Craig Thompson’s credibility, and why we (and Tony Abbott) tell lies

25 Aug

Embattled member for Dobell, Craig Thompson, continues to steadfastly maintain that he did not authorise the use of his Health Services Union credit card to pay for the services of prostitutes.

The card was apparently used to obtain many other non-work related services, and there’s $100,000 in cash withdrawals unaccounted for. Thompson continues to insist that his signature was forged.

The Union has now, somewhat belatedly some might consider as problems were first detected in 2008, referred the matter to the police. Fair Work Australia have also been investigating for this period, at a glacial pace it would seem.

As the inimitable Barnaby Joyce put it, if Thompson is the victim of a fraud this would have entailed someone breaking into Thompson’s house, stealing his wallet and credit card, using it  for nefarious purposes, breaking into the house again and returning the wallet and card, all of which must have gone undetected by Thompson. Or he’s lying. Take your pick, said Barnaby.

Around the age of two we usually begin to understand that other people and their minds are separate from us. This is the precursor to lying because in order to deceive someone, we need first have some understanding of what they might be thinking.

The tendency to lie is a natural one: as soon as we learn we have language with which to defend ourselves, we use it in order to avoid trouble and punishment. Part of the process of maturation is that we hopefully learn more useful and rewarding ways to deal with difficulties, rather than resorting to lies.

Lying can also be a sign of intelligence and cognitive skill. An accomplished liar convincingly  creates an alternative version of reality, and maintains it. This is most effective when the liar convinces him or herself that this version is truth. This isn’t difficult: if we tell the same lies often enough they gain authority within our own minds and lying becomes easier.

The motives for lying are usually tied up with self-esteem and self-preservation. We want to create the best version of ourselves, we don’t want to face the consequences of our actions,we want respect. We lie about mistakes to avoid punishment, we lie because it often works, at least for a time, and brings benefits.

However. Lies can be self-perpetuating: more lies have to be told in order to maintain the original deceit. The more serious the lie, the more it erodes trust in all social relations. Truthfulness and straightforwardness are the glues that hold society together and allow us to function: not everything can be governed by written contracts.

For example, Tony Abbott‘s declaration that his word means nothing unless it is recorded and signed is a profound breach of public trust. Whether or not he maintains this same position in his intimate life, I don’t know. One would hope not, and it isn’t unusual for a practiced liar to engage in the kind of cognitive dissonance that allows him or her to be highly principled in one area of their lives, and a complete scoundrel in another.

Clearly not everything a politician says can be formalized, and Abbott’s admission is a warning that he cannot be held accountable as he is a self-professed liar. In this he differs from Thompson, who insists that he is truthful against mounting evidence that this is either not the case, or he is part of a bizarre conspiracy that requires him to protect a guilty party by stoically shouldering the blame and humiliation of serious accusations. Somebody used the credit card. Somebody made large cash withdrawals. If not Craig, who?

Either way, Thompson is involved in a serious deception.

Lying isn’t always a bad thing and sometimes it’s necessary. The wise lie with awareness and care, and they know when to come clean. In general, it’s less complicated to tell the truth, and some research indicates that while people can forgive a lie when it’s confessed, they find it very difficult to forgive  serious and repeated deception that involves extended violation of trust. Nobody enjoys the shock of discovering they’ve been lied to. It can change a relationship permanently.

In general, human beings have positive expectations about another’s behaviour. We tend to take things at face value unless we have a reason not to, or have already been seriously damaged by a liar.We survive on the assumption that others are co-operative and trustworthy. If we didn’t we’d grind to a halt, because the energy required to stay constantly alert to the possibility of lies and to check everything, would detract from our ability to function. There’s a balance between being ludicrously naive and reasonable wary, and it pays to be co-operative.

Deception causes enduring and significant harm. This may be why politicians are frequently so despised. “Lying politicians” has become a tautology. Politician’s violations of public trust have long-lasting effects. They seem to have very little idea of their enormous responsibility for constructing and maintaining the kind of society in which we all live, and they apparently don’t care, with a few exceptions.

When the rot starts at the top, that sets the tone. If a country is governed overwhelmingly by liars and deceivers, nobody should be surprised if lies and deceit are the order of the day in all parts of its society.

Of course, in the Thompson matter there’s always the possibility of an evil twin.

9 Responses to “Craig Thompson’s credibility, and why we (and Tony Abbott) tell lies”

  1. Marilyn August 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Of course there is the possiblity he is telling the truth, just like Theo Theophanus, David Hicks, Lindy Chamberlain, the Bakhtiyari’s, Mamdouh Habib and other victims of victious media campaigns.

    Grow the hell up.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

      Hell, Marilyn, why do you keep telling me to grow the hell up? I don’t want to. You can’t make me.
      If he’s telling the truth, and I don’t dismiss that idea out of hand do I, so then why doesn’t he explain what’s going on and shut everybody up?
      Somebody used his card for piles of stuff and tons of money – after nearly three years of being asked, he won’t tell anybody anything except “I didn’t do it.”
      Now he’s forced everybody to get the police in. If he’s known for three years that somebody has been forging his signature to get stuff and money on his union credit card, how come he hasn’t called the police in himself?
      Bart Simpson isn’t it Sam Jandwich? “I didn’t do it”


      • Sam Jandwich August 26, 2011 at 11:36 am #

        Oh no, could it be that ever since I junked my TV I’ve been gradually running out of things to talk about*(

        Still, the only person who needs to grow up here is Craig Thompson – and it’s sort of funny to think that, whereas we allow the Bob Jellys of this world their place in society, as long as they don’t overreach themselves and run for parliament, if we were in China he’d probably be executed!! (pending a trial of course).


  2. Steve at the Pub August 25, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Your joke falls flat Marilyn, as of those you list, Theo Theophanus & Lindy Chamberlain actually WERE telling the truth.


  3. HP August 27, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    I believe it is Thomson.
    I’m not sure why I should take an argument seriously when the writer is too lazy to get the name of her subject right… not once (which would be a typo, and completely excusable), but nine times.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 27, 2011 at 10:34 am #

      Oh, dear the old spelling thing.
      I guess you will just have to decide if the misspelling of a name is sufficient reason to dismiss an entire argument!

      BTW I just read your piece in NM on sexual autonomy and sexual assault – I think it’s excellent.

      And if it isn’t you, well, hell, I got the name wrong again and apologies to the other HP


  4. Marilyn August 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Well the law experts claim he has broken no laws so suck it up. I agree with you though Jennifer, I don’t want to grow up either but I don’t like knee jerk reactions to anything.

    It is Brandis who has in fact broken the law by trying to force an investigation based on dodgy papers and non-laws.

    The problem with jerking knees is broken jaws that can’t find a way to mutter “sorry”.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 27, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      Well, I never said he’d done anything illegal, I just said he’d been and was being deceptive. I’m intrigued by the drama of it – it wouldn’t matter hardly a toss if the government wasn’t in such a precarious position.
      Scipione says Brandis hasn’t broken any laws either.
      Now the Union’s called the police in, so I guess they’re finally a bit put out by the unexplained loss of their $100,000.
      If he is charged with anything it could take years. But as a weapon to get him to resign I think it’s a fizzer.
      There’s never been any necessary correlation between lying through your teeth and breaking the law. Sometimes, quite coincidentally, there is.

      Like Strauss Kahn – the charges were dismissed but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.


  5. Steve at the Pub August 29, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    There is no doubt what has gone on.

    The reason it isn’t bigger news (as the premier political scandal of the past several years) is that this is the type of conduct the population expect from trade union officials. The only people remaining in trade unions (give or take 15% or so) are those who are prepared to put up with their representatives behaving this way.
    Thus unions are basically dull witted public service types & boofheads on building sites. Regular people aren’t prepared to stomach this type of conduct. Particularly the “underbelly” angle (In addition to the corruption).
    The trade union movement would have even less members if it wasn’t propped up & protected by legislation. Were it a free market of unionism, they’d be in real trouble.


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