Liar, Liar Pants On Fire
Wanna Buy Some Swampland
The story goes that the great Greek cynic, Diogenes, would travel around the countryside with a lamp, looking for an honest man. There is no record that he ever found that honest man.
Lying, one of those most basic and strongest of cardinal human acts, is in its heyday, in the face of the big lie of trump. Trump bases his lies on creating fear but he is not all that creative and would probably fall on his face at the annual World’s Biggest Liar competition held in Cumbria, England. Politicians and lawyers are barred from the contest because they are considered to be professional liars.
The title in 2019 went to Phillip Gate, a data information specialist, of Workington, England, who told the convincing though totally untrue story about how Cumbria is rich not only in coal deposits but also sugar, which is the reason for the county’s large jam production. Gate’s lie was woven from the popular reference to west Cumbrians as “jam eaters.” Most believe the jam eaters came about because the residents couldn’t afford meat for their “butties.” Philip disputed that and said the region “was rich not just in coal but in sugar with underground “sugar seams” absorbing into hedges and creating every flavour of jam.”
The competition is held every November at the Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge, in memory of Will Ritson, a pub landlord from Wasdale, who was well known for his “tall tales”. One of Ritson’s most famous fibs was that turnips grew so large in the Lake District that people carved them out to make cow sheds. Trump has never even entered the contest, probably because he isn’t bright enough and wouldn’t stand a chance of winning.
The most successful winning prevaricator is John “Johnny Liar” Graham, who won the competition in 2008 for the seventh time after telling the judges about a magical ride to Scotland in a wheelie bin that went under the sea. In 2007, Graham convinced the judges that that a World War II German submarine had invaded Britain to capture digital television decoders.
The Crick Crack Club in London also hosts a yearly “Grand Lying Contest” where contestants vie to win the coveted, “Hodja Cup,” named for the Mulla Nasreddin, a 13th Century philosopher, Sufi, and wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes.
The Crick Crack Club promises an evening where “relentless and preposterous absurdity is thrust upon a bewildered world, as leg-pullers, prevaricators, deceivers, swindlers and downright liars compete in public for the most treasured trophy in the world — the legendary Hodja Cup. Dodgy prizes, incorruptible judges, audience voting, gold-plated balderdash and utter bosh await you in this riotously comedic celebration of spurious poppycock.”
The first politicians were the most accomplished and brazen liars and they still are. There was Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s claim to be Syria’s premier pharmacist; Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, who bragged that he made an agreement with God stipulating that anyone reading his book the Ruhnama three times would be guaranteed entry to heaven; and trump at his 2016 inauguration when he had his press secretary declare that his inauguration crowd was the largest ever despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary.
Some people lie, possibly trump, because they suffer from a rare condition, known as pseudologia fantastica, a kind of pathological lying. Oxford clinical psych.com says these people tell “eloquent and interesting stories, sometimes bordering on the fantastic, that are told to impress others. These stories may seem to be just on the verge of believability and often involve the patient assuming important and heroic roles.”
The person afflicted with pseydologia fantastica, known as a pseudologue, is typically of normal intellect but of superior verbal ability and he prevaricates to be seen as hero or victim so that he can gain acceptance, admiration, and sympathy. The clinical psych.com website also notes that “the pseudologue lies somewhere along a spectrum between conscious deceit and delusion, not always conscious of his motives and seeming at least intermittently to believe his stories yet never to reach the level of conviction that would indicate a loss of reality-testing.” Pathological liars don’t embody trust and so their relationships and friendships fail. Pathological liars do not feel rejected, often have a histrionic personality and are sexually flamboyant. Like narcissists, pathological liars believe they have achieved perfection as in “I and I alone can fix it.”
It’s hard for people to know a lie when they hear one, but not primates like chimpanzees who have an acute ability to sense lies so they can find food that’s been hidden by other lying chimpanzees. Capuchin monkeys also know when to ignore when other capuchins are lying just to lure their victims away from their food.
So how to tell a human liar, like trump. The common misbelief is a liar has shifty eyes but rather when a person lies his pupils dilate. Lie detector tests are not very reliable and it wouldn’t help to require all politicians to take lie detector tests. Software, however, is being developed to analyze facial expressions, and catch when people are lying. Could be the downfall of trump.
People often believe politicians’ lies because the lies help support their beliefs about their world, like the people who feel their “American dream” of white dominance is vanishing. Politicians like trump tell those lies because they know that people would much rather hear equivocations about their future than the truth that the country is becoming more diverse and healthier.
The truth isn’t enough to get many to give up on those lies because, as George Lakoff, a genitive linguist at the University of California, Berkley, said, “If a fact comes in that doesn’t fit into your frame, you’ll either not notice it, or ignore it, or ridicule it, or be puzzled by it — or attack it if it’s threatening.”
Trump has been particularly adroit at convincing many Americans that he lost reelection because of voter fraud, something that is referred to as trump’s “big lie.” People sense a bit of reality in the lies and they couple this with their fears and their overwhelming need to believe in the lie.
Another demagogue, who used the big lie to win over millions was Adolf Hitler, who wrote in his memoir, “Mein Kampf,” that “in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility.”
Hitler wrote that the masses are more easily corrupted through their emotions “and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.”
Hitler understood that most people wouldn’t believe colossal lies or that others would distort the truth to such proportions.
“Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying,” Hitler wrote.
HItler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, famously is reported to have said that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
So keep searching Diogenes, and good luck.