“Lying, concealing, distorting and denying facts have always been political tools. Though it may sound amoral, being a ‘true’ politician does not necessarily entail sticking to the facts”

From The Contemporary Art of Lying by Anna-Karin Selberg, Eurozine.com, May 2019

It seems not to matter how many lies and misleading claims are concocted and disseminated by Donald Trump and his administration. The majority of his followers turn a deaf ear to his lies because to them he is a long-awaited harbinger of truth, a man who speaks his mind like no other politician would dare to.

His fearless head-on approach of claiming to know what nobody else knows has taken him a long way. It has enhanced his credibility among those who fall for the naive narrative of their would-be hero blazing a trail through the ’snowflake’ establishment they perceive as dominating the US Congress and Senate. This says more about Trump’s followers than the man himself, as well as something pertinent about us so-called ordinary people.

Throughout history, our modern times included, people from widely differing backgrounds have sworn allegiance to what they perceive as strong individuals. Today we have the likes of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia, among many others. Millions of Germans joyfully elected Adolf Hitler as their new Chancellor in 1933. It was of little or no consequence to them that the Nazi party and Hitler himself stood for an extreme racist ideology with a deranged focus on antisemitism.

All these leaders, dictators or otherwise, may be the object of loathing for many people but are also much admired by many more.

Hero narratives are the key elements of storytelling and also one of the strongest driving forces in linguistic change. Grimaces and simple guttural sounds have never sufficed in our communication with each other. We have always needed to hear and understand more to make better sense of the complex world we live in, and we have always strived to coordinate our strengths and resources in ways that would empower us and guide us in our everyday pursuits.

So … please tell me more, give me your version of what is around us and within us. Please do not leave me wallowing in uncertainty but explain to me how everything was created and the meaning of it all. Convince me there is somebody up there looking down on me as a child. Tell me more, feed my curiosity that I may pass on my interpretation to others so we can build our social unit of covenant communities and closely-knit congregations.

Enclosed by four walls, we quickly switch to hellfire and brimstone preaching. Hear the words of the Lord! The collective chant of “more empowers skilled preachers (or rhetorically adept as they are known today), tell us more” ringing around the temple or political auditorium. Outside these mass meeting rooms is where the small talk takes place, the storytelling on everything from local concerns to global issues.

The storytelling is usually on request because we need to hear about becoming involved, we need to get involved in participating, and we need social interplay to form a reasonably strong identity. The stories become essential social lubricants. Whether they reflect any knowledge or truth is of secondary importance. This is not a world of lies but a web of fantasies, finely tuned social interplay in which most of us actively participate.

The boundaries between global thinking and narrow sectarianism are easily erased. Scientific facts are pushed to one side, and the innocent social interplay creates ominous imaginary worlds based on fantasies and fictional narratives. These worlds are created by both small non-conformist groups and large political organisations with the ability to reach out to entire nations. The narratives easily become “holy scriptures” that claim to reflect the only true and objective reality. Members of such communities are indoctrinated in a way that borders on mass psychosis.

The strong belief in what the group considers to be the only truth dominates completely and usually leads to a total ban on any critical examination from within. Lying becomes normalised and in addition to that dangerous, especially if loaded with live ammunition. There are countless examples of this, even in our enlightened times.

I intend to quickly bypass the criminal world regardless of whether it operates individually or in gangs. They have adopted lies as their special tools. They are looking to deceive, and they blatantly lie to their victims and investigating authorities to gain power positions. Instead, I choose to return to the fascinating question of why so many people seem to reject factual and evidence-based knowledge in favour of complete and utter nonsense.

The answer to that question can be found within the realms of science and philosophy. The biggest philosophical question of all is: Why is there something rather than nothing? When that question is placed on the dissecting table of science the most common conclusion reached is that nature, including the universe with all its galaxies, stars, planets and black holes, may have arisen without thought, meaning or intention.

This is the hypothetical starting point that modern science emanates from. Nature and the universe are what they are, and there is nothing out there that cares much about what we humans do on our pitifully small planet, except for other humans, of course. We, humans, can produce countless ideas, ethical precepts included, that show considerable care and consideration of others. But there is nothing else out there with the ability to control us or slow down our creative mindsets.

Such a thought naturally leads to the question of why we humans exist at all. Those who have generally accepted Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory could claim that there is no supersensible, metaphysical force that created us or has continued to develop the Homo Sapiens species. We exist because we happened to fit into a random form of evolution in which only the most resilient species have managed to survive this long.

That which we describe as external reality is, as far as we know, the only one, and it is entirely possible to describe it in physical terms. The primary task of scientists is to compile what they discover through research and clarify and revise it under the heading Knowledge. Revision is a vital part of this. One good example is Einstein’s theory of relativity, which surpassed Isaac Newton’s 17th-century law of gravity in the 1920s. The apple does not fall from the tree to the ground due to gravity but follows something known as curved spacetime.

Most people, or at least those I usually socialise with, find deeper philosophical questions and current scientific findings of quarks and strings and the like far too challenging to comprehend. I am sure most of us thirst after learning more about our planet, the universe with its galaxies and black holes, and why we and other life forms exist like we do and how it all came about. But finding the answers requires a lot of hard work.

To sidestep facing an unknown void while waiting for more precise and, hopefully, not too complicated knowledge, we amuse ourselves by creating fictional stories. Scientific facts are rehashed into illusory tales. There are plenty of writers who are highly adept at weaving stories for films and series based on legends. Thick manuscripts that easily find their way into the hands of the power-hungry.

Politics and the flow of myths have always gone hand in hand in maintaining the status quo. Modern science and its theories of origin are seldom elevated in this way because scientific findings usually come across as being stone-cold and godless. We ordinary people generally like authoritarian figures who are good at leaving the door ajar to the world of illusions. A world in which we turn a blind ear to the blatant lies that are concocted, the glorification of the nation and the people in power, and we’re dying for the cause of gaining a questionable territorial advantage is the done thing.

From here it is but a short step to building more weapons factories to cope with the military rearmament, as is often the case when we abandon facts in favour of glorification narratives that are seemingly tailor-made for narcissistic personalities.

Global arms sales reached an estimated turnover of $420 billion a couple of years ago. The current figure is difficult to estimate, but in all probability it has risen significantly. Do nature and universe care? Probably not.