We the voters are regularly left to decide who is and who is not telling the truth. Or who is telling more or less of it. In the past few years the most perplexing aspect of political lying has been its frequency, blatancy and its audaciousness. Or its unmitigated shameless effrontery of truth as we understand it.
In the last US election Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan took lying to an unprecedented level. Fact finders alerted the public to 2019 lies by Romney alone. I watched the first Presidential debate and became fascinated with how Romney could present fiction as fact. It is my contention that President Obama lost the first debate not because he was of his game, or that he was under-prepared, but rather he was taken by surprise by the willful lies that Romney was telling.
It is also my contention that the conservatives in our country, led by Tony Abbott have imported this lying strategy, or political technique, of far right conservatism into the discourse of Australian politics. More on that later.
So what is a lie?
We know that a lie has three essential ingredients; it communicates some information. The liar intends to deceive or mislead. The liar believes that what they are ‘saying’ is not true. And we call people who use these three principles blatant liars.
“When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts”.
― Michael Ende. The Never-ending Story
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed”.
Joseph Goebbels said it. Adolf Hitler re phrased it.
“When you tell a lie you deny the other person’s right to the truth”.
On a more personal level there are what we call white lies where we deliberately colour what we say in shades of hue to protect the feelings of others or ourselves, or to avoid argument.
“Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is”.
“Telling the truth should not be delayed simply because we are not sure how people might react to it”.
Consider the case where telling a lie would mean that 10 other lies would not be told. If 10 lies are worse than 1 lie then it would seem to be a good thing to tell the first lie, but if lying is always wrong then it’s wrong to tell the first lie…
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive”.
― Walter Scott, Marmion
Lying is probably one of the most common wrong acts that we carry out (one researcher has said ‘lying is an unavoidable part of human nature’), so it’s worth spending time thinking about it.
Why is lying wrong?
There are many reasons why people think lying is wrong; which ones resonate best with you will depend on the way you think about ethics.
Lying is bad because a generally truthful world is a good thing: lying diminishes trust between human beings. If people generally didn’t tell the truth, life would become very difficult, as nobody could be trusted and nothing you heard or read could be trusted – you would have to find everything out for yourself and an untrusting world is also bad for liars – lying isn’t much use if everyone is doing it.
Prime ministerial lying
Everyone knows that our Prime Minister is a liar. He might even be the worst amongst the world leaders. He is certainly the worst this nation has ever seen. Manny of our most respected journalists and media commentators have said so. He has even admitted he is a liar himself. The evidence is so abundant, so overwhelmingly copious that it is beyond contradiction. It is fair to say that in general the populace accepts his lying as a fact. I and many others have listed them, quoted them, itemised, analysed them and exposed them in crystal clarity. Even members of his own party have accepted that he is a liar of nefarious intent. And his sheer indifference to the fact that he lies together with his lack of conscience about it I find sickening. The list is as long as a toilet roll. Only people like Jones and Bolt seek to convince people otherwise.
In Parliament, particularly in question time it is considered (even when protected by Parliamentary Privilege) poor form to call a member a liar. Outside the house one could expect a defamation order. Now in the house the speaker doesn’t even warn the leader of the opposition when he calls the PM a liar. Everyone just accepts that he is.
Our Prime Minister the liar. It doesn’t fall easily from my tongue. I’m a proud Australian, true blue as the line goes and I don’t like it when I watch the telly and the cringe factor hits me when I know that he knows that he is telling lies without any compunction to conscience. And at the same time spruiking his Christian values. No other leader of this nation has less right to moralise us about virtue, be it Christian or otherwise.
But why is it so. Why does he have to lie with such monotonous regularity and mischievous intent? I have no training in psychology so I can only hazard a guess based on my knowledge of human nature. Anyway I will just throw some thoughts up in the air and see where they fall.
Firstly the compulsion to lie is genetically acquired from his parents. Secondly the close links of the LNP to the ratbaggery Tea Party politics of American conservatism has convinced him that lying is effective and it works if used consistently as a societal dumbing down tool. As a means of propaganda. Thirdly, it just comes naturally to him. Fourthly people of his faith have convinced him that lying for the greater good is not sinful. There might be some self-loathing involved but he is ready to accept it. Fifthly it is a habit acquired early in life to get his way and now as with most habits he accepts it as normal. Lastly he believes that he alone knows what is best for you and me and our country and is willing to lie to prove it.
Truth in politics matters. It is not a trivial matter in a democracy. Our whole system is based on the assumption that truth prevails over all else and that it is the people who judge its veracity. Without truth the people cannot give informed accent to office and democracy fails. There are ethical obligations of integrity and coherence upon which society depends. Our Prime Minister has failed the highest standards of political morality.
At this time in our history we are experiencing a toxic tide of political mistrust. No other politician has contributed to it more than Tony Abbott. Is he the most dishonest, the most cynical and pathologically perverted liar to ever lead our nation? I will leave you to ponder the question:
“Do you shape the truth for the sake of good impression? On the other hand, do you tell the truth even if it may tear down the view people may have of you? Alternatively, do you simply use the contrivance of omission and create another lie .I can only conclude that there might often be pain in truth but there is no harm in it” (John Lord).