Geopolitics

Lying Power, Humans Can't Always Handle The Truth

Lies and mistrust are spreading throughout society, destroying the relationships between people and states. How could it come this far? And what can be done about it?

Pinocchio puppet in Rome
Pinocchio puppet in Rome
Stefan Ulrich

MUNICH — At the beginning there was the lie. Well, nearly at the beginning. If you eat from the tree of knowledge you won't die, but rather become like God, so the snake said. Only God knows what would have happened if Eve hadn't believed the lie. But she bit, and man was driven out of the Garden of Eden, and the lie has been with us since.

The lie, and her elegant sister, ruse, had a shining career in mythology and history. It aided Jacob and thereby Isaac. It helped the Greeks win the battle of Troy with the lie of a wooden horse. Later on, various popes justified their claim to power with a forged certificate of a gifted Constantinople. Adolf Hitler claimed Poland had attacked Germany. And Walter Ulbricht never wanted to build a wall.

The victory march of democracy and freedom of the press, as well as the end of the Cold War, seemed as if it might force the lie out of our lives once more. But that was an illusion. The power of the lie in today's society is such that it threatens to destroy international relationships and open society in general.

The lie of George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction fundamentally damaged the West's credibility and leadership. The lies of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he turned toward Crimea and Ukraine destroyed any remaining trust with Europeans. Gloss-overs and appeasements during the financial and euro crises, as well as during the design of the model for globalization, are pushing otherwise normal citizens toward the political fringes, which are always forceful about laying claim to the truth.

Populists, conspiracy theorists and enraged citizens make use of these lies to cast universal suspicion on entire occupational groups. Companies are generally accused of being guilty of working for their own uncontrolled financial benefit. Politicians of the traditional parties are accused of being the bailiffs of capitalism or of the Americans, ready to betray the citizens of Europe. The traditional Western media are denounced as "lying media" to make their most basic coverage seem unfounded from the start.

Truth to the extremes

Within and between many European countries, a climate of suspicion reigns, these flames fanned by such extreme groups as PEGIDA in Germany and the National Front in France, or Vladimir Putin in person. The lies and the rising accusation of lying are destroying solidarity. They weaken democracy, undermine European unification and endanger the peace between East and West.

How did it come this far, and what can be done? Before we can get to the answer we have to provide some context for: the lie. It is not always evil, despite what philosophers Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant believed. Lies can be of a compassionate nature, when, for example, a doctor informs a patient only piecemeal of his terminal illness. They can save relationships, by using polite but meaningless phrases in conversation which ease living together. Those at work or on an official state visit who politely wish a "good morning" on a bad day are better off doing so than saying what they really think.

Lies can save lives if they are aimed at preventing mass hysteria. Lies can be viewed as a forgivable sin because everyone expects to be lied to — for example during election time. And lies can even become truths. In 2008 Chancellor Angela Merkel and then Minister of Finance Peer Steinbrueck reassured the citizens that their saving deposits were safe. That was a lie when spoken. But because many believed it at the time, the confidence inspired made it become the truth.

So lies can be acceptable if they are meant to assure a peaceful society, protect us from catastrophes and prevent distress. They become reprehensible when they harm the ones who have been lied to. And they become dangerous when they have become the norm and fan the flames of universal insecurity. If everyone accuses everyone else of lying, a peaceful, stable society is hardly possible any longer.

But the trend seems to veer in this direction. Because the complicated world we live in, with its shifting borders, is unsettling and makes us suspicious; because competition entices us to deceive; because politicians are convinced that citizens are not able to handle the whole truth; because journalists pass off assumptions as facts; because the Internet allows any ridiculous nonsense to instantly reach a global audience, unfiltered; because gifted demagogues like Putin are bombarding us with lies for such a long time until we are unwilling to believe the truth.

Lying media

But the march into a paranoid, post-democratic, authoritarian society is not inevitable. It is incredibly difficult to restore trust, but it is possible.

The first step is to differentiate the lie from generally untruthful politics and the "lying media." Yes, politicians and journalists can be wrong, just like any other human being, and some may lie with bad intentions. But to tar each and every one with the same brush is nothing short of slander. And the authors of those lies are fully aware of that.

Secondly, the courage to accept the unvarnished truth has to become part of who we are. The current EU President Jean-Claude Juncker once said "if worse comes to worst, you have to lie." But another very famous politician, however, proved the opposite — Winston Churchill and his mercilessly honest blood, sweat and tears speech during World War II.

"Humans can be expected to be able to deal with the truth," author Ingeborg Bachmann admonished. This is a good guiding principle, especially for politicians and journalists.

Part of that truth — at least — is that Putin is waging war in Ukraine, that globalization has harmed many, that the burden of the financial crises is unjustly spread, and that Greece may be forced to leave the currency union. That last bit of truth was pronounced by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Carry on the good work!

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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