“Who are you, may I ask?”
“My name is Joe Doakes, sir.”
“Where are you from?”
“I am from Robinhoodsville, U.S.A.”
“Why are you here?”
“I plead admittance.”
Saint Peter scanned his scroll and said:
“Yes, Joe, your name appears on my list but I cannot admit you.”
“Why not, pray tell?”
“You stole money from millions of others, including widows and orphans.”
“You must have me confused with someone else; I had the reputation of being the most honest man in my community.”
“You may have had that reputation among men, but they did not see through the nature of your actions. You see, Joe, you were a member, a financial supporter, and once on the Board of Directors of the Robinhoodsville Chamber of Commerce, the most influential committee in your town. You folks, gathered in council, advocated and obtained a municipal golf course. That project took from the livelihood of others, including widows and orphans, in order that a hundred or so golfers might enjoy the sport with little cost to themselves.”
“But Saint Peter, the Robinhoodsville Chamber of Commerce took that action, not your humble applicant, Joe Doakes.”
Saint Peter scanned his scroll again, slowly raised his head and said somewhat sadly:
“Joe, the Robinhoodsville Chamber of Commerce is not on my list, nor any foundation, nor any church, nor any trade association, nor any labor union, nor any P.T.A., nor any committee. All I have on my scroll are individuals, just individuals.”
It ought to be obvious that we as individuals do stand responsible for our actions regardless of any wishes to the contrary and irrespective of the devices we try to arrange to avoid personal responsibility. Actions of the group—council or committee—insofar as they are not accurate reflections of the participating individuals, must be classified as lies.
The Art of Compromise
Another way that lies are initiated by the “decisions of men united in councils” inheres in commonly accepted committee practices. Here is a committee which has been assigned the task of preparing a report on what should be done about rent control. The first member is devoted to the welfare-state idea and believes that rents should forever be controlled by governmental fiat. The second member is a devotee of the voluntary society with its free market economy, and a government of strictly limited powers. He, therefore, believes all remaining rent control should be abolished immediately. The third member believes that rent control is wrong but that decontrol should be effected gradually, over a period of years.
This not uncommon situation is composed of men honestly holding three different and irreconcilable beliefs. Yet, a report is expected and, under the customary committee theory and practice, is usually forthcoming. What shall they do? Is there some compromise not too disagreeable to any one of the three committeemen? For instance, why not recommend that landlords be permitted by government to increase rents by no more than 15 per cent? Agreed!
In this hypothetical case—in no way at odds with common practice—the recommendation is a fabrication. Truth, as understood by any one of the three, has no spokesman; it has been miserably distorted. By any reasonable definition, a lie has been told.
This example (numberless variations could be cited) suggests only the nature of the lie in embryo. It is interesting to see what becomes of it.
Behind the Committee
Not all bodies called committees are true committees, a phase of the discussion that will be dealt with later. However, the true committee—an arrangement which calls for resolutions in accord with what a majority of the members are willing to say in concert—is but the instigator of fabrications yet more pronounced. The committee, for the most part, presupposes another larger body to which its recommendations are made.
These larger bodies have a vast, a very nearly all-inclusive, range in present-day American life: the neighborhood development associations; the small town and big city chambers of commerce; the regional and national trade associations; the P.T.A.’s; labor unions organized vertically to encompass crafts and horizontally to embrace industries; farmers’ granges and co-ops; medical and other professional societies; ward, precinct, county, state, and national organizations of political parties; government councils, from the local police department to the Congress of the United States; the United Nations; thousands and tens of thousands of them, every citizen embraced by several of them and millions of citizens embraced by scores of them; most of them resolving to act as groups, as “men united in councils.”
These associational arrangements divide quite naturally into two broad classes: (1) those that are of the voluntary type, the kind to which we pay dues if we want to, and (2) those that are a part of government, the kind to which we pay taxes whether we want to or not. For the purpose of this critique, emphasis will be placed on the voluntary type.
Now, it is not true, nor is it here pretended, that every associational resolution originates in distortions of personal conceptions of what is right. But any one of the millions of citizens who participate in these associations has, by experience, learned how extensive these fabrications are. As a matter of fact, there has developed a rather large acceptance of the notion that wisdom can be derived from the averaging of opinions, provided there are enough of them. The quantitative theory of wisdom, so to speak!