"They couldn't say it if it wasn't true."  That’s how one of my elderly relatives used to chide me, bless her heart, when I mocked the tabloid newspapers.  Years ago, in a spirit of fun, I attached to my university office door a page from the Weekly World News showing a story about Bill Clinton getting advice from space aliens visiting from the planet with the most advanced economy in the galaxy.  I reluctantly took it down after several of my students thought I was serious.

Well, at least they asked.

Now come up to the present.  We live in the day of politicized medicine, science, teaching, news reporting, “fact checking,” administration of justice, and internet censorship.  One of the pundits said recently that we shouldn’t complain about things being politicized, because politics just means governing ourselves.  Yes, of course.  But what I mean by the term is governing ourselves crookedly – manipulating people and telling lies for political advantage.

The amazing thing isn’t that the people running these scams lie.  It’s that they lie even when they know they can be caught at it.  On the one hand, people have become cynical:  They know there is a lot of lying.  On the other, they tend to believe the lies of their own favorite thugs:  "They couldn't say it if it wasn't true."

What accounts for this unstable compound of cynicism and gullibility?  The answer is that most modern lying involves the claim that the other guy is lying.  “I’m not doing that bad thing.  He is.  Don’t look at me.  Look at him.”  You can be gullible about this kind of lie, even while being cynical about the person the liar is lying about.

So add this to the Book of Best Practices for Living in a Decadent Age:  When public figure P says that public figure Q is up to something, by all means consider the evidence.  It could well be true.  But first consider the evidence that the one who is really up to that something is P himself.