The dog ate my homework and other justifications

BBC’s h2g2 considers Why People Lie and begins with a definition:

Lies. We hear them everywhere. Be it from the mouth of a politician glossing over the facts or a desperate student trying to cover up for his night of hedonism and disregard for homework, lies are being told all over the place by just about everybody you can name.

A lie is an untruth, a deviation, big or small, from what is known to be real. It is a false statement deliberately presented as being true, thus misrepresenting a situation or giving a totally wrong impression about something.

Throughout time, philosophers have considered the appropriateness of telling lies. Ancient philosophers Aristotle and Augustine and 18th century thinker Immanuel Kant argued that lying is never morally permissible while Machiavelli held that a leader must be a “great pretender and dissembler” and Nietzsche said, “lying is a necessity of life.”

Other philosophers fall between those extremes, believing that untruthfulness is appropriate in certain circumstances. Dishonesty and deception are serious crimes according to Jewish law with the Torah demanding that one should “distance himself from a false matter.” Yet, that religion’s collected laws approve of deception in certain narrow circumstances, such as to protect the peace.

USC Prof. Jerald Jellison calculates that today, ordinary people tell 200 lies a day, including white lies and false excuses. Jellison says that once people learn how easy it is to lie, they are more willing to repeat, even with embellishments. Soon, lying becomes second nature.

Harvard Philosopher Sissela Bok says casual lying has become entrenched and is now an accepted part of many professions, including law, medicine and journalism.  Bok also argues that lying by the government has begun to corrupt politics.  She says that political lies are rarely justifiable and exceptions should themselves be openly debated. “Otherwise government leaders will have free rein to manipulate and distort the facts.”

These academic views surprise no thoughtful person. In British Columbia, it is apparent that Gordon Campbell and his associates, after tasting electoral failure in 1996, resolved that truthfulness was an impediment to power. This is best demonstrated by the sale of BC Rail. Campbell acknowledged the sale to be his aim in 1996 but that unpopular policy contributed to his defeat at the polls. So, in the 2001 election, Liberals told voters they would NOT sell BC Rail. However, that promise was quickly broken and a strategy set in place to devalue the public asset and move it into the hands of the party’s largest financial supporter.

Will McMartin, in The Tyee’s Liberals, Stop Lying about BC Rail tracks the original dishonesty and presents the still continuing deceptions:

One such is the ongoing falsehood that BC Rail was a money-losing, debt-laden Crown corporation — an unaffordable burden on provincial taxpayers — before it was privatized by Gordon Campbell’s B.C. Liberal government in 2004.

In Victoria last week (Thursday, March 25), Transportation Minister Shirley Bond stood in the legislative assembly and repeated the litany of nose-stretchers she and other BC Liberals have peddled on countless occasions over the past seven years.

“We’re not going to stand on this side of the House and take advice from a group [the NDP] that actually saw a bankrupt railway that was in complete disarray when they were in government,” said Bond, who in June 2009 was named as Campbell’s transportation minister.

She again reiterated, “We inherited a railway that was bankrupt and in disarray.”

Shirley Bond stood in the legislative assembly and lied.  In fact, audited statements of the railway disclosed that BCR had posted 23 years of uninterrupted operating profits before the Liberals assumed office. That has been said to Liberals frequently, yet their chosen strategy is to continue the lies, proving true a statement of one former party member who said there is a  “Culture of corruption and deceit within the Campbell administration.”

Of course, when politicians lie so blatantly about an issue under close scrutiny, imagine what they feel licensed to say in situations where public attention is not focused. Indeed, lying has become second nature to them. They now believe they have free rein to manipulate and distort the facts. It shows in almost every ministry, even those charged with protecting children and the environment. The culture of deceit is willingly accepted by Liberal backbenchers who according to Paul Willcocksare responsible people, accomplished and respected in their communities.”  Paul would have been more correct had he written “were responsible people.”

Members can assert almost anything as a fact in the legislature. What they cannot do though is to call another on the deception. You are allowed to lie but not to call another a liar. We have an example this week when Gordon Campbell finally joined the discussion about HST.

C. James:

“I’ll tell the Premier and the B.C. Liberals what is clear. The B.C. Liberals told the public during the election — in fact, they even put it in writing — that they weren’t going to bring in the HST. The B.C. Liberals betrayed the public in British Columbia. That’s what’s true.

Three days after the votes were counted, the B.C. Liberals were in negotiations with Ottawa. They betrayed the public. The public overwhelmingly has rejected the HST, and most importantly, the public has rejected the way it was brought in.

Again, my question is to the Premier. Will he stand up today, do the right thing and get rid of the HST?

G. Campbell:

This government believes the right thing is encouraging investment. This government believes the right thing is encouraging job creation. This government believes the right thing is strengthening the economy. That side has constantly been against that.

This government believes in creating a competitive tax regime that will encourage forestry, mining, energy, small business and economic growth in every single region of this province, and we will continue working on that option throughout.

An Hon. Member:

How about telling the truth?

Mr. Speaker:

Member, please withdraw that statement.

Categories: HST, Truthiness

Tagged as: ,

3 replies »

  1. Thank goodness that British Columbians still value the truth. If we take the time to look, then we see thru Captain Campbell and his efforts to thwart justice and honesty.

    One thing you can say about Carole, she ain't no liar. Oh, and BTW, I resent the speaker of the house encourageing lying.


  2. Excellent post. I have a hard time with this one. Politicians spin, they always will and they always have. But what does that mean? I believe it's basically a case of putting out the good news and leaving out the bad.

    Is that a lie? I'm not sure it matters in political discourse. What matters is recognizing and interrogating it… Putting both sides on the table in a serious and critical fashion. It's a huge job for an opposition and the fourth estate and one that just about died in this province between 2001 and 2005. I'd argue its been on life support in the fourth estate for a decade and half.

    But the Liberals have stepped up this game and your post shows that. They've incorporated the big, straight out lie into spin. The BC Rail case is a perfect example. That's not spin as we know it, it's a complete fabrication that makes no reference to established facts.

    The media in particular treats it like spin – as part of the she said/he said discourse – a completely inadequate and wrong headed response. The use of the lie as spin is socio-pathic politics and it's best practiced by politicians who lie as if they are speaking the truth, politicians who have absolutely no moral compass.

    You see it all over. American politics is riddled with it (Sarah Palin)and its become the MO for federal Tory politics.

    Blogs, i fear, contribute to it as the conventions are fluid, but they are also the best defence right now because it's where you get real debate, not the ideologically managed debate we find in say the Sun or the Globe, or the personality driven and ideologically inspired politics of the nightly newshour.


  3. Ian, as always, your contribution is appreciated. I don't know people that disagree with what we're saying, just those not bothered by the situation. Yet, I'm certain the entire political dialog is damaged, if not pointless. Instead of listening to alternatives, we tend to take sides and let someone else do the thinking.

    Under Liberals, the operatives doing the deciding for the province make up a group far too small. Even elected MLAs are excluded. They're given talking points and pompoms and told to get on side. What a waste of intellectual talent.

    I was 13 or 14 when I read Vance Packard's book The Hidden Persuaders in which he explored methods of motivating consumers of both stuff and ideas. Maybe that book set me up for a lifetime of cynicism, or maybe it taught realism.


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