Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Small, Reflexive Conservative Trait

I am not certain why this should be a left-right issue, but I find I am almost reflexively on the side of conservatives when it comes to lying about autobiography. They consider it a big deal, and indicative of general character.  People of the left don't seem to regard it as important. Less important, anyway.

It might not be as important as I treat it.  Hierarchies of sin are tough to assign. But when Hillary Clinton claimed she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, he of the Everest climb (she was five when it happened), she forever had a great deal to overcome for me to trust her. She's had other such statements, such as trying to enlist in the army. I felt similarly about John Kerry's claims of being in Cambodia and getting a special hat from a CIA guy, or Al Gore's claim that the tie-on-the-doorknob sign from Love Story was about him and Tipper. Obama claiming his mother died of cancer because of her insurance company, and all that mess about basketball and the girlfriends. Bill Clinton, let's not even get started.

They are small things, perhaps.  They are fibs, about events which have little effect on us one way or the other. They are just blowhard comments

One major reason may be that I did it for a year myself, when I was 18. Just as I graduated from high school my parents moved to another state, I took a live-in job at a summer resort, and I entered college hundreds of miles away in the fall. I reinvented myself, including my past, because there was no one to say me nay. I sometimes wonder if any of the stories I told about myself that year were true. Most were based on a true story, as they say, exaggerations and partial truths. A few were like Hillary's naming story - they just sounded like cool things that weren't impossible and would be great to have be true. I don't recall an abrupt stop to this behavior, but I can only think of examples from that year. I did continue to repeat some.

So I don't get it when the truth comes out and the person doesn't just slink away out of the public eye forever. When it becomes known that you didn't go to Cambodia and can't possibly have a magic hat, how do you face people? Conservatives seem to lie about the standard stuff - affairs, corruption, money - and when they get caught, get told by others to slink away, and they usually do.  Or sometimes, they try to spin it down without denying it. But they generally have what would be my reaction - humiliation and an attempt to exit gracefully, with apologies. Especially as an adult.

But I don't recall in recent history people of the right getting caught in one of those blowhard things, claiming to have been cum laude when they didn't graduate or being drafted by the Packers when they weren't even starters in college. Different style perhaps. More likely to exaggerate what opponents did, maybe. I'm sure there must be something - Newt Gingrich seems likely, but I can't think of anything. If it is true that a lot of conservatives are like me on this score, they likely removed them from the pool. I can't understand when liberals don't have the same response.


RichardJohnson said...

I can't understand when liberals don't have the same response.

Perhaps because libs have the opinion that since the little fib is done to assist a good cause- the election of someone who "fights" [Demo phrasing, not mine] for the good causes- it is okay. The ends justify the means.

Which brings forth the question: precisely what constitutes a "good cause?" Answer; whatever the "good people" - a.k.a. progs or libs- are supporting at the time.

Sam L. said...

As RJ says, anything that advances the CAUSE is more than OK with them.

james said...

Maybe on the left there's more of a sense that the individual is malleable, and that aspirations are as important as accomplishments because they're the raw material of accomplishment. So if I indulge in grand aspirations, even if somewhat retrospectively, that's more of a sign of good character than otherwise.

I want to have done all those good things, because it would illustrate my goodness. And know I'm good because I want to have done good and brave things.

bs king said...

There may be some of the Republicans work for you/Democrats fight for you dichotomy going on. If you're looking for a job candidate, accuracy of resume would be one of the first red flags to look for. That's less the mindset when selecting a champion.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ James - that seemed like a crazy stretch at first, but I think there is something to that. I think of Michelle Obama's comment that it would be good for America to elect her husband, not because he would do the right things or be a good leader (though I'm sure she would assent to those ideas) but for some moral achievement of simply having done it.

@ Bethany - another connection I hadn't thought of, but makes some sense.

The mentality is different. (Given the overgeneralising.) And it may be one of those Jonathan Haidt things where ultimately, I just can't help moving back to certain POV's, even when the players change.

Anonymous said...

This element of human nature is easy to understand. But first you must de couple yourself from your social constraint and moral blindness, to run a separate simulation track with a different pov.

Or in other words, SJWs always lie and Leftists project 99% of the time.

Jonathan Smith said...

There is a difference between a liar and a fabulist, and you are probably right that the two types are not uniformly distributed across the political spectrum. The imbalance is not absolute, but there are more liars on the right and fabulists on the left. I am conservative, for instance, but also a natural fabulist with a strong abhorrence for lying. The liar tries to hide something, the fabulist tries to embellish something. The danger for the fabulist is that embellishment starts innocently enough, in the desire to entertain with a story that the fabulist has made more interesting, poignant, or funny, than the actual event warrant. The danger for the fabulist (I'm speaking from experience) comes from the fact that he embellishes stories to attract attention and win admiration, and when the powers of invention are coupled to the desire for admiration, you can get these imaginary autobiographies.

I'd guess that the political imbalance comes from the leftward leanings of what I recall you describing as the "arts and humanities" types. These people are natural storytellers, they tend to inhabit worlds where reality has fuzzy edges.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Jonathan Smith. They also inhabit the world of words, where words have as much reality as events. Word-people believe words. More than they should.

Tell me more about your definition of lying, and why you think the right does it more. Do you mean deception, or outright denial, or what?

Jonathan Smith said...

By lying, I mean deliberate deception. I'd say lying normally serves to "cover up" some ugly truth, something of which I am, or know I ought to be, ashamed. This deception requires invention, but these inventions are not fantasies. An adulterous woman invents activities to cover up her affair, but she never once fantasizes that these activities are real. A negligent student invents events to cover up, or excuse, his negligence, but he never once fantasizes about how amazing it would be if a dog really ate his homework.

It seems reasonable to suppose that conservatives fantasize less than liberals, because they are by definition more satisfied with the world as it is. Conservatives are quite capable of doing shameful things, and of attempting to hide those shameful things with lies, but when this happens we might say they are "forced into falsehood." They don't actually enjoy inventing alternate realities, and do so only when circumstances seem to require it. So their deception is deliberate.

The fabulist enjoys inventing alternate realities and spends much of his life in fantasy. No one has to force him into falsehood, since that is where he prefers to live. Mostly, these falsehoods are benign, and they often make the fabulist a very amusing fellow, but the habit of fantasizing makes it hard for him to see that some of his falsehoods are not benign, or even to see that they are false.