When Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer gave his first press conference at the White House and against all evidence claimed the crowd at Mr. Trump’s inauguration was the largest ever, in a weird way it reminded me of my mother’s tales about our lives in the Soviet Union.
Back then, officials on TV talked about record production highs in agriculture while people were facing empty shelves in the supermarkets. I never understood why a state would lie when the lie was so easy to disprove, just using one’s own eyes.
Shouldn’t people rebel against such a cheap attempt at tricking them?
The truth is, there’s a pattern behind the past Soviet lies as well as Mr. Trump’s present lies. A pattern that works well.
I’m not talking about the usual deceptions disseminated by every government by whitewashing the truth. I’m not talking about justifications for war that can only be disproved by classified documents.
The special power of this Trump-style lie is the fact that everyone is able to see through it, without any sort of education, just using their senses. Its very purpose is to challenge people’s perception.
People tend to compare new information to their existing knowledge. If both align, it strengthens one’s knowledge. If they disagree, it causes cognitive dissonance. It’s an unpleasant state that people seek to avoid by adapting their knowledge to the new facts. That’s how we learn.
Inconsistent information is so unpopular because it causes cognitive dissonance – and it costs resources to deal with that.
That’s has become a real problem ever since information has been available on the internet. Online, every photo can be faked, or taken out of context.
The confusion and strain resulting from the multitude of inconsistent information on social media are immense anyway. Now add the liars’ trick that deliberately exploits this potential.
If I tell you "the sky is green," it’s not so much my goal that you believe me instantly. My goal is rather to reiterate the claim that the sky is green until your resources to endure this dissonance are depleted and you give in and say, "that’s your opinion. I think the sky is blue. I guess there’s no way to determine the color of the sky objectively."
Constant untruths eventually wear away the brain.
The point of the obvious lie is to prove how powerless the truth is, to change the conversation so that suddenly everything is questioned.