Many cons gain their mark’s confidence by claiming to offer protection from cons. Many tyrants claim that they are liberating the people they are really oppressing.
How can they get away with it?
Easy, because some people who make such claims are telling the truth. Lies are body-doubles for truths. They have to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be convincing. Mimicry depends on ambiguity, an inability to distinguish the real from the fake.
So how can you tell the truth-tellers from the liars?
Not as easily as some people think. Because we can either lie or tell the truth when we declare our intentions, declared intentions don’t indicate one way or another.
If you can’t tell truth-tellers from liars by their declared intentions, maybe you can tell them by undeclared intentions. Follow the money. Ask yourself, “What’s in it for him?” If you can imagine a self-serving or unsavory motivation, then don’t trust him. A leader claiming to be a liberator but pocketing millions is less credible than a leader making modest income. The wealthy leader has an ulterior motive. And you can follow intangibles motivators too like “ego gratification, or “power-hungriness.”
Think of it as the Law of Sufficient Motivation. If someone would cling to power for ego-gratification, then helping people becomes a superfluous, un-necessary motive. Ego-gratification is sufficient motivation. He would cling to power regardless of whether he really cared about helping people. The more discreditable motivations one has, the less necessary the honorable motivators become.
The law of sufficient motivation is a popular way to spot liars. The recipe is straightforward. If there’s someone you just don’t trust–your gut says they’re lying or otherwise bad, just imagine an unsavory motivation he might have. Declare it to be that person’s “true” motivation and you’ll have confirmed your gut and exposed the liar.
During the Vietnam War, many teens burned their draft cards, claiming they opposed the war. It’s easy to imagine a selfish ulterior motivation. They just didn’t want to die, the unpatriotic chickens.
Why did Al Gore make An Inconvenient Truth? Self-aggrandizement in preparation for a run for the presidency in 2008 would be a sufficient motivation, the lying political-climber.
Why do environmentalists believe the climate crisis is real? Craving an excuse for imposing socialist controls would be sufficient motivation, those oppressive conspirators.
One problem with the application of the Law of sufficient motivation is that one can imagine an ulterior motive for any deed, especially if one includes intangible motives. Why did Mother Teresa help the poor? Fame and glory would be sufficient motivation, the egomaniac.
Indeed one can find ulterior motives for employing the Law of Sufficient Motivation.
Why do right-wingers tend to think Gore and the environmentalists are liars? The right wingers are just looking for any excuse for dismissing inconvenient truths. Why do Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck make war on the left? They just do it for the attention.
In all of these arguments, “just” is the operative word. It means, “ignore other motives.” It means no other motivations are necessary.
But does it mean no other motivations are possible? As long as you’ve found one sufficient motivation, most people stop looking for other motivations. We ask “What is the motivation?” more often than we ask “What are the motivations?”
Does having sufficient motivations mean there are no other motivations?
No one ever does anything for just one reason. Even were we start doing something for just one reason, the longer we do it, the more other reasons tend to accumulate. If some other benefit comes along, we’re not going to say, “I’ll pass. I’ve already got sufficient motivation to do what I’m doing.”
And yet a common form of discrediting, especially these days, is to accuse someone of having just one bad motive as though if you can think of one bad reason to do something, the whole deed is automatically condemnable. The converse is true too: If you can think of one good reason to do something then the whole deed is automatically laudable.
See how simple it is to confirm your gut sense? If your gut trusts someone, just imagine one good reason for behaving the way he does, and declare that to be the one true reason he’s doing it. If your gut distrusts someone just imagine one bad reason for doing what he does and declare that to be the one true reason he’s doing it.
And who does your gut trust most of all?
So declare the one true reason you do the things you do, and make it a good reason. And if anyone challenges or attacks you, declare the one bad reason they would challenge you.
So, again how can you spot the liars?
It’s not easy. But noticing the limited utility of some of the rules we apply most is a start. It should make us a little more humble than to claim ourselves unbiased experts on who is lying and who is telling the truth.
And why did I write this article?
Ego. Just ego.