Chutzpah, spin doctors, pantomime politicians and liars in public places
By Trevor Grundy
What is the effect of large-scale lying on the psychology of a nation?
Does lying on the grand scale have the same effect on a nation as it does on the individual?
Will the lies told to us over the last few days by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings inflict long term damage on us, or on them, or on both?
Is lying to oneself even worse than lying to others?
Is there for every liar, a lie-ee – someone who wants to misled?
And what happens when liars are found out and those lied to realise they were treated as harmless Joes, hoi-polloi, plebs, rubbish.
Well before the Cummings to Durham to save his wife and son and get his eyes tested story hit us like a clenched fist in the face, people were asking if being a politician and being a liar were the same thing.
As Bernard Crick said at the opening of his seminal 1962 book In Defence of Politics –“Boredom with established truths is a great enemy of free men.”
To which one might add – “ Fury over Establishment lies is even ten times more dangerous.”
Some interesting and courageous stuff is being published in the British media.
Today, The Times carried a comment by Ian Martin who asks a question that all of us are asking – Why is Boris Johnson so psychologically dependent on his chief adviser?
What is it that binds the pair so closely?
Carrie . . . Boris and Dom . . . characters out of a political pantomime
Watch out, Boris! He’s behind you!
Ian Martin writes that one answer (for there might be many) is their shared view of the world and the extreme skepticism about contemporary notions of accountability.
“Both of them have personalities that lead them to behave as though the rules and bourgeois codes of behavior are made for other people.”
OK, Johnson is often an interesting, clever, amusing chap who can crack a pun or two in Latin and can ramble on about Pericles and Winston Churchill until the cows come home.
He has spent so much of his life constructing an image.
And his sycophantic bow down before it.
But, as Martin says, he is also a mass of contradictions and surprisingly, he lacks confidence.
Many who know him add –He lacks courage too and is a natural coward when it comes to making big decisions.
“You might,” writes Martin,” say he has extraordinary chutzpah. While that is true, chutzpah or cheek is not the same as confidence.”
Says Martin: ”Lacking grand vision and knowing he is operationally often far out of his depth, he creates a whirlwind of distraction, with jokes and clowning to distract from the horrible truth that he often does not know what he is doing other than keeping the, in normal times, entertaining show on the road.”
But these are not normal times and we need more than a song and dance man in Downing Street.
But it’s not so odd to see a man of straw attracted to a man like Cummings who embodies contempt for the conventional rules of the game and all those petty codes and pieties that make the world go round in England – codes and pieties for us, but not for him.
Martin explains that the two men share history at The Spectator, which Johnson once edited.
Cummings handed the magazine’s new – fangled website.
Johnson left in 2006 and later Cummings was fired for re-publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Twice since then The Dom rescued Bouncy Boris from political as well as private humiliations and in 2016 came up with a slogan that set Britain on its disastrous decision to leave Europe.
Take Back Control.
Then, in 2019, another three worder –
Get Brexit Done.
How well Cummings would have done in a PR agency – ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went/ When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent or Fay Weldon’s even catchier Go to work on an egg.
But some are asking if Downing Street has become a PR Agency, an amusement parlour where policies come out of slot machines if you feed them with enough money.
There might be other reasons these two men are so close.
A love of the classics, Greek and Roman history. A shared love Churchill and Pericles.
Around Cummings and Johnson are a collection of cronies who look like those plastic dogs you see wagging their tails in the back windows of cars.
After his rule-busting Dash to Durham to save lives and have his eyes tested Johnson was not the only one to slavishly prop up the rule-breaker.
“Entirely right” tweeted the idiotic Matt Hancock.
“Not a crime” bleated Michael Gove like the sheep that he is.
“Justifiable and reasonable,” snorted Rish Sunak, another Winchester College graduate (like Cummings) in a government packed with public schoolboys.
“Take a long hard look in the mirror,” yapped Dominic Raab.
Cummings a villain?
Cummings the hero.
Hence the reason why when he wrote an article about his trip to Durham for The Spectator (where his wife is commissioning editor) he courageously failed to mention any of it.
Sitting in the Rose Garden at No 10 Downing Street yesterday, Cummings did say that in retrospect he should have explained things a little earlier.
But, writes Hugo Rifkind, also in The Times of today –“He lit a bonfire of reputations and half the cabinet cheerfully chucked themselves onto it. What were they thinking?”
The answer is pretty obvious.
They were thinking of themselves.
The voice of reason came from Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at St Andrews University. He said after Johnson’s defence of Cummings on Sunday night – ”Ina few short minutes Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19.”
To answer back, the pathetic Gavin Williamson was hauled on stage to defend Cummings.
It was embarrassing to hear what he said about Cummings.
The lockdown is almost over and soon newspaper stories about the Cummings and Goings of an arrogant special adviser will lie at the bottom of the canary cage.
That’s what Johnson and his cronies hope.
Life will return to semi-normal on June 15 and Our Boris has told us to get ready to spend, spend, and spend in order to help revive the economy.
The Boris Bounce.
But what if there is a second wave?
In a fascinating article in the London Review of Books (February 4-20, 2020) the academic Colin Burrow said in an article headlined Fiction and the Age of Lies that good liars are canny psychologists who can offer truth like statements that target what they know their audience wants to hear.
Think Goebbels and the Germans.
Burrow writes: “The Western philosophical and Christian traditions have generally considered lying from the perspective of the liar. Analytic philosophers have tried to determine what kind of statement a lie is, and moral philosophers have argued about it when, if ever, it can be defensible to lie. These discussions generally focus on the intentions of the liar rather than the role of the victim. But the victim’s prejudices and assumptions about what is likely to be true play a key role in determining the kinds of statement a liar can get away with. Lying is a social act that is crucially dependent on the beliefs of the person lied to, whom I will call the lie-ee. The words generally used to describe such a person – ‘victim’, ‘gull’. Or the philosopher Sissella Bok’s favoured term ‘dupe’ – implicitly ascribe weakness to the deceived and deprive them of agency. “
Then this key passage:
“The feedback between liar and lie-ee has immense psychological significance. It’s the reason why, in fiction and in life, lies can have such a powerful effect. If they take us in it’s because they work with our beliefs about what is likely to be true. And that’s why the discovery that one has been lied to can give rise to such emotional chaos.”
Isn’t that what Dom does best?
It is, yes. But only when he’s in charge of the chaos.
He certainly doesn’t want to hear the angry roar of the lied to millions ringing in his ears if there is a second wave – Shelley’s words
Rise like lions after slumber
Ye are many- they are few.
So, if there is a second wave and tens of thousands more die in Britain, The Dom and his admiring colleagues should make haste to leave the stage and go some place far away where, with a bit of luck, they will have their brains as well as their eyes tested.