Does Institutionalized lying desensitise us to the rampant dishonesty that characterizes our political world today??
A astonishing number of Americans have lost any real sense of the central importance of the search for truth as an abiding concern of civilised human society. It is not just that lying has pervaded the discourse of one of the two major American political parties; it is that truth-telling means nothing to these people. It is a commodity of no value – no, it is worse than that: these people have realised that truth is a serious obstacle to their pursuit of power.
Perhaps we have ourselves to blame. We permit egregious lying when it suits our purposes.
The former President claims that Joe Biden is the “most corrupt President in the history of the United States.” He says that “only I can save this country.” He says that he won the last presidential election “by a lot”. But the real problem here is not that he utters such ridiculous lies – he always was a liar – but that so many Americans apparently believe him.
Lies are insidious things. As Hitler understood, the bigger, more preposterous the lie, the more traction it will have. This is a problem of credulity. Why are humans so gullible – so willing to abandon reason and good sense and to descend into a dark world where evidence means nothing and hatred is rampant? In a world in which trust, mutual respect and community mean so much to survival, it seems like evolution has gone wrong here. The American gang of liars, and their believers, do not make survival more likely for anyone. The doomsday clock inches onwards.
Perhaps we have ourselves to blame. We permit egregious lying when it suits our purposes. Think of the generations of lying in the Catholic Church, lying designed to terrorize youth and make them behave better. James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, loosely based on his own boyhood, depicts a adolescent encounter with the priesthood in a “hell fire” sermon designed to awaken a sense of guilt and anxiety in his young hearers,
What name, then, shall we give to the darkness of hell which is to last not for three days alone but for all eternity?
–The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. . . But this stench is not, horrible though it is, the greatest physical torment to which the damned are subjected. The torment of fire is the greatest torment to which the tyrant has ever subjected his fellow creatures. Place your finger for a moment in the flame of a candle and you will feel the pain of fire. . . . The sulphurous brimstone which burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for ever and for ever with unspeakable fury [and} has this property that it preserves that which it burns and though it rages with incredible intensity it rages for ever. . . . even they, the foul devils, must turn away, revolted and disgusted from the contemplation of those unspeakable sins by which degraded man outrages and defiles the temple of the Holy Ghost, defiles and pollutes himself. – O, my dear little brothers . . . may it never be our lot to hear that language! May it never be our lot, I say! In the last terrible reckoning I pray fervently to God that not a single soul of those who are in this chapel today may be found among those miserable beings whom the Great Judge shall command to depart for ever from His sight, that not one of us may ever hear ringing in his ears the awful sentence of rejection: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels!
Could such lies improve the behaviour of young people? Maybe. Did they cause an undue sense of dread in young people, and anxiety about open encounters with and feelings for the opposite sex? Almost certainly. And, did it encourage later disrespect for the Church? Almost certainly.