There’s a whole lot of lyin’ going on’
Reggie Fowler, the man attempting to buy the Minnesota Vikings, had enough lies on his resume to make a con artist blush, but his bid to become an NFL owner remains on track.
The prevailing attitude seems to be, so what if he put a generous amount of frosting on that cake? Everybody does it.
When University of Colorado scholar Ward Churchill came under fire for saying that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. civilian targets were basically justified, research revealed a number of distortions and exaggerations in his scholarship and background – including the fact he isn’t a Native American, as he’d always suggested, but an honorary one.
Churchill seemed neither shamed nor repentant when he appeared last week on HBO’s popular “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Quite the opposite, in fact.
Ralph Keyes of Yellow Springs, Ohio, refers to both situations as merely the most recent examples of the greater thesis he takes on in his newest book, The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life.
“I’ve been intrigued for at least the last couple of decades with the number of people I call imposeurs – people pretending to be something more than they are,” the author said in a phone interview last week.
“I love Fowler’s response to all of this: ‘I realize there is some confusion surrounding my background.’ If that’s not post-truthfulness, what is?”
Keyes examines everything from the religious underpinnings to the morality of truthfulness to the various examples of distortions and misrepresentations of the truth in everyday life and concludes, “There’s a whole lot of lyin’ going on.”
“Actually, I was kind of surprised when I went back and read early theology on this issue. There’s always an out in any body of ethics, outside of Immanuel Kant and St. Augustine, who took a more extreme view. But the idea of all religions saying that all lying is wrong is simply untrue. There are always outs.”
There are big lies and little lies, of course. And the way we accept the little lies could be one reason that people seem to have an increasingly difficult time figuring out where various shades of dishonesty fit on the spectrum.
Little lies that most of us tell regularly include voice-mail messages that say we’re not in when we are. Saying, “I’m fine” when that isn’t really the case. Making up excuses instead of leveling with people.
Fowler, the prospective NFL owner, said he’d played for the Cincinnati Bengals and Calgary Stampeders when, in fact, he’d only attended training camps. He said he graduated from the University of Wyoming in business when he actually majored in social work.
“I was talking to a guy only recently who said he went to college with his best friend from childhood and they roomed together for two weeks before they decided it wasn’t going to work out,” Keyes said. “They were like a truth squad for each other, and whenever one of them started exaggerating to impress people, the other guy would call him on it. They decided that was no fun. It was easier to hang out with people who didn’t grow up with you so you would be free to embellish.”
Politicians prevaricate so much it makes it difficult for people to even know where to draw the line on the difference between lying and playing politics. Bill Clinton tried to dance around participation in an extramarital sexual affair by narrowly, and most would agree, disingenuously, defining the meaning of the word “sex.” George W. Bush distorts the implications of his programs and policies by giving them positive-sounding names that no one could quibble with, if true. And Ronald Reagan sometimes described his movie roles as experiences he’d actually had, often putting him in places he never visited.
“I think lying is definitely a bipartisan activity,” Keyes said. “But in general, Democrats seem more prone to tell fibs about themselves, like Clinton and Gore did, and Republicans are more likely to use deception on policy issues and what they’re really up to, like why we invaded Iraq, or whether the clear skies or healthy forests initiatives will deliver what they say they will or whether they’re just programs that further the interests of energy companies and logging interests.”
Keyes said, especially with respect to the personal lying and embellishments that most people engage in, it would seem our mobile society plays a role. Now that most of us don’t grow up in one community and stay there, we don’t have the same sense that we’ll get caught when we make our stories a little more interesting.
Religion, even with its exceptions for acceptable lies, seems to have been replaced with a therapeutic model, Keyes theorized. “If someone tells a lie, we say he’s in denial. Therapists will say it’s not my job to expose lies in my patients. My job is to find out how my patient really feels about things.”
The Post Truth Era is a fascinating book because Keyes wrote it with a solid journalistic approach. From the little lies he discusses to the big ones, there is no denying that what he writes is accurate.
What it all means is the big question.
“I’m not trying to be up on a pulpit and say shame on you liars. I’m a sinner. I’m not always as truthful as I wish I was,” he said.
“More than anything, I’m just trying to engage the public in a debate we ought to have. Have we slipped into being dishonest on too casual a basis? And when people do lie, does it bother anyone that there often are no sanctions whatsoever as a consequence?”