I learned this lesson early. Well, not that early.
I was in my early 30s. I was a junior litigator at the time (i.e., relatively inexperienced), working on a major antitrust and RICO case. Our adversaries were sleazy. Their ethical standards were in the gutter.
They’d repeat lies to the judge often. I wasn’t too concerned. The judge was smart. And experienced.
But then it happened. The judge started to believe the lies. In the end, his belief caused him to engage in judicial misconduct himself. We had him thrown off the case. We eventually won the case, but not before I learned some hard lessons, including this one: said often enough, lies become truth.
Since then, I’ve seen it happen a lot. It still amazes me. And makes me wonder what lies I believe, for no other reason than having heard them repeated often.
Our new president understands this principle well. He repeats lies often. Obvious lies. But in his repeating, others come to believe the lies. Sometimes, I think he believes his own lies. But I know better. He doesn’t. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a skilled liar — extraordinarily adept at manipulating people and marshaling public opinion for his own selfish interests.
Reason tells us that this can’t be so. Surely, rational minds can’t be so easily manipulated. But they can. And are. Often. History tells us that. Unequivocally.
I suppose part of the explanation might be that we want to believe certain things and, therefore, are quick to accept them, without requiring supporting evidence. But it goes further than that. We also accept as fact claims that are ridiculous on their face. It’s as if we disengage our brains.
This is scary stuff. It’s how societies can go off the track entirely. It’s the way individuals can end up making self-destructive decisions.
So, beware, Vera: be on the lookout for lies disguised as truth. And never assume that repetition implies veracity. Or that the judgment of the herd is sound.
Said often enough, lies can become truth. It’s the god awful truth.