10.19.2008

The Truth About Lying

(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted on Kit-Bacon Gressitt's blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Special to iVoryTowerz

Lying is a bad thing. From children, who’ve barely acquired enough language to do so, to the president and members of his administration commonly accused of it as prelude to the Iraq War, we all know we’re not supposed to lie.

Of course we do it anyway. But the boldfaced lie (BFL) seems a thing of the past. I miss its clear and direct nature; its economy of deceit and relative ease of exposure. Instead of the BFL, liars now machinate their ways around the malevolence of lying via euphemism: Lying isn’t quite so despicable when it’s thought of as fibbing, dissembling, bluffing or the contemporary classics perfected by our leaders: misspeaking and having no recollection of a particular thing.

We further confuse the issue by embracing gradations of situational contrivances to lighten the load of lying. On the lighter side, the little white lie (LWL) is a time-honored act of social kindness that has a well-worn page in every caring person’s repertoire. Who hasn’t uttered the likes of “Oh, you brought your nonfat, sugar-free, gluten-free cookies. Yummy!” or “Darling, that gown is devastating; it wraps your vast, uh, beauty in a swath of silken loveliness”?

But the LWL grows heavy with darker intent when its purpose is the liar’s benefit.

There’s the procrastinator’s prevarication: “Oh ye gods, my hard drive crashed! Can you believe it? I’ve contacted I.T. and they’re on the job — aren’t those guys great! So, I’ll get that report to you tomorrow.”

And then there’s the salacious swill of the sycophant: “It is such an honor to meet you. I admire you so much! Your last piece in The Atlantic was so powerful, so masterful: It thrusts the reader into the depths of your soul — again and again!”

This might lead to the opportunism of the engorged oaf: “Do I love you? Oh baby, you know how I feel about you, you’re the only one for me, baby, oh baby, can I put it in now?”

The LWL’s meanderings through the intermediate shades between black and white do little damage but to pull snags in the moral fiber of the fabricator. The objects of such duplicity either recognize the reprobates for what they are or they like hearing that trash, in which case liar and victim deserve each other.

Lies of omission (LOO) have a somewhat more sinister and utilitarian character in the hands of the great deceivers of our time who have come to know and intimately practice the school of “If one is not asked, don’t offer — and never remember, recall or recollect.” Imagine what juicy tidbits we’d have gleaned from President Ronald Reagan or President Bill Clinton or Vice President Dick Cheney or Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or even Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North if we had queried them before LOOs became all the rage in D.C. — Washington National Airport might have remained just that.

Yes, the methods of equivocation are as diverse as the mouths from which they emanate, but it is the fear of being caught in a lie that puckers the fannies of even the most practiced in the ranks of liars. This might account for the stunning absence of stately men and women grandly standing before the cameras in pursuit of President George W. Bush and Cheney for their scheming hearts and lying ways. We, the people who pay for their wars, have not been subjected to the persistent nightly news babblings about Bush and Cheney’s deceptions, deadly though they are, that historically drove President Clinton to prayer and a House vote to impeach for lying about diddling an intern. Perhaps the collective congressional deaf ear turned to the lonely calls to impeach Bush and Cheney from the likes of Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Cynthia McKinney (who formerly represented congressional districts in Georgia and now heads the Green Party ticket for president) was at least in part a function of the don’t-do-unto-others-what-you-wouldn’t-have-them-do-unto-you school of thought.

Today, our decline to a commonly-tolerated state of deception has the very people who debate before the nation, eager to replace the Bush-Cheney den of thieves, subject to review by such lie-o-meters as factcheck.org, which measures the veracity of their proclamations, the extent of their hyperbole. Have we truly sunk so far that the men and women who would be king cannot be trusted to be true and that a lie is not a lie but an exaggeration?

I’d prefer the leader who can say, “I cannot tell a lie.” Instead, we’re dragged from Sarah Palin’s Joe Six-pack of exaggeration to John McCain and Barack Obama’s Joe the Plumber* — who, it turns out, has been snaking customer’s bowels without the required license.

Are we inured to lying? Is boldfaced honesty passé?

Oh, Joe, say it ain’t so! (Thanks, Sarah — may I call you Sarah?)

*Mentioned more than 20 times as Joe the Plumber during the third presidential debate this year, the unlicensed plumber is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher.

For more background on politics and the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic © copyright DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)













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