Public and Private Lies, Part I

A useful approach for nerds like myself to obtain psychological distance from the 2016 election is to extract and rigorously examine the elements of the phenomenon that most disturb us. What most disturbed me was the prevalence of unabashed lying and disdain for the rule of law. I fear that the demonstration of the success of these techniques in political campaigning will stimulate their greater use in public and private life.

I’ve always felt deeply that the integrity of  communication, public and private institutions, and, in my more paranoid moments, the structure of the universe itself, depend on truth-telling.  In this context, when I say “truth-telling,” I mean each individual’s best effort to articulate to others as precisely and fully as possible (i) what they believe they have perceived (what I’ll call their “honest perception”); and (ii) what conclusions they have drawn from combining those honest perceptions with their existing knowledge base.

Public and private institutions (and maybe the structure of the universe itself) fail when (a) too few people (b) too frequently (c)  fail to articulate what they honestly perceive and the conclusions they draw from those honest perceptions.

To preserve public and private institutions (and the structure of the universe), we need a better understanding of truth-telling and its complex opposite, “lying.”

This series of posts seeks to explore the following big questions:

  1. What combinations of (a) percentage of liars, (b) frequency of lying, and (c) nature/scope of lies (FREX, “big” lies, half-truths, “spinning,” and “white” lies) occurring are dangerous to the flourishing of institutions (and the universe)?
  2. What interventions increase and decrease (a), (b) and (c) above?
  3. What peer-reviewed research is accessible to laymen on the subject of truth-telling and lying?

Later today, I’ll start posting links to research summaries about lying published in Science Daily.