Monday, April 04, 2011

Lies! All Lies!

I was reading an article in the Times this weekend about Rep. Michelle Bachmann, presumed far right Republican presidential candidate. It treated her seriously, which I find remarkable in and of itself. Also remarkable were the comments on the Times' website, where outraged conservatives called her "highly intelligent" and accomplished. I think these are remarkable because to me, setting aside for the moment the quite real possibility that she is clinically mentally ill, I'm not sure I have ever read a statement coming from Rep. Bachmann that wasn't if not a complete and total lie, at least in large part full of dishonest intent and insinuation. What kind of person would vote for a liar like her?

Or consider Donald Trump, a wealthy buffoon who seems to be also toying with a run for President on the Republican ticket. While most serious prognosticators say that is unlikely, he's certainly all over the internet trying to make a name for himself as the last of the "Birthers," that is, promoters of the thinly-disguised racist lie that President Obama is somehow not actually an American citizen. Nobody seems to believe that Trump actually believes what he is saying, which is a reasonable argument because Trump's line of argument seems to have emerged untainted by actual facts like a giant turd directly from his ass. But nevertheless the man is making at least internet headlines just by spinning yarns. What kind of person finds a liar like him even slightly amusing?

President Obama announced his reelection campaign today, which gave me pause to remember all the hopes most of us placed on him after eight years of listening to Bush bumble (and lie) his way through a presidency that seems to have been nothing but a huge disaster for the United States and the world. Obama has of course fine-tuned the art of lying... or at least misleading and deflecting. I'll save for a rainy day my overall analysis of his presidency -- it isn't all bad news, considering -- but I'm saddened to announce that he is safely ensconced back in the ranks of lesser-evil Democrats. For me the last straw has been the utter atrociousness of his Middle Eastern policy and the facility with which he has wandered into a new war. But let's set aside any specific criticism or damning praise and say that we all know Obama is a lying politician -- just like the rest of them.

I googled "bible verses on lying" and got back a list of well over a hundred references, split between the Old and New Testaments, which means that most people raised with even a casual awareness of the Abrahamic faiths which so influence world culture are exposed to the idea that lying is a bad thing. And yet I would imagine that most people in most countries, our own certainly included, believe that their governments routinely, if not habitually, lie to us. Indeed some governments probably lie almost exclusively.

So my question -- and this time around I have no answer -- is how did this come to be? How do we, the lied-to, come to be so accepting of what we know are lies? I try very hard not to lie in my personal life. Little white lies torment me. The seductively manipulative power of lying is always offset by guilt and self disgust. I suppose lies of omission come easier, but it all seems so stressful and complicated. Who wants that?

Lying is of course a valued professional skill. In fact we have an entire industry -- it's called "marketing" -- which specializes in prettified lying. We beg to have our aspirations manipulated, which I suppose contextualizes at least American politics. But since I think politics is more important than breakfast cereal or new cars or poisonous medicines, I think it's fair to ask, why do we put up with this? What would happen if we didn't? And isn't it interesting that in politics, by my definition anyway, the "good guys" are the ones who can embrace the cynicism of knowing better and the "bad guys" are the ones who pretend that nothing's wrong?

What a mess! Welcome to Pinocchio culture! What kind of people are we?


  1. There is nothing I value more than the truth. If there was one thing I tried to get across to my kids and grand-kids it was the worth of being believed.

    I'm not sure where we went wrong, was it with the little white lies, in order to spare someone's feelings?

    If someone has a reputation for being a liar it is difficult for me to ever believe them. But today it seems people are making a career out of lying, bold-face lies without a bit of remorse. And that dishonor does not reside with one political party. Shameful!

  2. in times like this, optimism and counting blessings are all that really get me through the day.

    i had a delicious bit of macaroni and cheese for lunch today! i can afford to pay the heat and electric bills this month!

    i try to focus on such things because the reality of how we live is just too depressing. i think the worst part is that i don't know what can be done about it.

    pragmatically, i feel we've hit a stagnation point that it would be too hard to venture from. the biggest liars and ruiners are divided into two groups that hate each other for the most part, so at least there isn't much sinking to do...

  3. Of course you've both identified survival strategies in the face of all this lying: focusing on the positive and attempting to pass on our values to others.

    Surely all we can ultimately really do is live our own lives with integrity, But at the risk of sounding like a naive child having a tantrum, I'm not entirely satisfied with that. It unfair!