Since I’m following lots of politics, the issue of lies and deception obviously comes up, so let’s introduce some analytical clarity.
People usually define lying as telling things that are not true, but that trivial definition is not valid. You see, one can say things that are not true, but he doesn’t know that. That’s not lying; that’s being under a misapprehension and uttering falsehoods.
To lie means to deliberately create a false impression upon others, in order to deceive them. One can use any combination of truths and falsehoods in one’s statements, and the thing that separates misapprehension from a lie is intent. Also, one can hide truth by omission, which is also a form of deception. One can use a combination of true statements that is expected to cause the listener to draw the wrong conclusion. One can use obscure speech that doesn’t necessarily contain outright falsehoods, but it’s not conducive to producing correct understanding.
So, we have a matrix where a statement can be accurate or inaccurate, and intent can be honest or deceptive. Let’s ignore the cases where intent is neutral or a statement is vague, for the sake of simplicity.
An accurate statement is something like “Rome is the capital of Italy”, or “Monday is followed by Tuesday”. A false statement is something like “Madrid is the capital of Japan”, or “Boolean algebra is the way to count booles”.
Honest intent is where you intend for the listener to gain correct understanding of facts, and you attempt to formulate statements with this goal. Deceptive intent deliberately aims to create a misunderstanding of facts.
This gives us four possible combinations of types of statements and intents with which they are spoken; accurate and honest, accurate and deceptive, inaccurate and honest, and inaccurate and deceptive.
Accurate and honest statement is obviously what is meant by telling the truth, and inaccurate and deceptive statements are obviously what is meant by lying, but there is a grey zone of inaccurate honest statements, and accurate but deceptive ones, and this is where people with inadequate training tend to get lost, because in the world of politics we are dealing with professional, very skilled liars and deceivers. This is why we have to open the next issue – the ethics of lying.
One would expect me to say that one should always tell the truth and never lie, but this is actually not the case. As Krishna said in the Mahabharata, there’s nothing more important and valuable than the truth, however there are times where truth needs to be hidden, and times where lies need to be said. This means that when you see a man running from murderers and hiding in a barn, followed by the murderers who ask you if you saw the man they were pursuing, it would be sinful to tell the truth, and even the fact that you know it can lead to harm. Also, truth in deceptive context can be used for creating a false impression with very bad intentions, and there are expert liars who are trained to do exactly that. That’s how governments write reports. 🙂
If you followed Putin, you know he’s usually a very honest and straightforward person who usually tells the truth. However, there are cases where he made deceptive or false statements. For instance, when he deployed special forces in Crimea to keep the referendum safe. Those forces didn’t have visible insignia and were mockingly addressed as “little green men”. Putin at first pretended not to know anything about them, but later admitted it was his men. The reason for this is potential issues with the Russia-Ukraine relations, because they had a contract according to which the Russian military in Crimea wasn’t supposed to leave the bases, and Russia was in violation of this contract in case the referendum didn’t pass. However, when the referendum did pass, and Ukraine started killing the Russian population of Donbass and in Odessa, Putin decided that his minor infringement of contract was the least of the issues at hand. Similarly, when the Russians accumulated military forces prior to the invasion of Ukraine, and they were confronted about it by the Americans, their response was that they are fully within their right to move their military within their territory. This is true, yet deceptive, and if they wanted to be completely honest, they could have said that they are preparing their military in case their diplomatic efforts fail, but this would have been rightfully construed as a direct threat, and the other side would have been under pressure to “refuse blackmail” and war would become more likely. The way the Russians formulated it was “don’t mind our military doing things on Russian territory, instead focus on our proposition for Ukrainian neutrality and withdrawal of NATO to pre-1997 borders”. This is an example of a statement that is true, but deceptive – the truth is that the military was being prepared in case the West didn’t accept the Russian “non-ultimatum”, but it was deemed prudent not to formulate it as an outright threat of war if Russian conditions aren’t met. This is a lie, but its purpose is to allow the opposing side to save face, and if we understand diplomacy primarily as an effort to avert war, a lie whose purpose is to make a peaceful outcome more likely is not an instrument of evil. This is very much unlike the American deceptions with the supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, whose purpose was to give legitimacy to war.
What we can see is that the Russians often don’t reveal the truth, and they occasionally use true but deceptive statements, but they very rarely use outright lies, and when they do, they look so uncomfortable about it it’s obvious that something’s up. They also occasionally use deceptive statistics, for instance when reporting their military dead, I think they used to omit the Wagner group and the Donbass militia, but outside attempts to independently establish the number of Russian dead actually gave the upper limit of 20000, and that’s using an AI to comb through raw data. This means that the Russian official reports are in fact quite accurate. Considering how the other side gives estimates that are false at least by an order of magnitude, it shows a pattern: the Russians are uncomfortable with lies and prefer to remain honest and straightforward as much as possible, but they try to avoid going so far as to actually cause harm by telling the truth.
Also, so far their warnings have always been very conservatively formulated, and they avoided outright threats and ultimatums, in order to prevent situations where the other side would lose face and appear humiliated by accepting peace. The problem is, the West painted itself into a corner by falsely portraying Putin as some kind of a new Hitler, with whom there can be no talks, and every compromise is seen as “appeasement” which would only encourage further encroachments. Since it is very unwise to do such a propagandistic preparation unless you intend to go all the way in total war, it can be concluded that those in the West running this show either don’t understand how this works, or they actually intend to produce a scenario of escalation to the point of unlimited nuclear exchange.
It’s interesting how the Russian side is more useful for illustrating the concept of diplomatic deception; it’s because they are very nuanced, deliberate and they use mostly straightforward truth, and only shade things occasionally, to either assist the diplomatic efforts or hide some embarrassment. This is what you would expect a normal person to do; tell the truth most of the time, but avoid offending others and creating awqward social situations, and try to present yourself in as positive light as realistically possible, while remaining constructive about possible improvements. The Americans (and the entire collective West they are controlling) are a different story, because they have a tendency to define their objective, and they have absolutely no respect for either truth or facts whatsoever. They recognize only “narratives”, which means story-telling with the purpose of achieving their goals, and those narratives can be utterly fictional to the point where they have only a tangential relationship with reality, if even that. Their positions are false to such a degree, they are not very useful for this type of an analysis, because they tend to create outright fairy tales, where “Russia” and “Putin” they talk about exist as imaginary cartoon characters, which is why they always serve their audience only short, edited and heavily commented snippets of the enemy, because they are aware that their “narrative” would immediately crumble in an environment of unlimited access to raw data.
This is not limited to American foreign policy, where each enemy is portrayed as a “new Hitler” that must be defeated or else no virtue has any meaning; they use the same concept of “narratives” in their economy and internal politics, where they cook the numbers in such a way as to present a “more constructive” picture, for instance if someone is unemployed for a longer time, they stop counting him as unemployed because he “exited the workforce”, which is basically the same as counting people who died of an illness as cured, or cooking the way they calculate inflation in ways that greatly under-report actual expenses the people realistically have, or print money that is deployed through investment banks into the artificially inflated valuations of companies, that creates GDP numbers that are hugely inflated, and used to retroactively justify the money printing, and so on. This pattern of painting a picture where their problems are insignificant, their strengths are magnified, and their enemies are portrayed as weak and incompetent, is a rather new occurrence. For instance, I watched military videos from the second world war, where the Americans told their bomber pilots exactly how the German anti-aircraft systems work, and how they must use complicated mathematical methods to deceive and evade them, because the Germans are sophisticated, technologically extremely advanced, competent and disciplined, and if you are in any way predictable, they will take you out of the air with perfect certainty. If such a video was made today, it would mock Hitler as a caricature figure, portray the Germans as weak and already defeated, and tell the pilots it’s all going to be a piece of cake, because they are Americans and thus destined to be invincible and victorious. Similarly, during the cold war the Soviets were feared; they were portrayed as technologically extremely advanced, strategically wise and powerful to the point of having a constant advantage over America, even when it wasn’t true. If anyone during the cold war tried the kind of a narrative that’s popular today, saying that the Soviet Union is weak, overrated, corrupt and their stuff is rusted-out junk that mostly doesn’t work, they would immediately put him under surveillance to see if the Russians are paying him to lull the Americans into complacency with false stories. It’s interesting how they used to err on the side of overestimating the danger; underestimating it and being proved false was seen as the greatest danger. Overestimating the enemy meant you were more prepared, and no harm can come from that. Something, somewhere, apparently changed since the 1990s; not necessarily in the sense that they lie more than before, but rather in the sense that they seem to believe in “positive thinking” and “creative power of thought”, meaning that you wish things into reality and what you say becomes true. This looks like those weird New Age philosophies that were ubiquitous in the 1990s, and some of that apparently influenced the way the Americans perceive reality. I might be wrong, though; it might be the other way around, that something changed in the way Americans perceive reality, and this resulted in creation of the New Age philosophy, among other things. In any case, there was some new psychological momentum that seems to have coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the communist block, where the enemy that was previously thought to be invincible crumbled due to no more than persistence and “correct ideology” on the Western side. This would require further analysis, but the fact is that something changed in the American thinking about that time, and they seem to think that reality will be influenced by their narratives to the point where they don’t care about the facts at all, and merely attempt to suppress them with the story they present and stubbornly defend. This is autosuggestion, and is utilised in self-hypnosis and autogenous training with great effect, but the power of belief must never be overstated. I learned that the hard way in driving school, when I concentrated on thinking about success instead of driving well, and I failed. It is then that I realised that positive thinking can be actively harmful, and the next time I concentrated on doing everything well, and I passed. Basically, in autogenous training you get used to the “fake it until you make it” approach, where you think that your hands are warm, and when you believe they are, they actually get warm, and after you get used to this working, you tend to get ahead of yourself and start thinking that this is how things work elsewhere – believe you’re rich and you will become rich, believe you’re beautiful and you will be seen as beautiful, and so on. I don’t know if belief in such reality-changing power of bullshit came first, or if it’s the result of something else, but I see this crazy ideology everywhere, from economy and geopolitics to people trying to bullshit others by pretending to be rich and cool on the Internet. People have incredible faith in the power of their thoughts and beliefs to change reality and mould it, the way a magnetic field can shape a ray of charged particles. Basically, they believe in the power of lies, because if you lie with sufficient conviction, the reality will conform.
The most dangerous aspect of this is thinking that the things that are so scary that they are “unimaginable”, will literally be forced out of reality if you dismiss them as a possibility. You then act as if they are not possible, and act in ways that make them inevitable. This is how we got from the point where Russia was a friend of the West and tried for decades to find some equitable accommodation, to the point where nuclear war is almost a mathematical certainty. The Americans believed in the creative power of bullshit, and they believed that if they portray Russia as small, weak and unimportant, that it will just vanish from the radar, and they acted as if it doesn’t matter. By acting as if it doesn’t matter and by encroaching ever deeper upon its fundamental interests, they motivated Russia to start seriously working on protecting itself. By presenting Russia’s self-preservation as aggression, the Americans made sure they can never make moves that will remedy the situation, and assured that everything they do will escalate the conflict.
So, it’s very easy to play with the definitions of truth and justify lying – when it’s useful, when it prevents harm, when it shapes reality into something better instead of just accepting it for what it is. However, the problem with lies is that you tend to start believing them yourself, and you enter a feedback loop, where your own lies get fed back to you as “facts” confirming your actions and ideas, and the tricky thing about reality is that it doesn’t give a fuck.
Reality doesn’t care about your creative visualizations, it doesn’t care about how many people you’ve persuaded, and reality isn’t Facebook or Instagram. If you fuck with reality, you die.