“People value the truth,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during an interview on MSNBC. “Incompetent government kills people. More people died than needed to die in COVID.” Cuomo said this before revelations came out that he hid information from the department of justice. You and I hear this and we are shocked. Fantastically shocked.
I shouldn’t be shocked of course. As Orwell put it, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Lies, as you know, aren’t all created equally.
There are lies like, “no honey, that dress doesn’t make you look fat.” or “I would love to have lunch but I’m afraid I can’t.” Even though you can. These lies are generally used to save someone’s feelings or to remove some awkwardness out of a situation.
Then there are the lies like, “no daddy, I didn’t eat the cookie.” These are some of the first bad lies we learn. We tell them to avoid getting into trouble. They aren’t meant to save feelings but to save us from getting in trouble we deserve to get into.
Then there are lies like Cuomo’s lies.
Lies that seem to not just tell untruths or half truths but that bend reality itself. At the time he told this lie, he knew about the cover up. He knew that his actions were exactly the kind of action he was telling everyone was wrong. While representing government incompetence, and telling everyone that such can “kill people” he was being incompetent in a way that lead to the deaths of people.
This is so foreign to me, that I have trouble even wrapping my head around it enough to explain just what I think is wrong with it. It seems a person has to be somewhat insane in order to lie in the fashion.
There is an old psychological term from the late 1800’s – pseudomania.
It was put forth by G. Stanley Hall, a doctor of psychology at a time when being a doctor of psychology was very new. Some say he was the first to get a PhD in the field. Today we tend to use the term “pathological liar” but fact is, there isn’t really such a thing in the DSMV.
Hall did a study on dishonesty among children. He sampled 300 children. Most of them lied. But, as discussed above, most of their lies were “white lies” or “hand in the cookie jar” lies. But a small percent lied in such a way that Hall thought it quite odd. He observed that they lied in sophisticated ways.
Though many lies, Hall proposed, started out as “service lies” the sufferer of pseudomania eventually reached a point of lying for the sake of lying. Perhaps, even not realizing they were doing it. They created sophisticated personas and the lie was still in service of something, that persona, but it had become so engrained that the lie and the persona were not distinguishable.
Work on understanding lying has continued but really the foundational ideas of Hall still stand.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Pathological lying is a persistent, pervasive, and often compulsive pattern of excessive lying behavior that leads to clinically significant impairment of functioning in social, occupational, or other areas; causes marked distress; poses a risk to the self or others; and occurs for longer than six months.”
Does Cuomo know better?
Hall pointed out in his work that none of the children, “…were found destitute of high ideals of truthfulness.” In other words, the children knew they were lying as they had been taught and demonstrated understanding of truth vs lie.
I find it hard to believe that Cuomo wasn’t taught the difference between truth and lie. That is different than understanding the difference. If – as Hall suggests – Cuomo has reached a point of pseudomania then he very well may not be cognizant anymore that he is lying. His brain, very well may be broken.
This is similar to someone who struggles with addiction. The choice to take the drug was theirs when they first started taking the drug. However, after the drug “takes over” the choice vanishes in a very real way. The person can still stop the drug, but just deciding it, choosing it, isn’t an option. Addiction recovery must ensue. Lying, I think, is like that. Psychologically speaking, a person can get a rush from lying so they keep doing it.
Add politics to all this, and the benefit lying gives to a politician, and it is easy to see that Cuomo just does it as a reflex.
Was Cuomo even lying?
It is only fair for me to put forth the idea that Cuomo may not have been lying. He may very well be a true believer in how he dealt with COVID-19 and perhaps even has information that demonstrates that deaths would have been even greater had he not acted as he did.
As governor Cuomo used his executive power to force nursing homes to take back residents who had been hospitalized with Covid-19 once they recovered. Right away critics and experts said that this would increase the number of COVID related deaths. It did. The scandal really came when it was found that the numbers reported were incorrect and the state had been undercounting. Even if Cuomo didn’t lie someone did. Cuomo later acknowledged the “error” and said the numbers were held back so that Trump could not use the data as a weapon.
Which brings me back to the quote from Orwell, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Inspiration for this post: ‘Incompetent Government Kills People,’ Says Andrew Cuomo Unironically – Reason.com