Sunday 15 July 2018

The Big Lie

by Marie-Louise Jensen

Hitler first mentioned die große Lüge  - the big lie - in his work Mein Kampf. The principle behind it was that people tell small lies themselves all the time in their everyday lives, and thus they are good at spotting small lies told by others.

Big lies on the other hand, seem shameful, most people don't like to tell them, so when someone does, they seem too outrageous to be made up - the listener is inclined to believe there must be a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Hitler, of course, claimed this was a technique used by Jews to get people to believe their propaganda.

Sixteen years later, Goebbels also mentioned the big lie. He claimed English leaders 'lie big' and stick to their lies. And that they keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking stupid.

When the Americans profiled Hitler, they drew the conclusion that this was exactly the technique Hitler himself used; he lied, he lied big and he stuck to it, never admitting a fault. Thus proving how much of demagoguery is projection. Corrupt leaders accuse others of doing what they themselves practise.

It is hard to refute a huge lie. We all know of one, for example, on a bus in our more recent past. So obviously a lie and all the harder to call out for its breathtaking brazenness. Surey no one would paint a whole bus with a lie? A simple, catchy lie is especially hard to contradict.

It's also hard to call out projection. Many of us will know that from interpersonal relationships. If someone accuses you of something they do themselves, you quickly sound ridiculous and weak claiming 'No, that's what YOU do.' And it's no different in politics.

When unscrupulous politicians of all nationalities use these techniques, they are not doing it by accident. It is calculated, in the way any abuser calculates their behaviour, intending it to undermine, confuse and confound their opponents.

It has recently come to be called gaslighting, after the 1938 stage play Gas Light. But originally, it was the big lie, and it is as effective and difficult to combat in the present as it was in the past.
We know we should learn from history, and yet it seems at times we are doomed to helplessly repeat the very worst aspects of it.


Sue Purkiss said...

A very timely post - thank you.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Agreed, Sue, very timely!