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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Lying a Signaling Mechanism?

According to Tyler Cowen:

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

This works in more than one direction. If telling obvious lies on behalf of someone else is a loyalty signal, Trump is signalling his loyalty to his voters.

But wait, there's more:

Imagine, for instance, that mistruths come in different forms: higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths. The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats. The ambassador is reluctant to tell a refutable, flat-out lie of the sort that could cause embarrassment, but if all you ever heard were the proclamations of the ambassador, you wouldn’t have a good grasp of the realities of the situation. … Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded.
In terms science types might find familiar: High-status lies are not even wrong; low-status lies are wrong.

There's another advantage of lying: You can tell the truth and not be believed, thereby discrediting critics when the truth becomes obvious. You might get the Other Side to force middle-of-the-road people saying things opposed to the dogma of the Other Side into your coalition. You might even be able to get critics to refuse to believe their own allies, when those allies think for themselves.

On the other hand, this might turn into the new Dunning–Kruger effect. It's an all-purpose way to explain away anybody who disagrees with you without having to actually engage their with their arguments. The Dunning–Kruger effect (that unskilled people are often unaware of it) is commonly cited in debates between two groups of arrogant fools each claiming that the other side is unskilled and unaware of it. We might see a variety of ideologues claiming that the Other Side is lying to signal loyalty. (Devising examples will the left as an exercise for the reader.)

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