Why Lying Works

Incentive trap and corrupt leader business concept as a group of people running towards a carrot tied to a liar nose only to have been tricked and fooled into fall off a cliff as a metaphor for entrapment or bait trapping in a risky economy.

This week I would like to discuss the power of lies. Not long ago I had a conversation with Dr. Dan Ariely, author of “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.” His research is provocative to say the least for it clearly demonstrates that everyone lies. I suppose that should come as no real surprise, but if that’s so, then why should we be concerned about the lies told in politics? After all, with the Internet and our instant access to news and fact checkers, you would think that it was now impossible to get away with lying. However the truth is, often we know about the lie but act on it anyway.

Liar Liar
This past weekend there was another Republican debate, this one in South Carolina, a State famous for its down and dirty politics. The headlines everywhere following this televised event featured the numerous loud “liar” assaults aimed at Ted Cruz by Rubio and Trump. Indeed, Trump flatly accused Cruz of being perhaps even a bigger liar than Jeb Bush, who he has been attacking since the beginning of this campaign season.

What are we to believe? What is the real power of lies? When multiple people call the same person a liar, does the label stick?

Are you aware that most Americans still believe that Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her kitchen? It is easy enough to find out what she really said, but for some reason the vast majority of folks rely on the quote from Saturday Night Live. Do you know that a mailer circulated in South Carolina during the Obama/Romney election that asked this question, “Would you vote for Romney if you knew he had an illegitimate black child?” Do you think this had any influence on those who read it? This tactic is particularly clever as the lie is implied. . .never stated.

Indirect Impunes
The fact is, questioning honesty is potentially as devastating as calling someone a liar. The dispersion of doubt can strongly taint the credibility of an individual as well as an entire government. For example, the lies regarding events in Vietnam that were told the public by Lyndon Baines Johnson about our successes arguably led to a generation of governmental distrust. Indeed, his falsehoods were exposed during the Tet Offensive when North Vietnam began to seize control of various cities formerly held by South Vietnam and the US military. 1

Most Americans are familiar with Watergate and Nixon’s lies, and most are well familiar with Bill Clinton’s assertion, “I didn’t have sex with that woman,” a perjury that eventually led to impeachment proceedings and the BAR Association lifting Clinton’s license to practice law.  And most are also aware that Senator Harry Reid publicly bragged that his lies about Romney not paying taxes for ten years may have contributed to why Romney did not win the presidency. The Senator is actually proud of his lie. 2

Most should also be aware, of course, that there was a time when Hillary Clinton opposed Gay marriage. Think about it for a moment. She was an attorney practicing law at a time when Gay activities were unlawful in most states and appeared in the Diagnostic Manual as a disease. So of course there was a time she opposed Gay rights, and she said so publicly. It’s good she changed her mind, but it would have been better if she had not lied about ever opposing Gay marriage.

Believing Lies
A common denominator in politics is often lies, so why does it matter? The question is, who do we trust and on what basis? Here’s the point of this spotlight. Negative reports are always remembered and retractions are almost always ignored. The fact is that research carried out by Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks at Ohio State University clearly demonstrated how difficult it is to change someone’s mind, even when plenty of evidence has been provided to show that they had been lied to. This is something I flesh out fully in my book, “Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will,” but suffice it to say in this context, negative claims do work and they work better than most believe!

Rumors are often built upon innuendo and when it comes to politics, it appears that this season, all’s fair in elections and war! I would therefore urge all of you to fact check, and reflect carefully before jumping to some conclusion based upon some popular and/or repeated insult tendered by a competitor or their supporters. To do anything else is to invalidate your intelligence!

As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions


1 The Top 10 Lies In History

2 Harry Reid is proud he lied about Mitt Romney’s taxes