Some time before humans and apes went their separate ways, something fused into our hominid brains that — no matter how we split off and evolved — stayed with us, as hard wired into us as the impulse to breathe: lying.
Sure, sure — plenty of animals use deception. Blue Jays imitate other birds to scare off competitors, cowbirds put their eggs into other birds’ nests and eastern grey squirrels pretend to hide nuts to throw off nut thieves. There are lies involved in each but outside of those specific survival-based behaviors (breeding and food) — and a species-wide ability to lie in exactly the same way (like that specific lie was hard-wired into them) — do those animals lie in any other way?
No, they don’t. So — when I say “lie”, I mean the way humans genuinely understand the word: a falsehood told mostly for convenience.
Humans lie to get out of trouble — trouble they didn’t have to be in. They cheated on their mate. They stole from someone. They murdered in cold blood. They lied to avoid the punishment they deserved for breaking the group’s rules. Actual premeditation is important. A cowbird slipping its egg into another bird’s nest is not in any way the same thing as a rapist insisting his victim “wanted it”.
Dogs are incapable of lying (hunting as a group is one of those hard-wired survival-deceptions). Ever walked into a room where a dog just wrecked something they know they shouldn’t have wrecked? That’s pretty much half of YouTube. Cats are political as hell — with humans and other cats — but they do not dissemble. You always know where you stand with a cat. They can’t lie.
Only a human being will lie to you in order to sell you insurance or a burial plot or love. Only humans kill each other because other humans refuse to believe the made up stories they believe (that’s how important lies are to us). Only humans insist they want what’s best for everyone when what they clearly want is what’s best for them personally. Well, only Republicans do that last bit of lying.
We have a POTUS whose notoriety for lying is his brand. His official lie count lies somewhere north of 15,000 since he took office. And those are just the official lies. No one’s bothered (except anecdotally) with what he does on a golf course or in his marriage. We all accept that Donald Trump is a liar through and through.
Think about that — and what it says about how readily human beings accept and normalize lying. Think about how utterly Americans have accepted lying as part of our status quo.
Make that “some” Americans. A lot of us do not and will not accept lying as status quo. We’re never going to expunge lying from our DNA. But we absolutely can make lying — done to the collective — so expensive that it simply isn’t worth anyone’s while — even the richest of the rich.
The time to start down that road is right now. We need to normalize a zero tolerance for public lying.