Maureen Dowd of the Times is one of those hilarious Irish Catholic feminists who can be a great deal of fun. Her ability to insert the knife and twist it for an entire column is unsurpassed. She's especially good with politicians. Typically, though, there's more than a little truth in her column.
I quote from today's column on lies as wishes.
T. S. Eliot wrote about when memory mixes with desire. Politicians get in trouble when desire nixes memory. They know they are misrepresenting an experience, but can’t help themselves. Their desire to be the person they describe is too overpowering. Politicians are actors trapped in the same part, and some occasionally feel the need to punch up the script. They are salesmen engaged in the hard sell, and some occasionally get carried away.
On this occasion, Richard Blumenthal the attorney general of Connecticut who is running for Chris Dodd's senate seat got carried away and announced that he served in Vietnam when he never left the States. If you've read Dowd, you can imagine how much she used the knife on Blumenthal. Truthfully, the list of politicians and plenty of the rest of us who engage in aspirational lying is not small.
The most fascinating insight which had never crossed my mind with much clarity is the notion of Bella DePaulo, a psych prof at the UC Santa Barbara. Lies, she suggests, are like wishes. When you wish you were a certain kind of person, but are not, and maybe not willing to do what it would take become that person, then it becomes very tempting to lie.
One of my past colleagues never finished his doctorate, yet on numerous occasions he introduced himself as "Doctor. . . . " Although I have a great sense of having worked my ass off to finally get that credential at age 50, it's lustre lasted only a short time. Most of the time when he made that claim I was not especially perturbed. After all, some of the dumbest people I've ever known have a doctorate. One day, however, he sat with a potential HR client who commented about his frustration with consultants who claimed the degree. I watched my colleague turn a bright red, and realized he wasn't a very good liar. Touche.
Dowd's point, however, is not merely pungent, but also instructive. "Lies are never merely about words. They're more profoundly about identity." That insight will reverberate for quite a while. It gives me a new frame for assessment.