At The Baffler, Justin Clark writes—Shameless Liars: When “pathological” lying and fake news plagued the nation:
Toward the end of the 1800s, an insane asylum physician in Zurich discovered a surprising tendency among his patients. One, an Austrian maid, had spent years wandering the countryside, claiming to be royalty. A second, an hysterical epileptic, habitually convinced strangers that she was their distant relative. A third, a chronic masturbator, posed as Catholic (he was in fact Protestant), and compulsively pilfered items which he then discarded unused. In 1891, Anton Delbrück summarized his discovery in Die pathologische Lüge, christening the condition pseudologia phantastica, or, as we now say in English, pathological lying. And with that came the emergence of a public health issue requiring large-scale study, and somewhat improbably, widespread concern about an epidemic of dishonesty and even fake news.
Today, we’re quick to call those who lie too grandly or frequently, or without requisite shame, pathological liars. But Delbrück and other discoverers of the condition intended something more exact. The pathological liar was manifestly not a con artist. He bore little relation to Phineas T. Barnum or to Melville’s confidence man. For one thing, he didn’t lie for the sake of wealth or power. Indeed, it wasn’t clear why he lied at all. The maid who pretended to be an aristocrat didn’t win favors or pull strings. Neither did the character Colonel Capadose, from Henry James’s 1889 story “The Liar.” “He’ll lie about the time of day, about the name of his hatter,” an acquaintance observes of the otherwise upstanding Colonel. Yet though James’s Capadose and Delbrück’s asylum patients lacked a clear motive for lying, they still couldn’t avoid it.
Earlier generations had a reliable explanation for why we commit wrongs in spite of our better angels: sin. Like murderers, embezzlers, and adulterers, liars suffered from the same fallible nature as the rest of us, if only more severely. Psychiatry encouraged people to see “pathological liars” as deserving distinction from humanity’s ordinarily mendacious remainder. But why? Why should a behavior that has been with us for eons become a disease at the end of the nineteenth century? Why do we brand the most notorious of deceivers as pathological, and what do we mean when we do so? […]
TWEET OF THE DAY
BLAST FROM THE PAST
At Daily Kos on this date in 2007—Science Friday: There is No Controversy:
Ever since the terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” first made the news, the right has been engaged in an effort to ridicule the whole notion. Man could have an effect on the atmosphere? Pshaw! Okay, so Rush Limbaugh and the Fox airheads don’t actually say pshaw. Instead, they’ve said that the idea of a human-caused climate change is “ridiculous,” and “malarkey” and a “farce.” (I’d give you links for those, but adding a link to Limbaugh and friends would give me a rash).
Most of all, they’ve pushed the idea that our increasing thirst for flammable hydrocarbons might just cause an eensy change in the environment is controversial. Sure, sure, we might be having a hot year — or two, or ten — but that doesn’t mean people had anything to do with it. After all, we’re so small and the atmosphere is just so big. How could a little old us possibly have more effect than volcanoes, or cyclical changes, or the bad old carbon fairy, or whatever cause the right wants to put forward this week? We changed the air? Huh, that’s just controversial.
They’ve depended on paid shills to generate pop-science FUD, and like the mercenaries of ignorance who constantly try to make it seem as if there’s some scientific debate around evolution, they’ve created smoke in the hopes of making people believe there’s a fire. They’ve created fake organizations dedicated to spreading misinformation (current headline “Earth’s plants tell us they’re loving the CO2 increase!”) They’ve even made a hero out of Michael Crichton (the one man whose ego might be larger than Bush and Rush combined) and his account of a Global Warming “conspiracy,” frequently citing his poorly-researched fictional tome as proof of the evil left wing environmentalist attempt to strip away your Hummer.
The trouble with this notion is that the folks who stole the “it’s only a theory” page from the whacko creationists are lying. There is no controversy. There’s been none in scientific journals, and no, scientists did not think we were going to freeze just a decade ago, no matter how many times the shills say they did. With every passing day, the evidence becomes more compelling.
On today’s Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin & Armando comment on today’s “number one” story, the cabinet confirmation hearings, and Trump’s dependence on laundering Russian mob money. Plus, it turns out you’re not officially in Congress until you take the oath. Who knew? You did!