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The institutionalization of lying

Updated on October 18, 2012
You face choices about whether or not to lie on a daily basis. Although you may not like lies, they are a vital part of many professions.
You face choices about whether or not to lie on a daily basis. Although you may not like lies, they are a vital part of many professions.

History is a set of lies agreed upon.”-Napoleon Bonaparte

If lying is not good, why is there so much of it?

Lying is one of those behaviors that most cultures, religions and societies have rules against. In some situations it is even considered a crime to lie to certain officials. Although lying is considered a crime, there are some strange double standards associated with lying. Although it is a crime to lie to government officials, it is not considered a crime for the government officials to lie to you. Whether the government official is a police officer, judge, federal agent, politician or bureaucrat, telling them lies often carries criminal penalties and consequences. Although those consequences apply to you, those same rules do not apply to them.

In situations where the government officials are conducting an investigation, they have no problem lying to you. If you are brought in for questioning, they may lie about what they know, or what others have told them. They may even lie about what evidence they have in their possession. No matter how many lies they tell you, their behavior is not considered criminal or wrong, since they consider obtaining information worth any kind of moral wrong they have done.

When you advance up the level of government, the lies are often larger. When you are being questioned about the official, they may make threats or hide things from you, but in the eyes of the judicial system, they have done nothing wrong. They consider the ‘greater good’ that they are after far outweighs any lie they may have told you along the way.

Politicians and government agencies are known for their lying. As a culture, you may have grown accustomed to accepting such lying behavior. The politicians often make many promises, both literal and implied when running for office. Once elected, they change their official position. You may find yourself dismissing such lies as ‘politics as usual’. The reality is that lies are lies, no matter who tells them.

You may encounter lies at government agencies. Lies are often a part of policy. When you are an employee of those agencies, you are trained to follow policy and tell the public what the ‘approved’ communication is. Even though you know it to be a lie, you may rationalize what you did as just ‘following policy’. The Nazi war criminals had the same attitude when they were on trial at Nuremburg, claiming that they were just ‘following orders’. Whether you are following orders or following policy, the lies remain. When you lie, you make someone believe something that is not true.

Government agencies which deal with secrets often tell lies in the name of ‘national security’. In their minds, protecting the security of the nation means more than violating their own conscience. By saying that their lies are a matter of national security, you may somehow feel better about the lies or deception. This way you feel like you deserve a medal for lying, even though you know that the lie was intentionally misleading.

It is not just government officials that engage in lying as a course of business. There are many professionals that lie as a routine part of business. The legal profession is known for the many lies they tell in their course of business. Lawyers often hide their lying behind claims that they are seeing to it that their clients receive the best defense that money can buy. It is not just the defense attorneys that lie. There are times that prosecutors make outlandish statements, knowing that those statements are lies, all in the name of either obtaining convictions or improving their court room record. The mindset with many in the legal profession is that any statement can be made, it is up to the other side to either prove or disprove it. When such a mindset sinks in, the lying becomes institutionalized. Lies are no longer viewed as lies, they are ‘unproven’ statements. The public often allows the lies to continue since they are more interested in obtaining results rather than their lawyer being honest in their dealings.

Some health care professionals have also been known to lie as part of doing business. Whether it is hiding the seriousness of a health issue, or not letting the patient know everything that is going on, such actions are deceptive. The information may be the results of a test, or examination. The test results may be kept from the patient in order to keep them from getting upset. The patient then makes choices based on lies, whether intentional or implied. Those in the health care field often excuse their lies based on “what their lawyer told them to say” or “what is in the best interest of the hospital, practice, insurance company, etc.” Since those in the health care field are viewed as being helpers to you, the lies are often excused, based on their good intentions. You may allow them a free ride when it comes to lies, since they are there to help you or your family member.

Some big businesses and banks also engage in lying as part of doing business as well. Claims are made about their product or services that are just not true. In business, the professionals often use confusing terms that leave you believing something that is not so. Whether it be interest rates, the promise of a new product or the effectiveness of a product, lies are often told in the form of allowing the public to believe something that they imagine.

Although the teaching profession often positions itself as being on the moral high ground, there are some instructors who routinely engage in lying. They may lie about their sources, the validity of what they are presenting or some other aspect of what they are teaching. Although you may want to think of teachers as being right, in many cases, they are wrong, whether intentionally or unintentionally. In the cases of intentional lying, the teachers often present material that is plausible or popular rather than what is factual. They may be pressured into this deception by the school or college where they teach, in which case, it is a matter of institutional lying. Institutions have been known to put restraints on what teachers can say and present in their classrooms. Some teachers justify their lying based on loyalty to a political belief or popular ideology. Since they want to be liked and keep their job, it is easier to continue presenting the lies rather than to honestly deal with topics in the classroom.

There are also ethical situations when lies are considered ‘acceptable’. In those situations, a person’s life or well being may be on the line. In such cases, lying is often viewed as acceptable. When saving lives, such as those who lied about keeping Jews in their homes during World War II, such acts are considered as type of nobility. In such cases, the principle of saving lives is viewed as more important that telling the truth. Those telling the lies believe that they did the right thing in such situations. Although it is easy to moralize, and claim that you should always tell the truth, there are situations where higher principles need to be considered.

In addressing the topic of lying, it is also important to be honest about how institutionalized that lying has become in many societies. In the examples given above, there are many instances where lying is part of routine business. Although lying is still viewed as morally bad, there are many areas where we often turn a blind eye and allow the lies to continue without bothering to question them.

What do you really think about lying?

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  • Admiral Murrah profile image

    Admiral Murrah 5 years ago from Texas


    Thank you for your comments. There are many times that lies prevent the shouting matches and accusations. It is scary how easy we slip into the lying habit.

    I am glad that others are bothered when those in authority lie to them. These days, it happens more often than not. I have developed a habit of turning news stories 180 degrees around from what is said and come closer to the truth than what the authorities officially said..

  • Davesworld profile image

    Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

    Sometimes you just have to lie: "No, that dress doesn't make your butt look fat, dear."

    Sometimes it's simply easier to lie rather than get into a pointless shouting match about the relative merits of something trivial like "Yes dear, County Road C is the best way to get there."

    However, like you, I don't like it when people in authority lie to me. And that, sadly happens altogether too often these days.

  • Admiral Murrah profile image

    Admiral Murrah 5 years ago from Texas


    Your choice of facebook is an interesting one. Many have bought into it, and continue buying into it. It says a lot about how the public often wants to be lied to. They want to believe the illusions. It is happening with facebook and happened in Nazi Germany, FDR's regime in America, and at other times in other locations.

    I agree with many of your points, with the exception of governmental lying. Although you believe that if not for the government we would not know that we were being lied to. I do not see it that way. The federal government has a long history of institutional lying, whether it be about the Tuskegee Syphilis studies, the Edgewood arsenal studies or the effects of atomic fallout on American service personnel or the impact of Agent Orange. These episodes were surrounded in lies and the public wanted to believe what the federal government was telling them. Although banks are doing weird things with ARM's and other instruments that are less than honest, their operations and offerings are regulated and dictated by the federal government. Although the bankers may be the visible source of the lies, their functioning is the product of the federal government's policies and institutionalized lying. The banks can only offer mortgages allowed by the government rather than allow market forces to take effect. When the banks are forced by laws enacted by the government to make bad loans to people that are not credit worthy, it is easy to blame the banks, even though the problem was bad policy based on lies foisted upon them by the federal legislature. It is a matter of the puppets being made the target when the puppeteers are the ones pulling the strings.

  • forbcrin profile image

    Crin Forbes 5 years ago from Michigan


    You forget one thing, if there were not for the government, you would not even know that the lying is going on... The problem is that we like to be lied to. We expect to be lied to. If not we don't even listen to the guy telling the truth...

    Look at Face book for instance. It is the latest. We had the nineties to learn about the dot com. Facebook came out, and although it was clear that in the end it was nothing more than smoke screen, people bought into it, hoping to make money out of the lie.

    It seems that in spite of the losses, they still don't want to use their brains... Mark came up with a new idea and the losers got a reason to hope again. The hope is not that Facebook will make it, but the hope is that enough hype will be created, so they can dump their shares and recover the losses...

    The banks are back into the ARM mortgage, and the wealth managers are still pushing their investment schemes to convince people to reinvest the money they still have in big ponzi and other fraudulent schemes...

    We want to be lied to, because it is easier than working hard for your money...

  • Admiral Murrah profile image

    Admiral Murrah 5 years ago from Texas


    Lying is more American than American Pie. Although many people say that it is never appropriate or the 'right' thing to do, it is more a way of life in America than many people realize. Banks, the financial industry and stock brokerages each have their own form of lying. Although you would not separate government, I think they are a big part of the financial industry, etc. lying behavior. Many lies are driven by government regulations on what you can and can not say and do. The SEC, etc., have often hamstrung those industries to the point where lying is the only way to get some things done. Government has done more to institutionalize lying than they have to eliminate it. It is the elephant in the room that people do not want to talk about.

  • forbcrin profile image

    Crin Forbes 5 years ago from Michigan

    Ha, ha, ha, this is one of the most used American tradition. Is seems that everyone is building their lives on lying, because the public wants to be lied to.

    I would not separate the government as a special class. How about the financial industry, the stock brokerage, the banks and so on?

    Mari Zuckerberg, although I think that he is a brilliant guy is the biggest champion with his lies. Now, he found a new scheme to save his face, and I am sure that people will lose money again, but they deserve it.

    Lying is more American than the American pie, though we should not be proud of this particular tradition....