Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Supposing, forgetting and lying

Posted on: August 7, 2021

I suppose some lies are mistakes.

I suppose I’ve lied but forgotten about it.

I suppose others have lied, intentionally or forgetfully, stating what they remember as fact. I suppose I have done this too.

Malicious discourse on social media and elsewhere works like this. You select a person you consider worthy of opprobrium: celebrity, politician, journalist or someone whose tweet you don’t like and consider yourself entitled to say or repeat anything negative about them. Even if it isn’t true, it conveys the negative attributes which you think are true, notionally if not in actuality.

Instead of saying ‘I disagree’ or ‘You’re wrong,’ the antagonist says ‘You’re lying’.

I often see a hypothesis that the putative liar is paid to lie by a more powerful agency or that a network of lies serves as the opium of the masses, to keep them subjugated.

Someone rebuked me this week for tweeting that the journalist Owen Jones is twelve when I know full well that he is thirty-seven. I wanted to convey that he remains an enfant terrible of the left, courting controversy yet expressing vulnerability, his years of experience belied by his preternaturally youthful appearance.

There is hyperbole. There is lying. There is polemicizing.

I read this phrase today on social media: ‘the Zionist baby killers of Golders Green.’ One might assume that the person wants to say the following: diaspora Jews are complicit with Israel unless they repudiate it; children have been killed when Israel is at war, handling conflict situations and even misfiring so we – even I to the north of Golders Green – have a hand in the tragic death of these children. Putting it this way, I can almost see the blood on my hands, as if in some cartoon by Carlos Latuff.

Suppose the reports from Hamas or Press TV or Skwawkbox are unreliable, based perhaps on inaccurate sources?  Why should their reports be believable and other, contradictory reports not believable? And, if they have been economical with the truth, am I still a baby killer? How could I know?

On social media, conjectures may be stated as facts, worse, as subordinate clauses. To say ‘Keir Starmer is paid by Israel’ sounds like a lie dressed up as a hypothesis but in the sentence, ‘Due to the money Starmer receives from Israel, Labour is not short of cash,’ the false charge, that he is paid by Israel, is used as if it is consensual and established. The thrust of the proposition follows it: ‘Labour is not short of cash’ which may or may not be true.

For those who adhere to this view, their belief is based on the existence of Jewish donors, among others supporting the Labour party and Labour MPs. If the Jewish donors support Israel, goes the argument, they act as a proxy for Israel. Thus ‘Keir is in the pay of a foreign power’ is by far one of the most popular assertions on Corbynist social media, with the advantage that the foreign power is not named and, if you substitute Keith for Keir, neither is the Leader of the Opposition.

Dawn Butler MP made headlines by calling the Prime Minister a liar and was temporarily ordered out of the House of Commons. Today, #BorisTheLiar is or was a trending hashtag on Twitter. There is always a commotion when a politician is found to be lying but it dissipatess before long. It would be difficult for anyone in public life to speak nothing but the truth. They say so many more words than most other people. There is expediency; there is self-interest; there is utilitarianism, when the public is shielded from a disruptive truth, there is not knowing and there is forgetting.

I have heard estranged couples give almost identical accounts of an incident except that they reverse the roles, to favour the speaker and put the absent ex in a bad light. The stories are mutually exclusive but there is common ground: they agree that something happened, but who did it to whom? If one is lying, why would they both agree so closely to the details of the incident, disagreeing only about agency? Forgetfulness hovers like a mist around the story but the edges are indistinct.

If this happens in personal relationships, how much more so, a fortiori, in wars, in politics and in the high profile disputes between members of the Royal Family.

Truth is a fundamental virtue, mentioned often in liturgy.

True and firm, established and enduring…is thy word unto us for ever and ever.

We who are neither gods nor beasts are untruthful, by error, by intention, for advantage, through forgetfulness, due to shame or kindness or for the greater good, through credulity and through scepticism.

Being lied to makes us angry.

Being lied about makes us angry. We have laws to deal with this, but not everyone has the wherewithal to bring matters to the courts.

Personally, I resist calling another person a liar. If I want to go on the offensive, I am more likely to call them stupid or foolish, or to say someone is twelve when I know he won’t see thirty-five again.

Truth is an aspiration. We use ‘aspire’ in the sense of striving but the Latin aspirare is to breath or blow, related to spiritus. We breathe the truth even if we do not speak it.

1 Response to "Supposing, forgetting and lying"

Thank you once again for perspicacious comment. There is an element of social media, one’s potential anonymity perhaps, that leads to behaviour that would be regarded in personal contact as contentious, self-righteous, and unnecessarily antagonistic. I’m reminded of the meme contrasting two dogs: on “social media” they’re at each other in ravenous violence; whereas “in person” they’re as meek as could be.

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