I Hate Lucy

Don’t get me wrong. I used to laugh my head off at Lucy Ricardo’s shenanigans on the “I Love Lucy” show. But, let’s face it, that show may be at the roots of the culture of lying that has emerged in this country, especially off late. The humor on that show was based, almost without exception, on the deception and lies that Lucy perpetrated against Ricky. As a result of those lies she had her hilarious comeuppance, and all was well in the end. In any event, so many sit-come that have followed have adopted the same template: tell lies that generate embarrassing, funny situations and make sure the hero or heroine learns a lesson or two but all comes out in the wash at the end.

So what? Well, think about it. The entertainment industry has taken over this country and folks spend the better part of their day and night watching the tube. Sit-coms are extremely popular. If we put two and two together and make sure we don’t come up with five, we might infer that those shows permeate the tiny cells in our brains and plant seeds (if television waves can plant seeds). And those seeds give us the deep impression that lying is OK. We see it time after time on the tube. We know that the used car salesman lies to us. It’s a given. We know that going in and brace ourselves for the tall tales about the car we like driven by an old women and never over 30 miles an hour. And we know the man selling his house will simply not mention that the basement leaks every time it rains.

Politicians lie to us and we know it as well. It’s a given, just like the used car salesman, the house-seller, and whoever else has an item to sell. The politicians in particular are selling themselves and they will tell us what we want to hear in order to get our vote. We say we hate politics; perhaps it is because we all know that it invariably involves lying. One of the two candidates for president in the current race is the Champion of Liars. A recent count by the folks at the New York Times reveals that in a given week he told 87 lies to his opponent’s 8. Clearly, he is the Champion! But the fact remains that his opponent lies on occasion as well. Perhaps it is best to take what they all say with a grain of salt, as they say, and assume that we are being lied to all over the place.

The problem is that we need to know where those folks stand. We need to now if the car we buy will hold up after the warranty runs out and whether or not the leak in the basement can be stopped. We need to know these things and when we are told lies and we believe those lies we are the victims. How do we avoid that trap? Surely, we have some responsibility to learn the truth and separate that from the rest of the verbal detritus that spews forth from the mouths of those we would like to believe.

As I have noted in a previous post, when lies become the norm there is no longer any truth. Truth becomes whatever we choose to believe. I do think we have arrived at that point as a society. How else to explain the thousands of people who buy the swill that is being sold by the Champion of Liars? So many of us have become like the naive fools who bought snake oil from the man on the wagon at the fair years ago. There’s a fool born every day. Sometimes dozens of fools. How do we make sure we are not among them?

To begin with, we need to be suspicious about anything a politician tells us. We need to insist on corroboration from another source when a claim is made, a reliable source. We need to ask ourselves whether what he or she says is plausible? Does it make sense? Can the president, for example, have the power to accomplish all the things this particular candidate is claiming he or she will accomplish when in office? What evidence do we have that what this person says is true or that they are competent to hold that office?

The rule of thumb in critical thinking is that truth is a residue. If we can find a weakness in a claim, if we can find counter-evidence, that claim is almost certainly not true. A claim is true if, and only if, we cannot find reasons to reject it. This was the Socratic method and it has stood the test of time. But it takes work. It requires that we be suspicious. It takes careful attention to the claims themselves and a willingness to think through what the person says and reject those claims that are clearly false — even if they fit in nicely with our preconceived ideas. And that is tough. We do want to think that those claims are true that make us feel good about ourselves. But a claim is not true simply because we want to believe it. It is only true if it cannot possibly be false.

Ricky believed Lucy because he loved her and he wanted to believe what she said was true. He should have given it a bit more thought. But it wouldn’t have been half as funny. On the political stage these days, however, it is not the least bit funny and we have our work cut out for us.

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Lies and More Lies

In light of the fact that the New York Times recently reported that Trump was guilty of 87 “misstatements, exaggerations, and falsehoods in a week” I thought this post from a while back worth repeating, though, as I say, those who follow this man are convinced that every criticism that is leveled against him is a lie by “those damned liberals.” As I also say, we have lost sight of just what lies are — they are not just those statements we dislike, they are those statements that seek to alter the truth and tend to mislead.

In one of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” George is giving advice to Jerry who has been asked to take a lie detector test to determine whether he does or does not watch a soap opera every day. He is seeking to impress a cute policewoman and is afraid the truth will put her off. George is giving him advice because George is so good at lying; it has become a habit with him. He tells Jerry, “it’s not a lie, Jerry, if you really believe it.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t work, because Jerry simply cannot keep up the ruse. But it seems to be working in today’s political scene as the Republican candidate (who shall remain nameless if not blameless) seems to be very good at lying. I suspect he has had a great deal of practice — after all he claims to be a successful business person when, in fact, his businesses have a habit of failing. But I also suspect that he really believes what he says. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t know what he says because he doesn’t listen to himself. His mouth seems to open when his brain is engaged elsewhere — heaven only knows where.

The problem is that his mindless minions who hang on his every word and grammatically incorrect sentence seem to believe whatever he says. One thinks of a cult where the followers blindly follow where the leader leads — or points. And this is a problem because when the lie becomes the norm, then facts are useless, even meaningless. Lying becomes merely a word that is used by the minions to discredit criticism of their leader who can do no wrong. Those “Fact-checkers” who claim to be neutral and only interested in setting the record straight are dismissed as biased and perhaps even in the pocket of the opposition.

Freud talks about the “reality principle” that operates as one grows older, separating fact from fiction, truth from myth. This principle is central to maturity in the human animal. Without it, he or she remains a child living in a make-believe world in which everything goes as planned and there is no pain or suffering. This, of course, is the world of those who continue to insist that there is no Truth (except what comes from one man’s mouth) and where lies are otherwise the norm. Reality is displaced by myth and the leader standing before you is larger than life and beyond reckoning. What others say about him are all lies. Everything he says is solid gold.

What happens in this case — and it is this case which is of major interest since so many seem to be living in this mythical world where one man has all the truth there is and everyone else is an inveterate liar — is that ears are closed to the truth as it relates to the real world: the real world has ceased to exist. The only world is the world in which the man standing before you says whatever comes into his head and it is taken for the truth, the only truth there is. Everything else is a lie, the only lies there are.

Philosophers will tell you that truth is attached to statements that correspond with facts in the real world. Thus, if I say the cat is on the mat, this is true if, and only if, the cat is, in fact, lying on the mat. But when the “successful businessman” standing before us tells us that the truth is what he says, and what he alone says, then the cat disappears and the only reality is the reality created by this man’s words — such as they are. We hear what he wants us to hear and nothing else. Our minds become closed to the fact-checkers because we are told they are biased. The word “lies” attaches only to those things said by those who oppose this man. The paradox is that he lies when he says that others lie. But we are no longer able to distinguish between the lies and the truth — except when it is pointed out to us by our Infallible Leader.

Truth To Tell

In an interesting half-page in the current ONEARTH magazine published by NRDC, there’s a lesson in telling it like it is. The author, John Walke, who is director of NRDC’s clean air project, corrects a number of mistaken statements in a letter written to the Washington Post by the president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Now we know by this time that “clean coal” is a misnomer: there is no such thing. There is just “cleaner coal” — which is to say, coal that is cleaner than it was a few years ago. This is thanks to the EPA which has forced the coal industry to a higher standard, though the coal industry would like us to think it was their idea.

The letter claims, for example, that the coal industry has cleaned up its act and would dearly love to take credit for pulling their hand out of the cookie jar, though we can see them hiding another cookie behind their backs!  Walke points out that the EPA has brought the cleanup about and while the coal industry claims that coal is “almost 90 percent cleaner than it was 40 years ago,” in fact it has been forced by the EPA to be 90 percent cleaner by 2015: it hasn’t reached that benchmark yet, and it is moving in that direction only because of federal legislation, not the desire to be good citizens. The coal industry also claims credit for “more than a dozen clean coal technologies” when, in fact, they have lobbied for 40 years against clean air safeguards and they are still fighting — along with Big Oil, of course. In the final paragraph of the letter, the coal industry correctly points out that energy demand will increase in coming years (duhhh) “and that demand cannot be met without coal.” Walke points out that in the U.S. “renewable energy, natural gas, and simple economics have steadily reduced demand for electricity generated by coal. California is on track to use no coal-based electricity by 2025. Clean energy technologies can produce both good jobs here and energy for export.”

The letter by the coal industry commits what logicians call the “neglected aspect” fallacy. They simply ignore alternatives to coal, especially clean energy alternatives like solar and wind, in order to scare people into thinking that they are the only alternative to an otherwise bleak future without adequate energy for teeming populations. And, of course, they ignore the alternative of population control which would go a long way toward solving not only this country’s energy problems, but the planet’s as well. But that’s another story for another day — though it is not much talked about, sad to say.

In a word, we know that corporations are not beneath making public statements that not only stretch the truth and wallow in half-truths, but actually state bald-faced lies — all in order to hoodwink the public and sell their products. We must always consider the source and never forget that the name of their game is “profits,” and when they start to spout data to prove their innocence they are not above saying what they think we want to hear rather than what we ought to hear — since the latter might interfere with the bottom line. A healthy skepticism is always in order.