In these times, it is almost obvious to say that politicians lie. There aren’t a few leaders from all kinds of parties and ideologies who were caught saying something they never accomplished once they were elected by the electorate.
One would think that it is because they regard their constituents as fools that they will not realize the lie. However, since thanks to the internet we can easily confirm what they lied to, we can’t help but think why politicians lie. They must know that they will be turned down sooner or later.
We will then delve deeper into this question seeing that it is not just about lying, but making their lies a really powerful tool.
Why do politicians lie so often?
To say that politicians lie almost sounds logical. Some will say it’s really not like that, they just say they are promising something in their election platforms, but for X or me, in the end, they can’t confirm it. Others, perhaps down to earth, will say that indeed politicians are consciously lying with the clear intention of being elected by their constituents and then, when they are already in power, they will be responsible for disappointing those who elected them.
Either way, one can’t help but think that in the times we live in this lying politician is an unintelligent and cautious politician. Thanks to the internet and having access to all the information you have, it is not very difficult to find on websites that are ideologically antagonistic to that of a particular politician who is shining a light on everything he is about. lied. With that in mind, we might think that these people are really stupid because they know there is a resource that is going to disprove anything they have said.
In an ideal and logical world, the lying politician would be caught and left out of the political career because no one wants to vote for him. But we don’t live in an ideal world or in a logical world. The politician openly tells lies, he knows the internet will prove what he lied about and yet he achieved enormous fame, Lots of voters and an incredible impact. We watched Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro. Before they were elected, they said a lot of beasts, things that any American and Brazilian could quickly refute, and yet they ended up being elected presidents.
With all of this in mind, in addition to the question that gives this article its name (Why do politicians lie?) It also comes to mind how, even by lying, they manage to make themselves known. It looks like it should be the exact opposite and it has become clear that with these two examples just mentioned, they not only did well, but it looks like their fame is growing more and more even with terrible management. of such crucial importance. historical aspects like COVID-19 has been.
A world of lies
Fake news, made up in a more modern way of what is called “fake news”, seems to spread faster than the truth.. You might think that believing lies or wanting to believe them is a modern thing, fueled by new technology, but it seems to come a long way, even when writing did not exist.
It seems that the existence of intergroup conflict throughout our evolutionary history has shaped our minds. Human psychology seems predisposed to disseminate information which, regardless of whether it is true or not, if it meets the following characteristics is considered to be something potentially believable.
- Mobilize the ingroup against the outgroup.
- Facilitate the coordination of attention and effort within one’s own group.
- Emphasize the commitment to the group of ingroup members.
Far from what many think, the human mind is designed to select and disseminate information that is effective in achieving these goals, Do not give certain information, especially in the event of social conflict. When there is a conflict between two groups, humans are psychologically prepared to prioritize that information that helps us win the conflict against the outgroup, even if objectively this information is clearly wrong.
It should be noted that ensuring that human beings do not pay due attention to truthful information is not entirely true. It is adaptive and effective to have a true knowledge of the outside world, especially in those aspects that contribute to the survival of individuals and groups in terms of biological needs such as feeding, sheltering or avoiding a threat such as a predator. For example, in a tribe it is adaptive to tell the rest of the members where the best pastures are for hunting wildebeest.
However, during human evolution our minds generated, adopted, and propagated beliefs that could be used to perform other functions, even though the information itself is not true. Lying has a clear evolutionary component, Because otherwise we wouldn’t realize it. Lying can manipulate others, make them imagine things that are not, and behave in a way that is beneficial to us. The lie would have served to make a group hostile with a different end to the other, even if the motivation was based on lies.
Conflict in non-human animals
Of course, conflicts or struggles are not unique to the human species. On more than one occasion, we have seen in television documentaries how two individuals of the same species clash over issues such as dominance over territory, food, or obtaining a mate. These clashes usually follow a series of steps to assess whether there is a chance of victory. or, if not, there are many chances of losing with serious injury or even dying.
In most cases, the best indicator of coping ability is height and physical strength. This is why natural selection has developed mechanisms in different species to be able to assess the size and strength of the opponent, in order to know if they stand a chance. We have an example of this in deer which, before fighting, usually start to roar. We have seen that the volume of its brambles is directly correlated with its size. The higher the volume, the higher the volume.
But what is surprising is that sometimes deer lie. Intending to avoid a fight that will surely lose and intimacy with its rival, the deer with a waist, say, modestly utters loud roars, as if they are bigger than they are. This way, and with any luck, they can end up intimidating a rival who, surely, if he had decided to fight them, they would have defeated them and left very seriously injured. This way, these little deer get food, territory, and pairs without having to risk their lives.
Another mechanism of natural deception that we have in piloerection i.e. goosebumps are put on us and the hair is raised. In the human case, this mechanism does not serve us much anymore, but in the more hairy species, it allows to confuse the rival by giving him the feeling that they are bigger and, therefore, stronger than they are. Actually. Thus, especially when faced with a predator or any other threatening animal, many animal species can save their lives by lying to their opponent about their size.
Conflicts between groups and coalition instincts
In the human case, conflicts have taken an important evolutionary leap. In our species, not only conflicts can arise between individuals, but also between very large groups.. Humans know that several weak individuals don’t stand a chance against a stronger individual separately, but together they can beat him.
Alliances are a key aspect of our evolutionary history, and they have also been shown to occur in some primates such as chimpanzees.
As individuals, if we don’t have a coalition with other people, we are “naked”, we are weak. in front of anyone who has it. Belonging to a coalition has become an evolving imperative, as important as finding food or shelter.
Human beings, although we are not a species that constitutes a superorganism like ants, we organize ourselves into a very social structure. We have acquired a very strong sense of belonging to all kinds of groups, product of our instinct to belong to a coalition which guarantees us our protection and security.
Once we are inside, we eventually acquire certain patterns of behavior and thinking. Our sense of belonging to a group makes us less critical of what is thought about it. It is much easier for us to believe what is shared within us, even though from the outside we have seen it as something really delusional and incredible. Sharing the same beliefs as the rest of the band makes us feel more part of him, while the criticism pulls us away. Lying can unite a group, especially if it is said to highlight their differences from the outgroup.
When there is conflict between two groups, cohesion and coordination between the members of each group are two essential aspects to win the competition. If two groups are in conflict and are on an equal footing, the one who manages to organize themselves better, thinks more evenly, and takes more synchronized action will be the winning group.
All of this has a direct bearing on why politicians and, in general, any political party or even a nation lie. Lying on the characteristics of one’s own group, exaggerating its virtues, on those of the other group, highlighting or inventing faultsIt contributes to the motivation of the ingroup even more, has more self-esteem and more capacity for action.
We have an example of this in military parades. In them, the states present their entire ample military arsenal with a clear political intention: to intimidate the rival. Thanks to a perfectly synchronized army as they march through the streets of the capital, showing off their weapons, tanks and even their artifacts that are nothing more than cardboard, the government sends two messages. Firstly, they are a great nation, boasting of patriotic pride, and secondly, other countries dare not attack them because they are well prepared, which is not necessarily true.
The other example is the speech of politicians. Politicians lie, tell lies of all kinds and conditions with the clear intention that their audience will feel that if they do not vote for them, they will miss out on a potential threat, perpetrated by the political rival or his inaction. Election races are yet another type of intergroup conflict and, as in any other, the coordination of the ingroup must be improved by deception. Lies in these contexts are used to:
- Solve coordination problems.
- Accepting false beliefs is a sign of commitment to the group.
- Exercise control over the group by making them believe in exaggerated information.
Lies and coordination
Donald L. Horowitz explains in his book The Deadly Ethnic Riot that before and after the ethnic murders that took place in the world throughout history rumors were the tool that was used to act. The circulation of these rumors, that is to say, unverified and often unverifiable information, plays a very important role in the attack of the outgroup, seen as a terrible threat that will soon attack us.
The content of these rumors tends to designate the rival group as an evil enemy, which devalues our group. This outgroup is very powerful and if nothing is done to stop its feet it will hurt us, it may even destroy us. Rumors convey a sense of urgency, that if something is not done we will be badly damaged. An easy-to-understand example is the case of Germany when Adolf Hitler began to enter the political landscape, saying how the Jews were conspiring to destroy the nation and that it was necessary to “defend ourselves”.
Many current politicians are sowing doubt with rumors that they cannot confirm or intend to do so. In many speeches, especially by politicians in favor of conspiratorial ideas, it is not uncommon to find phrases such as “I don’t know if this is true but …”, a type of verbal structure which comes to sow doubt and fear in the population, which cannot help thinking “and if it is true … we should already do something!”
Lying and domination
Making statements made out of lies can serve as a politician to emphasize his motivation to help the group in a conflict, but also to emphasize that this same politician brings together the right skills to lead the group to victory.
The human mind in times of conflict is designed to promote leaders who have or appear to have the personal characteristics that will resolve intragroup problems in the most effective manner.
One of the characteristics that any policy must have is that of domination, that is to say the capacity to induce the accomplishment of an action either by intimidation and coercion. When there is a conflict, whether it is a war or just a politically tense situation, people prefer the dominant rulers., Reflects in his motivation that the conflict goes further and attacks the enemy once and for all. Domination manifests itself by challenging the outgroup.
The politician who lies, who attacks another party or a follower of an antagonistic political ideology does so with the clear intention of seeing as dominant, a figure of power in front of his potential voters. He dares to say things as he thinks them or as their audience wants them to be said, even if they are not true. By defying the rules, they are seen as more authentic, more daring, more real. Ironically, politicians lie to be seen as the most right and people, who like to be told things as we believe them, not as they really are, we follow them.
- Horowitz, DL (2003) The deadly ethnic riot. University of California Press.
- Petersen, M., Osmundsen, M. and Tooby, J. (August 29, 2020). The Evolutionary Psychology of Conflict and the Functions of Falsehood. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/kaby9.