09.09.19 | Lying: Deceit, Deception, Dissimulation

”I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you” (Nietzsche)

And so it goes whether applied to a government, an institution, a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or even (maybe especially) to one's life partner. Trust, once gone, is difficult to regain.

We once addressed the dark art of deception at the macro level and, whether it's labeled "spin" or "management of perception," still takes on the form of a lie. It can have tragic consequences. One might argue the longest-lasting casualty from the Vietnam "conflict" was the loss of credibility emanating from the cynical way in which the public was manipulated (see MM 9/25/17). The beat went on throughout our romp in the Middle East. Many now view government pronouncements with varying degrees of skepticism -- conspiracy theories becoming one type of collateral damage.

Our upcoming discussion will, however, address something closer to home i.e. the extent to which this "looseness with the facts" has permeated our culture at large. We touched on this (MM 2/26/18) with the introduction of the concept with the fancy label "postmodernism" meaning that language itself has become provisional so that truth and morality have themselves become subjective concepts. Truth is something to be made, not found. The upshot: there is no objective truth, only perception.

Are we experiencing this phenomenon here at the retail level and, if so, is it becoming more pronounced? Oh grow up, some might say -- lying and deceit have been part of the human condition since day one. Maybe so. One focus article takes a deep, deep dive into the historical philosophy and theology of lying (long piece, certainly not compulsory reading, click: The History Of Lying).

It may be time, however, to take a fresh look at the corrosive effects that compromised truth-telling has on society today. Such investigation may start with fundamental questions regarding the types of lies we tell and why we engage in them e.g. exaggerating accomplishments, downplaying failures, giving fake compliments, agreeing outwardly while disagreeing inwardly, saying yes when you'd rather say no, hiding one's activities, going along with the crowd ( Why it's So Hard to Tell the Truth ~ - iNLP Center). Those examples might be put into the category of social convention yet their cumulative effect nonetheless contributes to a climate of insincerity.

The ante then goes up with the more conscious effort to actively deceive. At the more benign end of the spectrum, public relations folks and advertisers for commercial considerations deliver spin dressed up as entertainment or education (delivered consciously or subliminally) . The consuming public can generally mitigate the effect to the extent it adjusts the trust meter accordingly. The same holds true for politicians as they are almost expected to traffic in truth-stretching spin and exaggeration. This statement alone suggests we are becoming increasingly inured.

The stakes become higher when one is confronted with a person who has a fundamentally dishonest intent, say the target of an investigation. See the video embedded in paragraph two of this focus article (How To Spot A Lie In 5 Seconds) for a presentation by a former CIA officer who spent more than twenty years interrogating suspects for the tell-tale signs of deceptive behaviour in others.

The most insidious lies, however, are the ones we manage to tell to ourselves. The bottom line is that in a world of anxious compulsive fibbers, the ones who live congruently with the truth ultimately benefit from enhanced self-esteem, lessened anxiety, positive health effects and maybe, most of all, avoiding "the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

Ian ReidComment