The US has a Napoleon Complex

Which is not to say that the country is overcompensating for being short. See, Napoleon wasn’t short. He was 5’7”, and for the time, that was average height.

But the British, for whatever reason, thought that by lying and saying he was short (based on the difference between the Imperial and Continental ways of measuring things), they would somehow make him seem less the general he was, and thereby defeat him.

Over time, that ad hoc lie became almost historical fact. To the point that it entered our lexicon and while not an official psychological disorder, it is often referred to when explaining short people who seek power (but it is ok for tall people to crave power, I guess?).

It’s the same situation with carrots. They don’t help improve your eyesight. The British needed a way to explain how good their pilots were at seeing in the dark during bombing raids in WWII, and were trying to not tip off the Germans to their discovery of radar (these British guys are really good at starting conspiracy theories, by the way).

The point is that lies can become truth if left uncontested. That is where we are today.

While both of these big lies are relatively benign, lies can be much more dangerous. In the US today, we are being assaulted by two conditions of lies that are much more malignant: 1) we have to deal with a liar, which is different than someone who lies; 2) the fabric of what is a fact, is being ripped apart.

Let’s take a closer look at the second point. Imagine a Scrabble game — or any game really — where someone plays the word “luddite” and racks up the points. Her opponent, sensing defeat, challenges. The two parties open Webster’s Dictionary they have handy (because they are older people, duh, they are playing Scrabble!) and the word is listed. Case closed. But the losing party still objects: “that dictionary is outdated. It lies. I don’t believe it is a word.” Stunned, her opponent does an online search and again, points to correct spelling and meaning of the word.

Her opponent still balks. “There is nothing you can tell me that will convince me,” she says and the game ends. In fact, every game ends when you can’t agree on the rules, or even how to interpret the rules.

But in life, it is not just a game. The courts, the law, the Constitution — even day-to-day civility — depends on knowing the rules, and on knowing when the rules are broken. If modern-day social luddites (seriously, it is a real word) deny the existence of facts themselves, our social contract game ceases to be. Do we really want that? Can we survive that? Even things that are less black and white —astronomy or economics — cannot exist without a structure (e.g., the scientific method) for us to move towards finding the truth when we have competing individual facts. Research, consensus and experimentation cannot be replaced by conjecture and opinion. If it does, our society just stops working.

Understanding bias is okay. Some people are biased. My dentist has a medical degree and I do not. When he tells me I need expensive dental procedures, it is okay for me to question if he is biased as I stare at the picture of his new boat on the wall. But, if after a second opinion or two, I am confronted with the same answer, it may be time for me to get a loan and get my teeth fixed.

Just because you don’t like a fact, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fact. Which brings us to the first half of my doomsday rant: liars.

Everyone lies. As I explain in my book Lessons from the Len Master, the act of lying and being a liar are two separate things. We all lie. One year, my then girlfriend’s sister sent me a pineapple upside-down cake to celebrate a new job. It was very thoughtful, but there were three issues with it:

  1. I don’t like pineapple upside cake
  2. She mailed it from Laughlin, Nevada to Las Vegas in a standard box when it was 100 degrees outside
  3. It was covered in hair from her three small dogs.

It was in the trash before I open the second flap on the box.

I called her, thanked her for sweet gesture and said it was delicious. I lied. She was happy. I didn’t get food poisoning and life went on. Most of us lie to protect others’ feelings, or to save embarrassment (Of course I didn’t regift that!), or sometimes because we are afraid of the consequences for telling the truth (I have not now, or ever been, a member of the Communist party, Senator).

Liars, on the other hand, use lying as a strategy for life. They repeat their lies. They change their lies. They hone them like broadswords and use them to attack others. They have decided that lying about anything and everything is easier than actually accomplishing anything. And while most people, when demonstrably caught in a lie will come clean, liars become offended. They dispute the lie. They dispute the evidence. They simply lie some more.

Eventually, all liars self-combust. They go to jail, get divorced or lose their job. But the damage they wrought to families, companies and everyone around them can be huge. When a liar becomes a person of importance, they can pull at the loose threads that sow doubt and make us believe that everything is fake. It doesn’t agree with what they want to believe about themselves. Yes, all politicians lie, but not all politicians are liars.

Unfortunately, we have a liar today, at the top echelon. You may not agree with my politics, or even believe that he is bad for the country, but if you dispute that he is a liar I am afraid the facts are not on your side. If you disregard the facts, you do so at your own peril. If we stop believing things we don’t like to hear, we destroy everything we say we want to protect (like our friendships, our family relations, and even our republic), and in the end when the emperor has no clothes on, the truth will still come out.

Emperor. Lies. A destroyed Republic. See, that’s why I think the U.S. has a Napoleon complex.