Saturday, October 06, 2007

Living the lie: OJ Simpson, George Bush and Marion Jones

I am a lousy liar.

That was a lie.

No, it wasn't. I don't get a buzz from deception, and I'm bad at lying -- though my kids are forcing me to learn a few tricks of the trade. So one might think I'd have a hard time disbelieving OJ Simpson, Marion Jones, Floyd Landis, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney* ... well, you get the idea. It's a long list.

In fact I'm a cynical wretch. I recall being a very credulous child, so I presumably learned to compensate. In all of the above cases I assumed the individuals were lying. When questions of integrity arise I have learned to largely discount what a person says, how they say it, how often they say it, how intensely they say it, and how "honest" their face. I'll take the evidence, thank you.

I suspect that people who are merely good, but not superb, at both lying and detecting lies are most likely to be fooled -- they put too much weight on their ability to detect a lie. There's always a better liar.

Deception is not entirely a bad thing. If my son insists in believing in Santa Claus or the integrity of the President I'll play along. The mass of humanity would keel over in shock if their politicians were honest with them. The nature of the world is best understood slowly.

On the other hand, failure to learn can be a bad thing. People who are surprised to learn that Jones used massive amounts of drugs to win, or who believe her when she lies about "flaxseed", or who believe Bush when he denies his torture policy, need to rethink their learning curve.

Stop listening. Start thinking. Look to your inner autistic ...

* Cheney is actually a lousy liar, but I thought I'd throw him in for good luck.

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