Stanley Dundee

Lies

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: the Kinsley Gaffe. More on that below.

I urge you to get into the practice of inverting official remarks. Taking an example from today's New York Times (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.

[Updated 2019-03-31.] 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.

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. The reversal of attribution may well come closer to the truth than the official remark. So, also from today's Times, when Nikki Haley says, 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.

Update 2018-08-20: 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.

Update 2019-02-13: 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.

And we get additional valuable examples today (2019-02-13)! Congresswoman Ilhan Omar made the unfortunate connection between AIPAC and Congress (money, that is) and suffered the withering wrath of Establishment harpies. Truth is no defense in these sorts of imperial crimes. So common in our age of instant offense, inadvertant truth-speaking as career-limiting gesture has earned a moniker:

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

Meanwhile, at a U.S. sponsored international conference on the Middle East, held in Poland, ostensibly about regional peace and security, Bibi gaffed Kinsley:

Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to reporters Wednesday shortly after meeting Oman's foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, on the sidelines of the conference. Netanyahu said the meeting was significant because it was a rare, open gathering with Arab representatives that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.
Thanks for the clarification!

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. One good clue is whether they acknowledge when they are wrong.