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High life

The lying game

Taki lives the High Life

20 February 2008

12:00 AM

20 February 2008

12:00 AM

Why do children lie? asks a boring headline in an even more boring Big Bagel magazine article. According to the bores who wrote it, children are encouraged to tell white lies, hence they get comfortable with being disingenuous, and insincerity becomes a daily occurrence. ‘Many books advise parents to just let lies go — they’ll grow out of it — the truth, however, is, kids grow into it.’ Dr Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at McGill University, is a leading expert on children’s lying behaviour. She tells the bores that lying is related to intelligence. ‘A child who is going to lie must recognise the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell the new reality to someone else.’ She has concluded that lying is a development milestone.

Well, I suppose Talwar reached her own development milestone when she uttered  this drivel, because that’s all it is, absolute crap posing as academic gibberish. According to associate professor Taki, children lie in order to escape punishment or in order to brag to their peers. All one needs is common sense, the ingredient most lacking in high places, especially since modern ethics took hold. In my day, the first thing one learnt from one’s parents was that lying was bad. My German nanny used to tell me that hiccups were proof that I had lied. Invariably she was proved right.

What is fascinating is the ease with which politicians lie, and the way the so-called people forgive them for lying. Space prohibits me from listing famous liars, but one who stands out has to be Lillian Hellman, the American playwright who wrote The Children’s Hour, Little Foxes, and memoirs such as Pentimento and An Unfinished Woman. Hellman’s memoirs were filled with outright lies, and as Mary McCarthy noted, ‘including and and but’. Hellman, it transpired, had never travelled to Nazi Berlin to deliver money to an anti-Hitler group, nor had she raised bail for Dashiell Hammett in 1951. In fact, when he begged her to post bail for him — they were living together — she had fled in fear to Europe during the Congressional anti-American hearings. Hellman was a compulsive liar, always ready to improve herself with a whopper while demeaning others with the same. I met her once in Washington DC, at the opening of Little Foxes starring Elizabeth Taylor, back in 1981. She was extremely arrogant, ugly and unpleasant once the daughter of a US Senator had introduced me as a conservative.

Another famous liar was Alger Hiss, a man I met at a Spectator lunch during the late Seventies. The irony is that I caught him telling a big one just as I turned my back. Hiss was a gentleman and had nice manners and he was also of a certain age, so I let it go. I had been complimentary about Bill Buckley, but after I turned I heard him expressing sorrow that a nice young man like myself had been totally betrayed by Buckley. I suppose the man couldn’t help it. He had lied for so long about his communist connections, mendacity had become second nature.

Mind you, all politicians lie, except some more than others. Yet I’d bet my last devalued greenback that Enoch Powell never lied; he was too great a man to resort to it. Jesse Helms ditto. British politicians were not famous for lying, but now they are, thanks to Tony Blair. The Clintons, of course, have set the standard. No one, not even Lloyd George, can approach them in the art of mendacity. Bill Clinton lied to the Greeks about the Elgin Marbles, lied about meeting Palestinian children who expressed love for Israel and peace, lied about remembering church burnings in his native Arkansas which never took place, lied constantly and about everything, and got into trouble the only time he should have lied, about having sex with that woman. Anyone who can bring the word ‘is’ into question has to be a bigger liar than Baron Münchhausen, but the poor baron had an excuse. Many tall stories were attributed to him by fellow officers.

But Clinton managed to get away with most of his whoppers. He lied about his army service and he lied about the lies he told in order to get out of it, and lied about his trip to Moscow during the height of the Cold War. Now he’s preparing to get back into the White House and Air Force I, and is lying like hell about Barack Obama. Clinton and Hillary both reek of self-pity instead of celebrating their number-one ranking among liars the world over. Which brings me to the most useless hearings since I was dragged in front of a Greek court for having libelled the Greek press. (I called it yellow and the hacks took it badly.) I am, needless to say, referring to the Fayed v. MI6 hearings at the High Court.

It is obvious to anyone not in the pay of Mohamed Fayed that if the Stevens inquiry into the Paris accident, as well as the French and the European Court, decided that that’s all it was, an accident, the present circus is just wasting time and tax-payers’ money. These witnesses can’t all be telling the truth, but the hearings are so weird that nothing will ever come of them. About the only thing they do reveal is that Britain is dysfunctional.

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