“Deniability” is a modern English word used frequently by the media. Polliticians, TV journalists, and members of the Fourth Estate, who understand the importance of being able to deny what they have carefully said in public or published previously.
The manipulative use of key words with ambiguous meanings was ridiculed by George Orwell in his famous book, 1984. “Newspeak,” as he called the propaganda used by “Big Brother” in that book, was the official language of Oceana, the country ruled by Big Brother.
Looking back at Orwell’s description of that fictional Dystopia and comparing it to our situation today, I see one major difference: our Big Brother and his smiling representatives of the bloated federal government aren’t spying on us overtly now. Instead, we are religiously watching them on TV and acquiescing to what they want us to think, while various agencies are secretly checking on us with all sorts of electronic devices that Orwell never dreamed of in 1949!
The lead article in the English magazine New Scientist this week (August 8, 2008) is called, “Mind Fiction.” The subtitle on the cover is, “Your brain just can’t help telling tale tales.” According to the article, the human brain is an “unreliable witness.” Surprised?
So, how much of the time are we hearing the whole truth from any source of information? After reading that New Scientist article, I wondered: How do humans interpret any truth since their cognitive senses are prone to accept whatever external stimuli they receive and to file conflictive messages haphazardly or not at all?
Most of us are familiar with what the duplicitous say: “No, that’s not what I said exactly. You must have misunderstood me or misread your contract.” If you initially choose your words carefully, you can deny anything later on! So, pay close attention now.
Here are a few cases where deniability is practiced by knowledgeable experts in our society.
1. Warranties or guarantees. Need I say more to anyone who has been ripped off by the clever “legalese” in the fine print of a warranty that promises you that the manufacturer will fix your defective product “except under the following conditions…”
2. Credit cards. Here is the most insidious come-on society faces. Devious credit card companies have deliberately located their home offices in states where there are no usury laws and no restrictions on “fees.” Of course a Credit Card Company CEO would deny that is why his company chose that particular state. In an interview on PBS, one state governor actually admitted that having no usury laws has brought many new jobs to his state. Obviously, he had no problem with credit card companies charging cardholders “usurious” interest rates and outrageous “late fees.”
3. WAMU Bank (Washington Mutual that went bankrupt) had a generous policy of not charging a customer for printing checks. When I inquired why a pad of 150 checks cost $16, the cashier informed me that only the bare bones, plainest checks are given away for free. None of the fancy ones on their order form that omitted the plain one, mind you!
4. Blockbuster Video stores promise its customers “No late fees.” But you can’t rent anything in one of their franchised stores unless you have a membership card. Potential members must provide their credit card numbers and their driver’s license numbers in writing and accept a weasel-worded contract to obtain a membership card. If you return something late, there will be no late fees, just a charge to your credit card for the movie you “purchased!” (As you agreed in the contract!)
5. Safeway recently advertised four boxes of cereal for $6. In the small print, it said you must purchase 4 boxes for this special price. In their store, however, the price on the cereal shelf was marked “4 for $10.” If you can do the math, this is not the same offer. Be sure to follow their directions and ask the cashier to explain the differences!
6. Not only the commercial sharpies are in denial, but so our our neighbors. Several of my close friends sought no construction permits for home improvements in order to avoid property tax increases. Then, when they sold their homes, each of them “negotiated” with the inspector to pay reduced fees and penalties for not doing what the law required. No invoices for the “improvement” work done were sought by or presented to the inspector. Denial of the true cost of home improvements was expected apparently.
7. Addicts. This category of people in denial is broad because there are so many of us who must accept that label: smokers, drinkers, gamblers, drug abusers, and what we used to call “sex fiends.” New sub-categories have been added with the advent of the hi-tech electronic gizmos: hand held cell phone callers who drive vehicles, computer game nuts, and Internet porn site surfers who dare to use their office Internet connection.
8. Cheaters. This is another large category: students, taxpayers (and their clever tax advisors), men and women who have extra-marital affairs, and almost anyone who plays golf. If you can get away with doing “forbidden” things without being caught, you don’t have to deny anything, of course.
9. Consultants. Another group whose memory may be short are those who are licensed to give common folks “professional” opinions, such as: stock brokers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, real estate salespersons, and fortune-tellers. These honest professionals really only make “suggestions” to be taken under advisement. The client makes the bad decisions. There are no written guarantees for predictions about what’s going to happen in the future. “Get a second opinion” used to be good advice.
10. The media. This group includes advertisers, public opinion samplers, restaurant and entertainment critics, and anyone else who is involved with sharing with you the unknown “facts” about a product, a service, or an upcoming event. It is difficult to deny how influenced we are by such skillful manipulators.
11. Your elected representatives. My last category includes all politicians of whatever color, age, gender, national origin, religious affiliation, and deviate behavior – whose first inclination when hounded by the public (a la Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon) is to “stonewall.”
“Stonewalling” is a modern slang word for denial in the first degree. It is the first kind of denial a young child learns in school if he or she hasn’t already learned it at home before kindergarten. We’ve heard it a millions times: “Believe me, I didn’t do that.”
Criminals are advised by lawyers to plead innocent in court and deny the truth about their crimes. That is denial in the second degree. But a jury of 12 law-abiding citizens who are familiar with how denial is practiced by almost everyone in our society cannot easily be duped. Justice will prevail! (Well, most of the time.)
Denial in the third degree is best exemplified by those two-faced humans in Congress who voted for the preemptive war in Iraq for whatever reason, and now say they were tricked. (Self-deceived might be a better word.)
In view of the above, I nominate the District of Columbia to be the 51st State of Denial in the U.S. No one does “denial” as well as the people who live and work inside the Beltway!
For your information, I personally deny that I wasted a couple of hours writing this musing for your benefit!