A friend alerted me to this discussion on nyt.com. The philosopher Sissela Bok writes: “The worst outcome would be for everyone to give up -- for voters to conclude that all politicians lie and for politicians to lie when they think that they will get away with doing so, hoping that enough people will be misled and that others won’t hold it against them.”
Ruth Franklin reaches a different conclusion in her piece on Sunday in the NYT Magazine: ‘Perhaps every politician must have a bit of Coriolanus in him: an ego that propels him to believe himself worthy of public service, coupled with the desire to stand unswerving for the rightness of his own convictions. And yet a politician who wants to win must ultimately subdue his or her inner Coriolanus and “be other than one thing.” Victory depends upon a fickle combination of personal merit, political strategizing and the skillful application of flattery. We think of this as cynical and unsavory, a symptom of our own corrupt political climate. But more than anything else, “Coriolanus” demonstrates that politics has never been pure — and that “May the best man win!” might be its most enduring myth.'
Ah well, “skillful application of flattery” is just another way of describing socially desirable behavior.
In one way or the other, most of us behave like politicians. And of course we expect other people to believe our polite lies.
Without a bit of corruption civilization cannot survive.