How are we to understand the many distortions of fact and outright lies we heard at the Republican convention in Tampa? The New York Times provided several illustrations in its August 20, 2012, lead editorial (p. A22):
John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire, said the president had lost the world's respect because he "prefers to lead from behind," inflating an anonymous comment from a White House aide into a philosophy and ignoring the success of the Libyan mission to which his remark referred. . . .
Considering how Mr. Romney has conducted his campaign so far, most recently his blatantly false advertising accusing Mr. Obama of gutting the work requirement on welfare, it is probably not surprising that the convention he leads would follow a similar path.
Although Democrats have not been equally guilty of such behavior, they and their pundits have failed to recognize the importance for our way of life of the Republican emphasis on the ideals of individuality and personal freedom. For example, we were treated on MSNBC to the disparagement of Clint Eastwood's appearance shortly before Governor Romney's nomination. Granting the rambling and somewhat indistinct words of this aging actor, Eastwood is the very icon of individuality and personal freedom
The Times editor failed to take a next step and attempt to get behind those Republican distortions and lies and uncover their causes. Leaders of all political persuasions have no solid base of knowledge of human behavior to rely on, by contrast with knowledge from physical science like the law of gravity. Given the incredible complexity of human behavior, social scientists--sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists, economists and historians--generally have chosen to escape from that complexity into very narrow specializations with little communication across specialties. The result is bits and pieces of knowledge accompanied by a failure to integrate them. As a result, political leaders have no firm ground on which to stand as they attempt to confront our pressing problems.
What is needed is nothing less than an interdisciplinary approach that follows scientific ideals by confronting the complexity of human behavior. There is indeed solid evidence (see what is being taught by the Academy for Individual Evolution: www.individualevolution.org) that this could uncover insights beyond the narrowness of our highly specialized social sciences. This suggests that political leaders and the rest of us should recognize our present ignorance about the relatively invisible causes that propel our threatening problems. That should motivate us to support interdisciplinary efforts to locate those causes as a basis for fulfilling our democratic ideals of an educated electorate and an educated leadership. Granting that this would involve a very long-term effort, that is all the more reason for getting started immediately if we wish to substitute reasoned discourse for our present climate of lies and distortions.