Quick Quips: What Is a Lie?


The Economist posted a video a couple of months ago discussing whether or not politicians lie. I didn’t agree with most of it, seeing as their conclusion was that something was only a lie if the person telling it had the intent and knowledge they were doing so. They instead try to palm certain things off – even Trump’s antics – as things like ‘exaggeration’, ‘untruths’ (isn’t that just synonymous with lies?), ‘nonsense’, or (quoting the academic prowess of a philosopher) ‘bullshit’. How trite.

I don’t disagree with the terminology entirely. Most of what Trump and his White House says in indeed some form of nonsense, bullshit, and exaggeration – just look at the rally he has planned at the Orlando Amway Center (yes, it pains me to write the Americanised form, but it’s a proper noun here). Trump has claimed that the venue will hold 25,000 people, and that there will be preparations outside for those who can’t fit in. Only problem is, the Amway Center is listed as having a capacity of only 18,500.

According to the Economist’s definition of a lie, unless Trump knows the true capacity and stated 25,000 anyway, he isn’t necessarily lying. Even then, it could still fit neatly into their category of exaggeration. I feel that adding layers to the concept of a lie merely downplays or excuses certain statements, regardless of who the speaker is. The Economist justifies it by saying the opposite – don’t downplay the word itself so it can retain its meaning, so when it is used people know the impact of the word.

This makes little sense to me – a lie is something opposite to the truth, contrary to fact. If something is provably true or false, and someone rejects or contradicts that, then it is a lie. Trump’s, or anyone else’s, intentions are irrelevant, and if a person believes something to be true that isn’t then it only serves to showcase their ignorance. If someone says climate change is not real, whether they believe that or not does not detract from the fact it is a false statement, a lie. When Trump says (and it is, admittedly, a trivial example) the capacity of a venue is higher than it really is, it is a lie. Although if over 25,000 people do rock up I’d like to see him try cram them all in.

There are grey areas, perhaps where someone may say something, but future events lead them to be incorrect. That person, at the time of the statement, was not lying even though what they said ultimately ended up being false. I’m sure there could be a lengthy discussion of numerous grey areas, or arguments against my line of thinking, but I feel that downplaying the prolific string of lies, particularly from Trump, by calling them merely nonsense or exaggeration only gives him credibility when he speaks.

Besides, lying is a politician’s job.


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