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  • Writer's pictureAgata Zagożdżon

A short guide to lies in politics

In everyday life, a lie is perceived as a deviation from moral norms. In politics, however, the case is entirely different. Any bending of the truth is the norm itself. We are used to the distortion of facts by politicians who want to achieve the maximum possible profit through such a procedure. A political game of this kind can be easily compared to marketing which, after all, uses the techniques of either manipulation or pure bluffs to sell a given product or a service to us.

Manipulating the minds of the citizens is a crucial part of any authoritarian regime. However, in democratic systems, there is undoubtedly no Pinocchio shortage in any of the government institutions. The knowledge that candidates for an office lie during their campaigns became so common there is no need to repeat another statement as such. In the face of some eccentric interpretations of reality by certain politicians, a (purposeful) failure to keep election promises seems rather as a matter of little importance.

Probably, for many, a symbol of a contemporary liar is not a wooden doll created by Gepetto, but the former US president - Donald Trump. According to The Washington Post, in four years of the presidency, his fantasies distorted reality about 30,573 times - that gives around 21 untruths a day.

Trump's lies were known for their obviousness and little subtlety. He deceived the people by violating the indisputable facts in an absurdly crude manner. Why did supposedly the most influential politician treat the world as his dollhouse? Because here the course of events and individual components depend solely on his whims. It might be the “Home Alone 2” star wanted to prove he puts himself above everything else. That he is not interested in undeniable data, because all that matters is his interpretation of them. If the objective version of events prevents him from achieving a given goal, he will change it according to his line.

To arouse media attention through verbal acts, one needs notably stimulating statements. Evident lies will work better than the truth. And Trump has always found pleasure in being in the spotlight. The wave of headlines will not come after presenting the monotonous statistics or the results of logical thinking. Journalists are more likely to be attracted by the claim of the presidential election loser that he is their winner. The free press is the basis of a properly functioning democracy, however, even the most prestigious editorial offices are focused on commercial profit, which is fastest achieved by selling scandals and controversies.

On the other hand, in totalitarian regimes, apparent lies serve to create kind of a cognitive dissonance which implies holding several perspectives on a given issue, all inconsistent with one another. Multiple versions of reality appear so the citizen is no longer able to independently determine which is the true one. The consequence is believing in all of them at once. Such conduct is the best technique to conceal issues that are inconvenient for the authorities. Those familiar with the content of arguably the most acclaimed political dystopia, 1984, may associate this phenomenon with the term "doublethink", coined by George Orwell through the creation of a repressive system of Oceania.

In the novel, the relationship between truth and freedom is remarkably significant. The level of individual freedom decreases with the extension of lies spread by the ruling elites. War is portrayed as peace, freedom as slavery, and ignorance as strength. The previously mentioned doublethink is used for such conduct as it implies the propagation of contradictory theories in a way that will convince the masses of both, without giving them a chance to distinguish which one reflects reality. The presented world comes to be devoid of both notions as the Party testimony is the only accessible source of information. Inconsistent with government directives messages are being jammed, therefore, any objective assessment or criticism are simply impossible.

A lie is not supposed to create knowledge, but faith. The Minister of Propaganda in the Third Reich, Joseph Goebbels, instilled his indoctrination in society by referring to the preaching of Jesus. The latter, Goebbels claimed, was not supporting his claims with a single piece of evidence. In this way, the most loyal of Hitler’s people tried to justify diversifying his rallies not with reliable information, but with catchy slogans and theories about the Jewish community that had no connection with the real state of affairs. Undoubtedly, spreading racial lies increased public support for the Nazis and subsequently for Führer's maneuvers during the war.

Although Goebbels' deceptions themselves did not have a direct impact on the Third Reich's attack on Poland, and the war itself is an extremum, there are examples of conflicts incited based on intentionally falsified data. The Hague Conventions imply that while states are committed to maintaining general world peace, conducting a defensive war remains legitimate. An aggressor needs to mislead the public about authentic motives. Therefore, in February 2022, Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two Ukrainian republics to then order the Russian army to cross the border to “defend” the freedom of the regions from the alleged threat of the Ukrainian fascists.

For all that, the 2003 invasion of Iraq remains a prime example of a war waged on falsehoods. The George W. Bush administration determined its military action by the possession of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was said to possess. The US government aimed at convincing the public opinion about the honorable motives of their plan by creating a sense of threat among the citizens. It became a brilliantly directed spectacle, with the fake material evidence and the UN General Assembly as the main stage. It was only after the American army invaded Iraqi territory that the world uncovered no such weapons ever existed. The conflict, as discovered, was generated by the high-flying ambitions of the United States to control the oil reserves of the Middle East.

Reportedly, the bigger the lie, the easier it is for people to believe it. As mentioned previously, controversial theories stimulate the imagination more than multiple logical explanations of a given situation. They create entire political movements fed on lies that are more exciting to believe in rather than the truth. Therefore, politicians go so far as to spread such obvious lies. The aim is to create a loyal electorate who will uncritically look at their rule. At times, even a separate ideology arises, with a given representative in the lead who denies any objective perception of reality. Politicians will not be forced to the truth, but what can be done is to look at each of their statements or Tweets with a distance, or a critical eye. One needs to make sure every word of theirs is accurate so that no one believes that 2+2=5 ever again.

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