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THE "PATHOLOGICAL DISHONESTY" DISEASE

William J. Beaty, 1998


"The most common lie is that which one lies to himself; lying to others
is relatively an exception.
"-Friedrich Nietzsche

Quotations: Lies and Deception      Quotes: Truth
To the Sherloks

In reading the lastest LEVITRON® "Expose" update on www.levitron.com, I suddenly realized that something seemed extremely familiar about the whole situation. About five years ago I went through the breakup of a small company. See if the following story strikes any chords with you.

During some financial rough times, one partner in our little design company attacked another, and threatened to quit if the second partner was not ejected. As discussion ensued and threats and counterthreats were made over the following weeks, very strange things started to happen. As the group continued to discuss ongoing events, I started to feel as if there was something wrong with my mind, because some of the events that the group was discussing had never occurred. Other events being discussed were totally different than I remembered them. I began questioning peoples' memory during meetings, and I found that the rest of the group maintained a solid concensus agreement about several past events which were very different than my own recollections. Also, several real events which I remembered quite clearly were denied by the group as never having occurred.

Fortunately I spent enough time away from the group that I could maintain a small amount of perspective, and I gave a great deal of thought to these strange memory mismatches. At first I suspected that this was the infamous "Rashomon" effect (from the Kurosawa movie where an identical event is shown from the perspective of several different people.) Some of the problem did come from this; from the fact that different people emphasize some events while forgetting others. Each blind man sees a different elephant. But why would several people all adopt the same alternative viewpoint?

Then I began to notice that something else was happening. Two major partners of the company were lying. They were lying quite openly, and about all sorts of minor things. The lies were small enough that I never would have noticed them ordinarily. To see them I had to be intentionally looking for them. As they discussed things over time, their stories slowly changed in obvious ways, and always so as to make themselves appear to be the good guys, and so their opponents appeared to be "evil." Long friendships were conveniently misremembered as hostile rivalry, and some recent major changes in attitudes were discussed as if they had always been the norm.

The people were rewriting history as they desired, with little regard for truth. Strangely, other members were going along with this and adjusting their viewpoints to match! And strangest of all, none of them were obviously doing this intentionally. It all was happening below the conscious level. The process took the form of a constant sort of "negative gossip", where the gossip was somewhat nasty, and over many days they would come to believe their own speculations as being actual events. The "solidified gossip" was then extended with even more subtly dishonest information. This allowed the warping of reality to build up more and more over time. I found that the overall effect was very hard to fight, and on several occasions I felt weird and confused, and had to sit down and try to sort out my original viewpoint from the subtly twisted viewpoints I had unknowingly taken on while working in the group. The others were not even aware of this process. They were not fighting it, and so it had them under a kind of spell.

When I confronted them about some of the differences in our memories of the ongoing (not past) events, they invariably attacked MY perception of events as being faulty. They usually added lots of emphasis on the fact that I had no proof that my version was right and theirs was wrong. They pointed out that I was just one person, while several others disagreed with me (as if reality can be adjusted by taking a vote!) They also put much emphasis on the idea that all of reality is just a matter of opinion. A very strange viewpoint. Though the "blind men" disagree, this doesn't have any effect on the elephant!

It's strange to belive that reality is totally subjective, but it's very sensible if your habit is to sooth yourself by altering history. If truth is subjective, then we can apply negative labels to anything, and they are not distortions, instead they are the new level of truth. If reality doesn't really exist, then we can un-remember all of our bad behavior, and change our stories as convenience dictates. (But although the truth may SOMETIMES be subjective, one thing in this world is very real: intentional lying!)

During arguments I found that they had no self-doubts at all, and their defenses were impenetrable, which I found to be extremely unsettling. Normal people question themselves, and they don't put 100% trust in their own memories. *I* didn't trust my own memories. And so I started keeping written records of all the ongoing events, and began making tape recordings of company meetings. I came to rely upon these records whenever arguments about the existence of events came up, which they did, time and time again.

The whole upheaval took months. Time after time I found great mismatches in what the group believed and what had actually happened. Sometimes the partners would completely change their stories, and then insist that their stories had always been that way. They would accuse others of nasty acts that THEY THEMSELVES had actually performed (called Projection in psychology terms.) I occasionally tried exposing the differences and forcing the group to keep honest contact with reality as best as I could, but they absolutely hated my disgusting "truth telling" and tape recorders. For them, "my" truth was to be sneered at, even if it was clearly revealed by records and tapes. It was a losing, crazy-making battle. I eventually got out of the whole toxic situation.

After years had passed and I gained lots more perspective, I could clearly see the operation of a stunning human foible which I had never encountered earlier in my life: many people maintain a positive self-image by a habit of constantly lying to themselves. The lies are small but continual, and their cumulative effect allows that person to perform some fairly nasty and spiteful acts without knowning that they are doing it. They either forget about them entirely, or they put a spin on them so they appear correct and righteous. (Sometimes they alter their own memories entirely, and become convinced that their nasty acts were performed by others.) "Convenient Disremembering" rules their lives. They constantly rewrite history to make themselves look good, and they view themselves as good people, even though their actions are very different from those of a good person.

To my great shame I discovered that *I* was one of these people.

Today I see that the disease is a matter of degree. We all have it to some extent. When its effects are not enormous, we are only slightly narcisstic; we only occasionally blame others for our own difficulties, and our self-image is only slightly different from reality. At the other end of the spectrum are people who do terrible things, yet who are in deep denial and who "project" all of their personal problems onto their neighbors and loved ones. They think they are good people, but if someone should confront them with clear evidence of their actual behavior, or if someone even *questions* their version of reality, they burst out into self-important rage. They deeply hate tape recorders and written records, but they are unable to give a coherent reason why this is so. (The reason is clear, but they don't know that.)

Overall, this dishonest reality-warp phenomenon is a very scary thing to be near. It sucks you in unless you fight against it constantly. I see that it's the main force that produces the Cult phenomenon. I can easily see how the Nazis could kill millions of civilians during WWII, and the German people go along with it, all the while thinking that they were in the right. I can see how abusive parents can beat children to death, all the while believing that it's the child's fault. It's simply a matter of our being slightly but constantly dishonest, of bad-mouthing the truth so that it vanishes, of coming up with warped justifications for our actions, and then learning to be blind to the warpings. It's simply a matter of comforting ourselves with small lies, and then believing them. The lies turn invisible and form a new level of "truth" on which more and more subtle lies are again added, until our system of beliefs slowly twists into something that would shock an outside observer.

What's all this leading to? From your expose website and correspondence, it looks to me like Hones has a major case of this "lying disease". If so, then he is not consciously stealing Harrigan's work. He may REALLY BELIEVE that he is in the right, and therefore he explains your attack as being motivated by your jealousy, your self-righteousness, evil, etc. (But why would a fellow Levitron®-seller suddenly abandon a good business and start attacking the inventor? How can he explain it?) If he suffers from the disease, then he is unable to see his actions in anything except a good light. If he is indulging in this reality-warp stuff, then whenever you defeat some part of his case, he will not back down, because history conveniently changes for him, so that the defeat never occurred. The "liars" are formidable opponents because they have no need to ever surrender. When you take them on, you aren't even dealing with a human, instead you are fighting an unleashed subconscious which has far more extensive mental resources than normal. Also, they can tell enormous lies with a clear conscience, and people will believe their side of the story without a second thought, since their attitude and body-language is that of a truth teller. REAL truth-tellers always have some self-doubt, and when they go up against one of the liars, the liars appear to be far more truthful than the genuine truth-tellers.

My advice on how to fight this stuff matches what you are already doing: be utterly honest, and expose both YOUR OWN actions and Hones' actions to as much publicity as possible. Self-liars are slightly dangerous. Because they are fighting to defend their image of themselves as good people, their opponents consequentially threaten them at a very deep level. They might talk themselves into seeing a need to commit acts of violence. If you really manage to defeat them, it can throw them into a kind of insanity where they might do something unexpected. In addition, people with the lie disease are extremely vengeful. They will remember even small personal slights for the rest of their lives. On the positive side: from what I've seen of the legal world, the people there are aware of these "snake" types of personality, and probably won't be as easily taken in as are your friends and colleagues.

Well, best of luck in the battle. If you want to look up an interesting book, track down Scott M. Peck's book " THE PEOPLE OF THE LIE," ISBN:0684848597 It's by a psychologist who noticed that a portion of his patients shared a certain trait: extreme self-protective and self-centered dishonesty; something the outside world labels as Evil. Peck misses one important issue: this narcissistic "projection disease" is very common. ALL OF US suffer from it, and we remain intentionally blind to it. In most of us it's minor yet chronic. Only in some people does it become a raging infection that causes great damage, and perhaps takes over their entire personality.


Since writing the above article I found that psychologists know about this stuff. The self-lies fall under the heading of "defense mechanisms." We all have psychological defenses, or in other words, none of us is really interested in seeing ourselves honestly, instead we all distort things so that we appear to be in the right or appear to be good people. Sometimes this becomes a full-blown mental disease, and in that case is called Borderline Personality Disorder" (BPD). The cloud of lies is called a "distortion campaign." If you want a great book on this stuff, try this one:
STOP WALKING ON EGGSHELLS
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/157224108X/
I started bookmarking the good parts in my copy of this book, but then gave up because there was a bookmark on almost every single page. Also, this is an excellent book to send to the victims who have to live with one of these covert-liar types. If they're not too deep into denial, it'll let them see that they're not alone; that many others are trapped in the same situation, and the problem has a name. Also, you can always show this book to the doubters. Also, people who have loved ones with BPD can talk to others in the same situation on several online forums:

Other references: Search the WWW for info on "Borderline Personality Disorder" and associated stuff about "distortion campaigns." Another similar topic is "Malignant Self Love" or NPD, Narcissitic Personality Disorder Here's a link to Peck's description of human evil And see my writeup about Newsgroup 'flamers' as mental disorder

SOME BOOKS:


LINKS:

Huh. I searched on "radical truth-tellers" and didn't get any hits. But then again, this isn't really about truth telling. Instead it's about not lying. Call it "uber-honesty?"
 






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