Lately, I have been thinking about a very fundamental question: Why and how do lies work, especially in times of distress? Who lies, who benefits from it, who believes them, and how long can they be sustained before contradicting facts make them disappear? Do they ever disappear?
Let’s think for a moment about this simple theorem: the more abstract a fact, the easier it can be disbelieved.
For example, I know my daughter has brown eyes. No liar can ever convince me otherwise. I also know my daughter loves me. However, and here is the difference, a deceiver could work hard to eventually make me doubt this. Nobody will ever make me doubt the eye color of my daughter but her feelings for me… maybe. This is because other peoples’ feelings can only be observed indirectly. They leave room for interpretation. They kind of need to be believed.
Now, let’s talk about things we only experience in the abstract like “voter fraud,” “infection rates,” “growth predictions,” “climate change.” The more remote a fact is from our own day-to-day experience the easier it is to cast doubt. It takes expertise to name, measure, in short, to see them.
Now, if you have read my blog you know that I have emphasized how we often get caught up in the abstract, in the imaginary. Modern life is all about doing things in our minds. The people who make a living by working with their hands are becoming a minority (although, now they are essential and our heroes). And even they are often taken up by matters of the imagination through media and information consumption – often information that is very remote from daily reality.
Modern life acclimatizes us to think things up, to imagine, to believe in things that are not in our here and now. We couldn’t function without it.
We simply know more than we can absorb with our senses.
This detachment of knowledge from experience doesn’t always help us to live a good life. But more to the point, this detachment opens the door for questioning, for doubts, and eventually, for make-believes.
One might argue that being fluent in the abstract would prevent us to fall victim to cheats. People who have been trained to think in the abstract may have been given more tools to examine the logic and sound evidence of facts than those who have not been trained. Maybe. When we deal with a crisis that is created by something we cannot see clearly or can only see in the abstract or in bits and pieces, we are all more vulnerable to fall prey to doubts and lies. “Maybe it is a hoax, maybe not. But who shall I trust?”
Here is the catch: There is only a small step from knowing facts that are true but cannot be seen (e.g. the Gini income inequality index) to “knowing” facts that are not true and cannot be seen (e.g. immigrants conspire against our economy). In the end, anything goes. The more complex life has gotten the more doubts, lies, and deceptions can be produced that benefit those who want to gain and/or maintain power (economic, political, military).
We have lived for a long time with politicians and other influential people who in fact are swindlers, cheats, and sycophants. The damage this has cost our country is wide and far-reaching into the future.
It seems to me, however, that people hunger for simple truths that they can experience. They need the basics of what can provide a good life. Good healthcare, education, safety, equal conditions, and equal opportunities. Good politics should consider that. We all need to think about this and elect politicians who get this basic idea: Provide positive impacts for the day-to-day lives of people so that lies and deceptions lose their grips on society and those in pain. This will bring our country closer together.
What do you think? Leave me a comment.
2 thoughts on “Liar, liar, world on fire”
I always enjoy reading your posts, Elisabeth. Often, especially since November 2016, I’ve pondered what type of person pursues a career in politics. How strange that some of the highest positions of power can be filled by people who never studied politics, law, or government? How many other professional fields allow for this? These were things that were never explained to me in my youth. And even as an adult, I cannot explain!
I am happy you enjoy my posts! Your observation is a good one. Actually, many politicians have a background in law or local political activism. Not this president and not many of his trusted people though. That is true. Actually, congressmen and -women as well as senators as a group are significantly higher educated than the average American. In a true democracy you would expect that government representatives somewhat reflect the social strata distribution of the country. Which is not really the case. However, if we were to require elected representatives to be experts in government and law, we would have a technocracy. That is probably not what we want either. Still, you are making a good point. If sound judgement were to dictate political action we probably would probably be in a better position.