Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why They Lie, 2014 Edition

First, please allow me to repost a large part of a piece from Eternity Road, which first appeared there on June 10, 2006:

Have you ever wondered why politicians and their affiliates lie? Why they betray their oaths and scamp their duties by deliberately misinforming the public? Why they strain to seduce -- often quite successfully -- the mainstream media into affirming or substantiating their deceits?

In one sense, the answer is simple. Politicians lie for the same reason anyone lies: to get something that would otherwise be unavailable to them on acceptable terms. If a lie is the lowest-cost / least-risk way of getting it, and their morals don't inhibit them from the approach, they'll lie as volubly as a teenager caught with one hand wrapped around a bottle of Jack Daniels and the other deep in his date's panties.

But politicians do tend to lie more than non-politicians. More effectively, too. They've succeeded in misdirecting millions of people at a time, persuading them that politicians' words, suitably echoed by journalists and approved by tame commentators, are more trustworthy than a mountain of contrary evidence in plain sight. Success in the use of a technique for getting what one wants increases the probability that he'll use it again.

In other words, why they do it might seem obvious, but how they get away with it deserves some investigation.

To borrow an image from Darrell Huff, the author of How To Lie With Statistics, your Curmudgeon's treatment might seem like a course of instruction for the aspiring pirate in the fine points of cutlass work. Nevertheless, one must understand the techniques to detoxify them, and to assist others muddled by them in achieving clarity.

When Smith wishes to deceive Jones, he must contrive to do all the following:

  1. Misdirection: He must avert Jones's attention and credulity from any convincing contrary evidence.
  2. Confidence: He must instill in Jones an adequate degree of confidence in his (Smith's) trustworthiness.
  3. Plausibility: He must frame his deceit in a manner consistent with the applicable context.
  4. Affirmation: He must ensure that the preponderance of voices to which Jones is likely to listen will affirm, or at least not contradict, his deceit.
  5. Neutralization: He must discredit contrary voices which have access to evidence, or channels of persuasion, that are outside his control.

If the subject matter of the deception is significant, which in politics is more often the case than not, the effort must be especially skillful and thorough. A single small tear in the veil thrown over the truth could bring disaster upon the liar. Thus, in the case of imperfectly constructed deceits, such as the 2004 Rather / Mapes "TANG memos," all it took was one sharp-eyed observer, familiar with the properties of typewriter fonts, to destroy what might otherwise have been a successful campaign to slander the president of the United States, who was running for re-election....

But your Curmudgeon has a larger point to make, which underpins all the important aspects of deception already presented: one cannot deceive a knowledgeable man. The precondition for all successful deceits is the target's ignorance of the critical facts. He who already knows the truth is all but impossible to mislead:

  • He'll already have access to reliable evidence.
  • He'll be skeptical of accounts that contradict that evidence.
  • He'll quickly spot incoherencies between mendacious constructions and the facts on hand.
  • He'll demand much more substantiation from those who affirm the deceit.
  • He'll be predisposed to believe those whose accounts accord with what he knows.

To keep the people easily deceived, one must deny them knowledge....

Politicians are unceasing in their attempts to create and perpetuate ignorance. Politicians who seek expanded power and perquisites -- i.e., just about all of them -- will always slant their presentations of "facts" to the public in such a fashion as to imply that only expanded State power, and unquestioning trust in the probity and competence of our "leaders," will save us from disaster. He who suggests that the State is the source of most social and economic problems, rather than the solution to them, is their blood enemy, to be neutralized by any means necessary.

Could it be any clearer why politicians place such emphasis on controlling the mechanisms of education and communications? Could it be any clearer why they strive unceasingly to seduce journalists and commentators to their support, and exclude those who refuse to enlist in their causes? Could it be any clearer why they cultivate the affections of entertainment celebrities and other bellwethers of our society?

Could it be any clearer why the Internet, the freest and most flexible instrument for communications and mutual education ever invented, must be protected from their mercies at all costs?

Inform yourselves.

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it -- no matter if I have said it! -- except it agree with your own reason and your own common sense." -- Gautama Boddhisattva (the Buddha)

If you've stayed in touch with recent developments in our nation's capital, you're probably already aware of the Dishonorable Harry Reid's attempt to paint all criticism of ObamaCare as dishonest:

Not a tiny handful. Not even an imagined majority. No, every last person who says they've been harmed by Obamacare is lying, according to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate....He specifically cites the story of a woman we wrote about earlier in the week, whose story...hasn't been debunked.

Senator Reid also claims that the anti-ObamaCare ads produced by the Koch brothers are "virtually all dishonest." No, he doesn't refute any of them; he merely makes that blanket statement, on the floor of the Senate in open session, and moves on.

Guy Benson also pursues the parallel case of Democrat Congressman Gary Peters:

You'll recall that Rep. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrats' presumptive Senate nominee, had his lawyers pressure television stations to refuse to air an anti-Obamacare ad starring a cancer patient who's been hurt by the new law. Julie Boonstra has since explained her situation in some detail and would like to discuss her predicament with the Congressman who's acted to shut down her story. Megyn Kelly followed up on this controversy, telling viewers that Peters has "repeatedly" turned down interview requests.

So we have direct lying by a Senator coordinated with indirect deceit, by suppressing the statements of others, by a Congressman. (And both Democrats! What an incredible surprise.)

Why are they doing it? Clearly, they want something that they believe is best obtained through deceit, but what? ObamaCare is standing law, with no immediate possibility of repeal. Given that no Democrat would dare to vote for his conviction and removal from office, President Obama is safe from impeachment. So what's the point?

What's that you say? There are elections coming up? Well, yes, but so what? Aren't there always elections coming up? What's different about the ones in November?

Could the Democrats so greatly fear the loss of the Senate as to tell easily detected lies right out in front of God and everybody? Or do they harbor hopes of retaking the House, and believe that suppressing the criticism of ObamaCare will assist them toward that end?

Not being a telepath, I can't be sure. (Besides, if I were a telepath, I'd be a lot more selective in my choice of "reading material" than to probe the minds of Harry Reid and Gary Peters.) My surmise is that the Democrats do fear the loss of the Senate, because they still hope to elevate a Justice or two to the Supreme Court while Obama holds the presidency. However, even if that's not the case, the famously thin-skinned Obama would surely be greatly peeved at the implied rejection of the policies he and his co-partisans have imposed on the United States. No one enjoys being publicly rebuffed, and for the Democrats to lose both Houses of Congress before Obama must vacate the White House would equal or exceed the snub the electorate dealt to the Bush Administration in 2006.

Even if the Supreme Court is on the Democrats' minds -- and to be sure, that's been the site of many unhallowed victories for the Left, this century past -- saving face is surely in there as well. Indeed, preserving the Democrat Party's image as "the party of the little guy" is critical to the party's long-term prospects, not merely those in 2014 and 2016. So they lie.

Lying, of course, is as common among politicians as chlamydia in a cathouse. One must always be alert to it, and ready to debunk or otherwise defuse it. But it's equally important to penetrate to the motivations behind the lie, for both strategic and tactical reasons:

    "Of all the musts and must-nots of warfare, this one is paramount: you must conceal your motives. Unless he is insignificant in comparison to you, once your opponent knows your motives, he'll be able to defeat you. He'll probably even have a choice of ways to do it.
    "You must move heaven and earth, if necessary, to discover your opponent's motives. His tactics will be determined by them. If his motives change, his tactics will follow. There lies your opportunity, if you can get him to adopt tactics unsuitable to the conflict. Of course, he could try to do the same to you."
    "What's the countermeasure?"
    "Constancy. Refusal to let yourself be diverted. Of course, that can be a trap, too. Motive is partly determined by objectives. If your adversary's situation changes but his objectives remain the same, he could find himself committed to paying an exorbitant price for something that's become worthless."
    "And that's the time to stop playing with his head?"
    His grin was ice-cold. "You have a gift."

When an election approaches, the preponderance of the lies politicians and their allies will tell will bear on their electoral prospects and those of their party. This is a particular vulnerability when the politician must somehow paper over previous lies and major policy failures to improve his chance of re-election. That describes twenty-one United States Senators and a great many Congressmen as we stand today.

Stay alert and skeptical.

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