Stanley Dundee


Updated 2021-12-16. Updated 2019-10-28. Updated 2019-10-28. Updated 2019-03-31. Updated 2019-02-13. Updated 2018-08-20. Originally published 2018-04-15.

It was Gimli the dwarf who broke in suddenly. The words of this wizard stand on their heads, he growled, gripping the handle of his axe. In the language of Orthanc help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain...

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, p. 184.

Pretty much every person speaking in an official capacity is pretty much lying pretty much all the time.

Bosses are lying on behalf of their bosses. Publicists are lying on behalf of their clients. Journalists are lying on behalf of their sources, editors, and publishers. Politicians are lying on behalf of their campaign contributors and future employers. Whenever someone is speaking for owners and rulers, they are most likely lying.

Oh, every once in a while, some truth will slip from their lips. Not by accident, but, rarely, interests will be served by using the truth. Doesn't happen very often. More typically, when the truth slips out by accident, that's a career-threatening mistake that is sufficiently notable to have a term of art:

Kinsley gaffe: A truthful statement told accidentally, usually by a politician.

Let's take the testimony of Neil Barofsky, formerly Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and author of Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (2012). Here's Barofsky in conversation with Bill Moyers:

I think one of the interesting things of Washington for someone who had not previously been there was the comfort and frequency with which people lie to one another. It is not something that I had experienced. And I had spent eight years as a prosecutor prosecuting fraud cases and narcotics cases.

And the lies were almost like a currency in Washington. People would lie to you, and, I mean, people within the government would lie to you. And you would know they were lying. And they would know that you knew they were lying.

And they would lie nonetheless, as this is just the normal way people communicate with each other. And I guess it was a somewhat — I mean, I would hate to describe myself as being naive. Because, you know, I'd spent eight years in the trenches with some truly horrific human beings, and fraudsters who committed billions of dollars of fraud.

But I'd not seen anything like it, where just the presumption level of dishonesty, that really permeated the town. And so it took me a little bit to realize it, and to realize that government officials who were presidentially appointed, and you ask them for information, and they give you information, where they tell you something, and they're not telling you the truth.

And you almost have to, at least include in your calculus the possibility that somebody's lying to you all the time. . . . [I]t was a light-bulb moment when I realized that there's just nothing people won't say if they think they can gain advantage from it. And it’s a very strange way to operate when you're not used to it.

I urge you to get into the practice of inverting official remarks. Taking an example from the New York Times front page of 2018-04-15, U.S. Says Strikes Took Out `Heart' of Assad Threat. That's an official statement, so it's most likely a lie. Maybe Assad didn't have a threat. Maybe the strikes failed to take out the heart of his genuine threat. Hard to say, but I would suggest that both of those statements are likely to be closer to the truth than the official line.

Here's longtime Canadian Defense analyst Patrick Armstrong offering a similar suggestion in a valuable piece on how to read the western media:

Most of the time, you'd be correct to believe the opposite. Especially, when all the outlets are telling you the same thing. It's always good to ask yourself cui bono: who's getting what benefit out of making you believe something? It's quite depressing how successful the big uniform lie is: even though the much-demonised Milosevic was eventually found innocent, even though Qaddafi was not bombing his own people, similar lies are believed about Assad and other Western enemies-of-the-moment. Believe the opposite unless there's very good reason not to.

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) and Bahrain (1999-2002), has a delightful essay on decoding the doublespeak on Syria.

Here's his lede:

The prospect of US withdrawal from Syria has taken the use of doublespeak by frothing neocons and their liberal interventionist fellow travellers to a new level. Here to help the confused observer is a glossary of some of the most frequently used key terms and their true meanings, along with guidance on usages deemed taboo in Western policy-making and media circles.

And a sample:

Stabilise. Our programmes support local administrations aimed at helping to stabilise the areas outside Syrian government control. Meaning: Destabilise, help engineer partition.

Along with inverting factual remarks and evaluating their negations as potentially more truthful, I also suggest a regular practice of reversing attribution. When an official source accuses some party of some wrongdoing, consider whether the official source is themselves (inadvertently) confessing to that wrongdoing. We can invert their projection by reversing the attribution and likely come closer to the truth than the official remark. So, in 2018, when Nikki Haley said, The pictures of dead children were not fake news. They were the result of the Syrian regime's barbaric inhumanity, you might ponder just who is perpetrating barbaric inhumanity in actuality. And per the inversion principle above, the pictures of dead children might well be fake news. Several years later, fake news confirmed.

Caitlin Johnstone takes a similar approach in her recent piece on how to beat a manipulator:

There's someone [sic] in psychology called projection, and anyone who has done a good deal of inner work will tell you that it's a handy self-enquiry tool to see if what you hate in others, you can find in yourself... Manipulators particularly use projection as a tactic to hide what they're doing to you in plain sight. A manipulator can have you chasing your tail by simply suggesting that you or others are doing what you are seeing them doing with your own eyes... Here's the key: simply reverse the pronouns. When faced with a manipulator, everything he says about you, he is saying about himself, and everything he says about himself, is what he thinks of you. If he's telling you you're duplicitous and you're a liar and you're trying to take him for all he's got, he's actually saying he's duplicitous and he's a liar and he's trying to take you for all you've got. If you have good grounds to believe you are being manipulated by someone, reverse the pronouns in your mind and let them tell you who they are. It works from personal relationships right up to the grand manipulators employed by the plutocrats.

In a link-rich debunking of routine imperial lies regarding Venezuela, the charge of corruption illustrates projection:

The accusations of the elites of Venezuela are a form of projection: they are the corrupt parasites who for generations have fed off the productive people of Venezuela, as in all nations. . . . this is why we hear so much about corruption in Venezuela: an utterly worthless class of human beings is angry that some small share of the wealth they used to skim exclusively for themselves is now being distributed with just a bit more equity across social lines.

Here's Armstrong confirming projection in a recent update on Putin Derangement Syndrome:

Serious observers have long understood that when Washington and its minions accuse Moscow of something it's an admission that they are already doing it

Long-time businessman and Russia specialist Gilbert Doctorow offers a remarkable instance of projection in a recent essay bearing on the US incitement of war in Ukraine:

The media differ only in the degree of foolishness by which they explain Russian objectives and thinking processes. Even the most prestigious and seemingly serious Western media like the BBC have been handing the microphone to utter nitwits whose only merit for their purposes is hatred and disdain for Russia. On this morning's BBC news broadcast, several minutes of air time were given to a dunce who rattled on about how Russia's coming invasion was intended to distract attention from domestic woes such as the faltering economy and the poorly managed fight against the Covid pandemic.

I ask instead what does Washington hope to achieve by pouring kerosene on the flames of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation.

First, to the extent that Washington can keep the guard rails in place and not touch off an all-out war with Russia, it seeks to do precisely what that gal on the BBC was attributing to Mr. Putin: to create a diversion from its own political travails at home. Going back 70 years to the start of the first Cold War, domestic U.S. politics have always been a major factor in the ratcheting up or down of the conflict with Russia over global leadership.

So what to do?

We are all of us subject to a constant stream of distracting information in news, advertisement, and entertainment, most of which is lies. It's a toxic stream, and we're sickened by it: anxiety, fear, envy, hatred, and ignorance are the consequences. Limit your exposure as much as you can manage. Seek out sources that don't lie; if you pay attention over reasonably long periods, you can find non-official sources that mostly tell the truth. Retired officials secured against job loss as well as genuine whistle-blowers, are quite likely to be truthful; e.g. Patrick Armstrong, Col. Pat Lang, Craig Murray, Peter Ford, Ray McGovern, William Binney, Scott Ritter, etc. Especially useful are career diplomats, spies, bureaucrats, and soldiers, who made it most of the way to the top but missed the highest rungs, perhaps because they had lost the trust of corrupt superiors. One good clue is whether they acknowledge when they are wrong.