Lies, Chapter 1

It will come as no surprise to you that we get lied to hundreds of times every day. Well, I assume that you knew that. If you didn’t, cinch up your seat belt a little. You’re about to go for a ride. Before we really get started, just what is a lie? A lie is:

1. A false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.
2. Something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.
3. An inaccurate or false statement.

Those points make up a fairly basic definition of the noun “lie.” With that in mind, let’s agree to ignore the kind of lie that you tell your Aunt Martha, when you say you like her hat when, in truth, you hate all senior female hats. Although we may come back to it later, that sort of lie doesn’t really do much damage, except a little to your own self-respect. With the possible exception of those tiny ones, designed specifically NOT to hurt, all lies do damage.

Just to get an unofficial average, I deliberately exposed myself to commercial television (shudder) for a short while last week. Most people think that a commercial lasts about thirty seconds, although the length varies greatly. So, I marked down the lies that I heard every 30 seconds during commercials. Over an hour and a half of teevee, which is all I could possibly take of that crap, the average was 3.8 lies each 30 seconds, being as generous to the advertisers as I could be. That would be 7.6 lies per minute. When a lie was repeated within the same thirty seconds, as it often was, I didn’t count the repeats.

Then, after recovering from the first experiment, I watched some television news. By the definitions above, which require me to count slanting of the facts, spin, propaganda, and false innuendo, news shows were about the same as the commercials. Watching the Fox Propaganda Network for part of that time made the average higher, of course, but everyone that I watched was guilty. I counted the lies per timed segment, and converted to lies per minute. My metric for the news was 8.4.

Finally, I looked at statements made by politicians. I read through every answer given in the recent YouTube debate. Then I went to the New York times Website and read the National News are and only the parts between quotation marks, attributed to politicians. I kept a word count. Then I figured out about how many words would be spoken on average in sixty seconds. In the area of statements by politicians, my metric was 5.2 lies per minute.

I know that makes politicians look good by comparison, but bear in mind that the majority of every statement by a politician is an attempt to say nothing at all, lest someone be offended or disagree with a position. That should count as a lie all by itself, but those are hard to count. If we added those in as yet another attempt to deceive, the politician metric would probably be closer to the other two.

That’s probably enough for the first lap of this trip around the fast track of deceit. Are you all right? You look a little pale. Don’t worry, we will be revisiting this subject fairly often. There is a lot to be said about (if not for) lies. We have become so used to being lied to that we hardly notice it any more. That says a lot about the general gullibility of the average citizen, and none of what it says is good.

I leave you with a couple of assignments. First, repeat my experiments, even if you don’t do it in dedicated segments of time and don’t keep detailed score. Just pay attention to what is being said to you from the three sources mentioned above, with an eye towards spotting the falsehoods and deliberate propaganda. You should probably avoid listening to your boss with deceit in mind, though, at least until you have updated your resume. We will discuss other liars later.

The other assignment is to read a book. The title is Hidden History. The author, Daniel J. Boorstin, uses much of it to outline the methods used to turn both history and current events into opportunities for propaganda, which as we all now know, is just another word for “lies.” Everyone, everywhere should read this book and keep it around for reference. This respected scholar entertainingly tells us the truth about lies.


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