As long as we're breathing, we lie. We lie so much, the truth has become a valuable commodity. Regardless of whether it sets us free, or whether it hurts, people hunger for truth so much that it takes very little to convince themselves they've found it. All my cynicism aside, it's not the lies that fascinate me. It's the reason, which is much harder to come by.
On the now-cancelled Fox show, Lie to me, Doctor Cal Lightman uses science and instinct to spot deception. It's not a difficult show to make, since deception is universal. This also provides a natural source of conflict. Add in some interesting characters, and you have yourself a drama. Seriously, if you haven't seen the show, I recommend giving it a chance.
In real life, we have fewer methods to spot liars. Polygraph, or the lie-detector test, has become so ubiquitous that it's almost comical. Actually, it became comical when it became the main reason people watch Maury. As they say on Lie to me, however, things like this are extremely limited in two ways.
One, they're fallible since a lie is not a tangible scientific phenomenon that can be measured (like temperature). There are indicators, of course, such as vocal pitch spikes, body language and temperature, word choice, and so on. Machines like the polygraph actually measure the level of anxiety, the most common indicator of a lie. Unfortunately, the fact that a machine is being hooked up to someone's arm to tell whether they're lying can easily cause anxiety just by itself. Hell, the simple accusation of being a liar creates an emotional reaction (defensiveness, anger, sometimes pleasure at being caught).
Two, even if you can tell someone is lying, you can never tell what they're lying about--or why. If a person whose feelings you care about asks you a question where the truth would hurt those feelings, you commonly lie (the old "Does this dress make me look fat?" scenario). Spies hide the truth for national security, personal safety, and because it's their job. Just as the truth is a currency in many scenarios, lies (or, rather, the identifications of lies) are also a commodity.
I'm quoting myself, here, but it's a rare glimpse into exactly how my mind works:
“Humanity, as you know, is fundamentally flawed. Some say that Original Sin put things into motion, but it was the creation of the death concept that really steered the course. The new existence facilitated the instinct for survival. The need for survival bred desperation. The act of desperation commonly relies on deception. Deception fosters everything from addiction to injustice, redefining the human condition. Man’s own intelligence works against him, buying him a nice cozy spot in Hell.” (Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell, ch3)
I believe the why of our lies is most often tied to our desperation. Things are slipping through our grasp and it is an instinctive way to take control. Whether we're afraid of losing something or hurting someone, we lie to avoid consequences.
The error is our guilt. We think the lies are the problem, when it's the circumstances that necessitated the lie that is to blame. People make mistakes, then they compound those mistakes. First with guilt, then with lies, then with more guilt.
Simple answer to that: avoid making mistakes. However, since we all know that's impossible, desperation endures and, therefore, lies endure. This is why I get confused about people's outrage at the lies of politicians, celebrities, and other public figures. Particularly politicians (Bill Clinton, Anthony Wiener); with someone whose entire purpose is to put up a positive image, lies are not only inevitable, they are absolutely necessary.
So, why all the fuss? Because, when we learn the truth, we feel deceived. Not for nothing, but we don't expect to be lied to. Well, most of you don't, anyhow. It's in our nature as humans to extend our trust to like-minded others, to those we respect, and to those we arbitrarily believe will be honest with us. No one will be honest with us 100% of the time, though. After seeing shows like Lie to me and Breaking Bad, I fully believe that they shouldn't.
There are many things I'd just rather not know. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. There are a great many things I just don't want to know. Rather than be naive about the whole thing, however, I embrace this. I find it freeing, advantageous even. Don't give me things to unnecessarily worry about.
We're no hermits, so we must face these things sooner or later. I don't want to give the impression that I don't trust people. I trust people easily, much of the time, particularly if there's a decent rapport. But I also trust that they are prone to lies. I can't control this, no more than I can make any of their other decisions for them. I can only control how much I invest, and how willing I am to lose that investment.
We live, we learn, we lie.
I'll finish this up with a superficially-related musical interlude. Enjoy.
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**Go ahead. I mean it.