Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Post #36 - Deception

"...false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24)

"...your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. (Revelation 18:23)

"We will be told: What can literature do against the pitiless onslaught of naked violence? Let us not forget that violence does not and cannot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with LYING. Between them there is the closest, the most profound and natural bond: nothing screens violence except lies, and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose lying as his PRINCIPLE. At birth, violence behaves openly and even proudly. But as soon as it becomes stronger and firmly established, it senses the thinning of the air around it and cannot go on without befogging itself in lies, coating itself with lying's sugary oratory. It does not always or necessarily go straight for the gullet; usually it demands of its victims only allegiance to the lie, only complicity in the lie." (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture, 1970)

Virtually all critiques of the previous U.S. administration – by progressives, by conservatives, by allies and by foes – included the fact that members of the government were less than completely truthful, in order to further their agenda. The “hit parade” of missteps and mendacity include:

  • Allegation that weapons of mass destruction were a proven asset of Saddam's Iraq
  • Assertion of Saddam Hussein's direct collaboration with Al Qaeda
  • Denial of policies that allowed or condoned rendition and torture of prisoners
  • Denial of eavesdropping practices in violation of existing U.S. law
  • Contradictory explanations for the firing of a number of U.S. Attorneys
  • Avoidance of full disclosure regarding the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to the press
  • Denial of planning for an attack on Iran

Perhaps partly because of the lies of Watergate, Contragate and the Iraq War, many Americans now suspect their president of lying about the facts of his own birth, despite all evidence to the contrary. Similarly, after Tonkin Gulf, many were prepared to believe conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of JFK. In other words: Lies have consequences.

A great many luminaries spoke at the Washington National Cathedral in March 2007, to help bring an end to the Iraq War. Sharing the podium with them was Celeste Zappala, a Gold Star mother from the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, PA. Her son, Sherwood, died protecting the Iraq survey group as they searched for the WMD that did not exist. She told the congregants:

"And an ocean of tears spreads across both countries...A wail rises from the throat of all who love these people and shakes our hearts as it reaches for the crucified arms of Jesus.

Celeste Zappala
"We are here tonight as the church. Each one of us is a witness to this war and to our own complicity in it – when were we silent and should have spoken, whose eyes would we not meet to face the truth?
"Now we are prostrate at this altar – begging: Lord help us. War is our failure to love you, and peace is your command. Peace is not the easy way out; its creation is the most confounding, the hardest thing we can do. Help us."

Lies have consequences that ripple like circles from a pebble thrown in a pond. William Hart notes:

"The destructive effects of lying, many thinkers have said, go well beyond merely the issuance of incorrect data or the violation of some code of polite conduct -- or even the uncanny offensiveness of the local car-dealer commercial. Every lie, they say, has many victims. It attacks us all; in fact, by attacking the fundamental expectation of veracity that must exist among members of a functioning society, it gradually dissolves the glue that makes communal existence possible. If deception becomes routine, it degrades our precious human gifts of language and reason, and ultimately promotes chaos.

"Nuclear arms expert, Richard Rhodes, has explored the phenomenon of 'threat inflation.' Both sides in an antagonistic situation lack hard intelligence about the other's intentions and capabilities. Risk-averse planners embrace worst-case scenarios, depend on dubious data, and propose strategies that will cover all eventualities (emphasizing the concrete and quantifiable military options over the "fuzzy" diplomatic ones). These strategies, however, themselves push arms of the balance toward doomsday, rather than toward resolution of differences. It is a global game of 'chicken,' in which each side cannot bear the thought that they took their foot off the gas a moment too soon, allowing the other to cruise to triumph, while they steep in humiliation. This works even under conditions of total sincerity and genuine concern for preservation of human life; the process is easily accelerated if elements on one side (or both) see some advantage in reaching a climactic confrontation. Then, the risk-averse are goaded on by the risk-immune and those who seek peaceful outcomes are effectively marginalized."

Much has been written about the impulse to mislead, to deceive, and to cover-up. In a Washington Post column in April 2007, Shankar Vedantam wrote about public figures who issued statements that didn't square with reality, but who appear to have believed the falsehoods or exaggerations they were offering up: Truman, who in his diary held that women and children would not be victims of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Clinton, who convinced himself that Lincoln Room visitors and persons pardoned by him were treated entirely properly; NASA officials, feeling that the O-ring problem discovered in the lead-up to the Challenger launch was “manageable.”

Why, Vedantam asked, would our evolving human psyche benefit from having a capacity for self-deception? The answer he found: because it is much easier to lie convincingly is one believes the lie oneself. He quotes Robert L. Trivers, an evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University: “Self-deception evolves in the service of deceit for two reasons. It improves your ability to fool others and, second, it reduces the cognitive costs of deception.” In other words, if what one says and what one believes are consonant, the emotional stress is lessened, even if the information presented is skewed or flatly false. Vedantam quotes Reagan advisor Lyn Nofziger as saying, about Reagan, that he was able to “convince himself that the truth is what he wants it to be. Most politicians are unable to do this, but they would give their eyeteeth if they could.”

At no time is this tendency greater than in times of war. Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general of 2500 years ago, held that “the whole art of war rests on deception.” Samuel Johnson said: “Among the calamities of war, may be justly numbered the diminution of love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates, and credulity encourages.” A person of faith – especially one entrusted with great power and authority -- must pray for discernment. During the Watergate period, what most distinguished the Hugh Sloan (a sector tier official of the Committee to Reelect the President) from his co-conspirators was his own sense of something being wrong. Others in the inner circle -- daily breathing the rarified air of the White House, more captivated by their own sense of importance, wishing to change the world -- failed to awaken to the illegality or immorality of the incremental choices they had made on their way to ultimate public disgrace.

Dr. M. Scott Peck, popular author of The Road Less Traveled, wrote on this confusion in his book People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil. He postulates that a type of narcissism lies at the core of those who become capable of serious evil:

"Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves. As life often threatens their self-image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life – usually in the name of righteousness.

"...Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the “people of the lie.”...They cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach."

No comments:

Post a Comment