Why We Lie

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The history of humankind is strewn with
crafty and seasoned
liars. Many are criminals who spin lies
and weave deceptions to gain unjust rewards. Some are politicians who lie to come to power or cling to it, as Richard Nixon famously did when he denied any role in the Watergate scandal.
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Sometimes people lie to inflate their image—a motivation that might best explain President Donald Trump’s demonstrably false assertion that his Inauguration crowd was bigger than President Barack Obama’s first one. People lie to cover up bad behavior, as American swimmer Ryan Lochte did during the 2016 Summer Olympics by claiming to have been robbed at gunpoint at a gas station when, in fact, he and his teammates had been confronted by armed security guards after damaging property. Even academic science— a world largely inhabited by people devoted to the pursuit of truth— has had a number of deceivers, such as physicist Jan Hendrik Schön, whose purported breakthroughs in molecular semiconductor research proved to be fraudulent.
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These liars earned notoriety because of how egregious or damaging their falsehoods were. But their deceit doesn’t make them as much of an aberration as we might think. The lies that impostors, liars, and boasting politicians tell merely sit at the apex of a pyramid of untruths that have characterized human behavior for thousands of years.
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Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.

This text has been adapted from The Guardian Magazine

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