“And he was never known to make a foolish move.”
Bob Dylan

“You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time,  but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Abraham Lincoln

To fool anyone all of the time requires an ability to generate wall-to-wall, non-stop rationalizations, a plausible “because” for every lie you fool people with.

Is that possible to do?

Apparently it is, but there’s a supply side and a demand side to the reason why. On the supply side there are people who have an endless supply of rationales. They can justify everything they do and everything they stand for, and they never admit that they have ever been wrong about anything except perhaps being too lenient on people who challenge them. You might know someone like this, but where they are most prevalent is in politics and positions of leadership.

I would like to pause a moment to emphasize this. There have always been people who could do this. Some mean to fool people, some fool themselves too, some mean to fool people and fool themselves only in their belief that it’s for a worthy cause.

There are people like this in every movement, every religion, every political party. There has never yet been a philosophy or ideology within which such people can’t operate. This is important because one of the ways they’ll fool people is through the claim that their affiliation with the purest, most righteous fool-proof cause makes it impossible that they could be trying to fool people. “Lying? Moi? Impossible! I’m sincerely committed to the one true faith.”

On the demand side, apparently we don’t demand much plausibility. It’s understandable that we wouldn’t. The higher our standards for plausibility the more work it takes to enforce the standards.

Consider Ellen Langer’s experiments with what rationales persuade someone to let you cut into waiting line for the copy machine. “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” yields 60% compliance. Adding the vacuous “…because I have to make some copies,” yields 93% percent compliance.

In copy machine lines, “Because…” followed by any damned thing is a plausible enough rationale for most of us.

Here, from most convenient to least convenient are what our rationale-plausibility rules seem to be:

1. He said “Because blah blah blah” and that’s enough for me. I trust him.
2. He said “Because blah blah blah” with such confidence. That’s enough for me. I trust him.
3. He always has a confident “Because blah blah blah.” Never have I heard him falter for a rationale. That’s enough for me. I trust him.
4. I’ve analyzed his rationale and it holds together, consistent with what others say, and what little I know about his actions. That’s enough for me. I trust him.
5. I monitor him closely and he’s as good as his word. I trust him.

Of course, we’ll lean on the more convenient methods wherever possible, not so much when buying a car or a house, but that’s because those decisions have real direct consequences. In politics and religion, sure we can afford to scrutinize lightly because though we may claim those are important decisions, they really don’t have much real direct consequence.

Lincoln’s “some of the people” who can be fooled all of the time believe a guy simply because he always has a confident “Because blah blah blah.” They put their faith in the guy who can supply infinite wall-to-wall alibi.

They can be fooled all of the time precisely because it is all of the time.

Politicians especially in the past half-century have learned this formula. There are now many Neo-Know-It-Alls who have discovered that so long as they hammer away with a relentlessly confident rationale for everything, they will survive and thrive.

Lincoln said only some of the people can be fooled all of the time, but if these “some of the people” are in the majority, we’re screwed. I’m interested in what it would take to reduce their numbers.

Like many philosophy buffs, I love the fallacies, the long list of arguments to watch out for.
I’ve searched and I can’t find this one listed anywhere. I’d call it the Know-it-all Fallacy: Because he has an infinite supply of confident rationales he must be right.

Up to a point, an ample supply of rationales indicates that someone has an opinion worth considering. But when you hear a leader generating a rationale for absolutely everything, he’s probably just working the formula. He’s got reason to believe that people will fall for the Know-it-all Fallacy, the people who can be fooled all the time, so long as he rationalizes incessantly and confidently with any old “Because blah blah blah.”