Thursday 23 August 2012

Everybody Lies

Perhaps I'm overly cynical but I agree with House: Everyone lies.

I read James B. Stewart's Tangled Web: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff.  What struck me was how shocked he seemed to be about people lying.  He covered four case studies: Martha Stewart, who lied to the SEC about her insider trading with ImClone; "Scooter" Libby, who lied to investigators about accidentally leaking the identity of an active CIA agent during the Bush years; Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, athletes who both lied about taking performance enhancing drugs; and Bernie Madoff, who lied to pretty much everyone and stole their money in a giant Ponzi scheme.

Stewart didn't really get into details about how these lies are destroying America other than a repeated refrain of it's wrong to lie and the justice system is based on personal honour. 

Personally, I'm not shocked when politicians, celebrities, criminals and wealthy elitists lie.  I expect everything that comes out of their mouths (or press releases) to be self-serving.  They believe the rules do not apply to them or that the ends justify the means, which means of course they're going to lie if its in their interest!  What shocks me is that they weren't better liars.

A poorly scripted and easily discoverable lie is just insulting to everyone.  It displays a real show of contempt for both authority and the public and that to me is a bigger issue than the lies themselves.  When the "heroes" (and I use the term loosely) of our society treat that society with contempt, the contempt rolls downhill, encouraging everyone in a everyone-for-themselves attitude.

If the justice system is based on everyone telling the truth (which I think may be a stretch), then it needs a new basis.  It's naive to assume everyone is telling the truth, especially when it isn't in their interest.

Ironically, despite my cynicism, I'm a pretty honest person.  I've called waiters back to tell them they've forgotten to charge me for something with my meal.  I've pointed it out when clerks haven't scanned something I'm buying.  I consider it part of the trade for being alert to mistakes made against me.  If I don't like errors which cost me, I also have to be fair and point out errors in my favour.  But I don't trust the media, politicians or celebrities.  Not without some kind of extra proof beyond their stated opinion.  They've got too much riding on endorsements and image to afford to be honest with me.

I'd be curious to sit down with Stewart and ask him why he found these particular cases to be so shocking and compelling.  I was hoping he would have it in the book, but no such luck.  He clearly thinks the answer is self-evident.

Maybe its time to wake up from the nostalgia dream.

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