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Refuge for the rational.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Liars 

I have a long history with liars and yet I barely understand the phenomenon. When I was about five or six I had a friend who was a compulsive liar. She lied about everything, and I always wondered if the grandness of her lies were the result of her being stupid, her thinking I was stupid or some unholy combination of the two. I still wonder. She once told me this ridiculous story about how her family was not allowed to go to Toronto because her brother had bombed a building there. Oh, and her grandparents had died in the bombing. And her cat. I reacted to the bullshit the same way I still react. I didn’t confront her. I had enough foresight to recognize that she would simply become defensive and this would start a conflict and an argument, and I simply wasn’t interested in wasting energy on something that was so obviously false. I think defending a position in the first place lends credibility to the other side. And it’s rare that I’m willing to do that.

At this point, I was confused as to the motivation behind the lying. So confused that I considered (very briefly, but I was only six) the possibility that her stories could be at least partly true. I think it’s far easier to lie to someone whose first instinct is to be honest, because honest people simply don’t understand the motivation behind blatant lying.

I had reached the conclusion that people who lied like this did so for attention, and I resented what I perceived as a deliberate betrayal of trust (I was a pretty sensitive kid). That is, until my friend told me another ridiculous lie. The difference between this lie and the other was that it involved my own family. It was something small and silly, but nevertheless, something I could so easily refute. I considered a number of hypotheses to explain this, but was never able to decide on one. The only thing I can say for certain is that for some people lying is so much a habit that lies can seem real. But I won’t go as far as to say that they don’t know or can’t control doing it.

I am either a statistical anomaly, or pathological liars are not so rare as to deserve such a diagnostic label. It's just that I've known so many. However, I will say that there is a distinct difference between a chronic liar and everyday lying, for example, the kind that saves your ass at work. The difference is that the chronic liar seems to do so for no apparent reason. The lies are petty exaggerations that, though possible, are extremely unlikely, especially when their probability is calculated alongside any number of other improbable ‘facts’ contained within the person’s life’s story. What I’ve noticed about these people is that they think of themselves as honest people, and in fact will even go so far as to condemn dishonesty in others. The irony isn’t even funny; it’s just fucking pathetic.

The problem with these fucks is that I actually like spending time with some of them. I have friends like this, and the fact that I like them, and may even think they are intelligent, is negligible when I’m constantly exposed to shit-spewing. On the rare occasion I’ve tried to confront them, they have become defensive and launched into rhetorical tirades so obnoxious that it becomes impossible to say anything without being rudely interrupted. And then they pull out experts they know, or their boyfriend, sister, or mother knows, and places they’ve been, and things they’ve seen, and more lies that are impossible to disprove, and frankly, not worth the time of disproving.

I’ve even had these liars go so far as to lie about things I study. I can’t even express how absurd it feels to be interrupted by an air of expertise and a ‘fact’ you know to be wholly inaccurate because you have spent the last several years of your life studying it. At that point, it’s just offensive. I don’t know why people think they are more educated than they are. It’s endemic in our society. On the surface, it would seem as though these kinds of liars really do believe they are telling the truth. It could be that they read something that was inaccurate and took it as fact due to a lack of critical thinking skills. Or maybe they didn’t understand a valid presentation of the material and their misinterpretation grew into some horrible untruth that was far beyond their control. Either way, they’re pretty stupid.

I have noticed people claiming to have 190 IQs usually have problems with lying. So, not only are they aware of their own mental incapability, as evidenced by the incessant need to prop themselves up, but they think I’m so absolutely mentally retarded as to believe a lie that was fabricated by a complete idiot. I guess you could call it circular retardation. It’s also endemic in our society.

If anyone has a real explanation for this, please let me know. Otherwise, I guess we can just make fun of them.

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