josh rosner

A LIE A DAY …

In Book Review on November 22, 2011 at 12:21 am

I recently reviewed Ian Leslie’s latest book, Born Liars, for the Canberra Times. He makes some very interesting arguments about why we humans lie to each other and, perhaps more importantly, why sometimes that is a good thing. It’s an interesting read – especially for those of us interested in and engaged with politics!

BORN LIARS. Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit. By Ian Leslie. $32.99

When I heard Ian Leslie’s new book was to be called Born Liars, I was naturally eager to begin what I assumed was a neuroscientific treatise on the nature and habits of our political leaders. I looked forward to reading a psychological study of Tony Abbott’s announcement that not everything he says off-the-cuff is the “gospel truth”, and an analysis of Julia Gillard’s pre-election comment that “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”

Given Leslie’s first book, To Be President, so brilliantly captured the drama and emotion of Barrack Obama’s run for the White House, it seemed logical that his next book would explore the propensity of our politicians to look us in the eye and tell big porkies.

Thankfully, Born Liars, subtitled, Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit is far more interesting in its exploration of the dynamics of deceit, deception and self-deception.

Answer this question: when was the last time you told a lie? If your response is that you never tell lies, you just told one.

That dress looks amazing on you.

No, honey, you’re not fat.

Their baby is so cute.

Most people lie a number of times each day. In fact, one psychology report I’ve read suggests that strangers will lie three times in the first ten minutes of meeting each other for the first time.

Although the human animal’s propensity to lie can cause great harm – Leslie cites the lie lived by Arnold Schwarzenegger for ten years of his marriage – it can also be useful and in some cases life saving. “To successfully live with others is to learn to lie,” Leslie suggests.

A friend of mine who is a bioethicist tells me lying is wrong, all the time and in every circumstance. I disagree. If I were diagnosed with a terminal illness, I would want the doctor to tell me there was hope, even if none existed.

I can say from personal experience that a far greater good is served by telling fibs to someone with Alzheimer’s disease who is in your care than resorting to the truth at all times. The better one is at fabricating and falsifying reality the better the chance of maintaining a connection with a person suffering from dementia.

The problem with lying, of course, is when we don’t know we are doing it. Amongst people with a mental illness, it is called ‘confabulation’, where false-memories, perceptions or beliefs are created about the self or the environment.

Leslie draws on a long and ever evolving history of psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, to tell what otherwise had the potential to be an extremely dry and clinical topic for a book. Born Liars is far from boring. In fact, I guarantee it will make you see yourself, and the world around you, in an entirely new light.

Honestly. Would I lie to you?

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