Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late. ~ Jonathan Swift
(This article was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, February 19, 2017.)
In response to my recent post “Why Truth Matters,” Chris Crawford provided a biological explanation for Trump’s lying. (I am no expert about this biological explanation, and would want to do more research before endorsing it.) Crawford then connects lying in general to something that I don’t know, but strongly believe—Trump is not only intellectually and morally vacuous, he is also an unhappy man. No wonder he almost never smiles.
Here is Crawford’s biological explanation of lying in general:
Our biological nature includes a capacity for falsehood arising from optimal sexual strategies. The most successful male (in terms of his influence on the gene pool) was the one who could convince the most women that, if they would permit him to impregnate them, he would in turn provide for the resulting children—and then renege on the deal … but only if you can get away with it. In the small hunter-gatherer groups of the Pleistocene, this was impossible, but with civilization came the ability to keep moving on to new groups …
Meanwhile, the optimal female sexual strategy is to nail down a good provider of nutrition for the kids while obtaining genes from the most genetically desirable male.
Both of these strategies require a talent for successful lying, and an equal talent for successfully detecting lying. They are summarized in the two definitive questions for sexual relationships between males and females: “Will you still love me in the morning?” and “Is it really my child?” The difficulty of the latter has led to a great deal of infanticide by males, which in turn has induced newborns to look more like their fathers than their mothers — a good survival strategy.
And here is how he connects this with Trump:
Homo Sapiens have developed the ability to lie more effectively by inculcating the ability to actually believe its own lies—that’s the best way to evade lie detection. Thus, Mr. Trump honestly, sincerely believes that millions of illegal aliens voted against him. He is especially good at believing whatever he perceives is most beneficial for other people to believe about him—which is why he has so successfully hoodwinked millions of voters. It is unlikely that Mr. Trump has any actual political beliefs of his own; he simply wraps himself in whatever beliefs he thinks will most endear him to voters. Like the chameleon Martian in Ray Bradbury’s, The Martian Chronicles, he has no identity of his own.
And therein lies the penalty for deception: by believing his own lies, Mr. Trump has long since destroyed Donald Trump. There is no longer a genuine human being inside that body. It is just a doll dressed up to look impressive to others. Having reached the pinnacle of society, Mr. Trump finds it hollow, for there is simply nobody inside that body to truly appreciate the achievement.
In one of my favorite movies, Excalibur , directed by John Boorman, Merlin at one point says: “When a man lies, he murders a part of the world.” It’s a great line—Merlin gets a ton of great lines in that movie. But I would alter it to be: “When a man lies, he murders a part of himself.”
This line of thinking suggests that Mr. Trump is long since dead, a walking husk of a human being, bereft of human existence …
Needless to say I don’t live inside Trump’s mind, but I’d guess it’s disharmonious. His constant anger and insatiable desire for retaliation, as well as his maniacal obsession with fame, power and wealth are hallmarks of psychological dysfunction. While skeptics may believe my statements reek of envy, I can only state assure my readers that I am, as Dostoevsky puts it, one of those “who don’t want millions but an answer to their questions.” I assume this may be an obsession too, but as obsession go it’s not a bad one.
Telling the truth about ourselves and the world is difficult and ego-threatening. Most of the time I can’t do it myself. But surely the sages and seers were right when they advised that we transcend the ego and the pursuit of knowledge is one means of doing this. As Crawford puts its: “… each honest step forward brings me to closer union with a reality so much grander than my own petty existence. It is worth struggling for.” Or, as Bertrand Russell put it:
Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.