Lies are not all equal. There are lies and and then, there are lies. When President Clinton affirms on television before the whole nation: “I did not have sex with that woman…,” everyone, whoever had a childhood understands, condemns as immoral but understands: Mr Clinton was simply trying to cover his ass after doing what he should not have done. “I did not put my finger in the ice cream, Mom; I just don’t know what happened.”
That’s a rational kind of lie even when it borders on the absurd. Once when he was a kid, my son was confronted, through factual elimination of other possible culprits, with good evidence that it was he who had taken something out of the fridge without permission. At the end, I said sarcastically, “If it’s not you, son, was it the dog who opened the fridge, it must have been the dog who opened the door, right?” He assented and blamed the dog. Even that was a rational lie because its purpose was straightforward self-protection, even if it failed miserably.
Rational, instrumental lies are rarely interesting because they are so familiar to almost all of us, as I said, at least from childhood. They are like a superficial band-aid on a wound that has not yet been inflicted.
There is another kind of lie that is endlessly interesting. It’s the self-aggrandizing lie. It’s interesting because it’s usually multi-layered
Brian Williams, the, NBC anchorman, a celebrity in his own right, admitted recently that, contrary to a story he had told several times, he had not been in a helicopter in Iraq that received enemy fire. He was forced out by others who were circling around him like hyenas.
In his apology, Mr Williams, lied again.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” (From Politico)
No, Mr Williams, it was not a “mistake” and everyone knows it. I often forget things that happened to me a long time ago. That’s a mistake. If it’s something unimportant, I often mis-remember what happened to me, that is, my recollection may diverge from what actually happened. Memory cleans house every so often. Memory makes the incoherent coherent because it’s easier then to put it away in some shelf of the mind. That’s normal; it’s ordinary mental hygiene. This process of sorting out and cleaning out what happened allows for honest mistakes.
Remembering what did not happen is not normal. Except for childhood memories which may have their source in stories told by parents, the mind does not invent what did not happen and then, pass if off as a real memory. When it does, it’s called an a hallucination. An hallucination is no a mistake; it’s a pathological event. The word hallucination is most often used in connection with current events but there can easily be hallucinations regarding past pseudo-events. Of course, I and millions of others think that people in responsible positions who experience hallucinations should be removed from those positions. This goes for television and other media people such as Brian Williams and Dan Rather; it goes as well for politicians such as Hillary Clinton who was a US Senator and wants to be president. We expect ordinary mental health from people in such positions. It’s not too much to ask, I would think.
Naturally, I am aware of the possibility that false memories about events that never happened may not be memories at all, that they may simply be fabrications, lies. This raises another mental health issue, or rather, three issues. The first issue is this: why would any adult do this? What is lacking in their sense of self that pushes them to act in such a dishonest fashion. I wonder if it’s simple immaturity or a mild form of sociopathy. Why would individuals such as Brian Williams, Dan Rather, Senator Clinton, with high accomplishments to their credit, in conventional terms, try to obtain more credit than they have earned? Perhaps, this is not really a question because many children are little sociopaths and until they are straightened out.
The sociopathic explanation, in turn, raises a second question, a separate sociological question: Why aren’t they found out early by those who know them and censored or expelled. What is the basis of the conspiracy of silence that protects them?
The third issue is why the fabricators do not experience the fear of getting caught? Why would individuals with big achievements and a promising future risk all for a little invention? Whatever NBC decides to do with Brian Williams he is burnt, he is a dead duck in terms of credibility. (Personally, I think he will announce that he is retiring voluntarily to spend more time with his family and to write a book. It will be a confessional kind of book. It will suggest some manner of PTST.) It seems to me that this kind of irrational gamble, this gratuitous separation from simple reality is also a form of mental illness. That’s another psychological comment. There is worse.
After each such incident of self aggrandizing lie by a famous person, it turns out that several people, sometimes many, in their entourage and beyond were aware of the lie and chose to keep their mouth shut. So, the self-aggrandizing lies of famous people, instead of being extinguished and discouraged by the possible censure of those who know are allowed to flourish with impunity. This is not a psychological illness but a social disease, like syphilis.
Now, going out on a limb, I don’t seem to remember any Republican or conservative of stature getting caught in this kind of lie, the second kind. (Ron Paul, the libertarian, a former bona fide member of the Republican Party was often iffy but it was not in the service of self aggrandizing.) If my memory is faulty, if I am a victim of selective memory, of the dreaded confirmation bias I think someone will swiftly correct me.
If my recollection is correct, it points to a liberal culture where reality is discounted, where truth is habitually violated by a conspiracy of silence, a conscious collective cover-up. I refer here to a cultural phenomenon rather than to individual failings, rather than to personal insanity. Now, I don’t think that all liberals like lies. Many are liberals for solid bread-and-butter reasons (unions members), others are merely on automatic (black voters). Yet, the current intellectual fraction of the Democratic Party is infested with a tolerance of lying that encourages more lying. I see no likelihood of change in the near future. Take the gang rape at Duke reported by Rolling Stone in 2014. It did not happen but it was used by liberals just as if it had.
Brian Williams dodged deadly fire that was not, like Senator and former Secretary of State Clinton before him. Dan Rather almost cut off a presidential candidate at the ankles all by himself, with forged documents. Before that, he had been photographed in Afghanistan wearing a turban and discharging a firearm at the Taliban (who were thirty miles away). And Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, also a former Attorney General, fought valiantly in Vietnam except that he never set foot there because he was studying in England at the time. The current upsurge of grotesque battlefield envy among liberals is not the only infringement on simple truth telling. Al Gore invented the Internet(but that was some time ago). It took the New York Times months to catch Jason Blair who did wonderful, colorful, authentic reporting on American misery entirely from his small office and even from the comfort of his apartment. And Senator Elizabeth Warren will be the first female and Native American President of the United States. Take that, old white conservative man!
And, speaking of presidents, I still don’t think President Obama is much of a liar. When his narrative diverges from reality, as it does more and more frequently these days, it’s because of genuine limitations on his knowledge. Like other intelligent affirmative action wonders I have known, he has memorized all the chapter heads but he has not read the book, or any book, I would think.