Russian lies mirror our own

Like all chronic liars, the Russians don’t really believe their own fabrications about atrocities in Ukraine.

City workers carry body bags with six partially burnt bodies found in the town of Bucha on April 5, 2022, as Ukrainian officials say over 400 civilian bodies have been recovered from the wider Kyiv region, many of which were buried in mass graves.

City workers carry body bags with six partially burnt bodies found in the town of Bucha on Tuesday, Ukrainian officials say over 400 civilian bodies have been recovered from the wider Kyiv region after the withdrawal of Russian forces. Many of the bodies were buried in mass graves.

Getty

Why are liars so bad at lying?

When the grisly images of atrocity started coming out of Bucha — the mass graves, the civilians with their hands tied behind their backs — the Russians immediately replied: it didn’t happen, the accusation itself another “provocation” against them. The photos were staged, or, if killings did occur — as the presence of hundreds of bodies would seem to imply — then it was from Ukrainians shooting their own citizens to make the Russians look bad, because nations do that.

The speed of the reaction was breathtaking. No hesitation, no flutter of false concern, no “Atrocities? Gosh, we’ll have to look into it right away!”

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Instead, straight to wild conspiracy theories.

That shouldn’t surprise anybody. The whole war was birthed in lies. When their army massed around Ukraine, Russia dismissed the idea there might be war as an American fantasy. Once it started, calling their “special military operation” a “war” could land you in prison.

The Russian approach to the truth sure rings a bell, doesn’t it?

The world was once divided between East and West, Capitalism and Communism, liberals and conservatives. Now it is between those who navigate the difficult world of fact and those sprawled in self-constructed sties of easy fantasy, rooting around the thick, warm mire of self-glorying falsehood.

Russian rhetoric is characteristic of chronic liars. The nimble, shape-shifting quality. Their reaction this week echoes Alex Jones, the toxic radio host.

Jones, if you recall, insisted the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary didn’t actually occur, but was a false flag operation, perpetrated by the government to encourage gun control. Jones whipped up his listeners to harass grieving parents.

Where did that come from?

People resort to chronic lying when they can’t accept where facts point. Twenty school children being gunned down could be a subtle sign that our nation’s gun policies are not what they should be. An unacceptable conclusion if guns are your god. Or if you need to imagine yourself persecuted in order to feel significant. So here comes this enormous event that might undercut your core beliefs. Sure, you could revise those beliefs. But that takes confidence. If that is not possible, if you are your political opinions, what you do is try to undermine the facts that point toward unacceptable modes of thinking.

It’s the exact same dynamic with Holocaust denial. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews, a crime documented with German efficiency. The Holocaust leads to all sorts of conclusions, from the inevitable end of anti-Semitism, of all racism really — you kill the thing you believe poisons your reality — to the need for the State of Israel. If you can’t accept those conclusions,you wage war on the facts themselves.

Consider the premise underlying Russian denial: our soldiers couldn’t do those atrocities. That’s almost funny. The whole war is one mass atrocity, from conception to now. Shelling an apartment building is not a vastly different moral act than executing a housewife. So of course, the people with the moral emptiness to start this war are the same folks to shrug off what their soldiers do now that it has begun.

A worker releases the wrists of a dead man, his hands tied behind his back, in the town of Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on April 3, 2022. Some 400 civilian bodies have been found in areas abandoned by Russian invaders.

A worker releases the wrists of a dead man, his hands tied behind his back, in the town of Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on Sunday. Some 400 civilian bodies have been found in areas abandoned by Russian invaders.

Sergei Supinsky/AFP, distributed by Getty Images

Which returns to our original question. Liars of the political sort are so bad at it because they aren’t speaking to anyone who doesn’t already believe them. Alex Jones is talking to credulous listeners buying his nutritional supplements. The Russians are speaking to their captive citizens, whose outlets of factual information have been shut down. They don’t even believe their own lies.

That too is common. Look at the Big Lie Donald Trump spread about the 2020 election. If he and his followers actually believed what they are saying — that the election was stolen in some ineffable manner they can’t articulate, never mind prove — then why run again? Why campaign? Won’t the next election also be stolen in the same mysterious fashion?

Then again, that is the kind of critical thought that all this lying is supposed to shout down. The lies are a feeble rag intended to block out the radiant truth. The truth they can’t bear to see. The truth that they have blinded themselves to, and would blind everybody else to, rather than muster the courage required to look at the world as it is.

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