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Is Our Cynicism An Invitation To Lie To Us?

22/11/2016 12:09

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Politicians tell lies, we all know that. In fact, we've grown to expect it. We joke about it and in one of my favourite songs, Sunscreen, Baz Lurham suggests that the thought of politicians being noble in the past is just a nostalgic fantasy.

Whatever your political persuasion, though, I am sure you can think of many half-truths and barefaced lies that our leaders have told or promises they have failed to deliver on.

Let's face it, politicians lie. They always have done, and they always will.

But is our cynicism working against us here? By accepting that politicians will always lie, are we setting the behaviour bar too low? Are we just setting low standards and inviting our leaders to live down to them?

Now these low standards have dived to new depths. I don't want this to be a Donald Trump-bashing article (you'll find others, if you look hard enough), but during a recent interview on Radio 4, I heard a political commentator explaining quite matter-of-factly that the President-Elect's team would be busy planning which of Mr Trump's promises could be dropped without people noticing. The interviewer didn't seem at all surprised and didn't question the commentator's statement.

Hang about! When did this become acceptable? I'm willing to concede that circumstances might change and events might prevent our leaders from delivering their manifesto pledges. But, goodness me, the guy's not even sworn in yet!

Is it just naïve to hope that our leaders will tell us the truth while seeking our votes? Should we really just accept that politicians make promises on the soapbox that they have no intention of keeping when in power or, in the case of the UK's EU membership referendum, once the Brexiteers have got their way?

A strange new world

In his fiercely topical film HyperNormalisation (available on the BBC iPlayer, but not recommended if you need cheering up), director Adam Curtis invites us to explore what he calls the post-truth world, a place where all is strange and fake and corrupt.

Partly because we do not have easy access to the facts and are confused, he says, we have retreated into our simplified personal bubbles, staring at cat memes and wearily accepting fakery and corruption as the norm. In Russia, he claims, news and current affairs are treated as a pieces of theatre, specifically designed by politicians to confuse the people, who grow to accept the unacceptable, which then becomes the new normal. It's a scary technique that's coming our way soon, if it's not here already.

How our cynicism fails us

Our cynicism, potentially a useful protection mechanism against being cheated, has become our acquiescence. We expect our leaders to lie, so they do. As a result, maybe we get the leaders our cynicism deserves. Or, you tell me, am I being naïve for expecting better than this?

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