It seems as if these are new terms that we just began hearing about during the 2016 presidential election. But lies and lying are hardly new. In fact, I remember a book that was first published in 2005 titled On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. It surprised me because it turned into a best seller. Critics called it a “gem of psychological insight, social commentary, philosophical analyses and good humor.” The popular nonfiction author Sam Harris published a book titled Lying in 2013. In it he suggested that we can improve our lives and our society by telling the truth in situations where others often lie. He believes that even telling “white lies” to spare people’s feelings is not a good idea.
Recently it appears that the Internet has taken lying to a whole new level. Anyone can post ideas and so-called facts without being held accountable. Naïve or vulnerable people might then be persuaded to believe these things. For example, ISIS has used social media to recruit susceptible young people to volunteer to fight or to commit terror attacks. Most lies do not lead to such drastic action but they can certainly influence opinions about all kinds of topics which can affect individual behavior.
Fortunately there are authors taking on this topic and books are being published which address this problem. One of the most popular recent books has been A Field Guide to Lies by Daniel Levitin. Levitin describes his book as a “crash course in Skepticism 101.” A new book published in September is titled Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen. He traces our tendency to believe in myth and follow an anti-scientific path back as far as the Puritans and then down through various utopian fantasies, religious cults and crazy medical treatments through the years to our present day. This book is sure to be thought provoking.
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