There are many different types of lie. Human beings don’t want for ways of being dishonest. Lies can, for example, be artful or clumsy, They may be cleverly contrived and fully detailed accounts lacking only the element of veracity. Or they may be obvious untruths lacking all credibility.
As well as being differentiated by the skill of the person telling them, lies are often assessed on the degree of harm caused or intended. White lies are supposed to be at least relatively harmless. These are lies purportedly told to avoid giving offence or causing hurt. The repulsive Christmas gift is received with effusive, but entirely false, gratitude. The prior engagement excuse for non-attendance is deployed in preference to the more honest, but rather hurtful, explanation that the individual concerned is a crashing bore whose company you would avoid even at risk of serious injury or death.
White lies are lies that we forgive ourselves for. The term is a euphemism for what, were we more honest, we would call insincerity. A character flaw we tend to deplore in others and are reluctant to admit to.
Exaggeration is another form of dishonesty which, depending on context, can be considered quite forgivable. Who doesn’t embellish a story that would otherwise be too mundane to be worth retelling? Who doesn’t put a light coat of varnish on their CV? Who among us doesn’t take a futile stab at trying to convince the doctor that we’re more abstemious than is actually the case?
Of course, there is a line to be crossed. The line between deducting a few pints from your weekly alcohol consumption in the forlorn hope of impressing a doctor who has heard it all before and adding a few zeros to your annual income in an attempt to secure a loan. Or between polishing an otherwise factual anecdote to make it funnier and trying to pass off a total fiction as an honest account.
Broken promises are rarely, if ever forgivable. Perhaps, if there is good reason to believe the commitment was made in good faith and/or there is a genuine excuse for failure to deliver, the culpability may be lessened. But this very seldom applies in the case of political promises. Few politicians are felt to have earned a presumption of good faith. And the authenticity of a political excuse is, for good reason, deeply suspect.
Fabrication and deception are forms of lying which commonly accompany one another. Fabrication involves imparting information which is known to be false. Or, at the very least, information which is unverified. This becomes deception when the purpose is to cause others to believe something which is untrue. Invariably, with malign intent.
The political smear story is an example of a lie which usually adds distortion to exaggeration, fabrication and deception in order to mislead the public about the conduct and character of a particular individual. By the manner in which they are presented, details which are, in themselves, entirely true can be made to serve a narrative which is totally dishonest.
There are exceptions – which we shall come to in a moment – but, generally speaking, senior politicians prefer not to lie. Direct lies can be difficult to sustain when one is constantly in the public eye. It’s all too easy for an inept prevaricator to become the fly in the tangled web they weave when first they practise to deceive. Politicians would much rather that others lie on their behalf. Which is where the media come in.
The skilled political actor will keep themselves at one remove from the smear. Character assassination is best left to the professionals. The politician merely provides the ammunition. They studiously avoid making allegations. But will happily comment in such a way as to lend currency to innuendo and insinuation. Masters of the art of the smear can seem to be defending the target while actually directing the dagger and giving it an extra thrust. The best liars lie with complete conviction and casual ease.
And so to the penultimate type of lie in a catalogue which may not be comprehensive. The audacious lie. Otherwise known as bare-faced, bold-faced, bald-faced or brazen.
Instances of such insolent dishonesty are not difficult to find. One need only listen to pretty much any British politician. David Mundell, for example, is a man known for little else besides his capacity for treating truth as an inessential adornment to his increasingly bilious British Nationalist rhetoric. Absolutely nobody, I hazard, would have been genuinely shocked to see a Wings Over Scotland headline declaring, ‘David Mundell is a liar‘. Evidently, Stu Campbell considered this too much of a commonplace to warrant an exclamation mark.
The article beneath the headline is a characteristically forensic excoriation of a particular instance of Mundell’s mendacity. Namely, his audacious assertion, in an interview with the BBC’s Brian Taylor, that the people of Scotland voted in the 2014 independence referendum knowing that there was to be a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. To put it another way. Mundell flatly denied that, throughout the 2014 referendum campaign, the British propaganda machine repeatedly and explicitly claimed that a No vote was necessary to ensure continued EU membership. He did so knowing this to be completely untrue. It was a lie as brazen as it might be without actually being cast in brass.
I have nothing to add to Stu Campbell’s scathing condemnation of Mundell’s shameless dishonesty. But, out of curiosity, I decided to find out what the BBC’s North British political editor had to say about the episode. Holding my nose against the stench, I ventured into the mire of prejudice and partiality that is the BBC Scotland website and read Brian Taylor’s column for the relevant date. Despite – or maybe because of – the magnitude of David Mundell’s lie, it wasn’t considered deserving of so much as a passing mention.
Which neatly brings us to the last in our list of different types of lie. Lies of omission.
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