Zeitgeist

The Tenacity of Mendacity

September 10, 2012

Multiple Pages
The Tenacity of Mendacity

False allegations about the propaganda technique known as the “Big Lie” have been repeated ad nauseam to the point where, with eye-gouging irony, it has all congealed into a fresh new Big Lie of its own.

Two Democratic Party spokespeeps recently perpetuated the astoundingly pervasive myth that Hitler and Goebbels openly advocated deceiving the public, which, if you pause three seconds to think about it, wouldn’t be the wisest strategy for any politician to publicly espouse.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on September 1, John Burton, chairman of California’s delegation to the DNC, accusing Republicans of marching in Goebbels’s alleged footsteps:

They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie. Joseph Goebbels. It’s the big lie, you keep repeating it.

“A fundamental flaw of human psychology, at least at this point in evolution, is that people prefer to embrace lies than to admit they can be fooled.”

Last Tuesday the Wichita Eagle quoted Pat Lehman, head of the Kansas delegation to the DNC, accused Republicans of retracing Hitler’s purported boot prints:

It’s like Hitler said, if you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big lie, and if you tell it often enough and say it in a loud enough voice, some people are going to believe you.

The true Big Lie here is the implication that Hitler or Goebbels ever publicly endorsed such a method. You’ll see this asserted hundreds of thousands of times across the Internet’s vast caverns, but you’ll never see it traced to a source document. The truth—at least according to their own documented words—is that Hitler and Goebbels criticized their enemies for employing Big Lies.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler accused Jews of using the Big Lie, which he specified was a mega-fib that Jews comprise members of a religion rather than a race. And the only instance I could find of Goebbels ever mentioning the Big Lie was in a 1941 article where he accused the English of practicing the technique.

Unsurprisingly, this accusation cuts both leftward and rightward. It’s frequently asserted that Vladimir Lenin said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth,” but I was unable to find a primary source for that quote. It’s also been alleged that Saul Alinsky wrote that “Lying is never wrong as long as it leads you to a position of power” in his book Rules for Radicals, but a perusal of that document online shows it’s nowhere to be found in Alinsky’s text.

When faced with the specter of both leftists and rightists lying by accusing their opponents of openly endorsing prevarication, it leads me to suspect that many ideologues across the spectrum are serial liars and projectors. That seems to be the inevitable result when someone is more devoted to their team’s ideology than to the truth. Sooner or later, inconvenient truths back you into a corner and you’re forced to lie.

One of the prickliest of these truths is that the unshaved masses do tend to believe anything so long as it’s regularly drilled into their skulls, either because they’re too dumb to see through the lie or because it’s too humiliating to ponder that their leaders view them as suckers. A fundamental flaw of human psychology, at least at this point in evolution, is that people prefer to embrace lies than to admit they can be fooled.

Since the CIA has yet to perfect a mind-reading machine, it’s often hard to tell whether a politician was lying when they made a promise or if they simply wound up breaking it, as in George Bush the Elder’s infamous “Read my lips: NO NEW TAXES” pledge. But the historical record teems like waste matter in a public toilet with examples of lying politicians.

The overwhelming evidence suggests that FDR lied about Pearl Harbor, JFK lied about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon lied about Watergate, Reagan lied about Iran-Contra, Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky, George W. Bush lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that Obama is lying about Fast and Furious.

What’s startlingly depressing is that political partisans persist in their cognitively dissonant belief that it’s only the other side that lies. That may be the biggest of all the Big Lies. Therefore in this election cycle you have eager liberals only accusing Romney of lying and perky conservatives only accusing Obama of lying. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that both candidates may be lying through their teeth.

What’s even less digestible is the idea that democracy itself is founded on the howling lie that those in power have their underlings’ best interests in mind. Even worse is the notion that this amazing colossal lie is founded on a vomit-inducing verity—that your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill idiot can’t handle the truth. The terrifyingly bleak notion that life may be finite and meaningless leads many people to embrace religious, social, and political myths that don’t withstand the slightest logical scrutiny.

It’d be hard to maintain a scrap of sanity if we were to tear off the gauze of self-delusion and admit the degree to which we suspect those in authority are lying to us. Therefore, it’s easier for most people to dismiss all such suspicions as “paranoia” and “conspiracy theories.” Fully aware that peddling noble lies may be the only thing that prevents massive societal breakdown and chaos, any politician who hopes to survive must traffic almost exclusively in newspeak.

Hitler alleged that the masses are willing to believe Big Lies because they can’t process the idea that anyone, especially authority figures, would have the gall to lie on such a massive scale. There’s probably some psychological truth to that. But I also think it’s possible that people prefer to believe lies rather than the truth because, in the end, lies are far more comforting.

 

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