A book by Martin Stevens
by Mary W Maxwell
Some species of animal practice deceit. This is usually related to interactions between prey and predator. It could also occur among rivals of one’s own species. A very basic form of deceit is an animal puffing himself up to look bigger and stronger. Another trick is to play dead.
The species Homo sapiens has amazing practices of deceit. Humans are constantly in need of tricking their prey, their predators, and their rivals. Even before language evolved, we were probably quite good at trickery but language brought immense opportunities to lie, to “be economical with the truth,” and to make up wholly fictitious stories.
There is a sudden plethora of “false flag” events attributed to persons who are thereby called “terrorists.” Many people get violently injured, the proper officials lie ridiculously about what happened, and the public uncharacteristically swallows the false story.
It’s actually hard to talk sense nowadays.
For the moment, for arguments sake, imagine that the lies exist on their own. They were created by individuals of course, but now they are out there — in the atmosphere. Lying seems to have its own dynamic. It’s “increasing and multiplying” at a rapid rate.
Do you recall the movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon? Today the creature we call deceit looks like a similarly invading monster, running around scaring people and upsetting the normal balance of society.
Of course such a picture is only metaphorical. The dynamic that helps this monster thrive is not intrinsic to the lying itself. Rather, it’s a function of our social relations. The way to turn it off is not to get a cannon and shoot at the creature, but to reorganize our way of life (which will take a lot of effort!).
We Need To Lie To Avoid Blame
Some situations seem to call forth lies automatically. A child learns to lie (without being taught) because he has a drive to avoid blame. That is, he doesn’t want to get caught doing what his parents emphatically told him not to do.
In America there is a legend that when George Washington’s father asked him how come the cherry tree in the backyard had disappeared, he said “Father I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.”
More likely he said “Pop, I don’t have a clue.” Or “I think that kid down the street did it.” (Legends are themselves lies, but they serve a beneficial purpose.) Or maybe he could see that his Dad wasn’t born yesterday and that he’d better admit the crime and hope for mercy.
Once the Lie Is Told, We Need To Maintain It
Now here’s the rub. This is at least one reason why the “creature from the black lagoon” is flourishing. The lies that have already been told for the purpose of avoiding blame –really to escape being caught – have to be maintained.
And here H sapiens’ brain comes to the rescue. I don’t mean the brain of the truth-telling person comes to the rescue, like the Lone Ranger galloping in. I mean the brain of the liar is ready to do whatever needs to be done to maintain the lie. It gallops in.
The most important thing the brain can do is spare the poor liar from guilt feelings. To be exact, the brain must continue to impress upon the liar that everything that happened is hunky dory.
You may say “Such a person is only going to create more problems for himself.” That may be true, but he is wearing a brain that was designed thousands of years ago and is geared up for simpler situations. We are biologically enslaved to the past, via our genes.
I think the compulsion to maintain the lie entails a simple mechanism that is found in many species — namely, self- deception. In evolution it’s adaptive not only to deceive one’s prey but to deceive oneself.
If you look guilty or uncomfortable about what you’re doing, the target will wise up to your trick. To avoid that, you EVOLVE the capacity to fool yourself.
Sociobiologist Randolph Nesse (who is also a psychiatrist) theorizes that there was an “arms race” in evolution. Deception by one party encouraged a development in the second party to recognize the deception.
That, in turn, prompted an adaptation in the first party to do a better job of disguising his deception. And so forth. Ad infinitum actually.
Orwell — Right Again
When I revisited George Orwell’s 1984 a few years ago, I noted that Orwell said that higher-up members of The Party believed the lies more earnestly than did the lower part of the group. I felt he was incorrect.
I felt that during the climbing of the Party ladder, the ones who would get to the top were those liars who knew full well what they were doing. For example, they must have known that the slogan “War Is Peace” was a crock.
Well, I should have known better than to second-guess Orwell. He never gets it wrong (unfortunately!). By the way, I believe he was not a visionary genius as we were told — rather, he must have been a scribe for the cabal.
As for the cabal, they had worked out whatever they could glean from behavioral psychology and from their early work (sub rosa) in neuroscience. They must have seen that the persons at the top are desperately committed to the system. (Well, you would be, wouldn’t you.) And therefore they cannot see truth.
Call it what you like but I call it the instinct of self-deception.
Societies That Institutionalize Law
So we are no longer hunter-gatherers, right? We are moderns. We have worked hard at establishing – through language – some ideas as to how we should treat one another. That’s law for you!
At least some restraint of selfishness and aggression was essential. The golden rule predictably got invented, as it’s what the majority would naturally want. They (you, I, everybody) want people to be treated well, so we ourselves demand it.
Modern civilization set about making it stick by authorizing persons in formal, paid roles to carry out the law. Plus, the law and the principles underpinning it are set down on the pages of books. These are in many libraries, which would be hard to destroy in one fell swoop. So the law does have a life of its own.
It seems odd (to me) that lies are flourishing so brightly. Folks who should know better are lying with a perfectly straight face. And don’t forget the increase in violence, with the farcical identifying of ordinary blokes as the terrorists whom we should fear.
Secrets, Yea Verily “State” Secrets
What’s the stumbling block to our using the law to deal with this business? As already argued, there’s quite a barrier put up by self-deception. But there is also the amazing invention known as state secrets.
Recall that avoiding blame is a Number One priority. How better could powerful criminals avoid blame, avoid the lash as it were, than by hiding hide their crimes in a secret file?
And – wait for it – by making this secrecy part of the law!
Isn’t that a beauty?
Cavemen Is As Caveman Does
And there’s another evolved instinct operating here: humans feel that if something is declared secret it is almost sacred. Perforce it calls up our protect-the-tribe emotions. We happily bow and scrape and dance around when our leaders tell us something is not fit for public consumption.
How many court cases have you heard of that were famously riddled with lies and yet were said to be matters of “national security”?
How many had aspects – like the Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane massacre – that were put under seal?
You can blame your caveman emotions for that.
Cavemen in Canberra?
In her famous Bella Vista article at Gumshoe on September 27, 2014, Dee McLachlan wrote:
Australian spies will soon have the power to monitor the entire Australian internet with just one warrant, and journalists, whistle-blowers and bloggers will face up to 10 years’ jail for ‘recklessly’ disclosing classified information.
Are the crimes of 9-11 deemed classified? What happens if that intelligence operation being exposed is detrimental to the well being of the Australian community? That doesn’t matter. The rights to disclose secret criminality in government are gone.
At some point Brandis will be voted out or he will retire. But, the ‘powers’ that control the secrets for the Australian people can’t be voted out. We don’t even know who they are. We are not allowed to know. It is secret.
This is about freedom-deflation.
Folks, we’re in trouble. It’s not funny. Please do what you can to stop this.
— Mary W Maxwell and Dee McLachlan are co-authors of Truth in Journalism, and Port Arthur: Enough Is Enough