When was the last time you told a lie? Why did you do so? This interesting and carefully researched book delves into a destructive aspect of human nature that most of us spend a lot of time not thinking about. Rowe’s extensive experience as psychologist and evident interest in history, politics and science gives her a very broad basis for her fascinating insights into why we resort to lying from a very early age. Our sense of self is so precarious, argues Rowe, that we will do anything to preserve it – even lie to ourselves.
She has some sharp observations to make about those in her own profession who insist on continuing to follow the practices of Freud, even though his observations and studies have been superseded by modern techniques such as brain scans, which shows us that there is no inherent ‘inner core’ within each of us. Rather, our brain receives a mass of external information about the world around us and resolves this input into a pattern that we think of as ‘self’. However your ‘self’ is nothing like my ‘self’ because my touch, taste, hearing, vision and imagination that constitutes my sense of who I am, are quite different to your various sensory impressions. I found this first section of the book profound and absorbing as she explains just how we use lies to defend ourselves, make ourselves more likeable and bolster our own self esteem, in addition to preserving our fragile ‘self’. The explanations as to what impels people to lie were riveting and illuminating – I certainly recommend any student of human nature reading the book for this section, alone.
However, Rowe extends her analysis to the professions, business, religion and politics. By citing recent events, such as America and Britain’s ill-planned war on Iraq under the guise of seeking weapons of mass destruction, she contends that lies have cost lives and billions of dollars. She goes on to denounce the hypocrisy of bankers and businessmen who become enmeshed in scandals like that of Enron and more recently, the selling of sub-prime mortgages that led to the financial crisis which is currently making all our lives miserably insecure. Rowe is an Australian and it shows. She doesn’t pull her punches as she points the finger and wags it reprovingly at a number of well-known statesmen and financiers for their dishonesty and complete lack of guilt.
Whether you agree with her analysis or not, this book is a readable, thought provoking reflection on our society and a basic faultline in human behaviour that Rowe argues, we should all consider taking more seriously.