Lies have wreaked havoc in the world forever, but perhaps no more badly than they have here in America in recent years. We are dealing with the triple whammy of a culture that condones lying, technology that disseminates lies far and wide instantaneously and a populace that are too preoccupied, too gullible, too uninformed and too biased to bother to distinguish between truth and falsehood.
The Commandments forbid us to bear “false witness.” This admonition is usually interpreted to apply to perjury or maybe to lies that lead to someone being harmed, not to ordinary, “white” lies. “No Honey. Those jeans don’t make your butt look big” can’t be put into the same category as “The biggest election fraud in history.”
I’ve often thought the media should neutralize the lies of politicians, scam artists and conspiracy theorists by some elaborate fact checking system. But would that really make a difference? On the one hand, the public needs the facts. On the other hand, it’s well known that people will believe whatever they wish to believe even when confronted with incontrovertible factual evidence. More likely it would be an exercise in futility that merely opened the flood gates of censorship and interfered with free speech.
Even if people could be convinced they were being deceived, there’s the question of whether lies sometimes serve a good purpose. I’ve written recently about the kinds of lies and some widely accepted delusions that actually contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of most of us.
Who gets to sift through and distinguish “good” lies or “harmless” ones from “bad” or “harmful” ones? And how would we know the “truth police” were being truthful? Do we have lie checkers on the lie checkers and checkers on them ad infinitum? And what the heck is “truth” anyhow?
It makes my head spin. Still, as I see it, there are times when lies are so egregious, so dangerous and so clearly false, and letting them pass presents such a dire risk to society, the very act of uttering them should be considered a criminal act. I think we have reached a point when bad actors in politics and in the media so glibly and continuously peddle dangerous lies, that some kind of constraint on them is warranted. No need to name the prime offenders or the lies they have sown.
Can there be a law against politicians blatantly lying (as opposed to just spinning facts) with real penalties such as removal from office or even imprisonment attached? Sure. When pigs fly. The way things are going, it’s more likely to happen to those who dare tell the truth as is the case in places like Russia and China.
Still, wouldn’t you love to see Donald Trump snared by the neck with a shepherd’s crook while he’s spouting some major lie or another and dragged off the stage into a waiting prison van?
Now there’s a sight to warm the cockles of this writer’s heart.