“A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” This well known saying is variously and unreliably attributed to a number of persons, from Mark Twain to Winston Churchill. But as long as one is not trying to steal the words for one’s self, it is less important who said a true thing, than that the thing said be true. Credit should be given, of course, when credit is due, and identifiable. But just because, say, Abraham Lincoln said a thing, that thing is not automatically true, any more than if Richard Nixon said something, it is automatically false. Now, it is not an ad hominem to call a liar a liar, nor is it a fallacy to question the credibility of a person whose credibility has been shredded by repeated abuses of the truth. Still, one must be very careful when it comes to either accepting or dismissing a statement merely on account of its source. If you dismiss an alcoholic’s statement that drinking is bad for you, on account of the fact that the person making the statement is an alcoholic (who is still drinking), you’ve committed the tu quoque version of the argumentum ad hominem. If anything, the alcoholic is better situated to speak with genuine expertise on the damage of alcoholism than, say, a more sober member of society.
But to return to our original point, there is an intransigence to falsehoods that is not easily dislodged by anything so inconsequential as reason and truth. There are many psychological studies (I’ll not link to any – they are easy to find) that point out that, for example, climate change denialism – devoid as it is of any shred of valid or scientific justification – nevertheless becomes more stubborn when it is confronted with logic and facts that admit of no rational dispute. The lie, as it were, digs in its boots. I’ll skip over any discussion of those rhetorical techniques that do seem to work, because such methods are not my interest here and it pisses me off that I’d ever have to resort to them. Rather, I want to look at those factors that let the lie out of the starting gate before the truth even knows that there is a race today. In particular, what is it that makes the lie so easy, and the truth so hard? Continue reading