How do we ascertain veracity? How do we distinguish between an empirical reality and a bold-faced lie? How do we rise above the chatter to find authenticity in our lives and comfort in our routines?
It turns out that the answers are not so simple. Maybe Rudy Giuliani’s statement that “Truth isn’t always truth” is partially accurate. Maybe we don’t know the truth even when it is staring at us right in the face. Maybe all we know are lies. Sounds more than a little Orwellian but once a lie is manufactured it can be sold as genuine. Just as Orwell described in 1984 – The Ministry of Truth, called Minitrue for short, never told the truth. The job of Minitrue was to lie and lie to the point where everyone accepted the Ministries lies as truth.
Turns out that the denial of truth is a technique that is not just used as a literary device. Lying, big lies, have political power that manipulate the way individuals make decisions about how they choose to perceive reality.
The “big lie”, a term coined by Hitler, is a technique designed to mis-inform. Joseph Goebbels the director of the Nazi Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda explained “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Telling a big lie over and over serves to solidify the belief that the lie may indeed be the truth.
This method of altering reality is regularly used in politics. Repetition of any sort, even repeating a lie as evidence that it is a lie, seems to reinforce it. As strange as it seems it turns out that even if observed, genuine facts are used to rebuff a lie, because of how our brains work, contradicting the lie only serves to strengthen it. Researchers are trying to hone into why that may be the case.
An interesting study in the American Sociological Review looked at how participants evaluated politicians. The study was limited as it was done completely online and compared hypothetical contestants for college student body presidency, but it does give some insight into how easily we may be manipulated by factors beyond the truth. The subjects in the study were presented with candidates manipulated to appear as liars or misogynistic versus a candidate that was an incumbent who was honest and presented data that was valid. Some of the subjects were also told that they shared certain personality characteristics with the lying candidate and that the honest candidate was not honest and had questionable sincerity.
The findings of the study suggest that both men and women paradoxically rated the candidate who was a liar as more trustworthy than the honest candidate. In effect the results explain that when a person lies they may appear more authentic, at least in a political way. Politicians who lie are seen as protesters against the establishment and in the eyes of many people that gives them more undeserved credibility than someone who is completely honest. Challenging established truths with bold-faced lies, repeating the lies and doing so in a doctrinal charged way sways beliefs.
Does this mean that we are all naïve and gullible? The simple answer seems to be yes! We are all susceptible to gas-lighting. Nothing means anything. One minute we can be told one thing and seconds later we can be presented with a contradictory “fact.” Truth is smeared when information is packaged by Minitrue.
If that is the case how can we protect ourselves from being so easily deceived?
There is no single method to maintain a stability of truth in the face of a storm of lies but there are some techniques that help. First, it does no good to hope that things will change for the better. Most liars will never accept that they are wrong. Lying is so much a function of their base temperament they can’t see beyond it. So, stop the fantasy of fighting the big lie with logic. No conspiracy theorist has backed down from their outlandish beliefs. It is also helpful to explore facts on your own recognizing that your own biases may also mislead. Get your information from a variety of sources. Don’t just Google one site for an answer. If it’s political check the historical record for accepted facts. If it’s personal learn to detach from people who lie to you. And, be intrepid in following the path to truth even if it doesn’t fit your expectation.