Why do we allow ourselves to be lied to?

I am sure that the vast majority of folks reading this will say I don’t want to lied to. But…….

And the but is this. We are all lied to on a regular basis by the media, politicians, businesses etc. Some lie openly but most lie in a way that some of us will not detect because the lies told feed our prejudices. So, in my case, if I hear a story slagging off Yorkshire County Cricket Club I will want to believe it as a Notts supporter. Now are you getting my drift?

But what if the lies we are told are about far more important things than a sporting allegiances? Without doubt we have been told lies [unless I am lying to you now of course] about the EU, immigration, the NHS, tuition fees, the Iraq war, taxation etc. etc. etc. in recent years.

Beware someone who tells you something that they know you are likely to want to agree with because it may well not be true, particularly if they are selling you something, trying to get your support or indeed wanting your vote.

Look at it this way newspapers play to the prejudices of their readers. They work on the basis that if we tell our readers something often enough they will believe it and repeat it as fact. Some of the more disreputable politicians do the same thing, but we know that don’t we?

I was once told by a politician that you need to find out what people are most upset about and then keep sending them messages (e-mails, leaflets etc.) that repeat those concerns and that whether those concerns are real or not does not matter.

Our problem is that with our busy lives we do not have the time, or say we don’t have the time, to find out the facts before we take a stance on things. We repeat what our family, friends and neighbours tell us without question at times and that is how falsehoods become ‘facts’ in public mind.

You could say that we are too lazy to check things out when someone we trust gives us an easy answer that fits with our prejudices, but that’s exactly how we are had by newspapers, politicians and businesses. They all put a lot of time and money into how messages are played to us so that we will react as they wish us to.

So if Auntie Mary or Uncle Fred for example is hooked by a dodgy message or ‘fact’ and then repeats it to the rest of his/her gullible family, who take it on board, then that dodgy message is spread just as the originator of it intended or at least hoped.

When polled we say that we hate lying politicians, rip-off business people and that we don’t trust what the media tells us but the fact that we are had quite often indicates that we are not actually very good at knowing when we are being lied to. This is particularly the case when we hear a ‘fact’ that we want to believe but is in fact a lie or a gross distortion of the truth.

Let’s look at few examples:-

* The NHS – we all now seem to take it as fact that we were lied to during the EU Referendum about £350m per week going into the NHS if we voted to leave the EU. Indeed, the very people who told that huge fib have openly now said it is not now going to happen! A big lie indeed.


* Tuition Fees – This one sunk Nick Clegg (and rightly so) as he negotiated away his pledge not to increase them and indeed to scrap them. Strangely though some of us who were angry with him then voted for alternative politicians in the Labour or Conservative parties who were the instigators and promoters of Tuition Fees! So we were upset that Clegg had said one thing and done the opposite but by our actions we endorsed the policy of tuition fees. Now there’s a odd muddle for you.

* Taxation – It probably started under Thatcher but certainly Blair, Brown and Cameron built on it i.e. that we can have low taxation and great public services. And guess what, we can’t! We even had some recent nonsense from the Tories about a law to make it illegal for Parliament to increase some taxes. Their stance is built on the fact that we don’t like paying taxes so we like a message that says we don’t have to. We are also distracted by media messages that tell us that our taxes are wasted by fat-cat public sector bosses – we like that message too. That message may well be true at the margins but those that spread the message intend us to think that public money is wasted by hundreds of billions of Pounds each year. We want to believe it, so many of us do. Of course, this one is difficult for us to check out so the media and politicians who peddle that message are on to a winner.

If we keep believing what media outlets, businesses, politicians etc. tell us without checking things out, whilst trying to keep both an open mind and sceptical inquiring outlook, we will keep getting had! But are we too busy or too lazy to become better informed and less gullible?

2 thoughts on “Why do we allow ourselves to be lied to?

  1. Phil Holden says:

    Part of the problem is distinguishing between political “promises” which prove to be undeliverable (only a lie if the promiser knew that in advance, but still pretty shabby if the promise was made lightly) and bare-faced lies. Boris Johnson et al’s £350M a week going to the EU was a bare-faced lie, because they knew it was wrong. And they exacerbated it by promising it not just for the NHS but also to maintain EU funded spending e.g. on the regions like Wales and farming subsidies. Tuition fees? A tough one for you Tony, but this was a promise he decided to compromise on. Was he right? I happen to think so because paying tuition fees for all subsidises the offspring of people who can afford it and students who will, in the main, go on to benefit substantially. (I don’t expect you to agree). Taxation – ah well, that probably depends on whether you believe in the Laffer curve concept of a tax rate above which the total tax take reduces instead of increasing. There are plenty of websites which claim to debunk it (though they are mainly full of assertions not statistics), plenty which support it (mainly ditto) and the IFS, which thinks that a 40-50p top rate is roughly where there is a “flat” area where changing the rate doesn’t change the total take very much (see https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/7066). So like lies, damned lies and statistics, there are casual throwaway mistruths, dissembles (is that a noun?), bare-faced lies and the grey area of unprovable opinions. And there are the statements that extremists (which I know you aren’t) brand as lies, knowing that they aren’t but also that if they say it often enough it may come to be the commonly held view. Which, if done deliberately, is a particularly egregious form of lie. So not a simple concept this lying malarkey!

    • Thanks for this thoughtful contribution Phil. The Clegg one is fascinating as it is by no means clear what was going on in the electorate’s mind when they sought to punish him. Clegg’s first mistake was to negotiate the pledge away. His second was to think, I assume, that it would all blow over – what an error of judgement that was! But in many ways he did not and probably still does not get it. He made a very clear pledge and then backed out of it. If he had been a Tory or Labour leader he would have got away with it as supporters of those parties accept that is what goes on. But he was attracting support from left leaning people who thought he was being straight with them so when he backed out the reaction was extremely strong and he has not and never will recover from that. As for those who wanted to punish him they either supported tuition fees anyway (which seems rather bizarre) or they did not realise that the Tory and Labour parties actually supported and promoted tuition fees! Most of those who hated Clegg probably voted Labour and as tuition fees were invented by Labour you get to the point of wondering what those voters were doing. I can only conclude that punishing Clegg was their priority because he lied to them, as they saw it, and that the policy issue was not really the point at all.

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