Hard to Believe…

February 19, 2007 09:57 – 09:57

According to an article in this morning’s Washington Post (second hand via Slate, which I quote below):

Experiments have found that an average person tells about two lies every 10 minutes. Also, those who lie frequently have the best intentions and think they are benefiting others.

The source is Robert Feldman, who is a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts. According to the Washington Post article, Feldman studies lying in “everyday life.” The context here is Libby’s trial. There are a number of problems with the article, which I’ll get to. But first, what about the basic assertion that the average person tells on lie every five minutes. I guess that’s a fifth of a lie every minute, or 1/300s lies per second.

First, what time period does this encompass? Is this just “awake time” or is the rate actually much higher if you consider that people are asleep for 6 to 8 hours a day on average. Also, the average person isn’t talking every waking moment. So, is the non-talking time included? Suppose, for example, that I’m talking for two hours a day. Does the one lie every five minutes apply just to the two hours? Or, does it apply to the whole 16 hours I’m awake? Or, does it apply to the whole 24 hour period?

I have to believe that they’re talking only about the two hours during which I’m talking. Otherwise, I must be mentally broadcasting lies constantly in order to achieve my quota. This reminds me of that old joke, updated here, of course: How can you tell when George W. Bush is lying? His lips are moving.

“Almost Everyone Lies, Often Seeing It as a Kindness,” says the online heading for the article. Oh. Is that what drove Scooter Libby? He was trying to be kind? How nice of him.

Is the article trying to weasel away Libby’s personal responsibility? To weasel where no weasel has weaseled before? No way to tell. Maybe these apologists would like to rename the executive mansion: The White Lie House.

But, the point the article doesn’t address is that when you take the witness stand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the Lie Stopwatch needs to be put into slow motion. Once you’re on the witness stand, all of that “everyone lies” bullshit rationalization has to wait outside in the hallway. When you’re on the stand, lies aren’t lies anymore. They’re perjury. They’re obstruction of justice. And, while it might be that polite conversation practically demands that we lie (“Yes, Aunt Dahlia, those checkered trousers look absolutely lovely. They’re the most unusual earrings I’ve ever seen.”), being on the witness absolutely
demands that we tell the truth.

That’s the whole point of there being a witness stand and the swearing in business. What part of “perjury” doesn’t the author of this article understand? It’s a grand jury, not a Grand Old Party jury.

Another quote from the article:

“Look at the Libby trial,” said Leonard Saxe, a social psychologist at Brandeis University. “Even if he knew when he testified that he was being deceptive, I am sure he believes he was doing it for the best of reasons and this was his way of being a patriot.”

” A patriot! Yeah, that’s the ticket. I was being a patriot. I was lying to protect freedom, democracy, and the American way. Damn it. I was lying to protect the Vice President. Doesn’t anyone care about honor anymore?”

And, while all these liars are at it, I suppose one might hold the candle up to that document these liars (better known as the Bush Administration) seem to value more than the Constitution: The Bible. Isn’t there a section in that document that says something about lying? Perhaps, given this newfound knowledge that we’re all lying at the rate of 12 lies per hour (LPH), maybe we could revise that particular commandment: Thou shalt not exceed the posted lie limit. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

“Sir,” said the Truth Police Officer, “do you know how fast you were lying? You were lying 100 LPH in a 20 LPH zone. Where’s the used car sale?” (as opposed to “Where’s the fire?”). Whereupon the speed liar shows the cop his White House ID, and the cop says “You’re Cheney’s chief of staff? Sorry to detain you, sir. Would you like a high lie-speed escort so you don’t injure your vocal cords?”

Even so, one has to believe that once you’ve taken the witness stand and sworn to tell the truth, the posted lie limit is now 0 LPH. Exceeding the posted lie limit under those circumstances comes under the heading of zero tolerance.

I just realized something else—I don’t know who wrote this article. This article is in the Arts & Living section. I guess that it could be Art & Lying, or maybe The Art of Lying. But, that’s beside the point. The point here is that the article I’m looking at doesn’t identify the author. I’ll have to check the paper version of the Post to see who wrote this pack of lies.

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