If one will concede that the aforementioned committee characteristics and council behaviors are perversions of truth, it becomes interesting to observe the manner of their extension—to observe how the lie is compounded.
Analyzed, it runs something like this: An association takes a position on some issue and claims or implies that it speaks for its 1,000,000 members. It is possible, of course, that each of the million members agrees with the stand taken by the association. But in all probability, this is an untruthful claim for the following reasons:
1. If every member were actually polled on the issue, and the majority vote were accepted as the association’s position, there is no certainty that more than 500,001 persons agreed with the position claimed to be that of the 1,000,000.
2. If not all members were polled, or not all were at the meeting where the voting took place, there is only the certainty that a majority of those voting favored the position of the association—still claimed to be the position of 1,000,000 members. If a quorum should be 100, there is no certainty that more than 51 persons agreed with the position.
3. It is still more likely that the opinion of the members was not tested at all. The officers, or some committee, or some one person may have determined the stand of the association. Then there is no certainty that more than one person (or a majority of the committee) favored the association’s position.
4. And, finally, if that person should be dishonest—that is, untrue to that which he personally believes to be right, either by reason of ulterior motives, or by reason of anticipating what the others might approve—then, it is pretty certain that the resolution did not even originate in a single honest opinion.
A personal experience will highlight the point I am trying to make. The economist of a national association and I were breakfasting, just after V-J Day. Wage and price controls were still in effect. The economist opened our dialogue:
“I have just written a report on wage and price controls which I think you will like.”
“Why do you say you think I will like it? Why don’t you say you know I will like it?”
“Well, I—er—hedged a little on rent controls.”
“You don’t believe in rent controls. Why did you hedge?”
“Because the report is as strong as I think our Board of Directors will adopt.”
“As the economist, isn’t it your duty and responsibility to state that which you believe to be right? If the Board Members want to take a wrong action, let them do so and bear the responsibility for it.”
Actually, what did happen? The Board adopted that report as written by the economist. It was represented to a committee of the Congress as the considered opinion of the constituency of that association. Many of the members believed in the immediate abolishment of rent control. Yet, they were reported as believing otherwise—and paying dues to be thus represented. By supporting this procedure with their membership and their money, they were as responsible as though they had gone before the Congress and told the lie themselves.
In order to avoid the twofold dishonesty in this situation, the spokesman of that association would have had to tell the whole truth to the congressional committee. It would have been like this:
“This report was adopted by our Board of Directors, 35 of the 100 being present. The vote was 18 in favor, 12 against; 5 did not vote. The report itself was written by the association’s economist, but he does not believe it is right.”
Such honesty or exactness is more the exception than the rule, as everyone who has had experience in associational work can attest. What really happens is a misrepresentation of concurrence, a misorganized way of lying about how many of any group stand for what. Truth, such as is known, is seldom spoken. It is warped into a misleading distortion. It is obliterated by this process of the majority speaking for the minority, more often by the minority speaking for the majority, sometimes by one dishonest opportunist speaking for thousands. Truth, such as is known—the best judgments of individuals—for the most part, goes unrepresented, unspoken.
This, then, is the thread out of which much of local, national, and world policy is being woven. Is it any wonder that many citizens are confused?
Three questions are in order:
(1) What is the reason for all these troubles with truth?
(2) What should we do about these associational difficulties?
(3) Is there a proper place for associational activity as relating to important issues?
The Reasons Examined
As emphasized in the previous chapter, pointing out causes is a hazardous venture; as one ancient sage put it, “Even from the beginnings of the world descends a chain of causes.” Thus, for the purpose of this critique, it would be folly to attempt more than casual reference to some of our own recent experiences.
First, there appears to be no widespread, lively recognition of the fact that conscience, reason, knowledge, integrity, fidelity, and other virtues are the distinctive and exclusive properties of individual persons.
Somehow, there follows from this lack of recognition the mischievous notion that wisdom can be derived by pooling the conclusions of a sufficient number of persons, even though no one of them has applied his faculties to the problem in question. From this premise, the imagination begins to ascribe personal characteristics to a collective—the committee, council, association—as though the collective could think, judge, know, or assume responsibility. With this as a notion, there is the inclination to substitute the “decisions of men united in councils” for the reason and conscience of persons. The individual feels relieved of personal responsibility and thus gives no real thought to the matter in question.
Second, there is an almost blind faith in the efficacy and rightness of majority decision, as though the mere preponderance of opinion were the device for determining what is right. This thinking is consistent with and a part of the “might makes right” doctrine.
Third, we have carried the division-of-labor practice to such a high point in this country, and with such good effect in standard-of-living benefits, that we seem to have forgotten that the practice has any limitations. Many of us, in our voluntary associational activities, have tried to delegate moral and personal responsibilities to these associational abstractions.
As a consequence, our policies and public positions are void of reason and conscience. These massive quantities of unreasoned collective declarations and resolutions have the power to inflict damage but are generally useless in conferring understanding. So much for causes.