Your Brain On Lies

directory-1187128_1280People are saying that America has entered a “post-truth” era.  Oh boy.  Well, the Keys have always been in a “post-truth” era so welcome aboard.  I guess we’re not alone any more.   Love him or hate him, very little of what Donald Trump says turns out to be true.  His supporters say we should “take him seriously, not literally”.  I’m not comfortable with all that tip-toeing around.  Someone who lies all the time is a liar.  So can we just call Trump what he is?  It’s a lot easier.

I saw this piece on Politico about “your brain on lies”.  Pretty interesting.

What happens when a lie hits your brain? The now-standard model was first proposed by Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert more than 20 years ago. Gilbert argues that people see the world in two steps. First, even just briefly, we hold the lie as true: We must accept something in order to understand it. […]  Only then do we take the second step, either completing the mental certification process (yes, fraud!) or rejecting it (what? no way). Unfortunately, while the first step is a natural part of thinking—it happens automatically and effortlessly—the second step can be easily disrupted. It takes work: We must actively choose to accept or reject each statement we hear.

So when you’re presented with new information, your brain automatically accepts it as true in order to evaluate it.  But to reject a statement as false, you have to make a conscious effort.  Not bad if you’re exposed to a few lies here and there, but what happens when your brain is bombarded with lies?

Our brains are particularly ill-equipped to deal with lies when they come not singly but in a constant stream, and Trump, we know, lies constantly, about matters as serious as the election results and as trivial as the tiles at Mar-a-Lago. (According to his butler, Anthony Senecal, Trump once said the tiles in a nursery at the West Palm Beach club had been made by Walt Disney himself; when Senecal protested, Trump had a single response: “Who cares?”) When we are overwhelmed with false, or potentially false, statements, our brains pretty quickly become so overworked that we stop trying to sift through everything. It’s called cognitive load—our limited cognitive resources are overburdened. It doesn’t matter how implausible the statements are; throw out enough of them, and people will inevitably absorb some. Eventually, without quite realizing it, our brains just give up trying to figure out what is true.

I can relate.  I’m sure anyone who’s tangled with Monroe County  or the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) can, too.  Now it looks like the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) is getting in on the act.  (One major difference – the Citizen/Free Press doesn’t aid and abet the District like they do the county and the FKAA.)

Politico’s article doesn’t offer much in the way of hope.  In fact, it gets downright grim.

Scarier still for those who have never supported Trump is that he just might colonize their brains, too. When we are in an environment headed by someone who lies, so often, something frightening happens: We stop reacting to the liar as a liar. His lying becomes normalized. We might even become more likely to lie ourselves.

Yikes.  Let’s hope not.  I’ve learned from experience you have to go straight to the documents.  (Or in Trump’s case, the tweets and/or video.)  Otherwise, it’s just people arguing.  Noisy, confusing and not very enlightening.  Best to stick to documented fact.  Just because the chronically dishonest double down on their lies doesn’t mean you have to believe them.

The other possibly helpful thing I’ve realized is that the same deceptive tactics are used over and over again.  We’re on the second round of the “Craptacular” spreadsheet now.  Fortunately, once you’ve debunked it the first time, it’s a lot easier to debunk it the second time.  And third, and fourth, and so on.

George Orwell once said

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

The Odious Sylvia Murphy’s convoluted word salad regarding the wastewater funding disparity is a perfect example of this concept in action.  Public officials in the Keys don’t know any long words, but they do know all about “divide and conquer“, “bait and switch” and “monkey math“.  All that, combined with the straight-up lying, creates mass confusion.  People’s brains just shut down after a while.  All that misinformation is overwhelming and hard to process.  Most of the time, the Citizen and the Free Press are more than happy to play along, which only makes  a bad situation infinitely worse.

I don’t know how to tackle all this except to keep doing what I’m doing, and hope it helps.  Eventually.


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