Lies, Insanity, and Misleadership

The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment.  We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought.  Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension.

~Václav Havel

Vaclav Havel lived through the nightmare of totalitarian tyranny.  He suffered being both cancelled and imprisoned for his outspoken opposition to the injustices visited on his native land, and he became an inspiration far beyond its borders.  Like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Lech Walesa, Frederick Douglass, Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and many others, Havel understood that to remain silent in the face of untruth, and the violence that inevitably flows from it is to become a willing contributor to its spread.

All of these people opposed and were attacked by the purveyors of ideological distortions of the truth about what it means to be human.  They spoke truth to power, and exposed the lies.  And the irrational rage of the tyrants was unleashed on them.  Untruth, the rejection of reality, is where insanity is born.  Untruth is the essence of evil.

Leadership is inspiring people to be the best they can be in working together for the good of all.  This can only be achieved by understanding the truth about what it means to be human, and in what the good of the human person consists.

All ideologies, that is, socio-political programs that distort or omit facts that contradict their claims, lie about the human condition, and to that extent they render leadership impossible.  Their starting point is the lie, to mislead people with a fictitious and noxious reality, and to impose their will on others.

Vaclav Havel understood the process all-too-well.  “You do not become a ”dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career.  You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances.  You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them.  It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”

The choice is between truth and lies, leadership and misleadership.  This is the challenge we all face in this critical moment for civilisation.  Consider two propositions, and the logical conclusion that may be inferred:

  1. Insanity is the inability to reason and the consequent denial of reality.
  2. The incidence of mental health problems is increasing in the western world today.
  3. Inability to reason and the denial of reality are increasing in the West today.

Evidence supporting the conclusion is copious.  Consider a small sampling of facts that are not allowed to be argued and realities that are denied by governments, the media, and academia:

  • Freedom of speech, the basis of a rational society, is being dismantled in the West
  • The unbridled power of the tech giants is undermining free and open dialogue
  • The West is criminally docile in the face of the brutal repression of the Uighurs by China
  • A US President has openly tried to excuse it on the grounds of ‘different cultural norms”
  • Western intellectuals similarly tried to excuse the mass murders of the Soviet regime
  • The tragedies in Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere expose UN incompetence
  • Having China, Pakistan, and Cuba on the UN Human Rights Council is plain hypocrisy
  • No nation has done more to combat slavery and racism than the US and Britain
  • Slavery still exists in India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, and more
  • Leading chocolate companies are being sued for aiding and abetting child slavery in Africa.
  • The West does little to end sex-trafficking, which is a particularly noxious form of slavery
  • Critical Race Theory is brazenly anti-White and therefore plainly racist itself
  • CRT corporate trainer declares: “I believe white people are born into not being human.”
  • ‘White privilege’ is a racist concept since only some whites are privileged, and many are not
  • The pandemic has led to a massive increase in power and wealth for the establishment
  • 30% of small businesses have closed while the value of big corporations is up 17% in a year
  • Governments, the media, and putative experts have misinformed the public time and again
  • Lockdowns are more damaging than the virus, and politicians openly flout their own rules
  • The US is the only country openly encouraging illegal immigration during a pandemic
  • Open borders make a mockery of controlled immigration and national security
  • Deficit spending and quantitative-easing expose the cynical corruption of the establishment
  • Science proves that pharmaceuticals and surgery can never turn a man into a woman
  • Female gametes are large; male gametes are small; mid-sized gametes do not exist
  • Allowing men to compete in womens’ sports is gross discrimination against women
  • Allowing men to share womens’ locker rooms and ablution facilities is a threat to women

These are facts, not opinions.  They define reality.  Yet it is controversial, and even dangerous to one’s socio-economic and physical well-being, to state any of these facts.  To do so is to risk being threatened, cancelled, and subjected to violence as the all-too-common consequences.  The establishment is using fear to coerce people to “live in a contaminated moral environment”, to say “something different from what we think”.

Cultures that are less humane, by definition, misconstrue what it means to be human.

This hasn’t just happened spontaneously as some sort of random twist of social evolution.  That the way we think is significantly impacted by culture, transmitted through tradition, religion, education, the media, and social environment, is obvious enough for all to acknowledge.  It should be similarly uncontroversial to note that some cultures are more inimical to human flourishing than others e.g. cultures that produce genocide, gas chambers, gulags, slavery, the subjugation of women, and genital mutilation are plainly less humane than those that do not.  Cultures that are less humane, by definition, misconstrue what it means to be human.  In other words, they violate the truth about the human condition.

The crimes of the West are many, but Western Civilisation is defined by ideals that condemn those crimes: respect for the dignity of all people as made in the image of God; respect for human freedom, understood as a freedom to promote human flourishing in oneself and the community as opposed to a self-centered individual freedom of indifference; respect for human reason, seeking truth and enabling compassionate relationships through rational dialogue; respect for the potential of every human being and the justice and education that nurture it; and respect for human responsibility, and the honesty and goodwill that implies.

These ideals have been eroded over several hundreds of years, but the assault on them in the 20th century has been particularly venomous.  Lenin, Stalin, and Mao all used the Marxist theory of false consciousness to attack anyone who stood in their way.  False consciousness accuses opponents of being so enslaved by their ideology that they are unaware of their errors.  Enforced re-education is required to force people to think in Marxist categories.  This what is happening to the Uighurs today in China, and what compulsory Critical Race Theory seminars are trying to achieve in business, the professions, and academia.  The proponents of CRT, just like the Chinese Communist party, see opposing arguments as proof of guilt.


Andre van Heerden
Andre van Heerden
ANDRE heads the corporate leadership program The Power of Integrity, and is the author of three books on leadership, Leaders and Misleaders, An Educational Bridge for Leaders, and Leading Like You Mean It. He has unique qualifications for addressing the leadership crisis. Since studying law at Rhodes University, he has been a history teacher, a deputy headmaster, a soldier, a refugee, an advertising writer, a creative director, an account director on multinational brands, a marketing consultant, and a leadership educator. He has worked in all business categories on blue-chip brands like Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, Canon, American Express, S C Johnson, Kimberley Clark, and John Deere, while leadership coaching has seen him help leaders and aspirant leaders in Real Estate, Retail, the Science Sector, Local Government, Education, Food Safety, Banking, and many other areas.

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  1. Sublime article. What more can we say !!
    We are witnessing in these times a curious and contradictory phenomenon: on the one hand, unfortunately, there is an almost daily violation of human dignity with wars, massacres, violence of all kinds and, on the other, almost to defend against this widespread pathology a flowering of debates on the dignity of the human person is developing, in order to make re-emerge, almost as a self-defense, a central problem, to which it is necessary to return frequently in order not to lose sight of a founding value of human civilization, precisely, human dignity.
    The dignity of the human person means that the person deserves absolute respect for himself. The dignity of the human being is a cultural value that underpins all other values, including ethical ones, as well as all the rights recognized to it, because human dignity is born with the birth of the human being.
    It follows the moral obligation to respect every human being as a person and this respect was once the criterion for judging the degree of civilization of a society: it was all the more civil the greater was the respect towards every single individual, that is towards every person.
    Human dignity is an intrinsic characteristic and a prerogative of every human being: it must be recognized, but also protected. To the dignity received as a gift must be associated the dignity acquired through the free and responsible cooperation of individuals as well as communities and institutions.
    Helping that the life of every person reflects the universal image of human dignity every day and in every respect is an essential task, indeed, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service that institutions and individual citizens are called to render. to the human family.
    When we talk about the dignity of the person as a supreme and universal value and consider what happens in the contemporary world, comes back to mind the famous opening words of the Social Contract by J.J. Rousseau (“Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains”) and we are tempting to adapt it to our theme, saying: “Human dignity is, by nature, inviolable and inalienable, but everywhere it is trampled on”.
    We have experienced in a devastating way the insufficiency of state perspectives alone for the protection of human rights: an insufficiency dramatically demonstrated by the degeneration of the totalitarian state and its absolutizing ideology, which found confirmation in the weakening of state sovereignties in the face of logic – also all-encompassing – of the market and profit, and its shortcomings for the respect of the human person.
    The global recognition that all human beings are born free and enjoy inalienable and equal rights today represents a principle that should precede the same state systems.
    Respect for the dignity of the person is not, in fact, the exclusive duty of States, but rather an obligation that challenges the conscience of each one. Everyone is called to give daily and concrete witness to it.
    Unfortunately, the abuses, violence and discrimination affecting individuals and entire communities are still widespread around the world, often affecting the most vulnerable.
    From a mature and civilized society, such as the one in which we live today, one would expect that the fundamental rights of everyone, which are also the basis of associated life, namely the right to life, freedom, expression of opinions and property private, were always recognized, and given the importance they deserve. Unfortunately, this is not always the case: the same right to life is denied every time a death sentence is issued.
    It is therefore necessary that the international community intensifies its efforts in all directions to promote effective protection of fundamental freedoms, in compliance with the principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.
    But everyone, especially those in a position of responsibility, must remember that the promotion of human rights in the world is not only an ethical and moral imperative, but it is a necessary tool to prevent conflict, build stable and inclusive societies and, therefore, sustainably promote peace, security and development.
    Ethics cannot be recognized in an act or choice where there is an attack on the dignity, even in that of an unborn child or a discriminated or rejected migrant

    • Many thanks Aldo, for your wise and compassionate reflection. As always you articulate your view with great insight and rhetorical finesse. I feel your comment deserves to be published as an article all on its own, because the points you make are essential for people to think about in our troubled world.

  2. Thanks Andre for real content and insights, where to start? Maybe Aristotle provides a reasonable outset:
    “For our aim is not to know what courage is but to be courageous …”
    [Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, I,18, Loeb classical library, Harvard University Press, 1952 (1935).]
    Systemic changes are needed, maybe even a Kuhn like radical change? Looking at the state of the world as you vividly contributes it is clear that the concept of truth have been exported out of its birthplace and homeland – Ethics. It has become a relative and functional tool that is omitted if it fits a given “telos” of personal, corporate or government gain, and as you eloquently show it becomes untruth. With the fine humans mentioned we should both know “courage” and hence have the grounds for being “courageous” in the face of today. Looking towards the harm that our current system has created the past decades, even centuries it is obvious that neo-capitalism needs upgrading and radical change and just maybe we are facing untruth in the uncovering of its core dogma.
    The encouraging thing is that change has been emerging for a long time R. Edward Freeman “Strategic Management – A stakeholder approach”; Raj Sisodia & John Mckay “Conscious Capitalism – Liberating the heroic spirit of business” ; Bob Chapman & Raj Sisodia “Everybody Matters – The extraordinary power of caring for you people like family”; and the my most recent addition to the library Klaus Schwab “Stakeholder Capitalism – A global economy that works for progress, people and planet” and probably many more suggesting that I update my Radar :-).
    The truth about our (current) system is being uncovered and we need that to fix it for the future where we can maintain the free enterprise (part of the core: Freedom) and create equality. Courageous contributors like Nuria Chinchilla and her work (social pollution, purpose, women) and Jefferey Pfeffer (Dying for a paycheck or Why the assholes are winning: Money trumps all) teach us about courage in our time. At anytime we need to know where we come from, where we are and where we are going (potentially) – you help us all see more clearly, Thanks Andre

    • Thank you so much, Per, for reaching out like this, and for your very kind words. Thanks also for the information on the efforts of others to help provide guidance and encouragement in this dangerous yet potentially fruitful moment in the history of western civilisation (and civilisation as a whole, of course). I will make a point of getting to know the ideas of the people you have mentioned, and since you are obviously someone who reads a lot, recommend that you read Patrick Deneen’s excellent book “Why Liberalism Failed”, and “The New Class War” by Michael Lind. I would appreciate it if you would also have a look at my website at and perhaps encourage others to check it out. Aristotle is one of my foremost teachers.

  3. Andre — As I was reading your exceptional piece, I couldn’t help but think of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow as a potential way to understand everything you describe in the last paragraph.

    System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

    When it comes to understanding the “big lie” that defines much of our current untruth – the election was stolen – could it be as simple as our lazy emotional brain elbowing our slower, more analytical brain out of the way? The big lie told over and over is simply easier to digest than the truth. How else can you explain 74 million people voting for a vengeful narcissist who has no issues platform other than to do what increases his own influence and power?

    It is, as Jim says, “willful ignorance” of the forces that are at work on them and how they are being manipulated. I don’t know what the answer is other than a whole lot of education.

    • Many thanks, Jeff. Kahneman’s work is justifiably regarded as essential for understanding why human beings so often make poor decisions, but of course, it is not the whole story. The effects of inadequate state schooling over several decades, the pervasive ideological bent of both academia and the media, and the inevitably deleterious effects of consumerism on a society “distracted from distraction by distraction”, have all undermined the virtue of prudence, or practical wisdom, in the West. If I may quote from my essay on prudence, published some time back by Bizcatalyst 360, and included in my book, ‘Is Leadership History?’, “Prudence transforms knowledge into wisdom. It encourages us to be unbiased in perception, accurate in memory, and open to the ideas of others. It instills vigilance, keeping us primed for the unexpected, providing not just finely honed intuitive and deliberative powers, but also the courage for decisive action. Prudence stands on principle, rising above the cold calculation of utilitarian expediency.” I think a lot of the ignorance out there, on both sides of the political divide, has been engineered. When I come across university lecturers who know nothing about the French Revolution or the Enlightenment, or hear the uninformed prejudices people today have regarding Medieval Europe, I have to acknowledge that the road back to sanity will be long and hard.

  4. Interesting summary of what is going in in Western culture today. Anyone would be a fool to disagree with it. But I am more interested in what can be done to start correcting a lot of these wrongs, especially when you have so many people whose willful ignorance allows them to tolerate it and who are too intellectually lazy to speak out against it.

    • Thanks Jim – happily there is a real surge of activity from concerned people – in articles, books, education circles, grass roots start-up organisations, the work of professionals and academics, and of course, among those politicians that refuse to be bound by ideology and self-interest. All of us can play a part in speaking out against the lie, because we are sure to encounter it on a daily basis. Keeping ourselves informed has never been more important.

  5. Thank you for this superb article Andre and for sharing the “truth” via those pesky “facts.” You may know this, but in case you do not, Dr. Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia, is most unhappy with direction of his creation and all of its selective information. He is starting a new organization, Encyclospere. My husband and I just subscribed. It should be a bulwark against disinformation and a purveyor of the truth. Let us hope. Thank you again!

    • Thank you Darlene – delighted to hear about Dr. Sanger’s latest effort – it is precisely the kind of major response we need. We also need to support efforts like Gab and Parler, and other social media start-ups dedicated to free speech.

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