16 January 2003, 849 words
Although I have routine check-ups regularly, there was only one occasion in my adult life when I was forced to go to a doctor. It was not a serious complaint, but it was uncomfortable. So I went to a specialist with offices in Port of Spain. I described my symptoms and he examined me and told me I had an infection. He then sent me to a medical laboratory in San Fernando where the doctor there took a sample to find out exactly what germs I had in order to prescribe the best antibiotic.
Six weeks and several hundred dollars later, I was no better. I went back to the doctor who put me on a different course of antibiotics. Same result, more money. The symptoms did eventually vanish, but came back some months later. Back to doctor, lab, and antibiotics.
After a period of some months, my symptoms began to return. But this time I decided to get a second opinion. This new doctor listened to my symptoms and, without even examining me, said he doubted I had any infection, that it was probably just an inflamed muscle. His prescription? Just relax.
Within one week, and without spending a cent, my symptoms vanished and have never returned.
What this meant, of course, was that the first doctor and his cohort with the lab had deliberately misdiagnosed me. An inflamed muscle, you see, meant several hundreds of dollars less profit for both of them. Knowledgeable people tell me that the majority of doctors in this country are both unethical and incompetent. But Health Minister Colm Imbert isn't exactly the most truthful man around &endash; remember his denial about the removal of the Red House sea serpent? - and this is certainly a key reason why the health crisis has reached where it has. This is a fundamental failing of our society: the duplicity which so many of our leading citizens habitually, indeed reflexively, practise.
Now it is true that some lies are necessary in order to maintain harmonious relations with other people. Indeed, one of the central paradoxes of human existence is that we usually lie most to the person we are most intimate with ("No, you don't look fat in that dress", "Yes, babe, I came".) There are, however, three groups of persons for whom deliberate lying seems to be habitual: politicians, religious fundamentalists, and pseudo-intellectuals.
The puzzle to me is whether these persons know they're lying or whether they actually believe what they say. When Attorney General Glenda Morean, who used to be a sensible and decent woman, said that the present crime wave was the result of the UNC regime ignoring black people, did she really believe her own stupidness?
Or take creationists. These persons insist that evolutionary theory has no scientific basis and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. But some of them are educated enough to know that such assertions are complete nonsense. Indeed, I once sent information to a local creationist refuting every point he had raised, yet afterwards he still wrote a letter to the editor insisting that evolution was wrong.
But I find it difficult to believe that these persons are lying for lying's sake. At the same time, they must know that they are lying: so what is their justification? The only answer I can come up with is that they think moral truth justifies factual lies. That is, because the Bible/Gita/Qu'ran is supposedly God's word, it is okay to reject anything that contradicts these texts, even scientific facts.
Then there are those individuals who like to seem intellectual but who place ideology before empiricism and logic. For example, when columnists call for reason and critical thinking, but at the same time abjure any such standards when dealing with issues like free trade or 9/11, that is dishonest. When the Chamber of Commerce argues that the death penalty must be carried out because most people want it but two days later rejects this democratic view in order to criticise the raising of the minimum wage, that is dishonest. When academics and other experts assert that TV makes children more violent or that thoughts of abortion by a mother increases violent tendencies in the foetus, that is dishonest.
This is a state that psychologists call "cognitive dissonance": a mismatch between what one believes and actual reality. Most people have some degree of cognitive dissonance, but people only lie &endash; to themselves and to others - when reality contradicts two specific beliefs: (1) "I am nice" and (2) "I am in control". Perhaps this is why religious believers and ideologues so readily ignore hard facts, since religion and ideology help people believe that they are morally superior and/or powerful. This might also explain why so many of this country's doctors, who have power of life and death, are so unethical.
None of this answers my original question, as to whether people actually believe their lies or not. But it certainly explains why truth-tellers rarely become politicians, are only occasionally trade union leaders, and are never ever television evangelists.
Copyright ©2003 Kevin Baldeosingh