Who is worse: someone who lies or someone who is utterly unconcerned about the truth?


This question came to my mind in the most recent case where Donald Trump, trying to make the case that the media and the debates are rigged against him, said that tonight’s moderator NBC news anchor Lester Holt was a Democrat though in fact he is a registered Republican. When Trump’s manager Kellyanne Conway was asked why Trump lied about this, she replied, that Trump didn’t lie because “a lie would mean that he knew the man’s party registration” when in fact he didn’t know.

This raises an interesting point. To be called a liar is a very serious charge. It is even one of the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments. According to Conway’s definition, lying has to have contrary knowledge as a precondition. But even accepting her premise, it is not clear why she thinks that exempts Trump from censure.

To make a mistake can be excused, if the mistake is acknowledged and apologized for when pointed out. But what about the people who consistently say things that serve their needs and advance their agendas without caring if they are true or not, and not making even the most cursory attempts to find out? Why is that considered, as Conway seems to think, not as bad as lying?

The reason that we value people telling the truth is not because that make them virtuous but because then we can trust what they say. Someone who is consistently unconcerned about the truth and willing to say anything to manipulate others and advance their own interests, is a sociopath and as untrustworthy as someone who is a liar.

We can create three categories of people: those who care about whether they are telling the truth, those who are known to be willing to lie if it serves their interests, and those who do not care and randomly say things that may be true or false. Nobody falls exclusively into a single of those categories. We are all admixtures of all three, though we would hope that the first would predominate. Politicians tend to have larger admixtures of the second mixed in. But Trump is extraordinary in the extent to which the second and third seem to dominate.

And yet, it does not seem to matter to Trump’s supporters.

This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow says it all.

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Comments

  1. invivoMark says

    The question with which I have been struggling is the following. Which is worse: someone who will do evil and who has far-reaching support for it, or someone who wants to do even more evil but who will be resisted at every turn?

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    What depresses the fuck out of me isn’t Trump’s transparent lies, or his supporters’ acceptance or lack of concern about them. That’s just modern right wing politics, aided and abetted by the banal obscenity called the mainstream media. It’s the ridiculous double standard that Clinton faces. Not only will every thing she says be fact-checked up the wazoo while Trump gets free passes (he’s The Donald! That’s his schtick! What a lad!), but she has to worry about her clothes, her demeanour (too shrill? too passive?), her ‘health’, etc ad nauseam. She can’t win this stupid contest, she can only draw. Yeah, that is misogyny.

  3. fentex says

    It is even one of the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments.

    No it’s not. Bearing false witness is a particular, not a general, class of lie. It’s proscription is not a general proscription against lying.

    Having written that, Trump routinely bears false witness. So while not all his lies breach that commandment, many do.

  4. says

    You are so right, Rob. The double standards are just so evident.

    People have never questioned the health of a male candidate.
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-bernie-sanders-is-too-old-20160205-story.html
    http://www.salon.com/2008/05/22/mccain_67/

    No one would bother talking about a male candidate’s hair
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-hair-evolution_us_576025e9e4b0e4fe5143c597
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/04/29/great-moments-in-bernie-sanderss-hair/

    Basically, if you have a Y chromosome, people only talk about the relevant stuff you said. Nothing else.
    http://observer.com/2015/11/why-marco-rubios-sweaty-body-actually-matters-to-america/
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/03/03/white_object_on_ted_cruz_s_mouth_unsettling.html

    Hillary Clinton is constantly being harassed and scrutinized above and beyond any of her adversaries. Look at her finally snapping at this awful secretly-right-winger greenpeace activist.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC4Pvm6Oj4A

    Fucken environmental activists think they are so clever by asking her opponent to sign the exact same pledge.
    http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/im-the-greenpeace-activist-who-asked-hillary-clinton-to-pledge-to-reject-fossil-fuel-contributions-at-the-purchase-ny-campaign-rally/
    Just because they treat the other candidates in the same way doesn’t mean that this is not a double standard.

    Life is just so unfair to poor Hillary.

  5. Holms says

    If a person answers a question in a manner that suggests they know the answer when they haven’t a clue, when they could have answered ‘I don’t know,’ is in my view intentionally giving the false impression that they are certain in their knowledgeof the answer and hence is a lie anyway. For example, if say I am going to the shops and ask whether I need to get some milk while I am there, and I am told “no need, we have plenty still” when the person doesn’t even know if they are correct in saying that. They have not stated something they know to be an untruth, and so the answer is not a lie in that narrow sense, but they have instead given the impression that they have knowledge that they know they lack.

    Some may say that that is not a lie per se, but I don’t think anyone would consider it honesty.

    #6
    It can be interpreted in the precise sense, but it is almost always taken to be a proscription against lying in general, even by the clergy.

    #7
    “People have never questioned the health of a male candidate.”
    Rob isn’t talking about men and women in general, he is talking about Donald and Hillary in particular. There is a definite double standard in the treatment of those two.

    “No one would bother talking about a male candidate’s hair”
    Rob isn’t talking about men and women in general, he is talking about Donald and Hillary in particular. There is a definite double standard in the treatment of those two.

    “Basically, if you have a Y chromosome, people only talk about the relevant stuff you said. Nothing else.”
    Rob isn’t talking about men and women in general, he is talking about Donald and Hillary in particular. There is a definite double standard in the treatment of those two.

    “Hillary Clinton is constantly being harassed and scrutinized above and beyond any of her adversaries. Look at her finally snapping at this awful secretly-right-winger greenpeace activist.”
    Rob isn’t talking about Hillary’s adversaries in general, he is talking about Donald and Hillary in particular. There is a definite double standard in the treatment of those two.

    “Just because they treat the other candidates in the same way doesn’t mean that this is not a double standard.
    Life is just so unfair to poor Hillary.”
    But they do treat Trump differently. Your sarcasm falls flat.

  6. KG says

    Someone who wants to do even more evil but who will be resisted at every turn? – invivoMark@1

    Presumably this refers to Trump. But there is no reason at all to think a Republican-dominated Congress – or even one where the Democrats have a tiny majority in the Senate (which is the best they can realistically hope to achieve) will resist him at any turn at all. Rather, Trump will wave through all the misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, etc. measures Congress can pass; he will choose hardline conservatives for any SC vacancies; he will be at one with the Republicans (and many Democrats) in transfering as much wealth as possible to the rich and the military; he will act to accelerate anthropogenic climate change; and he will meet no resistance from them in persecuting immigrants and his personal enemies, and aggrandising himself generally. If you dispute any of this, kindly supply some evidence. The only possible areas of conflict seem to be in foreign policy (TPP, NATO, nuclear proliferation), where it’s clear that Trump knows nothing and just shoots his mouth off – and probably doesn’t really care much as long as he can strut the world stage looking important.

  7. says

    Alrighty then, there is a definite double standard in how Donald Trump doesn’t get fact-checked.
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/24/us/elections/donald-trump-statements.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/08/opinion/donald-trump-is-lying-in-plain-sight.html?_r=0
    http://www.salon.com/2016/09/27/donald-trumps-biggest-lies-during-the-first-presidential-debate/
    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/9/26/13016146/donald-trump-liar-media
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2016/09/27/why-does-donald-trump-lie-so-much/#7d6800b26d24

    There is a definite double standard in how Donald Trump’s appearance doesn’t get criticized.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/09/27/rosie-odonnell-responds-to-trump-calls-him-an-orange-body-part-on-twitter/
    http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-01-14/why-is-donald-trump-orange
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-handprint-size_us_57a23518e4b0104052a0cf68
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/08/05/yes-donald-trumps-hands-are-actually-pretty-small/
    http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/beauty/for-men/is-an-invasive-and-dangerous-surgery-the-reason-behind-donald-trumps-odd-hairdo/news-story/78ace4de207ed94c25b6e0ad81efa6b7

    Nobody dares criticize Donald Trump’s demeanor.
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-situation-lab/201509/the-personality-donald-trump
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/

    Since Hillary Clinton has fainted and had coughing fits while Donald Trump hasn’t, there is no reason to think that anyone would be particularly curious about his health over hers. We’d have to wait for him to get sick to measure the media response to his health oh wait…
    http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/15/health/donald-trump-health/
    http://dailycaller.com/2016/09/26/people-cant-stop-talking-about-donald-trumps-health-on-twitter-during-the-debate/
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/09/26/donald-trump-sick-well-trumpsniffles/91148760/
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lev-raphael/is-donald-trump-mentally_b_11296232.html

    But damn, you got me. Now that we narrow the comparison down to just Trump and Clinton, the double standard becomes like super evident and such.

    Here’s the thing. He’s a lying piece of shit, everybody knows that by now. The ones who don’t, wouldn’t care anyway.

    What depresses me is the way that feminist language has been hijacked to defend a person that doesn’t need nor deserve defense. Who will take the discussion about double standards seriously if you keep trying to shoehorn it into a situation where that doesn’t apply? Who will take charges of misogyny seriously if they keep getting thrown around as mere political ammunition?

    And going back to invivoMark’s statement, this is the “far-reaching support” that Hillary gets. She’ll start a pointless war, overthrow governments, support monstrosities committed overseas, place corporate interests above the interests of the people, use coded language to malign vulnerable groups and do much more of her neoliberal bullshit. She’s done it before, she’ll do it again.

    And every time she does any of it, a million over-privileged knuckleheads will come out of the woodworks and yell at her detractors “You only say that because she’s a woman” “You’d be fine with it if she had a penis” “This is a double standard” “Right wing talking points” “Everyone else does it”. You’ve done it before, you’ll do it again.

    The fact that he’s bad doesn’t make her good. And people being ultra defensive about her only feeds to the fear that when she gets into power she’ll do all the evil she wants under the protection of the dumber half of liberals.

  8. invivoMark says

    KG @9:

    I reject your narrative, because I don’t think there’s any chance that the Senate won’t have a Democrat majority for the next two years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the House, too. Democrats tend to come out and vote in presidential election years.

    Perhaps in 2018 the balance of power will be different, but I still doubt there will be enough room for Trump to do much damage that Clinton wouldn’t have done anyway. And by 2020, unless the Democrats seriously cock it up, they’ll take back the presidency.

    Re: sexism and criticism of appearance/demeanor/health, there’s no question that it is working against Clinton harder than it is Trump. Both sides are subject to attacks for stupid reasons (just as men are subject to attacks on their appearance, etc.), but the fact is that it is easier for men to shrug off or ignore these attacks than women. Such is the superficial society we’ve created for ourselves. I hold no hope of this improving within my lifetime.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    A Lurker @11: You’re right that this particular debate didn’t end up highlighting double standards, because Trump’s performance was so bizarrely disastrous, and Clinton was coolness personified. I actually thought he would try to impersonate a statesman, but he seems incapable.

    What depresses me is the way that feminist language has been hijacked to defend a person that doesn’t need nor deserve defense.

    It’s not about defending Clinton, but about attacking misogynistic bullshit.

    Who will take charges of misogyny seriously if they keep getting thrown around as mere political ammunition?

    If people aren’t taking charges of misogyny seriously, they must have been living on another planet for a long time. It’s all round us, affecting women everywhere. Are you saying you’ve seen no misogyny in the coverage of Clinton’s entire career? I’ve seen it in the coverage of every woman politician I’ve known of.

    The fact that he’s bad doesn’t make her good.

    Has anyone here said she was good? On a thread at Pharyngula, someone said that this was a choice between a Turd Sandwich and a Giant Douche (South Park reference). My response was that it was a choice between a Turd Sandwich and a Giant Fucking Black Hole.

  10. says

    I provided several counter examples to every specific double standard you bothered to be specific about. You don’t think any accusation of misogyny from the Clinton camp has been even slightly overblown?

    I’ve had people respond to criticisms of her foreign policy by calling me sexist and privileged. I’ve seen too many times how the knee-jerk reaction to any of her detractors is to accuse them of being “privileged white boys” (please feed into the ‘reverse racism’ myth why dont’cha?). I’ve had people tell me with a straight face that a white, christian, multimillionaire with heavy political connections is somehow the face of the under-privileged. The charge of misogyny has been used on demonstrably idiotic contexts. Ever heard of “The boy who cried wolf”?

    “If people aren’t taking charges of misogyny seriously, they must have been living on another planet for a long time.”
    I get it, you have strongly held opinions about feminism and such. Most people you talk to have similarly strong opinions either in agreement with you or in disagreement. But a person who is unsure or uninterested on the topic won’t bother arguing with you or even commenting at all. Could this maybe skew your perception?

    You have to at least consider that some (maybe even most) people are still on the fence (mock them as much as you please). I talk to such people, mostly women, who don’t want to associate themselves with feminism because they perceive it to be obnoxious, exaggerated and focused on all the wrong things.

    Every double standard you put forward was immediately rebuked by the most simple google searches.

  11. John Morales says

    [meta]

    A Lurker from mexico, I had to check the comment-stream to determine to whom it was that your comment @14 was addressed.

    (Are you lazy, forgetful, or merely careless? None of those is a good attribute to possess)

    (earlier)

    What depresses me is the way that feminist language has been hijacked to defend a person that doesn’t need nor deserve defense.

    Your depression is not that important, other than to you and to those who have to cope with you (and to saintly people, to be fair).

    You have to at least consider that some (maybe even most) people are still on the fence (mock them as much as you please). I talk to such people, mostly women, who don’t want to associate themselves with feminism because they perceive it to be obnoxious, exaggerated and focused on all the wrong things

    So, no; you perceive them to be “perceive it to be obnoxious, exaggerated and focused on all the wrong things.”. Not the same thing.

    No, Rob doesn’t have to consider your personal opinion as fact.

    Every double standard you put forward was immediately rebuked by the most simple google searches.

    So you assert. I betcha I can find a counterpoint to any such search you care to adduce.

    (You amuse me)

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    A Lurker @14:

    Every double standard you put forward was immediately rebuked by the most simple google searches.

    I didn’t know google searches could be so scathingly judgmental. You probably meant ‘refuted’, but that’s almost as silly. If I said that smoking is bad for your health, you could find thousands of hale and hearty codgers who’ve been puffing away for decades. So what?

    I get it, you have strongly held opinions about feminism and such.

    Not sure what “and such” means, but yeah OK, and I have strongly held opinions about the alternation of night and day, the annoying consistency of gravity, and the genius of Bach and Einstein. I arrive at these by the dark art known as the fucking obvious, not by living in a bubble containing only people who care about these things.

    Anyway, it’s been a slice.

  13. says

    @15 (there, happy?)
    John, Rob provided examples of “double standards”. Topics where Clinton is scrutinized where male politicians, supposedly, aren’t. I provided counter examples, several people who had to answer to the exact same scrutiny as her on their health, their demeanor and their appearance.

    Holms came at me with this weird mantra about how it’s not actually a double standard about Hillary Clinton and men in general, but about Clinton and Trump specifically. So I provided examples of Trump being mocked for his hair, his appearance and his demeanor. (again, the double standards Rob bothered to list)

    If two people are similarly scrutinized about their health, their appearance, their attitude and so on, can you really call any of those a double standard? With twice as many google results for “Trump hair ” than for “Hillary hair”, can we really say that her appearance is scrutinized while his is overlooked?

    “I betcha I can find a counterpoint to any such search you care to adduce.”
    I don’t know how useful a counterpoint of a counterpoint can be, but sure. All my findings are up there. @7 and @11. They are easy to find, I’m the only moron who bothers to back his opinions with citations.

    “So, no; you perceive them to be [sic] “perceive it to be obnoxious, exaggerated …”
    I don’t perceive them to have those opinions about feminism. I take them at their word. You wouldn’t?
    Do you really think that everybody in the world has already picked a side on your culture wars? Has it ever occurred to you that someone might not have the same context you do? That people trying to portray the white-christian-multimillionaire-ultimate-political-insider as the underprivileged victim of injustice might rub some people the wrong way?

    Think about this. A person has repeatedly damaged the lives of the vulnerable around the world, this person has in fact started to affect your life in a negative way. And they are about to gain even more power to harm others.

    Since you have absolutely no say in the matter, you try to warn the people who do. You try to denounce the harm this person has done in the past and the harm they’ll do if left unchecked. Yet every time you talk, you are rebuked. Picture it however you want. The person is black and they accuse you of racism, muslim and they accuse you of islamophobia, jewish and you’re accused of anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, anti-religious sentiment, reverse-racism, whatever.

    You are accused of hating the person’s identity instead of their actions, even when it doesn’t make sense. Imagine that every time you criticize Milo Yiannopoulos’ alt-right idiocy, you get called a homophobe and promptly ignored.
    Imagine that every time you call out Bill Cosby for his crimes, you get called a racist.

    I’m not going to drop feminism just because it was abused in defense of a monster. But I have to wonder if there is much use for it anymore. When muslim women get executed with american guns, when latin american girls are refused asylum after their country was turned into a hellhole, when teenagers in the US are resorting to prostitution to eat, and feminism is used to protect a person who helped cause their problems instead of protecting them.

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