In a relative world, what is true and what is not true depends on what one believes. People tend to believe what they want to believe and nothing else. And everything a person believes is the truth. Who would say, “Everything I believe is a lie”? In a sense, people sometimes choose delusion.
Those who understand this have little trouble taking advantage of others.
In his book Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, David Livingstone Smith makes some interesting points about the human propensity toward deception. Here are three.
First, Smith contends that the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait. Those who can easily deceive others are more likely to survive than those who can’t.
Second, just as the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait, so too is the ability to detect deception. Smith uses a poker game as an analogy. An excellent poker player is one who easily bluffs the other players at the table. In addition, an excellent poker player easily detects when others are bluffing. Players with neither of these skills should not play poker. I don’t play poker.
The ability to hide telling traits is the third and most interesting point Smith makes. It’s not enough merely to mask tell-tail signs of deception with a poker-face, because someone skilled in detecting deception will see through the mask. Smith contends that the greatest deceivers are those who can first deceive themselves. If I believe that what I say is true, I will have a much easier time convincing you that what I say is true. Then you become a believer. And truth becomes relative to belief.
A relative truth cannot be wholly reliable because it is based more on belief than reality.
As belief propagates in ever-widening circles it transforms into the kind of truth that must be true because “I saw it on TV (or the Internet).” That’s why negative campaign ads work so well. Negative ads need not be true. It’s necessary only that people believe they are true.
Self deception—whether by means of denial, repression, self-righteous bias, or any of the other defense mechanisms and biases psychologists have identified—is a door that always leads away from truth and toward delusion.
With this knowledge, it’s easy to see how people are so easily led astray and deluded by the used-car salesman who just wants that piece of junk off his lot or the politician who just wants your vote. Both will say anything with absolute sincerity to get what they want.
Is it possible to know the truth? Yes, but only with the understanding that belief and truth are not the same thing. You can discover truth once the layers of deception and delusion—both internal and external—are peeled away to expose things exactly as they are, not as you want them to be.
You will know you’re getting close when what you find is disagreeable and difficult to accept.