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Aug 12 / Loren

Lying about Lying

In Seven Lies About Lying (part 1, part 2, warning: pop-ups) Errol Morris analyzes lying with expert commentary by Ricky Jay. It’s a rather long and dense read but raises some excellent points on this paradoxical subject. He very convincingly shows how traditional views on lying are pretty much all wrong.

His conclusions are good reminders of how slippery truth can be:

  1. Lies are not the opposite of the truth.
  2. Lies are not the same as falsehoods.
  3. It is not hard to lie consistently.
  4. Lying cannot be justified.
  5. Lying is not usually punished.
  6. Lying is not always avoidable.
  7. Lying does not threaten the truth.

This last point includes what I thought was his best insight:

… the real problem is not lies but people believing them.
If people weren’t so ridiculously credulous, lying would be a far more risky enterprise.

3 Comments

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  1. Jonathan / Aug 13 2009

    Morris sort of ignores the fact that “lie” in English is a rather fuzzy term, with lots of related meanings. Still, he’s always interested (as is Ricky Jay).

    BTW, there was an interesting interview on TOTN on the subject a week ago. Robert Feldman, associate dean at the College Of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a new book, The Liar in Your Life.

  2. Laurence R. Hunt / Aug 16 2009

    There is a lot of research on deception, and many findings are equivocal. So the point about our credulity cuts through much of that like a knife. Well-stated.

  3. Loren / Sep 20 2009

    I just read The Liar in your Life and found the first chapters very interesting, on how pervasive lying is among humans and why we lie.
    An important point not in the book about our inflated belief that we are expert lie detectors is that when credulous people repeat learned lies that they believe, there is no dissonance, and hence no cues about possible deceit. In this way, good people repeating false information do more harm than the originators of these lies who we naturally find more suspect.

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