Love them or hate them, standardized tests are part of growing up. To get into college, most students take the SAT. To gain admission to graduate school, you might take the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, or who know what else.
Inasmuch as higher education is usually required for leadership positions in our society, these tests are gate-keepers to leadership. They do a good job of measuring intelligence, but is intelligence what we want most in our leaders?
It seems to me that the problems in America today are not due to our leaders being stupid. On the contrary, I suggest that many politicians who take stupid positions are very smart. Take an issue like climate change. There’s a lot of money at stake and politicians know it. They also know exactly how informed or uninformed the public is, and just how flagrantly they (the politicians) can deny reality. They’re very smart about that. The problem is that they have insufficient love for truth.
And what about the polarization of public discourse that is so notorious right now? As any reader of PolitiFact.com or FactCheck.org knows, much of the dysfunction and hate is fueled by outright lies. Again: not enough love of the truth.
What I want is a leader who loves the truth — whose highest aim is to discover what it is, so that he may promote and serve it.
We have standardized tests that help smart people rise to the top. How can we identify people who love truth?
Plato solved that problem 2,400 years ago. As dramatized in Plato at the Googleplex (a book you’ll be hearing more from on this blog), Plato says,
What I proposed was having our children be told glorious tales to stir their imaginations, very much stressing all the time that these tales were true, and then seeing which among the children can resist them, can see the logical inconsistencies within these tales, and see all their inconsistencies with other truths that they have been told (Republic 413c-414a).
What an interesting idea! Do you think that would be a good test of truth-loving? It makes sense that people who will not be enticed by attractive, heroic lies would be leaders we can trust, doesn’t it?
Maybe the question is moot. Maybe Plato could engineer this test in his ideal city, but the suggestion is not practical today.
Or is it?
I suggest that Plato’s test is embedded everywhere in our society, but most of us don’t realize it. To know whether we have passed his test, all we must do is ask whether we have found the flaws in our most cherished beliefs — and all beliefs have flaws.
How many of us have esteemed as a true friend one who incisively criticizes our culture? How many of us Americans have seen how un-democratic it is to arrogate the maximum power for America in the assembly of nations? How many of us have seen the contradictions and cruelties in the scriptures we learned at our mother’s knee?
How many of us would vote for a politician who openly does any of these things?
Plato’s test is already in place. How many of us will care about the results — in our leaders or in ourselves?