Why we pay people to lie

Lying is painful for most people. All but the most inveterate, big-scale, Bernie Madoff-type, Trumpian liars feel dissonance when they tell the untruth. For some it’s moral, for some it’s upbringing, for some it’s social censure, but for all it’s the friction that happens when you deny what is real.

Because lying is so not fun, and since it has such enormous short-term utility, we hire people to do it for us. They are called politicians. For them, lying is a job prerequisite, and not because they are morally flawed, though many are. It’s a prerequisite because when one person “represents” the interests of many, it is necessary on a regular basis to reconcile irreconcilable positions and viewpoints.

The most expedient way to do this is to lie, and to lie well, especially when you are ignorant, or science-averse, or primarily funded by a particular viewpoint or value system. When the lie is caught you’ll be on to the next thing and hopefully able to help the people you just hurt by lying to the people you just told the last lie for. It’s a continual balancing game, an endless compromise for which no one has been able to find a remedy.

The system does not work, however, when you start telling the truth. It’s not your job to do that and it is a betrayal of the public trust when you take a position that is true, and hew to it come hell or high water.

For example, when the sports minister of France had this true prediction for the post-pandemic landscape: “Sports won’t be a priority in our society.”

The reaction was immediate and overwhelming as people in the cycling word professed being amazed and dumbstruck by this plain fact. And they piled on. “A lot of families live for sport.” “Sport is an important economic driver.” “She has to defend sport and fight for its priorities.”


No one bothered to ask if what she said was true or accurate or, dog forbid, good. Because if they did they’d have to answer that in the post-pandemic landscape, with no cure or containment in sight, sport is utterly meaningless at the professional level as a priority.

In a ravaged society, the priority is health, singular. After that come food, shelter, clothing, and education, all things under vigorous assault by the covid-19 contagion. Sport? How could that possibly be a priority? Physical activity should be a priority, certainly, especially since research is showing that healthier active people may fend off the virus better and survive it better. But encouraging people to get out and walk or engage in moderate exercise is hardly sport.

An additional 265,000,000 people will face severe malnutrition and starvation as a result of this pandemic. At home we are topping 28,000,000 unemployed with no end in sight. Daily food kitchens can’t keep up with demand throughout the country. Two trillion dollars in and we still haven’t scratched the surface of the ultimate bailout pricetag for the U.S. economy. States are facing bankruptcy. Our leadership is in such disarray that the U.S. president is advocating injections of detergent to fight the virus, perhaps riffing on a method often referred to as “detergent suicide.”

And in this landscape you want to talk about … sport as a priority? Priority for what? In cycling? Is this as broad as your vision ranges? Riding a bicycle for money, or in the case of most of the pro women peloton and most of the men’s Continental peloton, riding for no money at all?

Aggregating huge numbers of people in one place, guaranteeing the spread of the virus so you can continue your chosen profession, run your team, sell your product, or, better yet, enjoy the thrill of being a spectator? Lining public roads with hundreds of thousands of screaming fans on the Alpe so that you can continue your economic “ecosystem”? Is this your definition of a pandemic priority?

Of course some people will scream “Damn right!”

But that’s not the point. The point is that someone as highly placed as the national minister of sport should be able to lie better than that. Because if someone in her position starts telling the truth, who knows? Other, more highly placed people might start doing it, too.

And then we’d have hell to pay.


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4 thoughts on “Why we pay people to lie”

  1. I was quite shocked when something sensible came out of the UK government the other day. It made real sense I was dumbfounded.

  2. I never really liked Mark Madiot as rider. He just never grabbed my attention. Then I think he represented the riders in some kind of organization, and being French, he always sounded so French. Superior and all knowing. At least how some French are often portrayed. In many ways he represented the riders as best as he could. Then he became a Team director, and then I think he spoke for some group of teams that wanted to be known as The Teams That Don’t Dope. He started to sound a little more fanatical in this role, always sounding the “If you aren’t with us, then you are a doper team” line.

    And now, here he is “Mind Boggled” that the French Minister for Sport would say such a thing. As if no one in France has lost any loved ones because the virus ripped through their society on the backs, or breath of socialness.

    Good points Mr. Davidson

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