What happens when you start believing your own lies?

It is one thing that we have in the US a one-party state that serves the interests of the oligarchy, with the Republican and Democratic parties being two factions, with the Democrats projecting the kinder, gentler face.

The modern Republican party seems to be increasingly distancing itself from reality, with anti-science and anti-reason thinking taking an increasingly stronger grip. We have reached the stage when any they seem willing to reject any empirical evidence about anything if it goes counter to their preferred view.

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued an encouraging report on jobs last month, they were attacked as having cooked the books. When Nate Silver’s influential polling site shows Barack Obama as likely to win the election, he is attacked as manipulating the data. And of course, any scientific evidence on climate change or evolution or women’s health that disagrees with right-wing orthodoxy is summarily dismissed as biased and untrustworthy.

This is a very dangerous trend that cannot be dismissed as mere pandering to the clueless party followers by a more aware leadership. We cannot reassure ourselves that the leaders are aware of the truth and are merely cynically manipulating it for short-term gain. As Paul Krugman writes, what happens when a major political party starts believing its own lies?

This is really scary. It means that if these people triumph, science — or any kind of scholarship — will become impossible. Everything must pass a political test; if it isn’t what the right wants to hear, the messenger is subjected to a smear campaign.

In his book Believing Bullshit philosopher Stephen Law says that the danger of allowing people to construct an alternative reality in which evidence is tortured to fit into a desired narrative is not merely that such people believe wrong things, but that their whole process of reasoning gets distorted and they start to think that this is the way that science and reason actually works.


  1. katkinkate says

    In the greater scheme of things it wouldn’t be too bad if USA was just another country, but it is actually the most globally influential country on the planet and that turns the Republican ‘war on reality’ into a global catastrophe. You guys really need to work on getting some sensible people into the political process at the lower levels of government where the work is done, to mitigate the national train wreck looming on the horizon.

  2. raven says

    What happens when you start believing your own lies?

    The North Carolina legislature recently outlawed global warming and sea level rise.

    Much of the coast of North Carolina is flat, subsiding, and the ocean is steadily rising as the ice caps and glaciers melt. It is projected to rise 3 to 6 feet by 2100.

    What could go wrong here? Lots.

    1. The coast of NC was erased in the 1950’s by a series of large hurricanes.

    2. Just look at what happened to NYC and NJ. Most of the damage was a storm surge. Sea level rises of a few feet aren’t a big deal. Sea level rises of a few feet added in with a large hurricane and a high tide are.

    New Orleans was OK for 999 day out of a thousand. It only takes one extreme day to ruin everything.

    So is North Carolina going to stop doing their ostrich imitation. Naw. The developers will build, take the money, and run. When everything disappears, well why should they care?

  3. raven says

    What happens when you start believing your own lies?

    The Iraq war.

    Trillions of dollars gone. Hundreds of thousands maimed and killed. To accomplish about nothing.

    PS The Tea Party/GOP has a name for scientists and other knowledge based people. The reality based community.

    The use it as an insult.

  4. JagerBaBomb says

    It’s always seemed like projection to me–they make these accusations because they recognize it on some level as the sorts of things they’d do.

  5. grumpyoldfart says

    There used to be a piss-farting little religion in the Roman Empire that struggled for centuries until it gained political power in about 400 AD – and then they really got things moving: Intellectuals were killed, libraries were burnt, education was denied to all but the ruling elite and the ensuing Dark Ages lasted for 600 years. Then came 200 years of Crusades, followed by 600 years of Inquisitions. It worked so well last time, it’s no wonder they’re trying to give it another shot.

  6. No Light says

    Exactly. Where the US gods, others follow. America has enormous influence over the rest of the world.

    I’m British. The upcoming US election should mean nothing to me, but it does, and I’m very anxious about it.

  7. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    What happens when you start believing your own lies? You wake up one day and find you’ve turned into L. Ron Hubbard.

  8. sailor1031 says

    Believing your own bullshit is a long-established american tradition. Who else believes that America won the war of 1812? the Vietnam war? Iraq war, where not a single war aim was accomplished? Who else would believe in american exceptionalism? Who else believes that “america” is the “indispensable nation”? Well you see the point…..

  9. Rodney Nelson says

    Everything must pass a political test

    The Bushites tried this already. That’s how Michael “”Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” Brown became head of FEMA. He was the lawyer for the International Arabian Horse Association and had been an intern for the Edmond, OK city manager (where he might or might not have been involved in emergency preparedness, accounts differ). But Brown’s conservative credentials were good, so he got a political appointment for which he was unqualified.

  10. Chiroptera says

    As Paul Krugman writes, what happens when a major political party starts believing its own lies?

    I would like to believe that when they come into power, things all go to utter hell, and then people wake up and say, “Wow! Maybe we’d better rethink how we do things.”

    Unfortunately, I know enough history to know that what will really happen is that they will come to power, things will go to utter hell, and then they will start blaming the defeatists and traitors and those with insufficiently pure ideologies, and then they start rounding up the dissidents.

  11. Greg P. says

    Is that really true (about the insult)? Can you provide some citations? I can certainly imagine it being true, but OTOH, I haven’t actually traveled in the right circles to have heard it.

  12. Some Old Programmer says

    Real enough.

    Granted that’s Wikipedia, but it cites primary references and I also recall hearing this story about the G.W. Bush White House (with appalled not-quite-disbelief).

  13. Greg P. says

    Wow. I don’t know which is sadder, the naked way Karl Rove tosses out that epithet, or the fact that Karl Rove has been successful in selling his alternate reality to such a large percentage of the population for so many years.

  14. Corvus illustris says

    “The developers will build, take the money, and run. When everything disappears, well why should they care?”
    Indeed. The suckers McMansion-buyers won’t have to care either, because the US taxpayer will foot the bill–for reconstruction!–with Federal Flood Insurance, unless the country comes to its senses. (Governmental distortion of the free market is anathema!–except in certain circumstances.)

  15. JJH says

    But, on the other hand;

    Could this be the election? Could this be the one where the conservative (but not anti-reality) caucus says; “Hey, telling us what we want to hear may feel good, but how about the truth?

    Imagine this, “A lot of my friends have just cleaned my clock about how wrong I was about my election predictions. And now they doubt my projections about anything.”

    I’m not saying that is what will happen but, what if this was what DID happen?


  16. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    I was reminded this past weekend while sorting books of how James Michener dealt with the lies in a subplot that involved UFOs, little green men and the rise of creationists while he was writing in the ’70s (Space was published 40 years ago).

    Our challenge is systemic and very long running. (Watched Elmer Gantry lately?)

    Do all you can to make today a good day,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *