Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. Sam Harris, author of Lying (2013)
Many are now wishing—I’ve seen it on Twitter—for a sequel to comedian-not-yet-Senator Al Franken‘s 2003 Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them in which he stated about the political Right, “We have to fight back. But we can’t fight like they do. The Right’s entertainment value comes from their willingness to lie and distort.”
Can You trust the current presidential administration? Any of them? Not the least of all Donald Trump, who displays a much higher than usual level of Politifact “pants-on-fire”-ness? Now-Senator Franken, for one, has significant concerns. His recent quote about guess-who-in-Chief: “We all have this suspicion that — he lies a lot. He says things that aren’t true. That’s the same as lying, I guess.”
Does Franken think that’s okay? “That is not the norm for a president of the United States, or, actually, for a human being.”
Another critic is comedian/commentator John Oliver, who recently showed on Last Week Tonight a clip of a real live reporter saying, “This is what makes covering Donald Trump so difficult. What does he mean when he says words?” Also known as: How do you know a politician is lying? His (her) lips are moving.
But to this degree? How did Trump get this far lying his pants right off?
Expert in dishonesty Dan Ariely, author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves (2012) stated during the presidential campaign, “It turns out that people want their politicians to lie to them — people view politics as a mean to an end, and if they care about the ends, they’re willing for the means to be a little bit more crooked” (Jesse Singal, Science of Us).
Ariely also believes, however, that virtually everyone lies. Yael Melamede‘s 2015 documentary (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies, which featured Ariely’s research and insights, drew this review headline from Anna Pulley, Village Voice: “Dishonesty Reminds Us That Our Pants Are Still On Fire.”
“Perhaps most interestingly,” says Pulley, “(Dis)Honesty shows us how we rationalize that mendacity.”
Robin Pogrebin, New York Times, concludes in her review of (Dis)Honesty that we as a society are quite adept at this particular defense: “You can see the process of rationalization across the movie — every story is a story of rationalization. There’s the rationalization of doing something for other people, there’s the rationalization that nobody else would suffer, the rationalization that everybody else was doing it.”
But some lies are worse—way worse—than others. Dennis Harvey, Variety:
Any era is a good one for liars, but folks on every point of the moral or political spectrum are likely to agree: We are living in a fibbers’ renaissance. As Yael Melamede’s documentary notes, various bendings of the truth have among other things recently led us into war, crashed the economy, and allowed potentially catastrophic despoiling of the planet to continue more or less unchecked.
And, if you think politicians are the worst? Apparently bankers top them, says Ariely.
By the way, other tidbits about Ariely’s research are also well worth seeing, says film critic Bruce DeMara, Toronto Star: “The experiments are both ingenious and hilarious and the insights they provide are revelatory, e.g., the bigger the brain, the greater capacity to lie.”
Watch the trailer for Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies below. Then look for it on Netflix, Amazon, and elsewhere: