Terrorism and the Evolution of Deception

Politicians and pundits often use terrorism to promote the interests of their financiers. This fear mongering goes hand in hand with attempts at war profiteering, population control, and the concentration of political power. What many are beginning to discover is that deception is integral to the success of the terrorism business. That is, the official accounts of terrorist events are typically fraught with omissions of fact and the concealment of clues that point to the involvement of more powerful people. The success of these false accounts reveals important aspects of human nature and points to ways in which thoughtful people can help to overcome such challenges.

There will always be a few people greedy enough to lie to others for personal gain, but we can live with this. What we can’t live with is large numbers of people lying to themselves because habitual self-deception is fatal. Long-term successful lies require motivated liars but also willing listeners and when millions or billions of citizens engage in such duplicity they make it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to survive.

political-manipulationIt’s common to see people blaming the government or the media for lying and taking advantage. That’s not surprising because, in general, politicians are highly evolved lying machines and the media is rewarded for telling the majority what they want to hear in ways that promote business interests. But what is really needed to overcome that pattern is to examine how lies told by authoritative sources are accepted so easily, making it possible for some to exploit this weakness.

All people lie to themselves. We lie to justify our past actions, to promote ourselves relative to others, and to protect our self-image. The psychological biases and defense mechanisms behind these lies have been studied and are well documented.

Here are a few of the known psychological biases. 

  • Self-serving bias: The tendency to take credit for success and blame external factors for failure
  • Egocentricity bias: The tendency to exaggerate the importance of one’s role in past events
  • False consensus bias: The tendency to believe that most people share one’s opinions and values
  • Assumption of uniqueness: The tendency to overestimate one’s uniqueness
  • Self-righteous bias: The tendency to regard oneself as having higher moral standards or greater moral consistency than others have
  • In-group / out-group bias: The tendency to view members of groups to which one belongs in a more positive light than members of groups of which one does not belong

Examples of known defense mechanisms are as follows.

  • Repression: Motivated amnesia
  • Projection: Misattributing some aspect of oneself to someone else
  • Disavowal (or denial): Disbelieving a true memory or perception
  • Reaction-formation: Representing an attitude or emotion as its opposite
  • Rationalization: Attributing mental states to false reasons
  • Acting out: Precipitately acting to preempt conscious awareness

These are ubiquitous aspects of human psychology—not specific to any cultures or geographic regions. All people lie to themselves to some degree in these ways. Such lies are, without a doubt, largely activated by the unconscious mind but, as Freud noted, almost all of life is a matter of unconscious activity. The conscious mind, or the remembered present, is less involved in, and less capable of directing our lives than most people realize.

Humans developed this tendency to self-deceive through natural selection. Self-deception evolved as a way to better deceive others. Of course, deception of others was an evolutionary advantage whenever there was a limited availability of certain necessities, like food and mates. In response, detection of deception became an evolutionary advantage, as people learned to detect subtle physical clues in the deceiver. Furthermore, individuals who could successfully lie to themselves were naturally selected because they were less likely to give themselves away when lying to others. It seems that self-deception arose in conjunction with lie detection, with the two traits evolving in a sort of early arms race.

The evolution of language allowed for the skills of deception to overtake the skills of detection. The higher, linguistic consciousness facilitated more overlap between mental images due to the uncertainty, or play, in the meaning of terms. The power of language and semantics also gave way to a higher consciousness where internal concepts like the self-image originated. The imbalance between skills of self-deception and skills for detecting self-deception was enhanced by this increased level of uncertainty, and by the higher priority given to the self-image over other internal images.

We all strive to maintain a positive self-image and the increasing amount of time and energy devoted to this task is presenting risk to our real selves. In fact, we seem to defend our self-image as much or more than we defend our actual physical selves and this involves engaging in what Jean-Paul Sartre called “bad faith”. Since the self-image is not real, lying to protect it wastes energy and lowers our chances of being able to respond to any real challenges in our physical environment.

Politicians regularly co-opt our self-image by appealing to our sense of national identity and claiming to speak for it. When selling or promoting a policy, they wrap themselves in the flag. The biases and defense mechanisms noted above come into play when our personal identities are linked to our national identity. Using claims of an elusive, external threat, as with terrorism, government and media can manipulate these tendencies to frame and control the mindset of the average citizen. It all begins with self preservation, whether real or imagined.

In the United States the political system is carefully controlled to provide only two identities—Democrat and Republican. Once chosen, that simplisitic identity functions as a handle by which citizen viewpoints can be more easily controlled. Americans often don’t realize how little difference actually exists between the two parties. Moreover, politicans and media would have more difficulty manipulating a public that identified itself with more than two political viewpoints.

Similarly, each belief and opinion we adopt adds something to our self-image and creates something more to defend. Those who want war for their own purposes frequently utilize differences in religion to inflame the target populations and divert attention away from the real, usually resource-related, motivations. In more simple ways, our opinions on the subject of the day represent positions that, once made, pose risk to our identity and make it difficult for us to change our minds.

Our self-image must fit into an ever-changing mental environment or worldview. Today the rate of input from television and internet media forces people to make rapid adjustments to either their worldview or their self-image in order to maintain their mental “place in the world.” To complicate things, the media are now operated by only a few corporate interests and the internet is at increasing risk of becoming a closed, controlled-message system.

The mental environment of most people is changing and being manipulated very rapidly, with little predictability relative to the changes humanity has seen in the past. At the same time corporate interests are pursuing a power grab strategy that places the survival of the average person at a very low priority. Add to this a climactic evolutionary mental imbalance that indicates that we can no longer tell if we’re lying to ourselves, and we find ourselves in a dangerous predicament.

As thoughtful people work to monitor and reveal deception related to terrorism and other crimes, an effort to get to the root of these problems is needed. To overcome the challenges of deception there is an urgent need to understand and educate on human limitations, including self-deception and uncertainty in communications.

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13 Responses to Terrorism and the Evolution of Deception

  1. aletho says:

    Dominance is the real motivation of the warmongers. Resources are plentiful and freely traded.

    • mikecorbeil says:

      Resources are plentiful. The Earth is rich, albeit with our extremely polluting and other destructive ways, the planet has definitely lost a lot of its former health.

      But, there isn’t really free trade. There’re fair and unfair trading but not free trading when referring, f.e., to the corporate world or business. Bartering involves exchange of goods and services without use of money for the exchange and this is trading. It also isn’t free, for there’s an exchange of goods and/or services. But it isn’t trading as usually referred to today. In the capitalist world anyway, trading implies money, income declarations for tax purposes, etc, and western govts, maybe some others as well, prohibit bartering unless it’s declared to the tax predator called government.

      I’m a citizen of the US and Canada and am not sure in which one that I read the above about bartering, but the govt would accept it as long as people who do bartering inform the govt about this. Otherwise, undeclared bartering was illegal, according to the govt.

      Free is a word too lightly used by many people depending on what they’re talking about. In the case of trading as usually meant today, in western industrialized, capitalist, … societies, there’s no such thing as free trading.

      The Earth’s rich resources are polluted, destroyed, plundered. Ask the Congolese of the DRC and real indigenous peoples who remain true to their indigenous heritages if they think of the plundering of their resources if “free trade”. I don’t think they’ll say “yes”. After all, they’re genocided so that their resources can be stolen for the profits of others. Their environments are plundered, destroyed and polluted by extremely reckless exploiters. I doubt the indigenous peoples of this planet would vote for this to be done to them.

  2. Ted Redmond says:

    Superb article! Your point of how viewpoints can be controlled through the polarization of our culture in our binary current political atmosphere is dead-on. It leads to a weakening of thoughtful discourse on how to resolve challenges meaningfully.

    • mikecorbeil says:

      The culture should be defined by “The People” and not politicians or govt. While the politicians, govts, corporate chiefs and media work to try to deceive us, I hold the average, say, citizen responsible. Too many are stupidly gullible and I don’t think we can or should hold the govt, corporations, media or schools responsible for this; certainly not solely anyway. Instead, every individual must develop and nourish a real conscience.

      That’s true about culture and politics. We each need to develop and nourish real conscience and it needs to be moral, ethical or healthy, however you wish to call it.

      Real education begins in the home. There’re problems, lacunes in that respect, but it’s where qualitative socialization, say, should start. People shouldn’t rely on govt, media or schools to educate their children in social as well as political terms.

      I can say much more about this but will leave it with the above. Voters are as guilty as the “powers that be” are.

  3. mikecorbeil says:

    Quote: “Long-term successful lies require motivated liars but also willing listeners and when millions or billions of citizens engage in such duplicity they make it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to survive.”

    That seems like an unreasonable reasonable estimate. But, quote:

    “It’s common to see people blaming the government or the media for lying and taking advantage. That’s not surprising because, in general, politicians are highly evolved lying machines and the media is rewarded for telling the majority what they want to hear in ways that promote business interests. …”

    That’s in good/bad part true, but, quote: “All people lie to themselves. …”

    Imo, not all do. Everyone can make mistakes in judgement, and some people are just too fearful. I don’t think absolutely everyone lies to themselves; not intentionally anyway. We can certainly be ingorant, for everyone is some things more than others. It’s something to always be sensitively aware of. I know of being ignorant about many things, and that’s for a fact, so I need to be careful, sometimes super, extra careful, depending on what the subject matter is.

    Some people, however, have some degree, say, of knowing that they lie to themselves and the lies can be about very, very sick things.

    Lying can serve two witting purposes though, besides other people doing it pathologically as if they have no real motive at all and don’t fully realize that they’re lying. Speaking of the witting purposes (and there might be more than two, maybe), some people might lie with full knowledge of it in order to try to unjustly deceive innocent people; like, f.e., charlatans, who find kindred among politicians et al. The other reason might be to try to protect innocent or believed-innocent people against others who certainly appear to be or obviously/provably are of mal intent. In the latter case, take, for hypothetical example, some people who come to you, you don’t know them, they tell you that someone else who knows of the two of you told them that you’ve close relation to the individual being sought, and those people firmly demand that you tell them where that other person is. Do you wisen up to this situation and say that you don’t know the whereabouts of the individual, or do you tell them where the person can be found; assuming that you do know where he/she is? Be perceptive and careful. Say you don’t know where the person is even if you do know. “Better safe than sorry”, an old expression says.

    Lying isn’t “black & white” bad. When it’s to unjustly deceive others, then lying certainly is measurably Bad, but when it’s for protecting against injustices, then we can have measurable Good. I’d never want to lie for ill intent.

  4. mikecorbeil says:

    With my prior comment I hadn’t realized your article was based on Sigmund Freud stuff.

    Be careful with that “psychology”. It’s tricky turf that he had limited experience with and mostly speculated upon based on some (limited) experiments and his own thoughts. It isn’t hard core science as much as it is speculation or theory. He may’ve been adequately to very right in some respects, but, and based on your article, he had limited understanding of lying, for it can be done to help try to prevent injustice, even if that might represent a much smaller sampling of examples of lying.

    Experience is the “Great Teacher” in life and he evidently had little. His experience was mostly academics and theoretical. “People of the Lie” by Dr Speck is a theoretical work, the Wikipedia page says, but I read a good portion of the text and know for a fact that people, not everyone but still too many people lie as he described and it’s difficult to believe that they don’t know that they’re lying. I can theorize that they’re aware of it and sickeningly enjoy being malevolant, but can’t presently affirm that they were as fully aware of it as we can get for impression from them. It even becomes like they couldn’t know that they’re lying and that they’re doing it in a very sick manner, but this is my theoretical perception, say. However, I very possibly wouldn’t have arrived at such a strong view without experience. I strongly believe that many of them know that they’re lying and that it’s a socially sick manner, but to what extent that they realize this remains a question I’m still not able to affirmatively or firmly answer. I still have a ? about it.

    There’re people who lie for sick reasons that they can variably know about, but we can also lie for valid, just reasons, in which case it’s witting and a matter of trying to protect against injustices.

    Based on your article, Freud didn’t consider the positive purposes of sometimes lying and doing it wittingly. He apparently “bought into” the taboo that all lying is bad when it’s possible that it becomes necessary, to protect against injustices.

    Lying is a “taboo” sort of thing, but it can also save innocent lives against injustice(s).

    Experience is the Teacher. School benches are good for theories. Practice makes perfect and that takes experiences.

    There’ve been other critics of some of Freud’s work in psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, nd some of these people might be wrong, but one thing for sure is that some understandably did criticize his work and he most definitely isn’t God Almighty. Another thing that’s evidently certain is that he didn’t have much personal experience and was just an academic, most of all. When dealing with the real world, real life, experience is top-most beneficial.

    Psychology, psychiatry, … are not hard core physical sciences.

  5. mikecorbeil says:

    Your point is well taken with respect to politics and people needing to develop real conscience, but as already stated in a comment submitted yesterday and which you evidently haven’t approved of, Freud isn’t God Almighty when it comes to the topic of lying and, therefore, attempts to try to deceive others. It’s possible that lying is necessary in order to protect against injustice. Lying certainly seems to usually be employed with ill intentions, but it can be done based on good, righteous motives. It can be important, even essential, to lie when it’s for just purposes to try to avoid contributing to injustices and thereby becoming complicit in them.

    You’re very right about lying and lying to ourselves, i.e., deceiving ourselves, as you say, but it, and from personal experience, is based on a limited rather than thorough understanding of why people can lie.

    Politics, however, provides endless examples of what I consider to be charlatanry and also some examples of what I think appears to be incompetence. The charlatanry doesn’t appear (to me) to be incompetence, for these people know the laws and wilfully disregard them. They seem to sometimes believe their lies; well, either sometimes, or else often. I’m not certain that they truly or fully believe their lies, but the certainly can seem to. This also seems to apply with their voting supporters, imo anyway. Many seem to be in wilful denial.

    Voters, that is, people eligible to vote and who do vote, have a strong tendancy of lacking critically objective thinking. They become blindly biased or partisan without critically thinking about what they’re doing. I read maybe a decade ago that over the 20th century the Dem. Party was guilty of more crimes of war or against humanity than the Repub. Party was, yet Dem. Party supporters seemed to fanatically communicate as if their party was holy and that the RP was evil.

    For me, there is no partisanship, for choices to make must always be made in critically objective terms.

    In January 2003, Bush received some journalists at the White House and was talking about it being right or righteous to war on Iraq. One journalist asked, “But what about the Constitution?”, meaning the US Constitution, and Bush replied that “it’s just a piece of paper”; meaning, unimportant and that it was ok to disregard it. How many people who do vote paid any attention to these words when these were reported? It apparently is extremely few people.

    Bush isn’t unique about that little bit of history, except that other politicians, or whatever they should be called, normally won’t state what they think in this respect. We can, however, see that most of them similarly don’t care about the Constitution. If they don’t care about it and, clearly, they mostly don’t, not seriously anyway, then they’re not going to care more for the Bill of Rights, or International laws, treaties and conventions. Instead, it’s gangsterism govt, roguish, corrupt.

    Critically objective thinking is what’s needed; this and sound, sane, healthy ethics.

  6. Terry McKibbin says:

    Much gratitude for digging to this level of truth about ourselves and fellow human beings. It appears that our immediate task is to educate ourselves and aid those whom are willing to learn this craft of deception such that we know the difference of being a participant in orchestrated manipulation verses a legitimate revolutionary of truth. I highly recommend, for consideration of valuable information in these matters, an additional article on the “The Art and Science of Co-option”, by Zahir Ebrahim, found here: http://print-humanbeingsfirst.blogspot.com/

  7. Tom Loeber says:

    Appreciate this article. I find it touches upon sorely needed perspective to expand upon the considerations offered in the recent book “Learn or Die” by Edward Hess which approaches decent citation and reference to well established observations unlike any blog can do. The only way I can make sense of Hess’s book is by considering the business that should seek being a successful High Performance Learning Organization is humanity and not any corporations or lesser defined factions. This results from more in depth consideration of the linguistic nature of the problem. Seems second-order cybernetic assumptions that detract from steerage of an ensemble on the basis of first-hand opinion are largely encoded in proper nouns. Appears if you want to find a way for a large number of high potential information handling entities to organize in a mutually positive way you’ll largely depend on terms that do not have any special meanings outside of science. Personal identity information, PII, for example, should not be the determinate of governance. It should not be who you are or know but what. Would have appreciated more references but expect one can do some net searching to find such. To date, I greatly admire your efforts to be of integrity.

    • mikecorbeil says:

      Tom Loeber,

      I might help if you wrote in a more intelligible manner. Humanity isn’t an organization, much less a business organization. Much human knowledge that was developed since ancient times has been lost, replaced with Big Pharma. products and other crap, f.e. This is known among indigenous people and the rest of us are idiots for not realizing that we had ancestors who also possessed some of this knowledge. “the linguistic nature of the problem” is very ambiguous. “second-order cybernetics” makes you seem like you possibly watch too much Star Trek. “It should not be who you are or know but what.”? Humans know little and aren’t going to advance much further. We’ll have people who acquire more scientific knowledge in some areas, f.e., cosmology, but don’t expect much else, if you wish to be realistic.

      As for lack of references for this article, I didn’t notice that there was such a lack; but, then, I knew that 9/11 and war on Afghanistan were Washington bs before the war was officially launched during the afternoon of 7 Oct. 2001. I’ve never read or heard of anyone having spoken of these simple clues and they were stated by GW Bush; but, the relatively famous “Jersey Girls”, four women who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks, were against the war from the moment news reports said that Washington was “considering” this action. These women spoke out “loud and clear”, in opposing the launching of this war. If not mistaken about this, then they began doing it before the war was launched and given the many critical questions they demanded answers to or for, maybe my few were among them. I only had a few very basic questions or arguments, well, questions that’re also arguments, so both. By the end of 2001, we already had activists working on this.

      That was learned after the fact for me, due to not having had Internet access from early 2000 until May or June 2002; not because I was convicted of any crime and imprisoned, but homelessness. However, I learned of the 9/11 attacks when they happened and listened to Bush on tv in some restaurant, before the war was launched. I immediately told some locals that Washington was full of bs again and that this war wasn’t justifiable. Oddly, perhaps anyway, everyone agreed. It was “pretty” funny that the others agreed. I didn’t know what to expect but was very pissed off about Washington bs happening AGAIN.

      What references, precisely, are you thinking that you’re lacking about terrorism and deception? Maybe, if you’re precise, I can provide some references. Try to be clear.

  8. Tom Loeber says:

    Mr. Corbeil

    There are some logic disconnects in your reply as well in others you place in this blog. Surely you realize a blog is not a scientific paper. Have you read many scientific papers? See if you can check out Edward Hess’ Sep. 2014 book “Learn or Die” to see exactly what I was referring to. I did not mean to imply that this blog is sharing misinformation at all or to detract from its salience. As a blog it is fabulous, IMHO.

    You seem to rail against Washington a lot. Myself, I think the evidence points to the Pentagon as the major orchestrator of the 9/11/01 events.

    Instead of second-order cybernetic assumptions try thinking second-hand opinions. Reliance on those is not good science which is why the scientific method aims to share how others can gain first hand observations of a phenomenon, repeatable experiments.

    Watched part of a documentary released in 2013 on hallucinogenics and how they have been found to be helpful to some. I think it points out that part of what gets people hooked on deception of themselves and others is linked to serotonin release mechanisms in our brains. In having pursued and found great value in William Glasser’s concept of positive addiction, we can think of people embracing being of little if any integrity as a negative addiction.

    • mikecorbeil says:

      Tom Loeber,

      Quote: “You seem to rail against Washington a lot. Myself, I think the evidence points to the Pentagon as the major orchestrator of the 9/11/01 events.”

      Myself, I think Kevin Ryan has been far more accurate and detailed. While it’s rather evident that some high-ups of the Pentagon or DoD were involved, there’s much more than this and as just stated, Kevin Ryan’s done excellent writing and speaking about this. Some people of the White House administration, perhaps especially Richard/Dick Cheney and then-U.S. Sec. of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, certainly seemed to have been involved in the orchestration of 9/11 and the planning evidently began years earlier. PNAC is often an example that’s used. Bush Jr surely wasn’t involved, for he surely would’Ve been considered too much of a risk. But, other people made up the PNAC “team” and weren’t military, not afaik anyway.

      Two things that’ve caused people to consider military chiefs as suspects is the war games the morning of 9/11 as well as NORAD not having taken actions to try to intercept any of the “hijacked” airliners. But Kevin Ryan has excellently pointed out, explicitly or others, that chiefs of the company that was responsible for security at the WTC definitely are highly suspect as well. I forget the name of the company but it should be easy to search this blog using, f.e., 9/11 and security for search terms.

      So, continue to believe whatever you want.

  9. Carolyn Bailey says:

    Thank you for your research and insights, Kevin.

    I have a problem with finding facts: so much of what is recorded or reported in any medium is what somebody wants us to think, not necessarily what really occurred in full. I am not in a position to fact-check everything I read or hear, and I am no longer sure if I can believe the facts I do check when whoever recorded them may well have intended to create the impressions they made on the reader and the conclusions he would draw from them. That includes everything from tv and movie documentaries to news reports to govt data. It seems to be a tactic of the supervisors of bad deed-doing to flood the public with so much contradictory and false info, mixed in with a little truth here and there to make it more plausible, that we become bewildered and can’t identify the actual facts or put them together to get the true picture with any certainty. Detection is indeed less and less possible, and self-deception becomes the default — make your best guess as to what is true while keeping an eye out for your own biases.

    I’d be lost in the mire if it weren’t for having the fact-finding and views of others whose judgement I trust, like you — but I wonder, how do you determine what is believable? Is your info on Atta’s and Oswald’s movements abroad from mainstream media reports, or did you get copies of CIA reports on them, or what? And, if we have to use a FOI request to get info from the govt. how do we know whether what we get is a genuine copy of the original, or a new version generated just for those who request one? Or just for a particular requester? If you have a decision tree in your head, will you write about it to give us guidance on comparing and estimating the truth value of a reported event?

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