graffiti on an urban wall

Should I lie to you?

I should not lie to you, my mum, his Holiness the Pope, and especially not to myself. Become a politician and this basic rule of morality falls away. At least this is their ruse. It cannot persist…

Should I lie to you?

My personal answer to this question is an emphatic no. 

There are a host of sensible reasons for telling the truth.

If you are truthful others will trust you. This is vital given trust is the glue that holds people together from the intimacy of your partner to the organisation of society and economies. 

Truth-telling is easier to maintain over time because as anyone with a hint of the higher self in them knows, the truth persists whilst all else withers. 

The truth is easier to keep than lies. Unless you are a ninja, secret service level deceiver, sooner or later your lies will find you out as hints of the persistent truth slip out. 

So why do politicians lie, seemingly all the time, and with ever-increasing conviction? 

In a post on our sister site Alloporus | Ideas for healthy thinking there is a comment on a catalogue created by the Washington Post that President Trump, three and a half years into his term of office, notched up his 20,000th recorded lie or misleading statement

Epic stuff Mr President.

Not only has the frequency ratcheted up but the days of the ‘little white one’ have become days of the big, fat, ugly ones that are black and fetid.

Our leaders have gone from being ‘economical with the truth’ back in the 1980s to fearless falsehoods. In Muppetville they seem to think that lies said loud enough and often enough will enter public discourse and the realms of the acceptable without question.

Why do politicians lie?

They lie because it suits them.

They lie because they do not have to tell the truth when the truth so often does not suit them.

They lie because they got into the habit of doing it and like addicts, they cannot stop.

They lie because they do not see anything wrong with it if it serves their purpose.

Some of them are pathological liars because they are sociopaths, even psychopaths. I kid you not. People with these diagnosable mental disorders can function well in modern society and are more prevalent than you think. The system even works in their favour now that it promotes the ruthless over the worthy.

So we know why they do it? 

One way or another they think it confers advantages… for them.

manure spreading on a wheat field
Manure spreading on a cornfield is a corny analogy to the muck spreading so prevalent in our political elites.

Why lies are a problem for public policy?

The prevalence for leaders and policymakers to lie creates several insidious problems for public policy. 

a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual 

policy definition

Here are a few of them in no particular order…

  1. Evidence is relegated to an inconvenience. It is not needed when it adds so little to the discourse, so why bother? This has the effect of making the truth harder to find and apply when we actually do need it for decision support or in arbitration over multiple values. 
  1. When there are no facts that can be tabled or their meaning agreed, the discussion becomes argument much faster. The sensible centre becomes lost in the polarisation of the argument or the new radical idea can only be a yes or no and rarely a ‘let’s give a try’.
  1. Groupthink prevails more easily than ever. When dissent is frowned upon even when it comes with evidence and logic, people are more likely to adhere to like minds. Even when those minds are lying through their teeth. It is much safer that way. Kool-aid is dispensed and before you know it everyone agrees with the lie. Crucially the receivers, as well as the peddlers of the lie, start to believe the rhetoric and the lie itself.
  1. Psychological risk to the innocent. In the world of lies, a dissenting voice has no safe place to go. If you question a lie with facts and that doesn’t change anything, then what can you do? Keep plugging away or lie along too or lie louder? 
  1. When there are lots of lies around anyone can find a falsehood to prop up the beliefs they hold and even those that they don’t even know that they have. 

Over the years we have seen each of these issues occur in the development of environmental policy. The consequence is that they close down options, reduce the testing of scenarios and allow the politics to override the policy. 

If you are not sure why that last one is critical to the demise of democracy, look out for future posts on evidence in policy.

In short, the process of making reliable, outcome orientated policy is compromised by lies. 

Good policymaking needs truth and the ability to test the truth through evidence. We all know this but we seem unable to do anything about the lack of truth on modern policy development.

Lies are a problem for politics too 

Back in the day politicians had to present their credentials, argue for their corner of the political spectrum, defend the policies they chose to justify that corner, and then be more convincing than those from the other side. 

This was the way to get people to vote for you. 

Now all they have to do is lie. 

Only lies do not persist. They are found out eventually and fall for the falsehoods that they are. So if the political discourse is just louder lies winning over quieter ones and the shit thrown sticking because everyone is throwing it, then all that happens is everyone smells vile. 

Do this long enough and you can’t smell your odious self but I can and I chose to move to another part of the building, far away from the stench.

Shit smells nasty to us because it is, there are microbes busy decomposing it that can make you very sick indeed. So stay away from shit. Humanity has known this since the caves.

Politicians are so blind that they do not realise people are ignoring them because they smell bad.

You get my laboured point. 

Politics doesn’t seem to, steeped as it is in its own farts.

So lies mean most people disengage from politics just when we need them to be active, asking, arguing and filtering out policy options to find those that will take us all forward.

wheelbarrow of manure
the rich smell of manure is way more tolerable than the stench we get from out politicians

Should I lie to you?

Obviously, I should not lie to you or to myself. 

This is not just what your mother told you was the right thing to do, it is actually the healthy thing to do. And in time truth will be rewarded. 

But at this moment in history, lies are prevalent and powerful. They have become a standard tool for many with a public face and a non-discerning public are letting it happen. And for the moment, this will be the paradigm. 

If lies get you what you want without any consequence, then many will lie.

This is a huge future risk.

What sustainably FED suggests…

Here are a few things to keep you safe in these troubled times with too many odorous lies peddled every day…

  • Make sure that you can spot the lies as best you can, assuming of course that you are comfortable with truth-telling yourself.
  • Recognise that most politicians are in a cycle of lies, they have almost all lost the ability to be truthful, and so call them out on this whenever possible.
  • Recognise too that the public service is becoming tainted with the same illness, not individuals perhaps but the collective need to support their ministers have forced the system into the nether regions of untruths, so be aware of that too.
  • Even in casual discussion with friends, call out lies, even when they appear on your feed. Yes, they will be lurking there too.
  • Do not take anything on social media seriously, just be happy if it makes you laugh

And there is always hope.

Do not be afraid for the truth will persist.

Hero image modified from photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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