Everyone lies: it’s just a question of how, when and why. From the relationship saving “yes, you do look thin in those pants” to the improbable “your table will be ready in 5 minutes”, manipulating the truth is part of the human condition. Accept it now.
I’m positive that given our irrational nature and difficultly accepting tough truths, we’re collectively better off with some of our deceptions. They buffer us from each other (and from ourselves), avoid unnecessary conflicts, and keep the wonderful confusion of our psychologies tucked away from those who don’t care. White lies are the spackle of civilization, tucked into the dirty corners and crevices our necessary, but pretentiously inflexible idealisms create. Small lies prop up and support our powerful truths, holding together the insanely half honest, half false chaos that spins the world.
But lies, serious lies, should not be encouraged as they destroy trust, the binding force in all relationships. One particularly troublesome kind of lie is known as Bullshit (BS). These are unnecessary deceptions, committed in the gray area between polite white lies and complete malicious fabrications. BS is usually defined as inventions made in ignorance of the facts, where the primary goal is to protect oneself. The aim of BS isn’t to harm another person, although that often happens collaterally. For a variety of reasons BS can be hard to detect, which is why I’m offering this missive as a crash B.S. in BS detection. But be warned: to keep you on your toes there are several bits of BS tucked inside this essay which you will have to find for yourself.
WHY PEOPLE BS: A PRIMER
The first lie in the Western canon comes from the same joyful tome as the first murders, wars and plagues: the Old Testament. Despite my distaste for trips into religious texts, this one has supreme tragicomic value.
To recap from the book of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, as pretty as it is, for they’ll die. He wanders off to do some unexplained godlike things, as gods are prone to do, leaving the very tempting, and non pit-bull or electrified fence protected, tree out for all to see. Meanwhile Satan slinks by and convinces Eve apples are good: so she and Adam have an apple snack (the bible refers to them only as fruit, apples are a western addition). God instantly returns, scolds Adam, who blames Eve; resulting in everyone, snakes, people and all, getting thrown out of Eden forever.
Please note that in this tale nearly everyone lied. God lied, or was deceptively ambiguous, about the apples (they weren’t fatal in any modern sense, as if I told you reading this essay will kill you, you’d expect I meant sometime today – please read the footnote if you’re angered by critiques of scripture). Satan misrepresents the apple’s power, and Adam, approximates a lie in his wimpy finger pointing to Eve. It’s a litany of deception and a cautionary tale: in any book that makes everyone look bad in just a few pages, is it really a surprise how the rest plays out?
People lie for three reasons; the first is to protect themselves. They may wish to protect something they want or need, a concept they cherish, or to prevent something they fear, like confrontation. There is often a clear psychological need motivating every lie.
A well known fib, “the dog ate my homework”, fits the BS model. In the desperate fear driven attempt not to be caught, children’s imaginations conceive amazing