I am fascinated by lies.
Lies are a form of self preservation, and not unique to being human; animals bluff about their size, develop eye spots, Koko the Gorilla lied to her handlers about ripping out a sink from the wall to avoid punishment (she blamed the kitten). There's arguments about the need to define self awareness in order to define willful and knowing misdirection. I'm not well researched to have an opinion, whether animals are relying on cause and effect rather than an understanding of what they're doing, however, they don't appear to care whether the other organism believes them so long as they get the desired result.
I read awhile back that the difference between a lie and bullshit is that a liar must know that something is true and tell the opposite. A bullshitter has no preference for whether or not what they said is accurate; Bullshit is something you say because it sounds right even though you have no basis for assuming it could be true. In that sense, animals don't necessarily lie, they probably bullshit.
Humans, however, certainly do have a style of lying that is not only focused on the outcome, we want the belief. Not only do we care if a lie works, we care if you believe it. Sometimes, it helps us believe our own words and therefore justify them. Just think about any movie you've seen with a 'believable cast', entertainment is essentially the industry of peddling escapism and lies. It wouldn't be so hugely popular if lying didn't serve some kind of purpose or grant some satisfaction.
We probably developed a taboo of lying because we don't like being lied to, at least not without consent. Lying to someone violates something sacred, because it lends itself to emotional response. If you lie to someone there's usually some kind of emotional outcome; they have a feeling. To find out that they had a feeling based on something that wasn't real is a betrayal; it leaves the victim feeling humiliated and vulnerable. The scope of this varies with the weight of the lie.
We can create pretty complex realities for ourselves when we're dishonest; just imagine a man having an affair. He creates a reality for his wife in which it's not happening, a reality for his lover in which they'll gallop into the sunset, and a reality for himself in which he can rationalize his behavior. His lies have altered their realities without consent. That's a lot to be sprung on a person when the truth comes out. It's no wonder that generally we teach truth to be the positive thing, that lying makes you a bad person.
It does seem to be an odd parallel to have, particularly in a culture where lying is a booming industry, the crux of most conducted business and the starting point of many relationships. Deception levels the playing field in sexual selection; in modern society lying is practically a requisite stage in courtship; you lie about who you are to someone until they're in deep enough that you can start showing your cards.
There's both a positive and a negative to that, by the way. Admitting to lying makes you vulnerable, and being vulnerable with someone is often times a great way to create and strengthen an emotional connection. Just think about how comfortable a relationship is before you start farting, and then after. You lie in an attempt to attract and impress, you tell the truth in order to bond. Truth and lies aren't isolated from each other in human interaction.
Being a fraud might be one of the most difficult things to forgive and one of the easiest to become. Stephen Glass, a journalist, fabricated articles for years; there are television psychics and faith healers who prey on the grieving and wounded. James Frey created a wildly popular memoir that turned out to be a novel. These people have (or continue to) altered the reality of people on a mass scale, the backlash for their manipulation is usually huge. The stories ended, but the emotional depth continued long after. It's difficult to recover from being a liar, especially if you're outed and didn't confess. Coming out as a liar offers some recourse, being outed as a liar implies that you always intended manipulate people and didn't care about how they felt.
Maybe these people were narcissists, waving around tales of hardship and heartbreak in order to gain sympathy, notoriety, money, pick a reward, you can usually get it with a lie. No wonder those who had to suffer, those who really did go through horrific events, recoiled. People who have gone through certain hardships, particularly in terms of sexual assault or substance abuse, have a lot to face in order to be able to tell the truth. Watching someone saunter up like a hero and promote their struggle openly at first seems like a huge weight lifted. Someone understands your experience and has championed it. When it comes crashing back into you and the truth comes out, you realize someone profited from your suffering; it’s vile, painful and easy to vilify the fraud.
But where profits are not concerned, liars are most likely protecting themselves. Making up experience to parallel a strong emotion helps you cope with it. Maybe you never had a dead sister, but the way people received you when you did filled a void of human acceptance you didn't have. You manipulated people because you needed an emotional connection with them. I think what makes that seem so violating is the fact that the connection is genuine but the circumstance isn't. You took a connection from someone that they didn't offer you. Some people create fish tales simply because they want something to say to their friends. We all know one person who claims to have an uncle who tames lions or that they've met Jon Voight or some other bizarre vague lie that everyone knows isn't true. Sometimes these people are just one-upping a story you told to feel important; sometimes they're desperate to seem interesting because they can't handle feeling lonelier than they already are. The intent wasn't malicious even if the action hurt you.
Like anything else, lies aren't in themselves terrible things, and I would question the idea we have that the motivations for it are so sinister, either. No one thinks clearly when they want to save themselves; lying is a fantastic way to cope. There's moments where the truth hurts, is inexplicable or ineffable. When this happens, lies aren't there just to smooth the social transition, they're created to help you understand yourself or come to terms with these things. Some of these things are rationalizations; victims will lie to themselves and believe they deserve abuse. Junkies will believe that it's not the drug that's their problem. Comedians will think their opinions matter and they're going to make it by starting a blog. We all lie to ourselves, and sometimes we believe our own bullshit so sincerely it becomes part of who we are, and in that way, it becomes true.
I developed a habit of lying early on in my adult life, partly because answering the question "What have you been up to," with "Nothing much, working," made me feel like I had warts on my tongue. I came up with insignificant lies, things that couldn't or didn't need to be fact checked; anecdotes in order to break up the monotony of life. I got to seem like an interesting person, my friends could enjoy my company and no one got hurt. I still do this, but it's less common as now I actually enjoy myself and do things that are interesting. Becoming a hobbyist liar helped me learn more about how people worked, it was still in some sense a defense mechanism, albeit not one I like to admit I developed. Learning how to gauge people off of stories made up for the lack of social life I had for so long. I was that person telling tall tales so I wouldn’t have to be lonely; for awhile I didn’t have much else. My experiences were too different to be relatable to anyone else. Before I started lying, I had a lot of difficulty fitting in.
I'm an excellent liar; and for the most part, I don't have a great deal of attachment to the truth simply because lies are often more interesting or more easily understood. The truth can be rickety and warped, lies have to be believable and typically, in order for something to be believable, it must be understandable by default. Our memories are excellent liars; we tailor them without thinking about it. My weird way of coming to terms with this is to be pretty open about being a liar. I'll rarely confess to it outright but you should be aware that there's a hefty level of bullshit in my day to day communication. It taught me how people worked, but very little about how to be genuine.
I do believe, there's some things that need to be held to standards of truth because their falsehood has huge ramifications. There are topics that are lied about that make me viscerally ill. False accusation, in particular. Lies that veil police brutality as a normal interaction gone awry. These kinds of incidents are where the morality of dishonesty becomes more concrete, in my mind it has a great deal to do with intent.
Personally, I find a sense of moral uneasiness where a lie crosses from protecting me to benefiting me. It’s one thing to deceive someone so their world is better or I feel safer, it’s another to do it because it makes mine better or to gain control.
Before I used to make up stories, now I tend to lie by omission. I have this sensibility that things have a time and place to be said, and if I'm not there then I shouldn't say them. I'm coming to terms with all the half truths or unspoken ones. These are things that I want to be better about; this isn't a New Years resolution so much as I've been working on this for a few months; once this blog became more personal and less ponderous, I guess. It's hard to tell the truth if you haven't been honest with yourself. We'll see how things unravel, but for now I guess I have to let these things fade, let sleeping dogs lie.
In any case it's a new year. Hopefully I'll be able to make some real stories, either life experience or vivid imagination that you'll like to hear. Hopefully I'll grow enough as a person to drop some of this emotional baggage. Whatever happens, I'm excited for the ride, and I'm glad you're here with me.
Author's Note : This was written in mid December and I opted to publish it later because I was content with how much I'd written for the month and wanted to space out my productivity. This is not, and should not be taken to be, a commentary on any issue that's going on in current events.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.