ANALYSIS: Why do we reserve important positions of public trust and power for people who revel in their own dishonesty, wonders novelist and lawyer Miles Hunt.
We all knew someone at school that was a serial liar – I don’t mean your average hyperboliser or fantastic story-teller (what comedian doesn’t embellish?) but an out-and-out liar. Someone that was making up porky pies to avoid scrutiny, big themselves or put themselves at the centre of everything. It is a strange phenomenon with no basis in reality.
Liars always seem to get away with it, in social settings at least, because most people are too polite to challenge them – preferring quiet murmurs of distrust to any sort of confrontation. I once called an old colleague out for lying, and it was the worst thing I ever did – he went on and on and on as if the whole world was about to collapse. And of course, I had to apologise to him and admit that I ‘may’ have been wrong, so the entire lunch wasn’t ruined.
Liars are not people we normally associate with ethics, morality or good nature. It is a trait best left behind, like stale sandwiches at a conference lunch. We teach our kids not to lie – Santa Claus doesn’t bring presents to liars and a great deal of books choose this as their moral of their story: “Be honest and eventually good will come.” Every day, I try and instil the importance of honesty in my kids. Up there with generosity and kindness in perhaps the most important of human traits.
Philosopher Walter Kaufmann proposed as the four cardinal virtues: ambition / humility; love; courage; and honesty – that last one being the most important in my philosophical reflections. Isn’t life about the constant search for truth – isn’t that the purpose of Science, Art, Justice, Law, Spiritualism, Philosophy?
If someone close lied to me, then that would be a big deal. I would probably expect an apology and have a reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t happen again. If it kept happening, then we could probably call the whole thing off – an ‘irreconcilable difference’ in truth and trust.
Yet, our politicians seem to lie regularly – almost on a daily basis, as if they can say whatever they want, whenever they want, without scrutiny – usually whatever is most helpful and convenient at that particular moment in time. And our current leaders are seemingly the worst offenders.
The American people only a few years back, elected the most brazen of liars as their President. He lied and lied, all the way to the Presidency, and may well lie his way back.
The Washington Post had a fact checking team working round the clock on Trump – they calculated 503 falsehoods on one day (2 November 2020 – right before the election), and a total of 30,573 false or misleading statements across his 4 years of presidency (or 21 erroneous claims a day).
He lied about everything – from the weather, to his political opponents and anyone that was basically standing in his way. He lied about his business history, about his extra marital affairs, about his tax (non)payments, about COVID treatments, even about Obama’s heritage as an American. His greatest lie, about the election being a fraud, launched an insurrection of the Congress.
If Pinocchio had done this, his nose would have reached from Italy all the way across the Mediterranean, and back. He certainly wouldn’t have become a real boy even if that broom stick of a nose could have saved Father Giuseppe from Monstro the whale. The truth of this is plain: You can’t be a real boy if you lie, but you can damn well be the most powerful person in the world.
And don’t think this passion for phonies is just a blight on the USA and its failing democracy. It seems to have swarmed out to those countries most allied with America, like basketball did back in time of Michael Jordan.
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British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is currently under the pump for hosting and attending multiple parties at Downing Street, all while the COVID pandemic roared across the UK, and while everybody – apart from those inside the Prime Ministers Department – was banned from socialising. One couldn’t have friends to a wedding, or family to visit, even funerals were limited – The Queen sat alone as they buried her husband – but Bojo and his team were partying up a storm till the sun rose across an isolated city.
He lied about this too – as they always do. Lied in Parliament, lied in the media, tried to lie his way out like Homer Simpson trying to dig his way out of hole: Bojo first denied it ever happened, then said there was only one party, but he didn’t attend. Eventually it came out that there had been a whole host of these parties at No 10 during the lockdown, and that he had attended multiple.
It is as if he is a serial liar or addicted to lying; doesn’t know the truth from fiction, doesn’t even know where to start. Yet, he is the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Recently re-elected by a landslide by the good people of England and Wales (Most of the Scots voted for someone else).
Australia can’t escape this latest fad either. Our current PM is as a good a liar as any. He could match Trumpy and Bojo in any hand of the card game, Cheat. He is not called Scotty from Marketing for nothing – ‘all spin and no substance’ could be his election pledge.
He lied about being on holidays during the bushfire crisis and then where he was (turns out he wasn’t at home but playing the ukulele in a flowery shirt somewhere in Hawaii). He even lied about telling Albo where he had gone, as if that would absolve him. Cabinet Ministers and Ex-Premiers can’t help texting each other about his lies and other problems, while the French President Emmanuel Macron ‘doesn’t think he’s a Liar, he knows it.’
Then we’ve got old mate Barnaby still lying until he is red in the face and dear old Gladys – she who can’t recall much of anything anymore, it seems.
You may wonder why I’m linking the governments of the US, the UK and Australia – and it’s not because of their Anglo-Saxon heritage or their history of colonial genocides – but in the future, they may become part of a fading Trade Bloc trying to take on the might of China, the EU and the Reformed Soviet Union (NB: this could be the real future or the NABO (North American, British and Oceania) Trade Bloc from my dystopian novel The Information Editor).
Take your pick. There’s liars in that too. A whole world of them.
Is this the best we have for high office – people who don’t tell the truth?
They say you get the politicians you deserve. Well, if that’s so, then we probably deserve the dishonest – which is odd because most people I meet are decent, honest people who wouldn’t lie, and wouldn’t care much for those that do.
Maybe it is time to throw the liars out with the bathwater, or just give them noses that grow every time they do lie.