Thursday June 7, 2012
Truth, lies and politics
ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
By M. VEERA PANDIYAN
Fair-minded Malaysians must demand higher standards for political honesty in Malaysia, both from leaders and supporters.
IN the US, the most common playground taunt used against kids caught fibbing is: Liar, liar, pants on fire. Over here, worse insults are targeted at adults who dare question lying politicians often caught with their pants down.
Sure, the truth about lying is that it’s an accepted part of human life. All of us are guilty of telling lies for a whole range of reasons.
We tell white lies to make one another feel better. We lie to inflate egos, limit or exaggerate information, evade irritation, seek rewards, protect ourselves from blame and also avoid awkward social situations.
Apparently, lying isn’t such a bad thing — if one is still a child.
A two-year research by Toronto University’s Institute of Child Study has suggested that kids who lie at an early age grow up to become high-flying leaders, top executives and bankers.
The study showed that the complex brain processes involved in formulating a lie reflect a child’s intelligence. Kids who lie have improved cognitive development and may make it better in life, it implied.
The study surveyed more than 1,200 children between the ages of two and 17. It found that 20% lied by the age of two, with the number rising to 90% by four and to nearly all by the age of 12.
Generally, deceit levels shrink as children get older. But some children do indeed grow up to be pathological liars and they tend to do very well in politics.
In Malaysia, rational adults who won’t tolerate dishonesty from children can be so gullible to the wiles and lies of certain politicians.
For the sake of partisanship, they choose to remain blind, even when these barefaced politicians lie through their teeth, are caught in brazen sex scandals or are exposed for committing illegal acts.
These guys won’t admit that what they did was wrong in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. The standard script of their followers is to turn a blind eye, or curse and swear at those who demand accountability.
Scientific research shows that the brains of habitual liars are wired to evade responsibility, deflect accusations or come out with excuses and more lies.
University of Southern California researchers have proven that pathological liars have 22% more pre-frontal white matter in their brains which provide for more neuron paths for quick thinking, assessing what the other person is saying and countering it, most probably with yet another believable lie.
The research, based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests, also showed that liars had 14% less grey matter, the stuff which guides moral decisions, and checks on impulsive behaviour.
It may be a bit too much to ask all politicians or aspiring election candidates to undergo such examination. How about polygraph tests instead?
The polygraph or lie detector, measures physiological responses when a person is asked a series of questions. It records changes in blood pressure, pulse, sweating, breathing and body temperature, among other changes, in response to the questions.
Polygraph evidence is used in courts in some states of the US as well as in police investigations.
Incidentally, the precursor to the technology can be traced to ancient China when dry rice was used by court officials as a lie detector.
A fistful of uncooked rice was stuffed into the mouth of a person accused of telling a lie after which the examiner would ask a long list of intimidating questions.
The practice was based on knowledge that saliva does not flow freely during times of emotional anxiety or fear. The rice would be scrutinised after the questioning and if it was dry, the suspect would be found guilty.
To return to the subject of political lying, we have to accept the fact that it is very much a part of the game. Sun Tzu wrote: “All warfare is based on deception” and politics is certainly akin to war.
Most things said and done in the pursuit of power and votes are neither wholly sincere nor truthful.
There are no whole truths in politics. All truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that play to the devil, as logician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead noted.
As such, fair-minded Malaysians must demand higher standards for political honesty in Malaysia, both from leaders and supporters.
We should be rational in separating lies that have been proven and the spammed untruths designed to stoke maximum hatred or scorn being spread online and via SMSes.
As one eminent ex-Opposition politician observed over dinner on Tuesday, our value system has been utterly compromised by political bias.
As it is, one side is perpetually wrong and must be condemned at all costs while the other is always right and increasingly so, even righteous.
But then again, gullibility is a strange human condition. It’s a psychological processing malfunction caused by naive or passive acceptance of things not necessarily based on logic and facts.
A rational person would seek information from as many places as possible and raise reasonable questions, but the brainwashed mind can only soak up news from sources which it perceives to be true.
Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Winston Churchill: A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.