’ about such a minor issue, then what about the big stuff? What other ‘facts’ are we being told that are in fact nothing more than ‘bullshit’?
Here is what is truly frustrating though:
Mistakes happen. We all make mistakes, we all make assumptions that turn out to be not as accurate as we would have liked. But most of us when we discover that we are wrong about something make an apology, or in some way attempt to set things right.
Not the bullshitter though. No need for that whole correcting the record stuff.
The media release was issued by the CAO on Friday June 10th.
On Tuesday June 14th The Meaford Independent ran the story about the filing of the FIR and in that story we quoted from the municipal media release, and then cited the actual facts as given by the MMAH.
Did the municipality issue a follow-up press release to say “Hey sorry, we were mis-informed,” or “We apologize for the error, here is our most recent and confirmed information”?
No they didn’t.
So the radio stations, and newspapers that ran with the ‘Meaford First in Ontario’ headline were all essentially duped.
To make it worse, on June 23rd the Mayor and the CAO were on the Rogers television program ‘Politically Speaking’. While on that program which was recorded nine days after the story in The Independent, Mayor Richardson very clearly, and with great pride boasted that Meaford was the first in Ontario to file their FIR.
See how easy it is to buy into hype and bullshit? If people don’t question, or call public figures to account for the statements or claims that they make, then the cycle continues. Those spewing the bullshit count on their audience to not question. That is in part how it works so well.
One would think that our members of council would, as our representatives, question everything that is put before them by staff, by residents, by other levels of government. As our representatives they should be looking out for our best interests. And quality, factual information is in our best interest.
If when faced with the fact that they have made an error, have been too quick to issue a media release without verifying their extraordinary claim, the municipality doesn’t respect their residents enough to issue a correction, then what can we believe?
You can bet that if the media got something wrong, the municipality would very quickly request a correction. It is high time that citizens who elect and pay for our governments and administrations start demanding corrections too.
Arm yourself with a shovel, and question everything. You aren’t being lied to, you are often times simply being fed ‘bullshit’.