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Why do people disagree about the truth?

Dinesh D

You would like to think that in a world where everyone has a moral sense that it would be easy to find agreement on fundamental questions - certainly moral questions and possibly other questions, but the fact that we all have a moral voice within us doesn’t mean that we all want to listen to that voice.

At the starting point, you really have two groups of people: one group of people that wants to go according to morality, which is the voice within, and the other group of people which wrestles with their conscience and wins. In other words, they hear the voice but have some other goal, which is one reason that you have a breakdown right away.

A second reason is that even if people are listening to their moral voice, the moral voice says what’s right and wrong, but it doesn’t always say what’s right and wrong in the precise, given situation. So it’s possible to affirm principles like truthfulness, integrity, reliability and sincerity, but nevertheless to disagree when it comes to the application of those ideas.

Author, Commentator and President of The King's College, Dinesh D'Souza

Ben Shapiro

I think people disagree because they start from different premises. I think one of the great fallacies of conservative thought is that liberals have no logic to them. Liberals absolutely have a logic to them, it's just that they are starting from an incredibly different premise. They're starting from the premise that there are basically no rights in the individual, all rights reside in the state and it is the job of the state to equally distribute these rights among individuals. Conservatives believe that there are certain inherent rights in the individual and the government no matter how legitimately constructed has no right to violate those rights.

If the majority suggested that they wanted to kill the minority, according to conservatives that would be a problem, but according to liberals it may not be as much of a problem. We see that in communist states around the world, where they have no problem killing the minorities in large numbers.

So they start from different premises and once you start from different premises you can make logical arguments on both fronts and people disagree. Law and politics is basically like an iceberg, and what people spend their time arguing over is the 10 percent above the water and they never attack the 90 percent that is below the water even though it is actually the important part.

Most people on the right agree that there are certain moral principles which cannot be violated, most people on the left believe that morality is created by the minds of men and is therefore changeable and malleable. These are very significant differences in the way that we see the world, because of basic premises not misapplied logic.

Syndicated columnist and author, Ben Shapiro

Peter Schiff

The reason that conservatives and liberals disagree is because liberals judge their policies by their intentions while conservatives look at their outcomes.

To take minimum wage laws as an example, liberals think that the notion of a person working for $1 an hour is terrible, to which their remedy is outlawing any wage lower than, for example $8 an hour. Having accomplished this, they feel good about themselves because in their minds they've helped the poor.

Conservatives, however, look at the results of this policy and note that despite its best intentions, those who would have previously received, for example, $1 an hour, don't actually earn $8 an hour under the new law. In fact, they receive $0 an hour because the business simply can't afford to pay them that kind of rate. As a result, these employees will never accumulate the skills that at some point might have been able to earn them $20 an hour.

And while liberals protest that free market capitalism exploits workers because it allows employers to pay them as little as possible, conservatives point out that the term "possible" isn't absolute because it accounts for competition. In the same way that consumers can't simply hire a plumber at any low rate of their choosing, employers will not find it possible to hire willing workers at any low rate of their choosing.

Liberalism is an intoxicating ideology because its proponents can feel good about themselves without having to do much thinking or investigation. And because of this, it's almost always true that every liberal law results in the exact opposite of its intention.

Economist, investment advisor, author and commentator, Peter Schiff

Star Parker

No single individual possesses absolute truth so the best way to find the truth is to allow the open, free exchange of ideas. This freedom must also be coupled with a limited role of government because when government compensates for the failure of man to take individual responsibility then people will look to government rather than to God, who I believe is the author of truth.

Adversity should not be seen as an enemy but as a friend because it causes people to explore deeper truths, to look for greater understanding and to think about eternity. When God seems hidden, we reach deeper for Him and in homes where people are unemployed, contemplating losing their house and grappling with tough decisions, I guarantee that a whole lot more prayer is going on.

Unfortunately, in our harder hit communities people are not being asked to do this because the government makes decisions for them so that they depend on the government rather than their own ingenuity.

President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, Star Parker

Carrie Lukas

I'm sure people have been disagreeing about the proper role of government since the idea of government was first conceived. Many have different values and priorities, and believe that different results flow from sets of policies.

I hope however that we can continue to use research-based analysis and consider how our own decisions are influenced by government policy. I believe that there is often wishful thinking about how government works and human beings act. We've seen throughout history how governments with lots of power tend to be corrupt and often fail the people they are supposed to serve.

Independent Women's Forum director and Goldwater Institute senior fellow, Carrie Lukas

Tim Robinson

The wonderful thing about modern science is that the theories it develops are tested every day. Insofar as the natural sciences are concerned these tests are carried out by test-pilots in the latest jet planes, by pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs, or by the designers of new computers. In the realm of social science, psychological theories are tested every day in laboratories and consulting rooms, political science is tested in the electorate and in the parliament, and economic theories are tested through development and assessment of economic policy. Unfortunately, application of the scientific method in the social sciences often results in inexact theories which have uncertain effects when they are applied in the real world. The presence of this uncertainty enables practitioners in the social sciences to overlay their findings and policy prescriptions with their own philosophical, religious and political leanings. The result is that arguments about scientific truth are much more widespread in the social sciences than in the natural sciences. Seldom do we hear arguments about whether the law of gravity is valid; yet we are continually exposed to competing theories about psychological motivation or the way in which the economy works. Disagreements about truth are motivated by individuals’ needs for self-realisation and are made possible by the inexactness of science – particularly social science.

Professor & Head of QUT's School of Economics and Finance, Tim Robinson

Mike Connolly

Human nature. Conservatives prefer to maximize freedom, even if it means sacrificing equality of outcomes – like wealth, education, etc. Liberals prefer to maximize equality, even if it means sacrificing freedom (higher taxes, more government control of economic choices).

A liberal sees a rich person and a poor person, who both work equally hard at their jobs, and sees injustice. A conservative sees the liberal take money from the rich person and give it to the poor person, and sees injustice.

They disagree because they’re both right. Liberals are right to believe life isn’t fair. Conservatives are right to believe liberals can’t change that fact.

Communications Director, Club For Growth, Mike Connolly

Grover Norquist

Those who live off the wages of others devise many theories on why taxpayers should ante up and send them more money. Those made rich at the expense of taxpayers have many theories on why government should be big.

President of Americans For Tax Reform, Grover Norquist

Tad DeHaven

Economics is more sociology, psychology and philosophy and less math to me. It's the study of human nature and human action. There is often a disconnect between intentions behind policies and their outcomes. The author of "Freakonomics" used the example of wearing football helmets which intuitively means that your head is going to be safer, but actually the helmets give players an artificial sense of comfort and the result is that they take risks and actions which they otherwise wouldn't have taken and end up having more concussions. Now that's counter-intuitive to most people and I think people have a knee-jerk aversion to attaching a profit motive to issues they consider to be very personal or emotional, but economics requires sitting down and thinking rationally about things.

Writer and Cato Institute Budget Analyst, Tad DeHaven

Steven Malanga

More and more, I find myself thinking that to a certain extent a person’s views are genetic or inherited. Some of the latest research suggests that people’s political views are in fact inheritable, at least to a certain extent, which may explain some of the gulf.

Certainly, although we inherit certain tendencies in our thinking which are thrown into the mix with our experiences and learning, it’s clear that these tendencies are not absolute because many people whose fundamental ideas about politics and life in general, have changed over time. So it’s clear that the information we take in over the course of our lives can, and does, influence these presuppositions.

So while it’s possible to bridge this gulf to a certain extent, I think that it’s fairly clear that as a species, we humans will never reach a point where we completely agree on how to govern ourselves in a society because it involves some choices made by people based not on what is learned, but, rather, attitudes that are inherited.

Contributing editor of City Journal and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Steven Malanga

Pete Sepp

We should strive to have an information-based society, where accurate facts are available to everyone. In a country with freedom of speech, people will always be entitled to their opinions on how things should be run. The numbers don’t lie though. Beyond that, we should always remember that fiscal policy is not just about balance sheets, tax rates, and statistics. It is about real, live people, and their expectations of how their government should serve them. From this flows questions of how, and how much, they should contribute toward such a government. At NTU we believe that these questions involve fundamental considerations of human rights.

Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union, Pete Sepp

William Niskanen

In many cases they are operating on different facts. The facts may be be part of a larger story but in many cases people pay attention only to those they like rather than all of the facts which bear on the issue. In some cases it's just misunderstanding and in others the kinds of facts they use depend on policy positions they've already decided. That's often the case with elected officials in that they feel that taking a policy position in favor of some particular industry or segment of the economy will increase their probability of being reelected and so pay attention to only those facts that help them. For example, we increased the price of sugar by restricting sugar imports and the consequence was that some of our candy manufacturers moved to Canada. So which of those facts you pay attention to depends upon whether you're catering to the Florida sugar growers or to those who used to make candy in Tennessee.

Cato Institute Chairman Emeritus and Senior Economist, William Niskanen

Timothy Johnson

The reality is that those who have done research usually are the minority so when the majority have a good deal of the information through TV, talk radio, and so on, which plays to their emotions and is not necessarily factual, then you get ignorant passion. I have a doctorate degree but having an education doesn't make you smarter than anyone else. In a university environment you're supposed to be taught how to be analytical, to look at things in a critical manner, but I think over time we've discouraged people from being analytical, from looking at it from both angles and saying, for example, "If that was me, would I want to make $200,000 knowing that when I go above a certain threshold my tax bracket jumps up expeditiously?". Too often we get into the emotional responses, not factual responses. I would tell young people to get to know all that they can about a certain subject before making a decision.

Entrepreneur and Chairman of The Frederick Douglass Foundation, Timothy Johnson

Helen Zille

The fact that people disagree on what the truth is only demonstrates that there is no objective truth, or at least that we don’t yet know what it is. Humanity’s search for the truth is precisely what has driven social progress throughout history. We investigate, debate and experiment and form opinions which we may believe to reflect truth. However, others then find different evidence, and make other arguments. Those who are open to reasons why they may be wrong are willing to re-assess their ‘truths’ and take society further. Those who will only consider reasons why they are right, stunt progress.

South African opposition leader and premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille

Ira Stoll

Different people have different genes, different parents, different religions, different educations, different life-shaping experiences, so it’s not so surprising to me that they disagree about the truth. It’d be surprising to me if everyone agreed on everything. A lot of people can barely agree with their spouses on what movie to see, let alone agree with random other human beings on “the truth.”

Editor of and author of "Samuel Adams: A Life", Ira Stoll

Michael J. Boskin

Sometimes this occurs because people – willfully or unwittingly – let politics and ideology get in the way of a fair evaluation of the evidence. But sometimes because there are conflicting bits of evidence.

Professor of Economics at Stanford University, Michael J. Boskin

David Ranson

Strong conviction usually has an emotional or self-serving origin, or may result from indoctrination, and is rarely based on careful factual study.

President of H. C. Wainwright and Company, Economics, David Ranson

Jonathan Alter

Some things are just human nature.

Author, commentator and lead Bloomberg View columnist, Jonathan Alter

Steve Deace

Without an agreed upon, fixed standard, everyone becomes wise in his own eyes. Everybody believes their truth, which means somebody's truth isn't true. The fixed moral standard that once served this country well and made
it the freest and most prosperous nation on the planet was the Judeo-Christian moral tradition.

Since we have abandoned it, the culture has become more immoral, government has grown uncontrollably, and many once treasured institutions and associations in this country have become corrupted. That pretty much settles the argument on what truth is actually true as far as I am concerned.

Now the question is whether or not there is enough humility remaining in this culture to admit we've deviated off the path and to ask for directions back to the main (or narrow) road.

Talk radio host and author, Steve Deace

Stephen Golub

Philosophical differences on the role of the government versus the market are the main source of disagreements about economics. Critics of government intervention such as Milton Friedman fundamentally distrust government’s motives and competence, while believing that the “invisible hand” of self-interest is conducive to freedom and economic efficiency. Opponents of laissez-faire, such as John Maynard Keynes, on the other hand, believe that unregulated markets lead to instability, inequality, and even immorality. When either view is taken to an extreme, disaster can result. Pragmatism should be the basis for economic policy, not ideology, with a judicious mix of entrepreneurship and government regulation.

Professor of Economics at Swarthmore College, Stephen Golub

Rabbi Aryeh Spero

Religion. Upbringing. Education. But most of all, their emotions and heart set the stage for what becomes their ideology. Most of today's left wing ideology, its mental aspect, is rooted in envy, cowardice, disdain , arrogance, anger, wanting to see the "mighty fall" (except when they are the mighty), and nihilism. Most of today's ideological conservatives are motivated by the emotions of duty, love of country, classic virtues, respect for the wisdom-of-old, and a contentment with what they have, bereft of deep-seated envy.

Columnist and commentator, Rabbi Aryeh Spero