TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The Science of Deception

The Republican National Convention has been interesting if not useful in a major regard: its reliable falsehood.

I find the concept itself striking: what in general can be considered reliable, much less reliably false? To borrow a distinction made by Harry Frankfurt, while bullshit abounds, the number of conclusively identifiable liars who truck in “credible” deceit is comparatively scarce.

By now, if you’re the sort who reads blog entries on TELOSscope, you have heard of Palin’s brazen lie about eschewing federal funding for the “bridge to nowhere.” It is brazen, because Palin addressed some 40,000,000 American viewers. How shall we explain such brazenness?

Of course, many if not most utterances spoken at the convention can be factually corroborated. But given the circumstances, one wonders whether this amounts to an instrumentalization of truth, a means to better embed the lie? This is the element of reliable falsehood: such falsehood may not be immediately evident, but you can be certain that it is there.

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In a political milieu where the idea of manufacturing perceptions and consent has perhaps entirely supplanted informed deliberation and debate, the explanation for brazen lying is readily available. The lie is calculated, and continues a well-worn Bush administration strategy. It is known in advance which media organs and watchdog agencies will report misinformation, and who their audiences are. They are both in the minority. It can therefore be predicted with scientific confidence that a politically significant number of viewers will uncritically swallow whatever is served forth, and existing critical dissent will either not be widely disseminated, or it will be rhetorically discredited as hailing from the “liberal media” or some other evil institution denoted by an easy to remember slogan. Once the numbers are crunched, it is easily concluded that brazen, calculated lying makes for sensible politics. The Prince turns out to contain testable hypotheses.

The idea of a party of reliable liars brings to mind the old philosophical amusement of the self-refuting sentence. “We, the party of reliable liars, promise to pursue policies with highest level of integrity and regard for truth . . . ”

An amusement yes, but a grotesque one.

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