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Lies, and the lying birthers who tell them

Despite the allusion to Al Frankens’ book, Lies, and the lying liars who tell them — a fair and balanced look at the right, I really prefer his book, The Truth (with jokes). This article is not so much about birthers or Al Franken as it is about lies. I was reading the Wikipedia article on Lies today, and while it not my favorite Wikipedia article either, it was still thought-provoking.

I never realized that there were so many kinds of lie, running the scale from the little white lie to the big lie. We learn to lie at an early age and it pervades our culture. According to WorldNetDaily (assuming they’re telling the truth), Americans average 4 lies per day, compared to Australians who only tell 3.

Lying is a pernicious activity because it undermines trust in our society. In fact lies have become so pervasive that in some cases we expect to be lied to, and discount some speech in advance. The most common example is puffery, exaggerated advertising claims. Puffery is not banned by FTC rules because no one is expected to believe it. A much more serious example is government lies which lead many people (myself not included) not to believe anything the government says. This last consequence of a past history of government lies shows up in the birther movement who disbelieve the Congress, the news media, the federal courts and officials in Hawaii without a moment’s hesitation. [In all honesty, only some birthers do that.]

I am personally concerned about the effect lying has on the liar and on others. The first example that comes to mind is Dr. Terry Lakin (no longer Lt. Col Lakin) who lost his military career and went to prison because of birther lies. A problem with lies is that one often has to tell bigger lies to cover up the ones before. Whether Donald Trump is lying about his beliefs on Barack Obama’s origins as Bill O’Reilly suggested, he is at best repeating lies. And as he tries to defend himself he is repeating bigger and bigger lies and making things up (e.g. the lack of a Nelson Rockefeller birth ad). Lying erodes character.

Birtherism is an example of “the big lie,” a lie so audacious that it is hard for someone to believe that someone would make it up. What bigger lie could someone come up with than “the President of the United States lied about being born in the United States?” Another huge lie is “US Presidents must have citizen parents and everybody remembers this from Civics class.” They must be true because no one would make up something huge and public and easily refuted!

I personally try not to lie, whether from a sense of morality or an essential lack of audacity, and it has worked out well for me. Despite what some birthers say (they’re lying) I don’t lie on this blog. I may get things wrong, but not intentionally, and I correct the mistakes when I find them and I assure you that I am not a left-wing communist bed-wetter [h/t to Lewis Grizzard for the phrase and some thoughts about lying]. On occasion I don’t say some things I could (lies of omission) but I do this because I believe disclosure would trigger lies from others and result in less rather than more truth out there.

I can understand the child lying to escape punishment. I really don’t understand public lies that are readily exposed, but as Lincoln said: “you can fool some of the people all of the time.” I really don’t understand someone who would trade their reputation for fooling some people.

I wrote this article to help me think things out and to see what visitors have to say.

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5 Responses to Lies, and the lying birthers who tell them

  1. avatar
    J. Edward Tremlett April 4, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    Lies persist from the lips of politicians because a lot of people are either too lazy or too dumb to take the time to find out the truth. And by the time they do, it’s too late for them to get angry, because some other crisis has come before them — maybe also caused by a lie, or a lie in and of itself.

    Worse than that, we’ve come to expect lies from political officeholders. If they’re being truthful, that’s when it’s time to worry.

  2. avatar
    Slartibartfast April 4, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Personally, I try to tell the truth because I’m lazy – it’s too much work to remember a bunch of lies… (I also have more, shall we say, ‘philosophical’ reasons, but that one is sufficient). In my opinion, it’s the birthers’ use of multiple ‘big lies’ is what necessitates strong debunking efforts – the big lie is VERY effective absent any sort of opposition a flock of them even more so (unopposed they support each other – if they are forced to be reconciled with each other they start to fall apart…

  3. avatar
    DP April 4, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    I agree that lying is a very bad habit to get into. Telling lies gets easier every time, and you do wind up as a worse person at the end. But…

    To quote Goerge Costanza, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” I think that’s where a lot of this comes from. Of course, there are the pond scum types like the one who wrote the article you just dissected, who don’t believe anything and are just selling swill to the gullible. Lucas Smith comes to mind. But the rest are coming at this from the point of view of a conclusion needing a rationale.

    Some hard-core right wingers simply can’t accept that any Democrat can be a legitimate President. It’s socialism, or abortion, or gays and hippies, or whatever. Democrats have betrayed their right to be considered legitimate. We saw this before with all the Arkansas drug-running-airport-killed-Vince Foster crowd when Clinton was President. It was smaller, but G. Gordon Liddy and the like were there milking it even then. And some Republicans played footise with that.

    Now add in the crowd who are simply freaked out at some level that a BLACK man is in the WHITE House. They’ll never admit it, but some are too stupid not to give themselves away, Getting hysterical about “taking my country back” is another good clue. These people feel violated at a fundamental level, and they need a reason why this isn’t legitimate. So birtherism is true because they believe it for reasons have nothing to do with facts.

    It’s kind of weird to see a good old fashioned mass hysteria documented in such detail.

  4. avatar
    The Magic M April 4, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    At a certain point, a lie takes a life of its own. Even the one who originally came up with it will start believing it and thus be the more convincing telling it on.

    I’ve been told it’s easy to fool a polygraph if you’ve trained yourself into actually believing a lie. I used to do this when I was younger, you could wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me something and I would instantly repeat the same lie I had been telling for months. No “uh”‘s and “ehm”‘s and things made up on the spot to fix holes in the story, there were no holes.

    And I think this is how professional liars (politicians, shady salesmen, con artists, …) actually work. They are so convincing because they always have all the answers and never have to make something up on the spot.

  5. avatar
    misha April 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Never believe anything until it is officially denied.