When I was young, I thought I was an excellent liar.
One day, after I did something that would have angered my parents if they knew, I had an idea that stuck with me for years. I don't remember what I did, just what I thought after I lied to avoid getting in trouble.
"I can get away with anything I put my mind to."
How to lie successfully
My childhood mind concluded that the reason I could lie so well was because I could convince myself of my own lies.
It was more than an act. I imagined a world where my lies were true, and in all ways that I could think of, I behaved as if that’s where I lived.
They say it’s easier to keep track of the truth. People get tripped up in their lies because they’re trying to keep track of two different worlds. I made my own truths and then lived them, never telling a soul which things were otherwise.
What I’m describing began when I was very young (8 or younger). Somehow, it seemed like I could manipulate reality like playdough.
The realization of this special power stuck with me for a long time. I didn’t always use it, but I embraced it as the secret weapon in my back pocket for getting whatever I really wanted.
By conditioning my behavior and responses to match whatever I decided the "truth" should be, I reached a point where I didn’t always know what I had made up. Sometimes my memories changed to match my stories. There were times when I forgot my own lies weren’t the literal truth until I stumbled across some reminder that made the world snap back into its proper place.
Through a combination of vivid imagination and stepping fully into my roles, I learned it was possible to Doublethink before I ever heard of the book 1984.
I feel like I'm admitting I'm a bad person. But back then, I thought I was manipulating reality to be what I wanted, not doing bad things. I was just a kid doing stuff that didn’t matter much. Things like stealing stickers or hanging out with a friend my parents didn’t approve of.
But the habit of doing whatever I wanted and then lying to cover up stuck with me longer than I’m proud of.
Lying isn’t a habit you can just switch off
In present time, I consider myself more honest than average. Everyone lies, but not everyone will admit that they’ve lied. Some people don’t even realize that they DO lie, even if it’s just to smooth social situations.
It wasn't easy to go from my childhood tendency to engage in Doublethink for my own goals to being reluctant to tell a pleasant lie for the sake of easier conversation.
I wasn't able to decide to just stop lying one day and that be the end.
The link between lying to others and lying to ourselves
“I suspect that the neural circuits that we use to lie to others, also censor our own thoughts.” -Eliezer Yudkowsky
I think this suspicion is true. It's at least an interesting possible reason why my ability and willingness to lie have faded over time.
What ultimately stomped the life out of my habit of dishonesty wasn't that I wanted to be a better person. I wish I could say I had noble reasons.
I wanted to better understand reality. For the past handful of years, lying to myself about anything at all became my own personal 'ultimate sin.' I've tried to destroy my own self-deceptions in every way. Even if I won't admit something to others, I want to to be able to admit anything to myself. You can see from this blog's archive that self-reflection, asking questions, and personal growth are important to me.
At some unknown point in my quest, I went from eradicating denial I’d created within myself to eradicating beliefs and false ideas given to me by my culture. And I’ve continued on to learn some of the neuroscience behind cognitive biases inherent to our human hardware (our brains).
It's harder to lie once you stop lying to yourself
I certainly don't have perfect knowledge of what truth is. Just like everyone, I’m vulnerable to biases I don’t realize I have.
But I have tried to question whatever it has ever occurred to me to question.
Now I’m just not normal anymore. Maybe a child subjecting themselves to Doublethink isn’t normal, but I didn’t become normal by turning honest either.
I look around and see how irrational people are. They believe deceptively untrue things and they’re manipulated without realizing it. It’s clear that professional liars make our economy go ‘round.
It’s politics and spin that get ideas supported in the corporate world.
My thoughts have become downright subversive.
If you think doublethink isn’t possible, I’d say that’s rather naive. Maybe it also means you’re a decently truthful person. But when you’ve experienced it for yourself, you get a better taste of just how much people are capable of deluding themselves (a whole lot).
I think that redeems humanity on some levels. Knowing that people don’t think of themselves as the bad guy allows me to accept that it’s at least possible that people who run corporations like McDonald’s, BP, or even the government aren’t evil. They may just be deluded and have zero incentive to be any other way.
A culture of deception
It’s impossible to determine how many of our thoughts and ideas are the result of the culture we live in. I think it’s way more than each of us tend to believe.
Why does it matter if we share the ideas and beliefs of our cultures?
Well, for me, the idea that we think and believe whatever our cultures raise us to begs the question:
What makes the ideas of our own culture objectively right or better than that of others? Or for that matter, what makes our ideas better than what we can come up with for ourselves?
If the answer to that is nothing...
Then every belief I hold is questionable.
It isn’t necessary to be right about everything. That’s not possible. There’s so much we don’t know. All groups of humans have a culture. It may be subjective and fluid and different from group to group, but we all have it. Humans and culture don’t exist without each other. And so we can’t escape it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the fact that culture shapes our thoughts. But once you accept that it does and contemplate the massive extent of this, it opens the door to questioning beliefs that otherwise seem completely unquestionable.
Peeling back the curtain is a bizarre experience. You never go back to believing the wizard is infallible or all-knowing.