25 Sep 2020

Breeur (1.5) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.1.5, “Lies and Imposture”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.1.

The Last Judgment

 

1.5

“Lies and Imposture”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(1.5.1) Besides lying being condemned for doing damage to our relationship to ourself and to God (see section 1.4), it is also condemned for how it seems to adversely affect reality. “The unreal weakens the real” (22). And if we weaken the real by lying, we make the ground we stand on less secure. (So if we use lying to defend ourselves against accusations, then we are creating expectations about other facts that would necessarily follow from those lies. But often they will not correspond to reality either. Thus, using lies in self-defense often requires we make up more lies, further eroding the ground we stand on.) If rather we simply tell the truth, no further inconsistencies will arise by implication, and so the facts as they are, and our truthful statements about them, will suffice to secure us. This is a point made by Mark Twain and Montaigne. (1.5.2) When we lie, we substitute an imaginary version of facts for the real, given ones, thereby undermining them (As we noted before (see section 1.2)), facts, although unchangeable now, often could have been otherwise (and we discern these alternatives by imagining them. See section 1.3.) Thus, “there’s nothing that hinders you from inventing another version of them” (22). But when we do so, we encounter two problems. {1} We lose our solid ground. And {2} our urge to ignore reality worsens to an urge to destroy it. (1.5.3) By inventing false alternatives to reality, “the liar gradually loses contact with the facts” (23). Montaigne noted how by lying, liars lose their grip on the world, ultimately losing “control over the situation they themselves have created” (23). As a result, “what he or she fantasizes is a body without consistency that erases the memory of the truth against which this deceit fought” (23). (1.5.4) Thus, lying also carries with it the “ontological” danger of disrupting “the cohesion and coherence of the world we share. When lying, the risk is always too great that the simulation aspect takes precedence and makes both the liar and the interlocutor hopelessly drift away” (23). (1.5.5) (But some facts are nearly impossible to alter by means of lies. Regarding this,) Arendt tells an anecdote: Clemenceau said that historians one day certainly will not be able to claim that Belgium invaded Germany. (1.5.6) Successfully making such claim like ‘Belgium invaded Germany’ would require a massive and coordinated effort to change all the physical evidence needed to support that lie and to cover over the truth it is trying to bypass: “In order to succeed, an enormous number of traces, documents, stories, and witnesses would have to be eliminated. And to achieve this would require “no less than a power monopoly over the entire civilized world” (24). But as Breeur has noted, facts bear a fundamentally ambiguous nature. Such a task is not impossible. Moreover, “swindlers or imposters on the political scene dream of” pulling this off, and “the trademark of totalitarian states is the desire to rewrite history, and possibly even before the eyes of those who were its witnesses” (24). And what increases the chances of success for such attempts is that the public may prefer if certain lies were actually true or if they would prefer not to face certain unpleasant truths. “In short, in order to distort the truth at such a level, it is not enough to propagate a few false statements from time to time; you have to be able to impress, you have to be an actor.” (1.5.7) In order for a lie to be successful (especially a great political lie), much will be needed in addition to telling it in order to countervail the contradictions it creates among its implications and with the facts of the world: “A liar has to simulate, and therefore above all be able to play, be able to seduce and deceive, be able to set up a whole mise-en-scène and, on the basis of propaganda, enforce the false as a substitute for the true. The lie must be part of a global strategy aimed at imposing a more or less complete replacement of a part of history” (24). Yet, the problem is that truths are so well integrated with reality that these efforts require constant maintenance and supplementation in order for the lie to successfully persist: “Lies only survive as a continuous rearrangement of the untrue, never as a definitive replacement of the true” (24). (1.5.8) Lies untether the liar from reality. This causes destruction to the liar, because as the prevaricating continues, the lies come more to revolve “around emptiness,” thereby setting the liar “adrift” (25). (Liars who live false lives end up destroying their real selves and substituting them with false selves, thereby creating a new emptiness that renders what was originally there an emptiness too.) Breeur gives the example of Jean-Claude Romand, who put on an elaborate act to deceive family and friends into believing he was a doctor. (It was so thoroughgoing and long lasting that whatever real self there once was was replaced by a false non-self.) “There was nothing left, there was no ‘real’ Jean-Claude Romand. This is the fate of many lies: They drift away from what they originally wanted to dissimulate and end up gravitating around nothingness or the unreal” (25).

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

1.5.1

[Lies as Undermining External Reality]

 

(1.5.2)

[The Dangers of Lying]

 

1.5.3

[Lying and Losing One’s Grip on Reality]

 

1.5.4

[The Ontological Danger of Lying]

 

1.5.5

[The Enormity of the Task of Successfully Lying about Great Matters]

 

1.5.6

[Changing History with Lies and Acting]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

1.5.1

[Lies as Undermining External Reality]

 

[Besides lying being condemned for doing damage to our relationship to ourself and to God (see section 1.4), it is also condemned for how it seems to adversely affect reality. “The unreal weakens the real” (22). And if we weaken the real by lying, we make the ground we stand on less secure. (So if we use lying to defend ourselves against accusations, then we are creating expectations about other facts that would necessarily follow from those lies. But often they will not correspond to reality either. Thus, using lies in self-defense often requires we make up more lies, further eroding the ground we stand on.) If rather we simply tell the truth, no further inconsistencies will arise by implication, and so the facts as they are, and our truthful statements about them, will suffice to secure us. This is a point made by Mark Twain and Montaigne.]

 

[ditto]

Mendacity is also condemned for its effect on reality, or at least for the perception we have of it. The unreal weakens the real. By lying you deprive yourself of any solid ground. Mark Twain would have said: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” This sentence perfectly sums up what Montaigne writes about liars in his Essays. People with a bad memory would do well not to try to lie. The truth is very precise and well-defined, it has one face. The lie doesn’t.

(22)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.2

[The Dangers of Lying]

 

[When we lie, we substitute an imaginary version of facts for the real, given ones, thereby undermining them (As we noted before (see section 1.2)), facts, although unchangeable now, often could have been otherwise (and we discern these alternatives by imagining them. See section 1.3.) Thus, “there’s nothing that hinders you from inventing another version of them” (22). But when we do so, we encounter two problems. {1} We lose our solid ground. And {2} our urge to ignore reality worsens to an urge to destroy it.]

 

[ditto]

Lying means undermining real facts and replacing them with an imaginary version. Facts are what they are. Once they happened, you cannot get around them. But since they could have been otherwise, there’s nothing that hinders you from inventing another version of them. And this is exactly where the danger lies. On the one hand, that you yourself start to drift and lose solid ground. On the other hand, that you get | the urge to not only ignore what is fixed and what offers resistance but to destroy it, to erase or eliminate it.

(22-23)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.3

[Lying and Losing One’s Grip on Reality]

 

[By inventing false alternatives to reality, “the liar gradually loses contact with the facts” (23). Montaigne noted how by lying, liars lose their grip on the world, ultimately losing “control over the situation they themselves have created” (23). As a result, “what he or she fantasizes is a body without consistency that erases the memory of the truth against which this deceit fought” (23).]

 

[ditto]

The danger inherent to any lie exists above all in the ingenuity or inventiveness required to simulate. While inventing all kinds of things, the liar gradually loses contact with the facts. In addition to the fact that lying is morally “un mauvais vice,” or a bad wickedness, Montaigne also condemned it for the destabilizing influence it has on our grip on the world. While concealing the true content of facts in favor of a fabrication or pure invention, the liars often break adrift (“il se desferre”), they slip and start to lose control over the situation they themselves have created. Their statements lack the gravitational power or the “stubbornness” of a true fact.19 For what he or she fantasizes is a body without consistency that erases the memory of the truth against which this deceit fought.

(23)

19 “Si, com me la vérité, le mensonge n’avait qu’un visage, nous serions en meilleure situation [par rapport à lui), car nous prendrions pour certain le contraire de ce que dirait le menteur. Mais I ‘envers de la vérité a cent mille formes et un champ sans limites” (Michel de Montaigne, “On the Liars,” Essais [Paris: Gallimard (Quarto), 2009), p. 46).

(23)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.4

[The Ontological Danger of Lying]

 

[Thus, lying also carries with it the “ontological” danger of disrupting “the cohesion and coherence of the world we share. When lying, the risk is always too great that the simulation aspect takes precedence and makes both the liar and the interlocutor hopelessly drift away” (23).]

 

[ditto]

Hence, the lie is condemned not only for moral principles (lack of sincerity), for undermining mutual trust between people, but also for an “ontological” reason: It disrupts the cohesion and coherence of the world we share. When lying, the risk is always too great that the simulation aspect takes precedence and makes both the liar and the interlocutor hopelessly drift away.

(23)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.5

[The Enormity of the Task of Successfully Lying about Great Matters]

 

[(But some facts are nearly impossible to alter by means of lies. Regarding this,) Arendt tells an anecdote: Clemenceau said that historians one day certainly will not be able to claim that Belgium invaded Germany.]

 

[ditto]

In her essay “Truth and Politics,” Arendt tells the following anecdote. Shortly before his death, Clemenceau would have been involved in a discussion with a representative of the Weimar Republic about the question of responsibility and guilt for the outbreak of the World War I. To the question “What in your opinion will future historians think of this troublesome and controversial issue?” he would have replied “This I don’t know. But I know for certain that they will not say Belgium invaded Germany.”20

(23)

20 Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” in: Between Past and Future (London: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 239.

(23)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.6

[Changing History with Lies and Acting]

 

[Successfully making such claim like ‘Belgium invaded Germany’ would require a massive and coordinated effort to change all the physical evidence needed to support that lie and to cover over the truth it is trying to bypass: “In order to succeed, an enormous number of traces, documents, stories, and witnesses would have to be eliminated. And to achieve this would require “no less than a power monopoly over the entire civilized world” (24). But as Breeur has noted, facts bear a fundamentally ambiguous nature. Such a task is not impossible. Moreover, “swindlers or imposters on the political scene dream of” pulling this off, and “the trademark of totalitarian states is the desire to rewrite history, and possibly even before the eyes of those who were its witnesses” (24). And what increases the chances of success for such attempts is that the public may prefer if certain lies were actually true or if they would prefer not to face certain unpleasant truths. “In short, in order to distort the truth at such a level, it is not enough to propagate a few false statements from time to time; you have to be able to impress, you have to be an actor.”]

 

[ditto]

It goes without saying that establishing a falsehood of this magnitude requires more than the whims of a frivolous historian or “revisionist.” In order to succeed, an enormous number of traces, documents, stories, and witnesses would have to be eliminated. And to achieve this would require “no less than a power monopoly over the entire civilized world.”21 But isn’t that what some of the swindlers or imposters on the political scene dream of? Given the very conditional and ambiguous nature of facts, there is indeed nothing that could prevent a “man of action’’ from changing the story or erasing the traditional view of it. Today, we know that the trademark of totalitarian states is the desire to rewrite history, and possibly even before the eyes of those who were its witnesses. Moreover, these revisions of history often sound more convincing than reality, for they confirm what the public wants to hear and believe. Or they help to suppress collectively things that we don’t want to know. In short, in order to distort the truth at such a level, it is not enough to propagate a few false statements from time to time; you have to be able to impress, you have to be an actor.22

(24)

21 Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” p. 239.

22 Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” p. 250.

(24)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.7

[Maintaining the False]

 

[In order for a lie to be successful (especially a great political lie), much will be needed in addition to telling it in order to countervail the contradictions it creates among its implications and with the facts of the world: “A liar has to simulate, and therefore above all be able to play, be able to seduce and deceive, be able to set up a whole mise-en-scène and, on the basis of propaganda, enforce the false as a substitute for the true. The lie must be part of a global strategy aimed at imposing a more or less complete replacement of a part of history” (24). Yet, the problem is that truths are so well integrated with reality that these efforts require constant maintenance and supplementation in order for the lie to successfully persist: “Lies only survive as a continuous rearrangement of the untrue, never as a definitive replacement of the true” (24).]

 

[ditto]

A liar has to simulate, and therefore above all be able to play, be able to seduce and deceive, be able to set up a whole mise-en-scène and, on the basis of propaganda, enforce the false as a substitute for the true. The lie must be part of a global strategy aimed at imposing a more or less complete replacement of a part of history. But that is exactly where the problem lies. Such a substitute is never finished, plus it lacks the stubbornness and firmness of the facts. And that stubbornness can never be completely overcome. There will always be a detail or an unforeseen event that can cause everything to vacillate and collapse. Lies only survive as a continuous rearrangement of the untrue, never as a definitive replacement of the true.23

(24)

23 “Far from achieving an adequate substitute for reality and factuality, they have transformed facts and events back into the potentiality out of which they originally appeared” (Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” p. 257).

(25)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.5.8

[Destruction of the Real Self by the False Self: Adrift in a Double Emptiness]

 

[Lies untether the liar from reality. This causes destruction to the liar, because as the prevaricating continues, the lies come more to revolve “around emptiness,” thereby setting the liar “adrift” (25). (Liars who live false lives end up destroying their real selves and substituting them with false selves, thereby creating a new emptiness that renders what was originally there an emptiness too.) Breeur gives the example of Jean-Claude Romand, who put on an elaborate act to deceive family and friends into believing he was a doctor. (It was so thoroughgoing and long lasting that whatever real self there once was was replaced by a false non-self.) “There was nothing left, there was no ‘real’ Jean-Claude Romand. This is the fate of many lies: They drift away from what they originally wanted to dissimulate and end up gravitating around nothingness or the unreal” (25).]

 

[ditto]

A fake version of facts can only impress thanks to repression, mutilation, or even destruction of the original. There is something violent about lying or pretending. But this unlimited destruction also affects the liar. The deceiver himself or herself often gets caught in the web of his or her own lie. However, this drifting of the imagination leads to nothing. The more the lie dismisses the facts, the more it revolves around emptiness. Being “adrift,” as we will discuss in ensuing chapters, is exactly the fate of the imposter. What usually starts with one small and innocent lie often ends in tragedy. A lie simulates in a very specific context a world that does not correspond to the facts. As a liar, you have to make all kinds of turns in order to be able to neutralize, deny, or literally eliminate that which refutes your fake story. For 15 years, the false doctor Jean-Claude Romand had been telling his family and friends that he worked as an expert for the World Health Organization in Geneva. But this was based on a fraud: He was not a doctor. He drove his car into the woods every morning and waited there until the hour that it seemed reasonable “to come home from work.” In order to preserve his lies, he always had to adapt his role. He read and became an expert in highly specialized literature in medicine. Or he had to go to conferences, so to speak. But this whole staging increasingly served less and less to hide a truth (contrary to the lies of spies, secret agents, lovers). The simulation broke loose and lost the connection with a truth that had to be repressed. The problem is exactly that behind this deceiver’s lie: There was nothing left, there was no “real” Jean-Claude Romand. This is the fate of many lies: They drift away from what they originally wanted to dissimulate and end up gravitating around nothingness or the unreal.

(25)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

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