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To Tell the Truth

The words “truth” and “lies” are ones we all know from an early age. Even so, cultures have struggled with the concepts. “What is truth?” “Is there a metaphysical truth, or is it phenomenological, dependent on how one sees the world?” “What about ‘white lies'”? And so on.

I read a book in graduate school about this topic, written by a female academic, but I can’t remember the name of her or the book. It was written in a non-academic style and easily readable, but ultimately I thought that it did not really delve deeply enough into the complexity of it. But maybe that is the problem at the outset. She seemed to rely on an argument that lying is bad in itself, a selfish putting of one’s own needs ahead of someone else’s, and didn’t want to brook any excuses.

I love topics like this, they get to the heart of the human condition. But indeed, one could write many books on it. Is it ever morally acceptable to lie? About what, and when? Of course, this kind of question presupposes a wish to be moral, a concern about what is morally right and wrong. Some people just do not have it.

Why they don’t, is another subject for books. Are they born that way? Do they get it from early childhood development? Do they learn it from interactions with fellow children or adults? Do they at some point consciously or unconsciously decide that they can get more of what they value in life by lying when it suits them? Are there some people who literally are so wrapped up in lies, that they cannot discern lies from truth?

So much has been written about Donald Trump, who lies about everything. It is about 95% likely that any sentence which comes out of his mouth is either a partial lie or a complete lie. How the media has allowed this, in not just announcing to its listeners that Trump is LYING (not misstating, or saying something controversial) is a disgrace, and a horrible danger to democracy. Newspapers like the NYT have contorted themselves to not use the words “lie” or “lying.” But that is what he does.

So he lied when he ran, he lied when he was President, he lies now. I have no idea whether he knows it or not. I think that his view of the world, such as it is, is so transactional, that he just says what he thinks will help him get the pleasures he wants. Truth vs. falsity is not in the equation for him. It is beyond weird and unsettling, but there he is.

And Trump’s amorality and conning has seeped down into the rest of the Republicans in office, and to his voters. But we should not give him all of the perverse credit for this. It has to have been at least inchoate in the natures of these people, because they do it so easily. Al Franken wrote his book about lying liars a few decades ago, before Trump was doing it on a national scale. These Republicans lie and lie, and revel in it. And their followers love to be lied to, and told this fantasy story in which they are the heroes, fighting against evil forces who want to tell them what reality is.

The lies told by Republican officials seem to grow exponentially in number and scope. Elise Stefanik, soon to be #3 in the House Republican leadership, says that 140,000 ballots in Fulton County, Georgia, were illegal. She might have said that they were flown in by bats who dropped them onto the desks, after having forged the signatures of humans. There is as much chance of one or the other, they are both beyond ludicrous. But she says it as easily as someone might tell you what they had for breakfast

This is a woman who went to Harvard, whatever that means now, and she says this. Does she believe it? If so, she is insane. Did she just repeat what some other insane person told her? That would make her utterly irresponsible. Or, and probably most likely, did she just say whatever she felt best suited her political needs, and that of her Republican Party?

Charles Grassley says that it is good to have the Cyber Ninjas conduct their own recount in Maricopa Country, Arizona. It is interesting that neither he or anyone else has called for a recount in any state which Trump won. Apparently we are never going to have any election where Democrats win. Either Republicans win, or it is a fraudulent election. The ultimate extension of sociopathy. The world view of dictators and psychotic tyrants from the onset of human history.

This is what seems to be going on. Republicans like Stefanik and McCarthy and Graham and Cruz and many others, just say whatever they think helps them. The actual truth or untruth of it is something that is not within their internal framework. “Might Makes Right” is a very unsettling rationale for power. This is “Winning Makes Right.” If you win, all the lying is worth it. And this is the rationale and process of every single Republican, with the very few and desperately needed exceptions of Liz Cheney, Barbara Comstock, and a couple of others.

Is this kind of mentality coming from the Russians? Totalitarian states, not just Russia, have long thrived on lying about everything. Russian propaganda is essentially to deny the existence of any truths; hence the Kellyanne Conway statement about “alternative facts.” Anything you say might or might not be true; who can know or care? This of course not only countenances lying, it also elevates the most ignorant person to the same level as the scientist or historian. It’s all just made-up stuff, anyway, right? The perfect refuge for stupid and willfully ignorant people.

Democracies need a moral foundation of some sort. Right vs Wrong, Good vs Evil, Facts vs Lies. Have the Republicans decided to completely abandon all of this and just lie and lie, more each day? They obviously think that this will help them in their only goal, which is winning elections and maintaining permanent power. Do they just rationalize to themselves, that once they win the Congress and then the Presidency, it will have been worth it, no harm done?

But there is immense and lasting harm in what they are doing. The chaos which they are creating will consume them and everyone else. If there is no right and wrong, no truth, no lies, just opportunism, then no one can believe any of it, or listen to anyone. As bad as I have seen Republicans be for decades, this is an entirely new level of depravity that they are wallowing in. And they can’t just climb out of it when they think they want to. They are the depravity now, there is no separation between it and them.

4 Responses

  1. To quote the late Isaac Asimov:

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.”

  2. I suspect that something(s) about the Cavalier and Borderer cultures work(s) to transform people, even people who are not natively predisposed to sociopathy, into sociopaths.

    If true, it would mean that those two cultures are inherently toxic.

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