In politics, people often deceive persistently and systematically
In the times in which we live to say that politicians lie is almost obvious. There are not a few leaders of all kinds of parties and ideologies who have been caught saying something that they never complied with once they were elected by the electorate.
One might think that it is because they consider their voters to be idiots, that they will not realize the lie. However, taking into account that thanks to the Internet we can easily confirm what they have lied about, one cannot help thinking why politicians are lying . They should know that they are going to be denied sooner or later.
Below we will delve into this issue seeing that, really, it is not simply a matter of lying, but of making its falsehoods a truly powerful tool.
Why do politicians lie so often?
Saying that politicians lie sounds almost logical. Some will say that, really, it is not like that, they simply say they promise something in their electoral programs but by X or Y in the end they cannot confirm it. Others, perhaps more down-to-earth, will say that politicians do consciously lie with the clear intention of getting chosen by their voters and then, when they are already in power, they will be in charge of disappointing those who elected them.
Be that as it may, one cannot help but think that in the times in which we live that politician who lies is a politician who is not very intelligent and cautious. Thanks to the Internet and the access to all the information available and having, it is not very difficult to find on web pages of antagonistic ideology to that of a specific politician who brings out everything about which he has lied. Bearing this in mind, we might think that these people are really stupid, since they know that there is a resource that will deny everything they have said.
In an ideal and logical world the lying politician would be caught and removed from the political career because nobody wants to vote for him. But we do not live in either an ideal world or a logical one. The politician brazenly tells falsehoods, he knows that the Internet will show what he has lied about, and yet he achieves enormous fame , many voters, and incredible repercussions. Let's look at Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro. Before being elected they said a lot of nonsense, things that any North American and Brazilian could quickly deny and, despite this, they ended up being elected presidents.
Taking all this into account, in addition to the question that gives this article its name (Why do politicians lie?), It also comes to mind how, even by lying, they manage to gain fame. It seems this should be just the opposite and it has become clear that with these two examples that we have just mentioned they have not only done well, but it seems that their fame is increasing, even with a terrible management of such crucial aspects in history such as COVID-19.
A world of falsehoods
False information, more modernly made up of what is known as "fake news", seems to spread faster than truths . We may think that believing lies or that we want to believe them is something modern, enhanced by new technologies, but it seems that this already goes a long way, even when writing did not exist.
It seems that the existence of intergroup conflicts throughout our evolutionary history has shaped our minds. Human psychology seems to be predisposed to disseminate information that, regardless of whether it is true or not, if it meets the following characteristics is seen as something potentially credible.
- Mobilize the in-group against the out-group.
- Facilitate the coordination of care and efforts within one's own group.
- Point out the commitment to the group of the members of the in-group.
Far from what many may think, the human mind is designed to select and disseminate information that is effective in achieving these goals , not to give true information, especially if there is a social conflict. In the event of a conflict between two groups, human beings are psychologically prepared to prioritize that information that helps us win the conflict against the outgroup, although objectively that information is clearly a fallacy.
It should be said that ensuring that the human being does not pay due attention to the true information is not entirely true. It is adaptive and effective to have true knowledge of the outside world, especially in aspects that contribute to individual and group survival in terms of biological needs such as feeding, shelter or avoiding a threat such as a predator. For example, in a tribe, it is adaptive to tell the rest of the members where the best pastures are to hunt wildebeest.
However, in the course of human evolution our mind was generating, adopting and propagating beliefs that could serve to fulfill other functions, although the information itself is not true. The lie has a clear evolutionary component , since otherwise we would not do it. By lying we can manipulate other people, make them imagine things that are not and behave in a way that is beneficial to us. The lie would have served so that one group at odds with another could end the other, even if the motivation was based on falsehoods.
Conflict in nonhuman animals
Naturally, conflict or struggle is not unique to the human species. On more than one occasion we have seen in television documentaries how two individuals of the same species confront each other over issues such as dominance over territory, food or obtaining a mate. These confrontations usually follow a series of steps to assess if there is a chance of victory or, if not, there is a good chance of losing with serious injuries or even death.
In most cases, the best predictor of coping ability is size and physical strength. This is why natural selection has been developing mechanisms in different species to be able to evaluate the size and strength of the opponent, in order to find out if they have any chance. An example of this we have in the deer that, before fighting, usually begin to howl. The volume of their howls has been seen to correlate directly with their size. The bigger the volume, the bigger.
But what is surprising is that deer sometimes lie. With the intention of avoiding a fight that they will surely lose and privacy to their rival, deer with a size, let's say, modest emit howls of great volume, as if they were bigger than they are. In this way, and with a little luck, they can intimidate a rival who, surely, if he had decided to fight against them, they would have beaten them and left them very badly injured. In this way these small deer get food, territory and mates without risking their lives.
Another mechanism of natural deception we have in piloerection, that is, that we get goose bumps and raise our hair. In the human case, this mechanism is no longer useful to us, but in hairier species it allows us to confuse the rival, giving them the feeling that they are larger and, therefore, stronger than they really are. Thus, especially in the face of a predator or any other threatening animal, many animal species can save their lives by lying to their opponent about their size.
Conflicts between groups and coalition instincts
In the human case, conflicts have taken an important evolutionary leap. In our species there can be conflicts not only between individuals, but also between very large groups . Humans know that several weak individuals have no chance against a stronger individual separately, but together they can beat him up.
Alliances are a fundamental aspect in our evolutionary history, and it has been seen that it also occurs in some primates such as chimpanzees.
As individuals, if we do not have a coalition with other people, we are "naked", we are weak to anyone who does. Belonging to a coalition has become an evolutionary imperative, just as important as finding food or shelter.
Human beings, although we are not a species that constitutes a superorganism like ants, we do organize ourselves in a very social structure. We have acquired a very strong sense of belonging to all kinds of groups , the product of our instinct to belong to a coalition that guarantees us our protection and safety.
Once we are inside, we end up acquiring certain patterns of behavior and thought. Our sense of belonging to the group makes us less critical of what is said within it. It is much easier for us to believe what is shared within it, although from the outside we see it as something really delusional and not very credible. Sharing the same beliefs as the rest of the group members makes us feel more part of it, while criticism drives us away. Lying can bring a group together, especially if it is told to highlight their differences from the outgroup .
When there is a conflict between two groups, cohesion and coordination between the members of each group are two essential aspects to win the contest. If two groups are in dispute and are on an equal footing, the one that manages to organize better, has a more homogeneous thinking and takes a more synchronized action will be the winning group.
All of this is directly related to why politicians and, in general, any political party or even nation lie. Lying about the characteristics of the group itself, exaggerating its virtues, over those of the other group, highlighting or inventing defects , contributes to the in-group becoming even more motivated, having greater self-esteem and greater capacity for action.
An example of this we have in the military parades. In them the states present their entire extensive military arsenal with a clear political intention: to intimidate the rival. Through an army perfectly synchronized as they parade through the streets of the capital, displaying their weapons, tanks and even artifacts that are nothing more than cardboard-stone, the government sends two messages. One, which is that they are a great nation, exalting national pride, and two, that other countries do not dare to attack them because they are well prepared, which does not have to be true.
The other example is the speech of politicians. Politicians lie, tell falsehoods of all kinds and conditions with the clear intention that his audience feels that if they do not vote for him they will be letting a potential threat, whether perpetrated by the political rival or through his inaction, happen. Electoral races are still another type of intergroup conflict and, as in any other, it is necessary to improve intragroup coordination through deception. Lies in these contexts serve to:
- Solve coordination problems.
- Agreeing with false beliefs is a show of commitment to the group.
- To exercise dominance over the group by making them believe in exaggerated information.
The lies and the coordination
Donald L. Horowitz explains in his book The Deadly Ethnic Riot that before and after the ethnic massacres that have occurred throughout the world throughout history, rumors have been the tool that has served to take action . The circulation of these rumors, that is, unverified and often unverifiable information, play a very important role in attacking the outgroup, seen as a terrible threat that will soon attack us.
The content of these rumors tends to point to the rival group as a heartless enemy, which devalues our group. This outgroup is very powerful and if something is not done to stop it, it will hurt us, it may even destroy us. Rumors convey a sense of urgency, that if something is not done we will be seriously damaged. A simple example to understand is the case of Germany when Adolf Hitler began to break into the political landscape, saying how the Jews were conspiring to destroy the nation and that it was necessary to "defend" themselves.
Many current politicians sow doubt with rumors that they cannot confirm nor do they intend to . In many speeches, especially by politicians in favor of conspiracy ideas, it is not uncommon to find phrases like "I don't know if it's true but ...", a type of verbal structure that comes to sow doubt and fear in the population, he can't help but think "and if it's true ... we should do something now!"
The lie and dominance
Making statements made of lies can serve a politician to indicate his motivation to help the group in a conflict, but also to indicate that the same politician has the appropriate capacities to lead the group to victory .
The human mind in times of conflict is designed to promote those leaders who have or appear to have the personal characteristics that will allow to solve the problems of the in-group in the most effective way.
One of the characteristics that every policy must have is that of dominance, that is, the ability to induce the performance of an action either through intimidation and coercion. When there is a conflict, be it a war or just a politically tense situation, people prefer dominant leaders , reflected in their motivation that the conflict escalate and attack the enemy once and for all. Dominance manifests by challenging the outgroup.
The politician who lies, who attacks another party or follower of an antagonistic political ideology does so with the clear intention of seeing himself as dominant, a figure of power before his potential voters. You dare to say things the way you think them or how your audience wants them to be said, even if they are not true. By defying the norms they are seen as more authentic, more daring, more true. Ironically, politicians lie to be seen as the most right and people, who like to be told things as we believe them, not as they really are, we follow them.
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