Much has been said recently about the scarcity of truth telling especially in the political arena. Other less gentile words are often used for this phenomenon such as falsehoods, alternate facts, untruths, deception, or distortions. In some cases those who deliberately evade the truth are called liars, a term infrequently used since it is still considered insulting even though such behaviors are no longer uncommon. In prior generations truth was so revered that to call one a liar was construed such an assault on one’s integrity that it could result in mortal combat.
There seems little doubt that in recent years lying has become much more fashionable in political circles. The statement that “they all do it” is frequently heard when political candidates’ lies are discussed. If further confirmation is needed note that we now have a new industry called fact checking which continues to document massive numbers of untruths. I hesitate to call all of these falsehoods as lies since to qualify as a lie there must be a deliberate attempt to deceive. If one passes on faulty information through ignorance of the facts, or because he has been duped into believing someone else’s lie he could hardly be found guilty of lying. There is also the problem of drawing erroneous conclusions from factual data. It is well known that the human brain is capable of confusing biases with logic, and in any given circumstance we can never know if a person believes what he is saying is true.
Since lying has become a significant arrow in the politician’s quiver it occurred to me that a primer on the art of lying might be useful to those engaged in the great political debates of our time. As a matter of fact proficiency in the art of the lie is an effective tool applicable to any situation which involves human relationships.
You may be thinking that someone like myself who has spent a lifetime (and a long one at that) studying human behavior would be an expert on lie detection, but nothing could be farther from the truth. At one time or another I have been a sucker for every kind of con man on the circuit. These people whom we call sociopaths get their kicks from the con itself and monetary rewards are secondary. To get away with a scam is proof to them that they are superior. With that in mind when such people ended up in my office, I would assure them I would believe whatever they told me in hopes that would take the fun out of their deceptions.
We can learn a lot about the art of lying from those with sociopathic personalities. After all they are the pros having practiced their craft for years. The constant ego enhancement gained from their perceived victories against we hapless suckers endows them with the confidence which is essential to being believable. While minor embellishments can usually be carried off with little training, an aura of absolute certainty is necessary if one expects to climb to the rank of teller of whoppers. There can be no equivocation, and the message must be delivered in a straight forward manner with no “ifs, ands, or buts”. When planning to deliver a major falsehood the wise liar will actually rehearse his lie.
With enough repetitions one can almost convince themselves that what they say is true, and there will be no non-verbal “tells”. This will also solve the oft quoted cliché that to be a good liar one must have a good memory. Once a lie is composed and memorized you will do well to repeat it at every opportunity. As with advertising the more a lie is heard the more believable it becomes. Always remember the first rule in lying is that people tend to believe what they want to hear therefore it is important that the attitudes and ideals of your audience be taken into account as you compose your lies.
The most talented of our politicians have found ways to pass out misinformation without need of a flagrant lie. A very effective ploy is to tell the truth, but not the whole truth. For example, an innovative liar can take an opponent’s statements out of context or leave out qualifiers which give an entirely different meaning to the quote. In a pure sense of the word he has not lied but gets the job done. The phrase “I don’t remember” is a bullet proof way to avoid perjury when testifying in an official investigation and can be helpful in other situations also. It is the perfect lie for who can prove you do remember.
Most of us have been taught to believe that honesty and truthfulness are virtues of the highest order. Such ingrained value systems must be navigated if one is to succeed as a competent liar and therefore a success in the game of life. Here again we find that those with a sociopathic personality have a significant advantage for a predominant characteristic of the sociopath is that he lacks a functioning superego (psych-speak for conscience).
Such antiquated moral codes can be a major impediment to one becoming a competent prevaricator. Feelings of guilt are difficult to hide and when present can cast doubt on the validity of one’s lies. You must learn to dismiss all those stories which promote the idea of lying as a sin. Forget about little George Washington and his stupid cherry tree. After all, he pulled off the perfect con by cloaking his confession into a lie with his famous “I cannot tell a lie” when everyone knows that all humans are perfectly capable of lying. If you find it impossible to shake these moral stumbling blocks, you may find ways around them by reviewing such works as Fletcher’s situational ethics or John Dewey’s relativism. Researchers have shown that repetition is most helpful in overcoming such compunctions. They have shown that frequent lying desensitizes one to guilt, so that the more one lies the easier it becomes. (Nature: Neuroscience Vol 19, #12, December 2016).
One should not claim lying proficiency simply because his perceptions are faulty. Of course, the extreme in such cases occurs in cases of psychosis in which a person may as a result of delusional thinking transmit information which is not only false but often bazaar in its content. Even those of us who are convinced of our sanity are limited in our ability to perceive reality by our special senses (vision, hearing, taste, and smell) and the ability of our brains to process the information which they transmit.
Multiple studies have confirmed that eye witness accounts vary greatly especially in emotionally charged situations. Recent studies of brain function has shown the brain is not static in its function, but possesses what has been labeled as plasticity meaning that it is constantly changing in ways information is processed. It appears that a person’s life experiences including our biases influence how information is processed and communicated. This is easily demonstrated in a well-known parlor game in which a person tells a story to one adjacent to him, and it is passed on through a group of people. Invariably in spite of their best efforts to relate the story accurately it will often be unrecognizable when it reaches the last person. This and other factors sometimes make it difficult to know if an untruth is a lie i.e. deliberately misleading or a misinterpretation.
There is also the enigma of the lies of those with narcissistic personalities. Are they really lies or do they actually believe all that grandiose stuff. In some ways they are the opposite of the sociopath in that the sociopath is attempting to prove to himself that he is the smartest, while the narcissist is already convinced that he is not only the smartest but the best at every thing he does. Nevertheless, we sometimes see people who seem to possess qualities of both disorders. The country song “its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way” perfectly describes the narcissist. His exaggerated self-esteem is zealously protected, and failures are always blamed on other people or circumstances beyond his control. This often leads to the generation of conspiracy theories or paranoid ideation. Nevertheless, you will do well to mimic his self-confidence as it enhances believability.
As one progresses through the ranks from minor embellisher to Olympic class full throated liar, he needs to prepare for the inevitable challenges posed by those fact checkers whose goal is to denigrate the art of lying. It is good practice to anticipate exposure and be ready with an appropriate response. Naturally, one must never admit to lying, but find a way to skirt the issue. One time tested strategy when questioned as to the veracity of a statement is to go on the offensive by answering the question with a question. One can also question the motives of the attacker, become indignant, insulted, feign disgust or even sadness that one would sink so low as to attempt to sully a reputation for honesty and integrity. In a group situation such strategies if well done often enlist the support of the crowd. You must remember he cardinal rule to never give a direct answer to any question when interviewed. You will find that such obfuscation will stand you in good stead in future interrogations. A certain level of vagueness also provides wiggle room in case of later confrontation.
Our greatest liars are also innovators and a fairly new technique has evolved to fend off those truth seekers which is to “double down” i.e. to continue repeating that same lie over and over. Eventually, the challengers will be worn down, and repetition will produce true believers. There is also the old “taken out of context” excuse.
There may be times in your lying career when it may be advantageous to acknowledge that one of your statements is less than truthful in which case you will find it helpful to use the phrase: “I may have misspoken” without ever admitting to deliberate deception.
For those aspiring to become better liars, rest assured you have much company these days and the competition is fierce. Perhaps this introduction to the fine art of prevarication may be of help as you hone your skills.
I need to add the disclaimer that: “any similarities in this paper to people living or dead is purely coincidental”. Of course, you are free to speculate on the truth of that statement as everyone knows bloggers lie a lot.
All spoofs contain an element of truth. Jefferson and others pointed out, that truth is absolutely essential for the survival of democracy. Many of our leaders seem to have little regard for it which leaves me to wonder: where is the outrage?
To add to my despair, as I was writing the last paragraph of this attempt to be funny, my phone bleeped with the message that the Supreme Court had just approved our state’s “use it or lose it law”. The gist of which is that if you do not vote in 2 consecutive elections you are removed from the voter rolls and must reregister. This has been said by many to be the most egregious of all the attempts to suppress voter turnout. It has been promoted as a solution to a voter fraud problem which doesn’t exist. The decision came about as the result of the usual 5 to 4 vote. It was written by Justice Alito who famously demonstrated his political bias by screaming “you lie” during President Obama’s state of the union address.

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