Lying is also a signal that we're living in a place of low or no trust, where people feel no moral obligation to each other. As the ancient Romans put it, "caveat emptor" -- "the buyer must beware," because we assume the seller is lying about the goods and trying to fleece us. Nobody can protect you but you, and good luck in that world.
Lying doesn't happens in a vacuum -- it's important to know that lying is contextual, part of a deep-seated worldview that's fear-based, lacking in trust, and narcissistic. Great liars don't just lie, they lie within a framework they've helped create, one which facilitates more lying.
Whenever you see the following practices used, you should probably suspect that the person doing these things is a liar:
1. "Whataboutism." This is a classic tactic of liars, also called "changing the subject" or "muddying the waters" or "false equivalency." Put simply, liars will avoid accountability for their own wrongdoing by pointing to the wrongdoing of others. Whataboutism is about this: "Hey, look at the birdie over there!" The now-classic example involves a leader, perhaps a political leader, getting up every day and lying his keister off. When asked by the media to defend his latest outrage, this leader (or his spokespeople) might say "what about her emails" or "my opponents have done much, much worse." Does it work? Yes. Does it erode any and all sense of morality? Yes, because it kills accountability by letting everyone off the hook for bad behavior. "yes, so I stole your wallet, but what about Charles Manson?"
2. Attack the Messenger. Another classic diversion. When everybody is corrupt, there's nobody left to hold anyone accountable for anything. So if you tell me I'm lying, I'll explain why nobody should believe you (you stole a cookie in 3rd grade, right?). If I get arrested by the police for robbing a bank, the arresting officer has a personal animosity towards me. Or the police department is corrupt (CIA? FBI?). When news of my arrest breaks in the local Quincy newspaper, it's the same response. The newspaper has a personal animus against me, and journalists are losers anyway. Why should anyone believe "the failing Quincy Sun," a loser publication run by a small-town loser with a "so sad" circulation of 6,800 losers. The best way to deny the truth is to knock down anyone who stands up for truth. Liars win when nobody has the authority to call them out for lying. Yay!
3. Erode Trust in Institutions. Institutions have authority, but that authority is based on the trust given to those institutions. When you erode trust in institutions, by questioning the institution's integrity, leadership, mission, and values, you ultimately cause institutions to crumble. For example, local government can't function unless citizens believe in its integrity and reason-for-being. Once that belief disappears, it's every man, woman, and child for themselves. Does an intentional effort to erode trust in institutions serve liars? You betcha.
4. Erode the Concept of Objective Truth. Liars can get philosophical fast. If you tell 10-year-old Billy he did something wrong, don't be surprised if the budding philosopher/lawyer says (1) "I didn't know it was wrong, so how can I be held accountable and/or (2) what is "truth" anyway and why is the "law" the law, and who can say what "truth" is (not the lying, failing Quincy Sun). When you erode the whole framework of objective truth, liars win. Liars love to say "nobody has the right to tell me what's right and wrong" or "I was living MY truth, as defined by me alone." Narcissists can do NO wrong in their own minds, and therefore they must re-shape the world in a way that serves their narcissism, so they are always right.
5. Erode Our Trust in Each Other. When we're all isolated and afraid and willing to believe anything the liar says as long as we feel safe, the liar wins. The goal of liars is to have people turning on each other rather than to each other. As the ancient Romans said about controlling their many enemies, "divida et vinci" -- "divide and conquer." When everyone is bickering with everyone, when people feel isolated and alone, they simply lack the moral authority to call out the liar. So if the liar can sow division and suspicion and chaos, keeping people from creating any sense of community, the groundwork has been laid for more lying.
How do we counteract these efforts to attack the truth and those who would hold liars accountable for the truth? First, we need to be aware of their manipulations. Second, we need to call them out on these manipulative tactics. One of the biggest problems with the media, for example, is their LOVE of conflict. As divisions get sowed and deepened, the media get more excited because such conflict makes for great news. But great news is awful for the community.
We need to turn the media off and reach out to build community around basic values like mutual respect, fairness, integrity, and objective truth. Don't let the liar confuse you about what the liar is trying to do. Understand it and counteract it. The most urgent question we face as a nation today isn't, "is the liar really a liar?" (Yes, he is, in case you were wondering). The more urgent question is, "how do we re-build trust and a sense of community? We have to answer as individuals first, then as a (potential) community. Any answers, dear reader . . . share below.