Saturday, September 5, 2020

491. Lying freedom?

Recently, I came across the following quote from Hannah Arendt: ‘Our ability to lie …  belongs to the few obvious, demonstrable data that confirm human freedom’.[i] That seems clear: by lying one can avoid moral constraints on conduct, denying or hiding that one has violated them, and lack of constraint is a definition of one kind of freedom: negative freedom.

However, lies pose an inner constraint: one has to maintain constant control not to do or say anything that will show up the lie. One is compelled to go from one lie to the next.

But how about Trump, then? He knows he is lying, feels free to do so, seems to enjoy it, apparently without feeling much or even any constraint. What is more, both his followers and opponents know that he is lying, and know that he knows he does. How can he get away with this? Here are some thoughts on that.

First, with this uninhibited lying he sends a message of power and autonomy that his followers like, as a show of his campaign against political correctness of established elites, with their hypocritical show of correctness, pretending to be free of lies, while everyone knows that politicians inevitably lie. As such, his lies are made into a show of honesty.

Second, the lies are a provocation for opponents to catch him on them and then fail to prove that the lie is in fact a lie. When he fails to get away with this he blandly denies the lie, lies about the lie, and yes, gains freedom, lack of retribution, which further encourages his lies. He counters with accusations of lies, ‘fake news’ on the part of his opponents and of the media that comment on his lies.    

[i] Quoted in: William Davis, Short cuts, London Review of Books, 18 July 2019.

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