Saturday, January 06, 2007

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave

There is a tension in our culture regarding the art and practice of lying.

We take for granted that public figures lie all the time, but the degree to which we choose to hold them accountable when lies are exposed differs based upon the arena they participate in. For ease of classification, I will use USA Today's four-part color-coded system to analyze how liars are regarded by the media:

1) News--While it is true that a President was impeached for perjury less than ten years ago, "lies" and "politics" are two words often juxtaposed in such a way that we are desensitized to the association. Corruption and bribery still gall us, but not lying for the sake of political convenience. Consider the case of President Bush admitting that he lied about Donald Rumsfeld's job security, then getting a pass (on that topic) from the same media corps that doesn't hesitate to grill him on other topics.

2) Life (Entertainment/Pop Culture)--Nobody takes anything anyone in the entertainment industry says at face value, so there is no outrage when prevarications finally come to light. This is particularly the case with celebrity couples, who constantly deny dating rumors and break-ups. I would like for someone to ask Jennifer Aniston: "Why did you lie about dating Vince Vaughn?" or Nick Lachey/Jessica Simpson: "Why did you lie about the strength of your marriage for months?" I would like to see the utter shock in their eyes.

3) Money--Martha Stewart was unable to successfully code switch from the entertainment world, where falsehood is accepted, to the business world, where it is not. If it comes to light that anyone in the corporate world has lied about anything, they are not part of the corporate world much longer (unless you have already established yourself in the entertainment world).

4) Sports--The sports world contains an interesting tension on its own. It is governed by the same vague middle class morality that governs the corporate structure (think of NBA dress codes, NFL crackdowns on celebrations, etc...) yet contains elements of the glitz and artifice of the entertainment idiom (the clash in this tension was fully realized in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show). The Nick Saban story was evident of how lying is regarded in this community. On the one hand, he was lambasted by the media (scroll down to the bottom); on the other hand, he received this reaction upon landing at the airport in Alabama.

Now, the general public's reaction to these incidents will naturally be colored by their own experience with lying. Research has shown that most people lie and lie often in everyday conversation. According to those who have conducted the studies, the primary reason we lie is more defensive than offensive--we are protecting our self-esteem. I don't think it would be a regular stretch to say that most everyday liars don't do so because they want to, but because they think they have to.

At the same time, our culture often disseminates messages that hold to the Augustinian and Kantian notions that lying is absolutely wrong. The reason that these philosophers held that lying was wrong was because the liar breaks an implicit contract with others--and now is subject to being lied to. I think this contract, though certainly not consciously articulated on a regular basis, still holds a powerful hold on people. It is what gives fuel to our indignation when we learn that someone has deceived us. It is what gave rise to the invectives hurled against Nick Saban.

On the other hand, there is another implicit contract that I believe governs our discourse. If virtually everyone is guilty of some degree of falsehood, and falsehood is considered to be a grievous sin, it is in everyone's best interests to engage in a conspiracy of silence. Who hasn't been in a position where they were 100% certain that someone was lying to them (there may even be hard evidence to support an accusation), yet lets the liar off the hook and doesn't call them on it?

When Walter Scott made his famous statement about tangled webs and deception, perhaps he wasn't even half aware of how right he was.


Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Merry Ukrainian Christmas!

To show your solidarity with your (two) Foam Lakian readers, eat lots of perogies!

Although I don't think Heidi is Ukrainian.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no, im not. but hell, does that matter?

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm in Becky Kelley's English class. My email is, if you could add me to your mailing list I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in Becky Kelley's English class, and my E-mail is Please add me to your mailing list.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello. I too am in Becky Kelley's English class. My e-mail Please add me to your mailing list

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello, i am also in Becky Kellys english class at Jefferson Comunity College, if you could add me to your mailing list, i would gratly appreciate it to. My e-mail address is and also

7:52 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

Although I agree strongly with your blog, I feel that the UMass research is unreliable since they TOLD the subjects what to do and say. This was a bit misleading, don't you think? Why didn't they just place them in a room and observe what they did. Why TELL them to basically lie.
What if a person is shy and may feel inferior to others... if they are TOLD to appear likable and compitent OF COURSE THEY MIGHT LIE as opposed to just being themselves.
I think they need to conduct a new survey. If that many people are stating that they are lying... how do we not know that they are lying on the survey?
There are other ways to conduct surveys and observe subjects.
While I understand that everybody lies at some point and time I truly don't understand why people would consciously lie all the time to make them feel superior to others because afterall lying makes us eventually feel inferior even more.
Surely people aren't lying this much. I really hope not! What ever happened to "honesty is the best policy?" Do we always have to have "leaders" to set an example for us or can we just be real and ourselves and take pride in who and what we are no matter who or what we are as long as we are not liars.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm in Becky Kelley's class as well. I, too, would like you to add me to your emailing list. My email is Thanks!

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who's the Becky broad azor?

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I'am in Becky Kelley's class, can you please add me to your mailing list. Thank you.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Hey, thanks to everyone in Becky's English class. I hope you aren't too bored by having to read my blog. I don't have time for much of a life, so I just pretty much write whatever is on my mind in order to work through my own thoughts and keep myself sharp. I teach English myself and think it is hypocrytical if English teachers talk about how important writing is but don't do it themselves. In other words, I advocate writing just for writing's sake, and this blog is my attempt at doing that. My hope for my students is that they see writing as something other than just an academic exercise, and I hope the same for you too.

I set up a mailing list under google groups with all your e-mails, so you should get updates whenver I publish them, but FYI I tend to follow a schedule of updating every Saturday. My personal e-mail is if you'd like to get in touch with me without putting it in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Oh yeah, if you click "Other" when choosing a comment you don't have to log in as "anonymous." Though I guess you may be setting up your own blogs, so you'll be able to sign in that way too.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

azor, buddy, do you have msn? because im itching to add you. hahahahahhaha


10:06 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Im in Becky Kellys class. my Email is . if you could add me to your mailing list I would appreciate it. Thank You

11:22 AM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

heidi, you're kind of a stalker.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Mrs. Kelley's class Email

1:54 PM  
Blogger kmullins0033 said...

hello i'm in becky kelley's class i would like to be added to your mailing list please. thank you!

my e-mail is

5:41 PM  
Blogger ksilverhorn0001 said...

Im in Mrs. Becky Kelleys class please add me to your email list! Thanks!

11:40 AM  

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