November 13, 2020

Dear Drama Observers,

In his 1982 book, People of the Lie, psychiatrist Scott Peck, wrote, “Lies confuse.” It’s a short statement that’s long on meaning.

What peaked my interest in the subject of manipulators (aka, “Drama People) is the number of people I’ve seen in my office over the years who’ve come in distressed and in need of a guide to help them hack through the confusion forest to the clearing of truth on the other side.

Some examples include:

  • The lady who grew up in a dysfunctional train wreck of a family. But her relatives have now rewritten history and portray that family as delightful and idyllic. They’ve exchanged the accurate description for a sanitized version that leaves out all the ugly parts.
  • The young man whose mom lavished his sister with attention while giving him scant notice. But in Mom’s retelling, he was always the apple of her eye—the child to whom she was the most devoted. He knows her revision of history is hogwash and yet he questions his own memory and wonders if she might be right. Her present lies about the past have left him confused.
  • The woman whose marriage to a malignant narcissist just ended. He was cruel, rageful, and emotionally abusive. But friends and family now accept the veracity his self-portrayal as the one victimized by a toxic woman. That’s a lie but it’s not the one that confuses her. Rather, she’s more perplexed about how others who’ve known her to be a person of good character for so long could be so duped by his obvious twisting of reality.

The lies that confuse us most are the ones occurring in our closest relationships. But the propagated lies occurring in the culture at large can be just as mentally discombobulating.

Garry Kasparov knows a thing or two about propaganda. You may recall his name as the person who won the world chess championship as a citizen of the former Soviet Union. Subsequent to his career as a chess master, he’s devoted his time to the cause of promoting democracy and speaking out against evils of authoritarian regimes which are founded and rest upon the power of propaganda.

About that, he said this:

“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

In other words, the propagandist seeks first and foremost to raise doubts about the knowability of objective reality. Because if no truths are certain, then any lie can be cast as true. At that point, your “truth” is no more valid than my “truth” and the focus shifts from truth-seeking to power-acquisition.

In what’s sometimes referred to as our post-truth culture, facts and logic become less influential in determining what’s true than wide-spread emotional appeals. Back to Kasparov:

“They understand that when the facts of a certain matter aren’t on your side, you benefit when all facts are devalued in general. Go instead with emotions, appeal to instincts, what people ‘feel’ is right.” 

In a post-truth culture, the ones with the most power get to determine what’s true and what’s not. Which brings to mind Lord Voldemort’s expression of Nietzschean philosophy to Harry Potter: “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”

I bring all this up because of something I’ve noticed lately. So many of my clients have histories of unsettling experiences with manipulators—that is to say, people of the lie. And the intersection of those past personal experiences with the current reality-alteration occurring in a post-truth culture only heightens the sense of unease. Many people have said some version of the following to me just recently: “I just feel triggered all the time and I’m not sure why. And I don’t like it.”

So, if you’re finding yourself feeling emotionally distraught and mentally muddled without a clear explanation as to why, living in a post-truth culture may have something so do with that.

Once again, lies confuse. And lies are powerful.

Till next week.

6 replies
  1. Trudi Jane Wyatt
    Trudi Jane Wyatt says:

    Thank you Dr. Godwin. Regarding raising doubts about the knowability of objective reality, while I am not a philosophy expert, I am a fan and strive to learn about it, and my current understanding is that this doubt-raising started at least as far back as Immanuel Kant (time of the end of the Enlightenment, though I have recently heard him referred to as “a wolf in pro-Enlightenment clothing” by Dr. Robert Mayhew) and perhaps even as far back as Plato, at least the roots of it. Aristotle on the other hand, as I understand it, did not have these doubts and proceeded accordingly to found mathematics, the natural sciences, etc., which I think have proven rather objectively helpful. More recently (starting in the mid 20th century) and building on his philosophy and on the Enlightenment, as I understand it, there is a philosophy that does see objective reality as knowable, and fittingly is called “Objectivism”. One of the virtues in the philosophy’s ethics is honesty, as “the rejection of unreality” (Dr. Leonard Peikoff in “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand”, which explains the philosophy much better than I can!).

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Thanks for that feedback. You said you’re not a philosophy expert but your grasp of the area seems pretty impressive to me.

  2. conrad powell
    conrad powell says:

    Not since Dr Scott Peck himself has there been such clarity on the catastrophe wrought by lies. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Such a relevant observation: In what’s sometimes referred to as our post-truth culture, facts and logic become less influential in determining what’s true than wide-spread emotional appeals.

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Thank you. It’s ironic, however, that people who argue for truth through emotional appeals always claim the facts are on their side.

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