Blame Victims For Lies

Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Since gullible people tend to believe what they are told, other folks are more tempted to lie to them. So if one chooses to be gullible, one must accept a lot of responsibility for the lies one hears. Case in point: voters are greatly responsible for the lies their leaders tell them. A Post book review:

The leaders most likely to lie are precisely those in Western democracies, those whose traditions of democracy perversely push them to mislead the very public that elected them. In fact … leaders tend to lie to their own citizens more often than they lie to each other. In his disheartening yet fascinating book, “Why Leaders Lie,” Mearsheimer offers a treatise on the biggest of big fat lies, breaking down the deceptions the world’s presidents and generals and strongmen engage in — when, why and how they lie, and how effective those falsehoods can be.

First are “inter-state lies,” deceptions aimed at other countries to gain or retain some advantage over them. … Such state-to-state lies are relatively uncommon … and successful ones are even less so. In a world where each state must fend for itself, leaders are unlikely to take each other’s word on serious stuff. … Also, if you lie too often, no one will trust you, so what’s the point?… “Fearmongering” — when leaders cannot convince the public of the threats they foresee and so deceive the people “for their own good” — is far more prevalent and effective. …

Next is the “strategic cover-up,” in which a leader misleads in order to cover up a policy that has gone badly wrong, or to hide a smart but potentially controversial strategy. … National myths fuel solidarity by putting a country’s history in the best possible light. … Liberal lies … are used to justify odious behavior that conflicts with traditional ideals. For example, Winston Churchill and FDR served up a generous helping of deceit when depicting Stalin as a good guy (friendly ol’ “Uncle Joe”) to justify their cooperation with the Soviet leader during World War II. …

Depending on the situation, lies can be “clever, necessary, and maybe even virtuous.” … [But] widespread lying makes it harder for citizens to make good choices in the voting booth. …. And in fragile democracies, pervasive lying can so alienate the public that they are willing to embrace more authoritarian leadership.

Because voters tend to be gullible, politicians lie more to them. Much of that gullibility seems to me to be by choice; people seem to see themselves as good people if they give their leaders the benefit of the doubt.  Then they express righteous indignation if they discover that their leaders lied. But really, they are themselves mostly to blame.

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  • Vladimir Nesov

    “Much of that gullibility seems to me to be by choice”

    Stupidity or even execution of sometime advantageous adaptations doesn’t seem to me to be appropriately described as being “by choice”.

    • jimmy

      The important question is “If people took up Robin’s suggestion and started blaming the gullible for believing politician’s lies, such that believing a lie was a significant status hit, would they become less gullible?”.

      My own guess is “Yes, they would”.

  • Lying on the political level is another way of tailoring communications to provide validation and comfort to citizens whose values demand not truth or facts but a world that is unified, coherent, and morally acceptable. Without lies that goal would be impossible to achieve. Politicians are complicit in the delusion process; it serves both sides to avoid information or data that disrupts this carefully constructed world.

    • This absolutely. The problem isn’t that voters are too stupid/gullible to see through lies, the problem is that in very many cases they are far more willing to forget or forgive a lie than to accept a truth that conflicts with their world view.

  • Andrew

    If the political system was more elastic and citizens given the choice of politicians that didn’t lie, then perhaps we wouldn’t be so forgiving.

  • Aaron

    Only Prediction Markets can save us! Or at least they could potentially change the incentive for politicians to be accurate vs. merely appealing to voters.

    • richard silliker

      “Only Prediction Markets can save us!”

      The day you can predict the behaviour of mass is the day you will have a prediction market.

      It ain’t going to happen.

  • Proper Dave

    Talking about the obvious… there is even a nice neologism originating in the so-called democratic countries for it: “spin”.

    Kinda scary thought who has more credebility and believability, a statement from the Chinese politburo or that of a western leader…?

  • Anyonymous

    I’ve heard the claim made that this is like children with their parents- they trust them because they have no choice. What do you think of this claim?

  • dave

    No pure democracy has ever lasted in history. Even the American experiment was far from a pure democracy for most of its existence.

    • What political system has ever lasted? The papacy maybe, any others that could be considered old enough to be standing the test of time?

  • Tim Tyler

    We should also blame people for being shot. If they didn’t have such flimsy exoskeletal protection, they would make less attractive targets. Failing to wear body armour is their choice. If they get shot, they themselves are mostly to blame.

    • ThePenileFamily

      I think this “kind of” speaks to what I was getting at, but only a little.

      See bottom comment.

  • ad

    What good does it do me to know that politicians often lie, if I cannot distinguish the truth from the lies?

    Assuming that every statement is a lie does me about as much good as assuming that every statement in true.

    • ThePenileFamily

      You asked the wrong question. You can distinguish (I hope) lies from the truth.

      Your assumption is also baseless (2nd paragraph).

  • Philo

    Often the lies of one person are exposed by the contradictory assertions of someone else. But those who contradict our leaders’ lies must be mostly ignored or disbelieved. Why so?

    • ad

      The people who contradict our leaders lies are all politicians. What makes you think they are any more reliable than our leaders?

      (And I do mean they are all politicians. They are all trying to affect the results of the political process, they are all engaging in politics, they all have the same incentives about honesty as the politicians in charge.)

  • Philo

    “[V]oters are greatly responsible for the lies their leaders tell them.” But it is voters *collectively* who bear the responsibility; I, as an individual, proclaim myself guiltless!

    By the way, a nation of confirmed skeptics would be very hard to govern.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      By the way, a nation of confirmed skeptics would be very hard to govern.

      That would probably be a feature, rather than a bug.

  • arch1

    “Only Prediction Markets can save us!”

    I’m not convinced that mitigations necessarily depend on prediction. It seems to me that a well-implemented program of veracity tracking could mitigate this problem.

  • Scott H.

    I’m confused. I’m not sure what consequence “not believing the lies” would bring. You couldn’t have had a stronger calling out than GWB got during the Iraq War. Well, maybe what Obama is getting for his performance is similar. And so what?

    But maybe we judged GWB more truthful than Kerry? Maybe Obama got the nod over McCain in the truth department? Or maybe everyone knew that all the Presidents and Presidential candidates lied and the voters just picked the party/candidate that aligned best with their values?

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  • Phil Goetz

    “First are “inter-state lies,” deceptions aimed at other countries to gain or retain some advantage over them. … Such state-to-state lies are relatively uncommon…”

    But this isn’t true. Many countries, including North Korea, China, and the former Soviet Union, lie routinely and blatantly. I don’t even believe their intent is to mislead other countries; everyone knows they are lying.

    • Phil Goetz

      (By “former Soviet Union”, I meant statements made by the USSR during the cold war. I don’t know how truthful the countries formerly in the Soviet Union are today.)

      • komponisto

        You should just say “Soviet Union” for that. The fact that the entity no longer exists does not mean the term no longer has a referent! No one talks about “former Pompei”.

  • candy

    So if somebody was dishonest with you, you wouldn’t think they did anything wrong?

  • Yvain

    Or, as the Simpsons so eloquently puts it: “It takes two to lie, Marge. One to lie, and one to listen.”

  • ThePenileFamily

    One doesn’t chooses to be gullible. And so I don’t know what to make of the rest of this post.

    Someone enlighten me.

  • Danny Ripley

    I’m new to this blog, and to blogs in general. Forgive any faux pas.

    I just found this blog from a 2008 thread about “Sex, Nerds, and Entitlement.” That thread and this one are related. In that thread, Michael Vassar talked about the erroneous instructions we are given as children, where relationships are concerned. He seemed to say that we should know better than to believe our parents. I wish I had known about this blog then so I could have asked, “Given that parents are adults, and should know the truth, why would parents deliberately give their children information that is invalid, and counterproductive from an evolutionary standpoint?”

    This thread seems to be saying that we should know better than to believe anyone, and that we choose to be gullible. I find this a little problematic and startling. (But then again, I did say I’m new here.)

    Am I correct in seeing that both this post and the previous one are making the following points? “I’m a bad person because, as a child, I believed my parents?” “People with Aspergers “choose” to be gullible?” “People should not believe each other.” “People who trust other people do so out of laziness.” “Liars are doing nothing wrong, and deserve to win if they can get people to believe their lies?”

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