Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Strange Psychology of Lying

Kevin Williamson at The Corner:
One of the bits of fake news currently making the rounds on the geriatric circuit purports to show George Floyd, at age 17, on the Judge Judy show, where he admits to being a carjacker. The message — that he was a rotten SOB and more or less deserved what happened to him at the hands of Minneapolis police — is impossible to miss.

That the video is a misrepresentation would be obvious to anybody with any knowledge of the basic facts of the case. The kid in the video is 17, and the episode was filmed ten years ago, meaning he would be around 27 today. George Floyd was 46 at the time of his death. The youngster’s name was George Floyd, but he is a different George Floyd.

Here is an interesting social phenomenon: When I take the time to point out to my correspondents that they have been lied to, and that they are, in turn, circulating lies, they become angry — at me, not at the person who lied to them.

If you tell somebody a lie they want to hear, then you do not have to worry about explaining yourself or defending yourself — the people you lie to will defend the lie for you. They will hold tight to the lie. It is an amazing phenomenon. It’s small wonder we see so much dishonesty in our politics.

People will go down fighting for a lie even if they know, in their hearts, that it is a lie. There are some obvious contributors to that strange situation — lack of self-respect, lack of religious and moral education, an attenuated sense of civic duty and patriotism, etc.

But I think that the most important factor may be the simplification provided by lies. If George Floyd had somehow deserved what happened to him, then the moral situation would be relatively simple. The reality — that he was murdered by the people we entrust with public safety, that the notional forces of order often are forces of disorder — is more complex, and it is disturbing.

Put another way: The perverse thing is that we cling to lies in order to defend our moral purity.
As Trump shows every day, you can get away with any number of lies so long as they are the lies your audience wants to hear.


JustPeachy said...

I have two feelings about this.

1) I am congenitally incapable of lying. It's a huge social liability. Sure, I can say things that are inaccurate, that I believe. But if I know it's not true: nope. And it drives me up the wall when other people do it. Even little inaccuracies, even if it's for the benefit if "my side". To this day, my mother and I have a tense relationship, because she (like many good storytellers) will often change details, and embellish the truth, to tell a better story. When I was a kid, any time she launched into some tale of kid-misadventure that I had any part in, I had to either leave, or get in trouble for interrupting: that's not how it happened! That wasn't me, it was my cousin! That's not true-- it was my fifth birthday, and we went to x for that, not y! In addition, I can't tell people the nice thing they want to hear, in order to smooth over a tense situation. It's worse than you think: that dress doesn't just make your butt look huge, it makes it look kind of lumpy and asymmetrical as well-- I think it's because your butt actually *is* huge, lumpy, and asymmetrical. That's me. I'm that person. I can almost guarantee you dislike me (and people like me) IRL. We are pedants and autists, we don't care about social signalling because we can't do it, and we don't care about your feelings, because we can't read them. We NEED things to be true and accurate because otherwise the world is chaos. The only reason I'm even semi-functional in adult society is because I've learned to keep my mouth firmly shut in most situations. Over four decades, I've met a precious handful of people who, despite being socially functional, tolerate being told the truth. Most people don't tell the truth because in the grand scheme of things, we're social animals: belonging to the tribe is more important than getting the details right. Back when we were monkeys on the savanna, people like me got pelted with rocks, left behind, and eaten by lions. Compulsive truthfulness is a disability.

2) The part where you only brought up Trump supporters in relation to this, is disingenuous. Are you under the impression that Democrats like being told the truth, or do you strategically leave that part out, because pointing it out about Trump supporters is OK and well-supported in your own social tribe, but the signalling wouldn't work out so well if you pointed out that the same thing is equally prevalent in your own social tribe? I find the rampant lying in politics very distressing, but also find that nobody who tells the truth makes it past the first round, in presidential races. This is a huge problem, and there is no solution. Remember: I'm a pedant. Everyone dislikes pedants. People say they want a solution to this problem, but 95% of them are lying to themselves, because they would never vote for someone who told the truth. They are really bothered by the problem of lying in politics when the OTHER tribe is doing it. Very few people will call out their own tribe for doing it. And everyone hates them when they do. It bothers you and me--infuriates, even, that people are passing around that "George Floyd" video erroneously, and then not correcting an obvious error because that wouldn't get them any in-group points. But... can you point out any similar things among people in your own political tribe? It's easy to see it when it's the other side. What about yours? Do you think they're not doing it too, or do you not like bringing it up because it makes you feel icky inside?

Anonymous said...

Im like you: no lies ever. But I cant keep my mouth shut...
I started to work for my country IRS 30 years ago. Thats the way I keep my world together... Fighting lies.