Lies, damn lies and statistics

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The famous quote, credited to former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli by Mark Twain, classifies in those three categories the different kinds of lies. In Spain we know a lot about the misguided use of statistics, as our national newspapers –this morning’s example– tend to use quotes generally attributed to a high percentage of Spaniards, or voters of this or that political party. Usually, a political party which happens to have said a few days ago exactly the opposite of what its own voters apparently believe, and the Editorial Board thinks.

Regarding the other two kinds of lies, the simple lies and the damn lies, the distinction is tricky, and their classification mostly depends on our own sensibility towards the case. Example given, I believe that Rafael Hernando’s remarks many weeks ago, when everything was still to happen, saying that Article 155 of the Constitution could not be triggered to intervene Catalonia in «less than a month», was a damn lie. But of course, now that we seem to have get almost to Fukuyama’s The End of History, who remembers all that? Nobody remembers either those people, crazy us, who saw Article 155 coming since 2015. It goes with the post.

Politics are full of damn lies this days –I insist, it might be my sensibility and there could be other lies that I consider damn lies; and vice versa, damn lies that I just do not consider more than pretty little lies–. Is it intentional to talk about “dead women” instead of “killed women”? It is a partial true, as they are indeed dead, but it is also a partial lie, as it hides the ill-famed act of which they are victims of. Is it a lie not to inform that winter is coming again in Lesbos and there are still tens of thousands of families in tents? The etcetera is way too long. And that is a problem, because sunk under that fall of never denied falsehoods, the truth becomes weaker and irrelevant. If we let it languish there, we will soon be too busy separating lies from other lies, instead of rejecting them all.

To lie is free on this era of post-truth, a term which seems to mean that nothing is more than relatively true or relatively false; so to speak, it does not matter what it is said, because it will always be somehow true and somehow false, depending on the emotions or the feelings of the listener.

We should not underestimate the concept. A dangerous egomaniac took the most powerful office in the world using it. Trump won the White House after nine months of campaign on which he could not care less about lying, as long as he could knock down everything on his way, from civil rights to national unity against terrorism, including equality of women and men. It sounds far away, doesn’t it? But Brexit was also a cave of falsehoods and partial trues that no one bothered to refute, and now it is a monster that nobody wants to take care of. Do you want something even closer? Take a look to the Catalan procés, and good luck trying to filter the truth from the lies on every secessionist leader’s declarations in the last decade, because you will need it. It is not a problem of the Americans, or the always fiery Britons; it is Western’s problem. Nobody checks the damn figure of a bazillion politicians per inhabitant in Spain compared to Germany before clicking ‘share’ or ‘retweet’, because, you know, it surely is true, or at least close to be true, and any way, we can complain about something.  As the Italian saying goes, piove, porco governo; non piove, porco governo [it is raining, damn government; it is not raining, damn government].

We are all responsible. Citizens are not expected to check every information they get, but very few of us undo the retweet or amend the post when we are noticed of the mistake or the lie. It is expected from the media to be truthful and objective, but the quality of Spain’s journalism is as low as most of the world’s.

Without going much further, or far away: the second story of the local section of Gijón’s main local newspaper this Thursday was: «A woman charges five euros on her travel card and she gets tickets until 2040». The story included an image of the ticket and reported remarks by the woman, the salesman who operated the whole thing and noticed the mistake, and the chief of the local transports company.

You can imagine the long list of local issues I can come up with, all of them worthy of the attention given to that silly story. The example is just that, an example. Applied to the national view, nobody has any idea of whatever happened in Spain during the last two months if it is not related to Catalonia. At the most, we the people living in Madrid have paid some attention to the pollution levels, only because the air smells weird and Madrid’s sky looks disgustingly brown when seen from the surroundings. But few more news than that.

And taking into account that half of the information about the damn procés is also a lie, a damn lie or a statistic, it is disheartening to think about to what extent the truth has been missing during the last few months. Examples? The axiom that we all have come to accept, which is that the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Catalonia’s Basic Law of 2010 is the origin of all the melodrama settled up by the secessionists. But look: that ruling only declared unconstitutional a dozen of articles, most of the cases by one word, or a single section.

In total, the Constitutional Court only ruled about a dozen of articles, changing only a word or a section. Given that the Basic Law has 223 Articles and 22 Additional Sections, the ruling is far from being a radical change of the spirit of the Law.

Roger Senserrich, @egocrata

Even former Prime Minister Zapatero, partially responsible but unfairly blamed for all Spain’s problems, swallowed that false argument in yesterday’s debate with Catalan former President Mas. The problems of the Catalan crisis are infinitely more complex than a Constitutional Court Ruling, or a never signed tax reform. But who cares about the complexity of the issue, when you can say that a bunch of outdated judges in an ugly building knocked down the Catalan people’s democratic will? That is a hell of a story to be told.

Solutions? The classics: read more, get as much information as possible, be suspicious about easy headlines and sensationalist news; all in all, keep a critical view. But that takes a lot of work, and especially, a lot of time. The decision of giving that time for that purpose, is only ours. But that very decision is what determines the quality of our vilified democracy. It is not the electoral formula, the right to self-determination or the term limits, but what we are willing to do in order to keep the system working. Is it costly? Of course it is. But nobody ever said that democracy was cheap.

Thanks for staying there.

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