Why People Lie - Intergroup Institute - Peace Thoughts

Truth and Honesty

How Do Good People Look Into The Camera and Lie, and Clearly Feel No Guilt or Remorse?

One of the most interesting political phenomena we are seeing today in our country is that almost every day, otherwise credible people from our political parties look directly into the camera and say things that are clearly not true.

The people who are telling the lies don’t even flinch when they look into the camera, speak into the microphones, and say things like — “No, that is not a change of position. That has always been his or her position on that point. His or her position has not changed.”

People sometimes make those kinds of statements even when the video tape that was just shown of their candidate’s prior position makes it completely clear to every viewer, including themselves, that they are wrong and that their candidate did, in fact, hold a different position in the past.

Why does that happen? How can a significant number of grown people who generally pride themselves on their own personal levels of integrity and honesty, suspend integrity and abandon honesty to make those kinds of clearly untrue statements?

Some people make those statements because they are paid political spokespeople and it is their job to say those things in the way they are said. But other people who make those clearly untrue statements do not do it for money. They do it because they have instincts activated in their heads that make those kinds of statements feel legitimate and appropriate, and even right to them at a very basic level.

The people who make those false statements in those ways make those false statements and feel no guilt because they have activated the sets of instincts and the instinct-linked values and thought processes that make otherwise unethical behaviors, and factually inaccurate statements, entirely acceptable and justified when they are directed toward someone who is perceived instinctively to be a “Them.”

The four InterGroup instinctive interaction books all very directly explain those perceptions, those impacts, and the influence they have over our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and values.

The InterGroup books all explain that we very often have entirely different sets of values relative to “Us” and “Them.” We all tend to feel we should be ethical and honest relative to people we perceive instinctively to be “Us” — and we too often feel no guilt in lying to “Them” or lying about “Them,” because our them-related instincts far too often tell us to do whatever we need to do to damage and defeat “Them.”

The key motivation that drives our thoughts and values in those situations is the perceived need and the emotional imperative to defeat an enemy “Them.” Anything we do to defeat “Them” is felt to be the right thing to do.

“The Ends Justify the Means” is the standard thought process relevant to those situations, and people with those basic intergroup instincts activated far too often feel justified in using functional Means that too often sink to very low levels of morality and high levels of intentional intergroup and interpersonal damage for those behaviors.

Sun Tzu, in writing the book The Art of War 2,000 years ago, used and described those same thought processes, but he clearly did not invent those behaviors. Sun Tzu clearly and directly reflected those values and instinctive behaviors in his book by urging military leaders to constantly and deliberately deceive and mislead “Them.” There is no sense, at any level, within Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, that any army should use basic standards of honesty and morality at any level in dealing with an enemy army.

Standards used to deal with enemies are clearly different than standards used for our own people. That is true in times of actual war — and we all tend to easily understand that difference in those times of war — but we need to understand that those same ethical standards are equally relevant relative to people we perceive to be “Them” in times of Peace.

That difference on our own personal ethical standards is not a difference we tend to openly acknowledge or discuss. We often deceive ourselves on how we deal with that whole range of ethical issues. We don’t usually realize, understand, perceive, articulate, or discuss how different our values are relative to each set of people. We tend to simply feel entirely justified in defending and supporting our “Us” and we too often feel entirely right in doing whatever we need to do to keep whoever we perceive to be “Them” from damaging “Us.”

In World War II, we Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan and we firebombed the cities of Dresden, and Hamburg in Germany, killing large numbers of non-combatants in each of those settings, with no sense of guilt for any of those behaviors because the Japanese and the Germans were both “Them” to us at a very primal level when we dropped those bombs.

We did everything we could do to mislead and deceive both the Japanese and the Germans in that war because we perceived those people, at that point in time, to be a “Them” — and we instinctively feel no need to be honest in any way to a “Them.”

On a more local level, with the “Us/Them” instincts and their related values clearly activated for very long periods of time for the majority group who ran this country — this country has used extremely different standards and morality levels relative to “Us” and “Them.” The majority group “Us” did very deliberate and intentional ethnic cleansing — and forced the Native Americans across the country by the tens of millions from their tribal territories. That same majority group “Us” actually enslaved millions of Black Americans and then large numbers of the people from that group practiced extreme intergroup discrimination and often violent intergroup behaviors after slavery ended.

The people from the majority group “Us” in this country who perceived both Native Americans and African Americans to be “Them” did horrible and evil things to both sets of people — and the people with those instincts fully activated felt no guilt for those clearly evil and damaging behaviors.

Those instincts can skew the way we think, and they can skew our behaviors. With that much power over our thinking on such a wide range of behaviors, it isn’t hard to see why those same kinds of instincts allow people to look directly into television cameras and lie, with no feeling of guilt, about sets of political issues that trigger those sets of instincts.

If you are looking for a good clue as to which people in our political world have their minds skewed at very primal levels into instinct-linked “Us/Them” thinking, values, and emotions, just look to see which people, who are otherwise honest and ethical in their every day behaviors and who are generally accurate and honest in their interactions with other people, but who are lying without hesitation on political issues and about their political foes.

It is, of course, dangerous to us as a nation, and extremely dysfunctional for us as a people, when our politics degenerate at a clearly instinctive level into perceived enemy delineations for our political settings. It is dangerous and destructive when we perceive political opponents to be evil and intentional enemies — instead of simply accepting the other side in a setting as our political opposition.

When either side in any setting sees the other side in that setting or situation to be the enemy, and not just the competition or the opposition, then the thinking for all the affected people, on both sides in each setting, far too easily becomes clouded and dysfunctional at very emotional and damaging levels.

Intense and instinctive distrust of the other side in those situations is far too often supported, reinforced, exacerbated, and confirmed when people on the other side in those settings lie in their own public statements about basic issues and situations. Those can be very self-reinforcing cycles of negative interactions.

Either side in a setting can begin to trigger those responses and reactions. Once those interactions have begun, it is too often a slippery, simple, and very seductive slide into the most petty, destructive, and damaging types of intergroup and interpersonal behaviors.

Our instincts reward those negative, divisive, and destructive behaviors in each of us by making some of them feel very good. It can feel very good to people at an emotional level to take on attacks on behalf of our side. It can feel very good to do things that damage whoever we perceive to be “Them” in a situation or setting. People on our own side in those settings tend to celebrate and support those behaviors from people on their side.

Leaders often make the situation worse rather than making it better. Having our leaders directly involved in both supporting and triggering those negative intergroup behaviors makes the situation even more problematic relative to intergroup Peace. Unfortunately, our leaders too often get their own instinct-linked rewards for those kinds of conflicted behaviors.

Our leaders who know how to activate those “Us/Them” emotions in us too often gain personal power for themselves and have their own Alpha and Turf instincts triggered and reinforced as the result of us having those negative intergroup instincts activated in our hearts and minds.

Alpha instincts generate their own emotional rewards in the people who have them activated. The InterGroup books also describe and explain Alpha instinct related behavior. Far too many people in leadership positions encourage, and even incite, fierce and angry intergroup stress and conflict in order to become alpha for their own group, and to then bathe in what is functionally an emotionally addictive neurochemical glow that is too often generated and fostered by those instinctive reactions and interactions.

We are seeing all those forces playing out at too many levels today in our society and our country. People looking into the camera and deliberately lying tells us how badly those instincts have taken root in too many heads and hearts.

That is not a particularly enlightened or even safe way to live. We can and should do better. We actually used to do better on many of those issues. There was a time in our relatively recent political history when political leaders regarded each other with civility and respect — and applied basic ethical standards to their interactions with people from the other political party. We have slipped away from that reality in far too many settings, but we did have a long period of time when civility governed interactions, and people treated people from the other political party with dignity, courtesy, and basic respect.

We will actually all be better off when we decide to return our political differences to the level where the other side in our political situations is seen by all of us as being a legitimate and well intentioned opposition, instead of being an evil and demonized enemy. We will all be better off if we decide collectively and individually to tell our leaders we expect them to solve our intergroup problems, and to not incite intergroup anger and trigger intergroup conflict. We will all be better off when we tell our leaders we expect them to tell the truth in their public utterances — and to not say intentionally untrue things in public settings.

Calling for a higher and more enlightened level of leadership behavior could work. It will work with some leaders. It is an interesting phenomenon that some of our leaders will want to continue to lead so much that they actually can be steered into more civilized behaviors by the explicit and enlightened expectations of the people they lead. A significantly more civilized and more Peaceful leadership behavior can happen for many people if we insist on making it happen. We all need to lead from behind on those issues.

We need to make the decision to restore our political discourse to honest and respectful levels by not allowing the people in political and media positions who steer us with unethical and emotional language into having our own “Us/Them” instincts into full and situational activation.

That is not just a problem for our leaders. Our news media is also a major part of the problem we need to address. Our news media clearly is a major part of the “Us/Them” division we feel in this country.

Too many of our media people today have their own most basic “Us/Them” instincts activated at a level that demonizes whoever they perceive to be “Them.” Those media people with those basic “Us/Them” instincts in full gear feel the same need to defeat “Them” as the most rapid politicians,. Some of the media are also willing to lie directly and deliberately to their audiences and readers if they believe their lies can help defeat whoever they perceive at a very primal level to be “Them.”

It is relatively easy for us as viewers to see which media people have those instincts activated at the most dysfunctional levels, by their willingness to look directly into the camera and to lie directly about things we know are untrue.

For the most partisan of the media, the need and the obsession to damage and defeat their perceived “Them” is so intense they feel no remorse when lying. They sometimes perceive themselves to be Holy Warriors, and when they feel they are Holy Warriors, they can believe the Holiness of their cause justifies their blatantly and intentionally dishonest communications.

Both partisan media people and partisan politicians with the most negative “Them” instincts fully activated actually sometimes feel they are personally and directly aligned with a greater and higher level of “Honesty” and those people too often believe their perceived link to a generic higher honesty level ethically frees them from having to be accurate about inconvenient facts relevant to political conflicts.

That level of lying is not always intentional. People who feel those enemy-linked perceptions at the most extreme levels can also deceive themselves about what is really true. Self-deception is also too often a slippery slope for a number of people when we have our most divisive instincts activated. People sometimes feel they aren’t really lying when they say untrue things, because their thought processes are so strongly motivated to believe their own untrue statements, that the motivation to hold that belief overpowers their perception of actual facts.

People with those thought processes activated can probably pass lie detector tests about outrageous lies they tell in the heat and anger of those highly partisan moments.

The new standard for whether or not to believe something in those situations is too often not whether a statement is actually true — but whether or not that statement “feels true.” Some of our politicians have actually indicated that their strategy often involves saying things that “feel true” whether or not they actually are true.

Those leaders and media who use those strategies know there is a highly perverse and dangerous thought cycle where lies that reinforce prejudices are believed because of the prejudices they are based on — and the lies then sometimes actually function to reinforce the prejudices. Major segments of the news media are highly complicit in those strategies and behaviors.

All those dangerous, and sometimes dysfunctional, emotions and behaviors are directly exacerbated on a daily basis by the fact that media outlets and professional news staff now working in the new 24-hour news cycle’s functional reality need to come up with stories each day to fill the entire 24-hours — and many of the easiest stories to come up with to fill that cycle are the ones that attack whoever each outlet defines to be “Them.”

Filling all of that broadcasting time is often hard to do — and keeping peoples’ attention as a media program and holding an audience can often be easier when the messages involve direct and inflammatory attacks on other people. Anger creates audiences, and anger is easier to activate, trigger, and sustain than understanding or wisdom.

That problem of having great pressure to say inflammatory things to fill out the news cycle now reaches beyond the traditional media channels and outlets. The people attacking in the context of the broadcast media outlets are also now competing for audience and viewer loyalty with the various social media outlets — and the social media outlets have the advantage of being even further insulated from many legal constraints or honesty requirements by the very nature and structure of the Internet and its various manifestations.

The truth can take on a very perverse and sometimes problematic role across that entire range of media settings and political situations, and there are settings where the audiences and supporters prefer points being made that are not true.

In fact, in some levels of politics, some Internet settings, and in a significant number of those highly divisive media settings, telling lies about the other side in a political situation is sometimes welcomed and encouraged by the audience, and celebrated and embraced by the most rabid partisans for the various parties. Highly partisan people sometimes welcome obvious lies about their opposition — simply because the highly partisan people often place a highly positive value on anything done or said that does damage to the other side.

It is a sad fact of life, for both the media and the politicians, that many of the most fully committed and activated people from their own aligned group tend not to be bothered or put off by obvious lies and distortions that attack whoever they perceive to be “Them,” because the people who share their sense of “Us” and “Them” have similar instincts, emotions, and values activated, and those people tend to be very forgiving and accepting of even blatant and transparent misstatements and lies when the lies are clearly said to attack and damage a hated them.

The same people who would be offended by lies about many topics are too often forgiving, and even welcoming, of the specific sets of lies used to attack “Them.” Mob-like behaviors and mob-echoing and damaging thought processes are sometimes triggered in ways that make it acceptable, and even desirable, to various audiences when their leaders and spokespeople openly, clearly, and deliberately use lies to attack “Them.” In extreme cases, where the truth might not be beneficial to the people on one side in a setting, they can sometimes attack their own leaders for telling unpopular or inconvenient truths. Leaders in some settings have to be careful not to say some true things if their own group  does not want that particular truth said. That can lead to some very complicated and convoluted information flows, because the speakers need to shape their language on those sensitive and volatile issues around what people want hear — and not around the actual truth.

It is a very good thing to have a free press and it is a good thing to have our news media sources present opposing points of view — because we are all smarter when we have more information. Even the most partisan and biased of the media sometimes give us insights into important issues we would not otherwise know.

But if we want to have an informed electorate making good decisions about both leaders and key issues, we should not get our primary information about important issues primarily from skewed sources. We need to all understand how that media situation works — and we need to individually make the choice to choose news sources focused primarily on truth and accuracy, and not on generating stress, agitation, or division.

To succeed as a country, we need people to understand how badly we can be divided as a country unless we make deliberate choices to create intergroup understanding and Peace. To do that, we need to have a broader sense of a values based “Us” for our political processes and for our key community leadership issues.

The InterGroup Peace books are all intended to help us achieve a more fully informed level of shared values, and more enlightened expectations and behaviors in all of our intergroup settings. The situation is not hopeless if we decide to make the changes we need to make to modify our culture to create a different set of expectations for our leaders.

Knowledge is power. We need basic knowledge about all of those instinct-sculpted values and behaviors in order to achieve maximum power over them. As part of that process, we need to start a “Truther Movement” for America.

To restore both civility and enlightenment to our public discourse, we all need to very intentionally change our culture in direct ways to make honesty an expectation. That can be done. Every culture is invented and built. People who choose to make it change can modify every culture.

We need to make honest a key expectation of our culture.

That is possible to do. Honesty should be restored to our political world by all of us simply and clearly setting honesty as a basic expectation. People looking into the camera and clearly lying to us should never be accepted. We need to expect honesty from both our leaders and our media outlets. We need to do explicit things to make that happen. The truth is, we actually have tools today we can use to steer those expectations.

The Internet is part of the problem; we need to make it a major part of the solution. We can deal with that honesty expectation aspect of our culture at multiple levels by using the Internet and the various social media venues to respond very directly, and with vigor and clarity, when we see and hear untruths by either our leaders or our media stars. We all have Internet access. We can use that access to communicate our values about the need for honesty in multiple and direct ways.

We should begin by asking our media and all of our leaders to make an explicit commitment to telling the truth. We should be clear in our truth expectations, and we should ask each of our leaders and the media to commit explicitly to telling the truth.

All media shows have Internet feedback mechanisms. If a reporter looks into the camera and says something that is clearly not true — even if you happen to agree with that specific untruth because it speaks to your own dislike of a person or issue — respond, and tell them you expect a higher level of honesty. We can get honesty if we demand it.

We should expect the media, themselves, to use the truth as a standard for their stories and for their interviews. Shows like The News Hour have those standards today. They can be done. We need to expect even the most partisan news stations to tell the truth about the issues they cover. They should rely on the power of their core beliefs to win the day, and not rely on dishonesty and deception to win the day. The Art of War is anchored in deception and deceit. We need the Art of Peace anchored in truth and honesty … with Win/Win replacing Win/Lose as the goal of our intergroup interactions.

Start with our leaders. We need to expect the people we accept and choose as our leaders to have honesty as a core value, and act in honest ways regardless of the setting and the expediency and short-term advantages that can result from being dishonest.

We need to be a people aligned and united by our shared beliefs and committed to a future of Win/Win for all of the groups that make up the fabric of America. 

Too many of the people looking into the camera lens today and telling lies are doing things that will make that future success harder to achieve. We cannot allow them to sell us out on those basic values for their own gain.

We can — and we should — do a restart on all of those issues. A really good time to start again, do a cultural re-grounding, and an ethical and moral based restart — will be right after this set of elections is over.

We can turn our future after this election into a more civilized and civil set of interactions if we understand how far we have sunk today, and demand those interactions happen in the future.

We will need to do several right things to make that happen.

This winter will be the right time to do those things, because the election will be over and we will have a period of time to see what we have done, feel bad about how partisan and petty we have been, and feel good about the opportunity we now have to create a better future for us all.

We need a Peace movement. We need a values-based Movement for Peace. We need to incorporate values into our Peace movement that says lying is no longer accepted for our leaders as part of their political tool kit.

We clearly need a Truther Movement. We need to anchor the future for us all on honesty, and we need to do a number of right-things to help us all succeed.

Now that we have seen how ugly politics can get, we should be deeply ashamed of ourselves if we let those cycles ever happen again.

We should be deeply ashamed of ourselves if we get into another Presidential campaign based on lies and untruths. We have a magnificent opportunity to learn how not to manage politics — and we have great tools we can use to make politics right in the future.

Let’s set an enlightened path into our future — and let’s not allow the primal instinctive forces and thought processes leading us to bad places today have that same impact on us all in the years ahead.

Let’s have a Peace Movement anchored in a Truther Movement, with Win/Win as our commitment, our strategy, our goal, and our basic skill set.

The InterGroup books explain those agendas. We need to understand those processes, and we need to use them to build Peace as our future.