A long time ago, I didn’t think it possible that anyone could live a life of compulsive lying. Nor did it seem likely that a person could sustain a web of deceit and manipulation over a long time. It just didn’t seem like you could go against the ‘goodness’ of human nature. Besides, if your lies are repeatedly exposed by your victims or disproved through scientific evidence, the only course of action is an acceptance of reality and a change for the better. Such people would find little means of success or integration in society. To prove this point, my professor once jokingly asked the class if they would marry someone who was a proven liar. Not a single hand went up. Yet, many known compulsive liars in the world have established families and business empires. Despite what we are told, it would appear that lying if done well, would be far more rewarding than playing by the rules.
If that seems hard to be believe, consider that it’s well-documented that 60% of people average 2-3 lies in the space of a 10 minutes conversation. Whether you want to call them white lies, unconscious lying or exaggerations, they have nothing in common with the truth. Over an entire day, we probably at least tell a lie or two, often without any awareness. We also too easily believe that ‘good’ people don’t tell lies. Politifact, a website that double checks the claims of politicians to see if they are lying or telling the truth found that even President Obama only told the truth roughly 21% of the time. And that is why the term ‘honest politician’ is an oxymoron. Politicians can’t fulfill every promise, but they must lie and exaggerate to make themselves seem important enough to vote for. Likewise, to maximise profits, a businessman would lie even though he is well aware that the deal is disadvantageous to you. His ability to make money requires him to hide important knowledge you don’t need to know and lie when it suits him. So much for the virtues of honesty and kindness.
And naturally, it’s impossible to avoid bringing up President Trump who has been found to tell the truth a wonderful 4% of the time. It’s safe to say that this man is outright lying every time his mouth opens. He lied about the weather and the size of the crowd present at his inauguration; he believed Trump towers was 68 stories high when it was only 58; he completely misrepresented the percentages for unemployment, taxes and crime rate; he knew nothing of the nuclear triad but bullshitted his way through with false statements and digressions; got his facts from fake news and would insist with confidence that they were true. But his supporters believe his every word. They show up by the thousands in his rallies, and in an interview, when asked about his lying, they were either in denial or simply justified his behaviour as typical of a businessman who can ‘get the job done’. Even when presented with photos and statistics, Trump still insists he is telling the truth and brands all other media outlets as ‘fake news’. It’s easy to think Trump’s isolated but he isn’t. The people he has picked to work with have all famously lied for him and continue to do so without batting an eyelid.
The degree of lying we conduct ourselves with can either be typical, compulsive or pathological. There’s no ‘truthful’ category because no one is truly honest – we know how often we lie to ourselves. Job interviews, academic results or bragging rights, we are all guilty as charged. And perhaps to make it harder to swallow, truly pathological liars (and I would consider Trump to be the among the worst) are not stupid nor lacking social skills. To successful output cohesive lies without being caught in the act requires the liar to have a high intelligence and emotional intelligence – a point Nietzsche notes in his book, “…in order to uphold one lie, he [the liar] must invent twenty others.” Whether we look at Steve Jobs (he lied when it suited him) who is considered to be the founding father of the modern smartphone, the gold medalist cyclist Lance Armstrong (lied about the drugs he took for many years) or the legendary golfer Tiger Woods (lied about his multiple affairs even though he was married), they are only a small but public fraction of people who lie, lie and lie. When exposed, these liars do suffer grave consequences, but it’s important to remember that most lies are never detected, and if they were, the liars would have already greatly benefited in some way.
Lying also poses serious ethical problems. I am sure that Trump’s family and his administration are at least somewhat aware that some of the things he says can’t possibly be true, but they (so far) seem to fully support his lies. Are we justified in helping our family to lie? Are there some lines we cannot cross? While most of us would hate being lied to, we are ironically, guilty too of lying – the very same thing we despise in others. And if we tell a good enough lie and cover our tracks sufficiently, don’t all lies become truths? What then becomes of reality? Maybe then, this is our life’s mission: to find out what extent of lying we can accept and how valuable the truth is to us. If Trump’s supporters are any indication, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that many of us are bad at seeking out the truth.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) how twisted lying can be?