Talking to a friend recently, I complained: “everyone in Glasgow lies, I can’t stand it.” He was puzzled. My wine fuelled explanation wasn’t satisfying, even to me. “I mean, one day so-and-so hates someone, then the next day they’re best friends. Everyone changes their story all the time.” In sober retrospect this is standard social behaviour. The only reason I find it odd, or notice it at all, is that I’m fortunate enough to have a handful of friends who are steel-spined enough to not bullshit.
Lying signifies either fear or disrespect. Most social lies are born of fear: fear of being caught out, fear of upsetting someone, fear of looking stupid, fear of confessing an error, fear of being shown up. Lying is essentially submissive. A liar owns that the person to whom they lie has the power to damage them in some material or psychic sense. If women and children are in truth as prone to lying as they are perceived to be it is not a character flaw, but a flawed defence mechanism against their marginal social status.
The second common motive for lying is disrespect. This is diametrically opposed to the lie-from-fear. It demonstrates total disregard for the person lied to; it says ‘you’re so worthless I can’t even be bothered to tell you the truth.’ How much political lying can we attribute to fear, and how much to disrespect? George W Bush and Tony Blair’s outrageous lies about Iraq constitute gross disrespect, as confirmed by their unapologetic memoirs. On the other hand, lies designed to get a politician into office are born of fear. At that point the public still has the power to deny them something. Unfortunately, these days politicians treat a successful campaign as carte blanche for unleashing their perversities on society at large. Note how Cameron doesn’t mince words. His arrogance makes it impossible for him to lie from fear.
Both types of dishonesty have a common solution: ordinary people deciding to tell the truth. If people can break themselves of the slave mentality that leads them to prevaricate to bosses, partners, parents, police officers and God they will start to reclaim their dignity. And dignified people won’t tolerate the smug lies of power-hungry politicians.