Friday, January 12, 2007

More Thoughts About Lying

It seems inconvenient – as I actually begin to receive Comments on this young blog – that the Comments will be seen only by those who think of “clicking” for them. I hope that my readers will always look at the Comments because they are often very important in themselves . . . and sometimes (I hate to admit) more interesting than my blog posts.

Yves sent a Comment about a lie as I was already mentally composing a post on lying, and this entry is in part a response to his comment. Please see his January 12 comment under the previous post.

On my mind were recollections of my habit of lying when I was a child and young adolescent. My lies were designed to keep me from getting into trouble, or to get me out of doing things I didn’t want to do – which I imagine are the motives for most lies. When I was in elementary school I preferred my home and my own books and tinker toys to school, and when I discovered the effectiveness of “feeling sick” I began to invent sicknesses in order to stay home from school. As my acting skills improved I expanded my scope of lies to make other aspects of my life easier. Fibs gave me a relatively pain-free method of explaining why a class assignment wasn’t ready on time, why I had stayed out later than I was supposed to, why the family car had 30 new miles on the odometer when I’d said I was just driving it to the movies, etc., etc., etc. I wasn’t the only one. Once I was wheedled into taking responsibility for a dented fender when my younger brother – who was too young to drive legally – bumped into a fence post while I was in the back seat with a bottle of beer in my hand.

As time went on, I became more and more entangled in more and more lies. Keeping them all straight in my mind became a risky business, especially if somebody asked me about one a year after it had served its purpose. My developing brain formulated the idea that I was creating an entire false world alongside the real one, and that the increasingly difficult work of keeping track of the false world was not worth all the effort that went into it. Taking the consequences of the truth was much less fatiguing than sustaining the parallel reality.

I also realized that it was an unhealthy situation because lying made it too easy to avoid real life and hide in an unreal world. I might confuse lies with reality (sometimes I wasn’t sure whether I was sick or pretending to be sick); I might find someday that reality could no longer be held at bay and would pounce on me like a tiger. And so I made the decision to live as much as possible in the real world rather than a fabricated world full of secret passageways, escape hatches, and slippery slopes of memory.

As Yves wrote in his Comment, “It is so easy to construct false memories, and to construct confusing sensory inputs so that they make more sense.” It is easy, but dangerous.

In comparison to lies told to avoid the consequences of one’s actions or inactions, there are lies told for self-aggrandizement. The Englishwoman I wrote about reminded me of another episode. While an undergraduate at the University of Florida I went on a group trip to New York to soak up some of the Culture which was supposed to abound in that city and be so lacking elsewhere. In our group of thirty or so students was an extremely fat, unattractive female sophomore. We traveled by train, and she told us huffily that a man in the dining car had tried to pick her up, and that she had complained to a waiter. It was not a believable story. When we all arrived at our hotel she appeared in the lobby (greatly overdressed as usual, even to a hat and white gloves) with a large bouquet of flowers which she said were given to her by another man she had met on the train. In the course of our few days in New York she received, remarkably, other gifts from New York males she met . . . but we saw only the gifts, never the men. We concluded, correctly, that she was a pathetic case, and we humored her. About a year later, in the campus newspaper, I saw a report that she had been arrested when her room was found crammed full of shoplifted items.

People who wield lies to fashion a self-glorifying persona are sad, but anyone who deliberately makes up a story meant to prove or disprove a theory, or to support a religion or religious experience or an ideology, or as evidence of the existence or nonexistence of natural or “supernatural” phenomena – is simply despicable. The latter class of liars are falsifying not only their own reality, as I did when a schoolboy, but are also attempting to falsify other people's reality. To me such lies may even be worse than “political” lies, which motivate nations to go to war, and whose fruits are destruction and death.

I'm now reminded of the political "Big Lie", a phrase which refers to a propaganda technique which Adolf Hitler identified and described in his 1925 book, "Mein Kampf". (Thanks to WIKIPEDIA for this account.) Hitler wrote that people incorrectly came to believe, due to a propaganda technique used by Jews who were influential in the German press, that Germany had lost World War I on the battlefield. This technique, he said, consisted of telling a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously". The first documented use of the phrase "big lie" is in the "Mein Kampf" passage, "in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility". Some more of Hitler's analysis is worth quoting because it continues to apply today:

"[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes. ... " (In one of the most impudent uses of the Big Lie, Hitler's enemies publicized the phony idea that Hitler had ADVOCATED using the Big Lie!)

I now quote the following because for some reason it brings the current President of the United States to mind: "The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous." - Joseph Goebbels, 12 January 1941, "Die Zeit ohne Beispiel"

My favorite movie about lies is Laurel and Hardy's hilarious "Sons of the Desert".

Click on the title of an individual blog post. That post opens on a page with its own URL. Use "Add to Favorites", and you can access this particular post whenever you like. Another advantage of clicking on the title is that the resulting screen displays the Comments below the blog entry.


  1. In Defence of 'Lying'

    What is fiction but a 'pack of lies'? What is art but the artist's perception of life? What is history but a subjective interpretation of an interpretation of 'fact'? (Or even an interpretation of an interpretation of another interpretation ad infinitum.) What is 'lying' in contrast to 'truth'? I personally believe that an individual HAS THE RIGHT to create his/her own 'history' and his/her own truth.

    I am not speaking here of the sort of fabrication of events that gets one out of a sticky situation or fabrications that attempt to absolve an individual of personal responsibility in any circumstance.

    I am speaking rather of a right to be whomever or whatever one wishes to be. Half the 'great' characters of epics or history exist as hybrids of 'fact' and 'fiction'. The heroes on whom individuals mould their own characters or actions, whether Hereward the Wake, Robin Hood, Buddha or Christ inspire not so much through the often meagre facts that can be collected in support of their identities but through the tales that demonstrate extraordinary abilities or actions. These are not 'facts', but creative, artistic and cultural contributions that enhance the facts.

    Universal 'truth' is quite different from the petty 'facts' that the government amasses in order to categorise an individual. God help us all if that is how we define people! I believe in and support the power of myth and it is myth that raises us to greater heights. There was a time in Western culture when 'being a gentleman' signified something in terms of behaviour. The concept of 'noblesse oblige' was an example of a code of ethics that was perceived as the legacy of the aristocracy. Obviously this was an ideal that bore little resemblance to 'fact' in most cases. On the other hand, if nobility signifies the highest standards of ethics and behaviour to a person, why should he not raise his social status through his own personal mythology if it forces or inspires him to higher standards of behaviour?

    Some of the most beloved tales in every culture involve deception. An ordinary individual disguises himself/herself as a prince or knight to rescue a maiden in distress or lead a rebellion against an unjust ruler... surely this is nothing more than a huge lie on the part of the 'hero', but it serves a noble purpose. I for one would like to think that a human being can be anything he or she wishes to be!
    No man or woman should be condemned to the 'identity' that any mere set of circumstances has created.

    If such deceit is committed for the purpose of personal gain or otherwise works to the detriment of others, then it is to be abominated, but if such 'lies' work to the betterment of an individual, why should we scorn or condemn such a person?

  2. Active imaginations and foggy memories can generate lies.

    Wanting very much for something to be true can generate a lie.

    Stubborn mindset or Denial can generate a lie.

    Even truth can be a lie if placed in the wrong context.

    Some lies are used to embelish a true story and make it more entertaining or amusing.

    Some lies are used to decieve or influence.

    Some lies are used to cause pain and suffering.

    Humans lie, for many reasons, much of which we don't even understand ourselves. A lie can be an impulse or instinctive reaction to circumstances.

    With so much lying going on, it is good to be a skeptic, but it is also helpful to assume that most people mean well, and do not intentionally decieve.

    A thought provoking post, thank you.

  3. Fleming, on your point about how to see comments, and also how to capture the permanent link, there is an easier way and that is to click on the blog title. You will then get the permanent link in the web address field. You will also see all the comments.

    This assumes that the title is not linked to some other web page. It also assumes you are using the New Blogger.

    Incidentally, I wonder why you find it necessary to install Comment Moderation and also word verification. I say this because I almost never have a problem with comments and suggest you might well find the same. The only problem I have had, on a handful of comments, was some spam, where the commenters were wanting to set up links to their commercial sites. But it was very easy to deal with them, by promptly deleting the comment. The tend to spam quite old posts, and if they persist, I suspend any further comments on those posts.

  4. Yves, thanks very much for that information!

  5. Hi

    I didn't see in your last post the word "entry" and now i see that you were speaking of this blog.

    I enjoyed your post and the comments too. My grandpa use to tell me, don't believe anything you read or anything you hear and only half of what you see.

    Have a great day...see ya later.