By Musfi Romdoni
“The truth sounds good in theory, especially if it’s truth with which we agree or that positions us in a favorable light. It’s when we hear the truth that isn’t so pleasant that we start to resist, ” wrote Mark Murphy in, Cognitive Dissonance, Helps Explain Why We Hate To Hear The Truth.
With regard to relevant lies or lies that often become the prelude to distrust, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama deals with them in his writing, Purpose Infrastructure, Governance, and Trust.
As the title suggests, that article discusses trust in the government. Quoting Ethan Zuckerman in his book Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them Hardcover, Fukuyama says that the level of trust in government has decreased almost everywhere in the world, not only in recent years but in recent decades.
Interestingly, Fukuyama mentions that education, which has made rapid progress over the past 50 years, is one of the factors. With a high level of education, people will tend to think more critically and do not easily believe the information provided by those in power.
As a result, this critical attitude correlates with increasing distrust of the government. On the other hand, as noted by Fukuyama, this context can be interpreted as positive. This shows that people have more access to information. The Internet boom has also fueled demands for transparency.
However, it is not the issue of access to information that, according to Fukuyama, is the biggest factor in increasing distrust; it is the increasing public expectations of the state.
It is not only a matter of the country’s ability to show achievements, but also an increase in expectations of involvement. According to Fukuyama, in today’s modern democracy, society does not only demand participation in elections, but also participation in determining public policies, such as determining budgets and contributing ideas.
In this context Fukuyama cites as an example the issue of infrastructure development. The construction of a terminal and high-speed railroad in Stuttgart, Germany, and the construction of a smart city on the waterfront of Toronto, Canada have sparked protests because in both cases the public feels excluded.
It is interesting that the administration of Joko Widodo (Jokowi), which seems to want to leave behind a legacy of infrastructure development, has to choose between a noble lie or honesty as a response to the distrust problem mentioned by Fukuyama?
Furor Over a Design
Just as Fukuyama discussed, the distrust problem was visible in the Jokowi administration, particularly in various infrastructure projects. In the National Capital City (IKN) project, for example, the design of the State Palace by sculptor I Nyoman Nuarta provoked strong reactions.
Nyoman, who is not an architect, has drawn criticism, particularly from architectural professional associations. In his design of “Garuda” Nyoman supposedly has not shown the concept of a forest city or an environmentally friendly city that is characterized by low-carbon emissions.
There is also concern that Nyoman’s design could blow up the budget because his previous projects, such as the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue in Bali, cost as much as IDR 1.4 trillion. This figure is much higher than the cost of building the Statue of Liberty (around IDR 157 billion) and the Eiffel tower (around IDR 556 billion).
Regarding the odd appointment of Nyoman, who is not an architect, to design the State Palace, various analyses have emerged. One of them is that President Jokowi is trying to leave a political legacy. This is based on the design of the large and majestic Garuda bird that can spark an amazing reaction to those who see it. This is known as a hard legacy.
If the analysis is correct, the question is: is it possible that President Jokowi will be honest? Is it possible that he will bluntly say, “The IKN project is my attempt to leave a legacy so that I will be remembered by the community?” It’s hard to imagine that he would do that.
Honesty is going to ignite a negative reaction that is much more massive. We can observe this in the case of the statement of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs (Menko Polhukam) Mahfud MD.
On Saturday, May 1, the former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court (MK) asked the public not to be completely disappointed with the government, which is still corrupt and oligarchic, because the progress that has been made must not be forgotten.
Mahfud MD gave an example of a decreasing poverty rate. From 11.7 percent in the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) administration to 9.1 percent in the Jokowi administration. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the figure rose slightly to 9.7 percent.
Even though the statement was not wrong, criticism came. Various parties considered Mahfud’s statement to be odd. Yan Harahap of the Democratic Party, for example, considered the statement as a form of acknowledgment that the Jokowi government was indeed corrupt.
Yan Harahap’s criticism is certainly not wrong. But the question is, which government is not corrupt? Didn’t massive corruption cases occur under Soeharto, Megawati Soekarnoputri, and SBY? We all know the answer.
Fukuyama in his book Strengthening the State: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century also highlights this issue. According to him, the reforms that have brought regional autonomy in Indonesia have resulted in corruption at all echelon levels.
The criticism of Mahfud’s statement can be understood through Mark Murphy’s writing entitled Cognitive Dissonance Helps Explain Why We Hate To Hear The Truth. According to him, we have a psychological tendency to hate hearing the truth, especially if it involves what we believe.
Murphy explains this tendency through the cognitive dissonance theory. This is a state when a person holds two inconsistent beliefs, attitudes, or opinions and creates unpleasant mental tension.
The discomfort then gives birth to a change in the viewpoint of one of the beliefs to restore mental conditions. Cognitive dissonance then gives birth to the phenomenon of selected reading, where we choose something that only we like.
The Lie That Creates Harmony
Well, in Mahfud’s case, suppose that statement is an open secret. We all know that. However, many of us just want to hear about the ideal conditions, namely a government that is neither corrupt nor an oligarchy. The question is, how many of us are objectively judging the situation?
This question was also addressed by David Shaw in his writing Plato’s “Noble Lie” and the Management of Corporate Culture. According to him, because most people are not able to understand the truth proportionally, the “ideal situation regulators” have the authority to give people “stories” to create social harmony.
In communication science, this problem is often referred to as issue management. To prevent the crystallization of the problem, where it can have a large destructive impact, public attention needs to be diverted by proposing new issues.
In the ethical debate, the affirmation of the noble lie can be seen in the criticism of Immanuel Kant’s deontological ethical theory. Kant’s ethical theory is called the ethics of duty or duty ethics because it does not emphasize ethical judgments on consequences. Contrast with utilitarianism.
The problem of lying, for example. That should not be done not because it will have bad consequences, but because it is our duty, to tell the truth.
In governance, as explained by Plato in the book Republic, lies or myths are often an option because they are more useful for creating social harmony. Justice or justice issues, for example. The concept may be utopian, but those in power must uphold justice so that people believe in the law and not become anarchists.
In conclusion, as Murphy has famously said, maybe the truth is very good in theory, but in practice, we often prefer lies.
In the face of complex issues, where distrust is intertwined, the era of information openness, the increasing demands for public participation, the psychological tendency to hear soothing things– the Jokowi administration and various governments around the world, will find it difficult to avoid making a noble lie.Of course, the wise counsel is: don’t let a noble lie turn into a pure lie. But due to the asymmetrical conditions, where state officials find it difficult to adhere to the law, the practice of lying is no longer to realize the common good, but merely to deceive the people.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of PinterPolitik.