How We Encourage the Art of Lying
LAST TIME I CALLED YOUR ATTENTION to a context which I think has grown recently in this country—that has set the stage for some very dangerous developments.
"He represented himself as knowing, and as absolutely certain, and used the impression that he knew, that he had checked, as evidence to sway the debate."
The basic threat is to what I called small t truth: simple matters of fact, such as the fact that my cell phone is on the table next to me, or that Newt Gingrich was on the Daily Show a few days ago.
This kind of truth is quite different from Capital T Truth, which involves accepting an arbitrary party line, whether the party involved is political or religious or economic.
The problem is twofold.
On the one hand, there's a growing partisanship, both political and religious, which encourages people to sacrifice small t truth on the altar of Capital T Truth.
If I get a forwarded email which expounds a position my party or my church agrees with, and offers some "facts" to bolster it's case, I don't bother to actually check those "facts".
It doesn't do to question "information" that supports what I want to Believe.
Consequently, that "information" becomes part of my world view, and helps to buttress my Beliefs—and helps me to discount any inconvenient "truths" which might bother those Beliefs.
On the other hand some in the academic world and others in the media have helped to spread a sort of vague and general idea that truth—including small t truths like the location of my cell phone—is always relative, always a matter of opinion in the end.
This, of course, is simply not so.
If you were standing next to me at this moment, you could easily discern whether my phone was, in fact, on the table, and no amount of grand theorizing about the relativity, or the theory-laden nature, of knowledge would convince you otherwise.
But the sort of general sense that somehow everything is finally a matter of opinion has contaminated our political discourse to the point that we will often just shrug our shoulders when we are told an untruth.
We have, in a very real way, given up our right to be told the truth, and to hold others to it.
It's within this context that it has become politically acceptable to simply lie about small t truth.
The McCain campaign's spin on the lipstick comment is just one example.
They knew perfectly well that Obama's remark had nothing to do with Palin, but they saw that they might be able to get people to believe that it did, and so they repeatedly lied about it.
They weren't the least concerned that it was a lie, or that the lie took our time and attention away from the real issues during a very important national election.
Quite the contrary, their whole purpose was to do just that.
Another example showed up on The Daily Show recently.
Newt Gingrich was making the case that Obama was somehow negligent because he allowed the underpants bomber to be mirandized, when John Stewart pointed out that the Bush administration had treated the shoe bomber in exactly the same way.
Gingrich responded, immediately and with great authority, "But the shoe bomber was a U.S. citizen."
Stewart was caught off guard, and his point was lost in the moment.
A real debating victory for Gingrich.
Except it was a bare-faced lie.
The shoe bomber was not a U.S. citizen, something Stewart only managed to make clear during his famous "moment of Zen" at the end of the show—long after Gingrich had successfully made his debating point.
Why? Because Stewart values small t truth, which put him at the disadvantage of wanting to double-check his facts before contradicting Gingrich.
I suppose a die-hard conservative could argue that maybe Gingrich just didn't know—in which case it was still a lie.
He represented himself as knowing, and as absolutely certain, and used the impression that he knew, that he had checked, as evidence to sway the debate.
This is not an isolated incident.
Politicians tell outright lies all the time now and think nothing of it.
I'm not talking here of cover-ups of personal scandals, or of putting a favorable spin on a political situation.
No one in their right mind expects a working politician to behave like Galahad.
I'm talking about simple, straight-forward lying about small t truths that have important political implications, and which can be easily verified:
- Obama was not talking about Palin when he used the old lipstick-on-a-pig line.
- The shoe bomber was a U.S. citizen.
- Bush knew those aluminum tubes were not for refining uranium when he used them in the State of the Union address.
- The health care reform bill never contained "death panels".
- Obama was born in the U.S.
The list could go on and on.
They don't even care if they're found out afterwards.
They seem to have adopted Hitler's point of view, which was that the lie has its effect on the populace, even if it is later exposed.
The entire Republican strategy in congress is simply a very large-scale example of this.
Block all attempts of the Democrats to govern, so you can pretend that it was their fault nothing got done when you're campaigning for the next election.
What is that, but a form of deceit on a grand scale—a complete disregard for small t truth?
Our acceptance of this state of affairs as a nation is a kind of corruption, which puts us in danger—physically, spiritually, and politically.
For one thing, it leaves us open to the type of propaganda that's been circulating in conservative circles by way of forwarded emails.
I've been documenting these emails for some time now, and what they have in common is a complete disregard for small t truth.
The last few have been aimed at stirring up hatred toward the new scapegoats—Muslims.
Recent examples have told
- Lies about what Muslims believe,
- Lies about the relationship between terrorists and other Muslims,
- Lies about a U.S. Government postage stamp,
- And, now, lies about how Muslims treat children.
The last one was forwarded to me about a week ago, and I'll share it, photographs and all, next time.
Still to come: The photographs,
where the blame lies,
and a call to return
to an old fashioned