A lie is defined in the dictionary as “an act or instance of lying; a false statement made with the intent to deceive.” This definition of lying, which is also the definition which most people follow, is patently inadequate . It implies that lying only happens when one utters a lie; when one willfully and consciously makes a statement that one knows not to be true.

Yet even under such a narrow definition of lying people lie to each other constantly. If, in addition to the constant bold-faced lies that are told to children, one considers the half-truths and omissions of truth which they are subjected to, it is clear that lying is a basic dimension of a child’s experience.


Children are told lies by commission when they’re told about the stork who brings the babies, Santa Claus who brings the presents, and when they’re given false and untrue explanations and justifications for what happens in their daily lives. They’re also lied to by omission when they’re kept away from information which is considered to be too strong or too forceful or premature for their “malleable” minds.

When a child asks her parent, “How are children born?” it is clearly a lie to say, “The stork brings them.” But it is also a lie to say, “They just come out of the mother’s belly,” or to change the subject. The parent has information that the child wants. In order to be truthful, the parent has to either give the information or, without lying, explain why it isn’t given. “I am embarrassed to tell you” is not a lie. “You are too young to know” “I am afraid you will get upset isn’t a lie; “I’ll tell you when you are ready” is.





We are not supposed to lie. Yet, if we examine that rule, we find it to have endless exceptions. Only one kind of lie seems to be truly not permissible: the kind we tell those who are one-up to us (our parents, teachers, employers, the government) and the kind that is told to us by those who are one-down to us. ((our children, students, employers, those we govern).

We may lie to our students, children, employees, and constituency. We expect to be lied to by our parents, teachers, employers, and politicians.  Lies and half- truths are as corrosive to children’s awareness as can be. . Children believe what they are told. When the things they are told as truths contradict each other it “jams their computer,” and causes them to feel stupid and mindless.

Statements and lies can be made verbally and they can be made with actions as well. A person can make a statement verbally on one hand and belie it with an action on the other . For instance , John recalled being told the following information by his father:

1. “I love your mother.” (verbally)

2. “If you love someone you don’t have eyes for others.” (verbally)

3. “I have no eyes for other women.” (verbally, to his wife)

John saw his father acting hatefully toward his wife and calling her names, and he knew he had eyes for a neighbor because he saw them kissing in the laundry room. Thus John was exposed to a situation with at least one built-in lie. Statement “3" was a definite lie. Statement “1” was a possible lie. Statement ” 2 “ was a possible lie depending on whether “1" was true. But because father clearly lied with “3" it cast a doubt on all other statements , including “1" and “2.”

Children are supposed to become truthful adults, but given the circumstances of their upbringing, this outcome is very unlikely. One of the parables that is truly supposed to encourage truth-telling in children is the story of “Washington’s Cherry Tree,” which is in itself a lie invented by a resourceful book salesman, Mason Locke Weems.’ Children are told lies about Santa Claus, and parents ruefully and regretfully regard the day when they finally demystify the situation and come to see the world of Christmas for what it, at least partially, really is. The origin of human kind, its biological functionings, is kept away from children’s awareness for as long as it possibly can be. Grownups hide their naked bodies and all signs of sexuality from children, and they distort and hide their conversation with each other when in the presence of children. And, of course, grownups are constantly encouraging children not to tell how they truly feel and think about what -ever they truly feel and think about.

Ours is a consumer society. Through the buying and selling of merchandise firmly based on the dictum caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) we are deeply grounded in lies regarding what we buy and sell. Merchandising and public relations is the selling of things and people through lies. We sell ourselves through lies.

Television and newspapers survive by selling (through lies). DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING LAWS APPLY ONLY TO VERBAL LIES BY COMMISSION , BUT THEY CANNOT TOUCH THE LIES TOLD WITH PICTURES AND BY OMISSION. Further, we expect as little truth from commercials as we do from the material between them, be this .news or political statement. We know we are surrounded by lies but don’t know what to do about it.

So, as we grow into civilized adulthood, we are fully prepared not oniy to be liars but to accept lies from others . It’s a small wonder that people passively accept the lies of their elected officials, advertisers, and the media; their training to do so is relenfless from early childhood on.

Teaching in public schools carefully avoids discussing certain topics; human affairs are taught about in the form of history or political science rather than in terms of the everyday lives of people, their personal histories, their political situations, their own freedom or lack of it. Lies in the schools are primarily by omission, though lies by commission also abound, especially when children are told outright lies about the functioning and administrative aspects of their school, their city, and their country. Here lies by commission are quite common. For instance, school children are exposed to certain views about government. They are told, for instance, that all politicians are elected in a democratic process. how many school children are told with the same emphasis that some feel that politicians are bought by some business interests and rubber-stamped by the people? Lies by omission are the stock in trade of the educational system, which is a sophisticated training ground in every advanced form of lying. Kerr speaks about the “wonderfulness” approach to teaching; basically, a game of “Ain’t It Wonderful.” Teachers seem to feel that only positive, uplifting, and wonderful facts are worthy of a school curriculum. Negative, depressing, and awful facts are carefully screened out of children’s attention.

An untrained child has a great deal of difficulty in saying something that is not true ---- as well as failing to say something that is also true. Both the expression of falsehood and the non-expression of truth are very unnatural activities. Soon after the child begins to speak even the shortest sentences training to do the former (lie) and avoid the latter (being truthful) begins.

Children are supposedly encouraged not to lie. Lying, they’re told, is not good. When children lie or are caught in a lie they are punished or shamed. Children who are truthful are, as far as I can see, simply children who have learned to lie skillfully (as grownups also do); and only those who have not learned to lie in an acceptable way and are blunt and indiscriminate in their lying are punished for lying. In other words, “truthfulness,” as taught by grownups to children, is simply a sophisticated way of lying as opposed to the crude, more simple way of lying which is punished.

What, then, is truthfulness as opposed to lying? An adequate definition of lying more closely parallels the dictionary definition of falsehood; namely, “a want of conformity to fact or truth; an intentional falsity; an untrue proposition.” Lying is deception, falsification, or imposture as well as an intentional assertion of what is false . This definition includes under it not only a willful utterance of something which is false, but any act that contributes to giving a false impression or allowing it to remain.

Thus, I would like to define lying as:. ( 1). A willful. act; (2) involving false statements; and ( 3) the omission of statements which are true and which would prevent a known false impression on another’s mind. That is to say, lies are not only false utterances (or lies by commission), but also lies by omission, that is, the failure to correct a false impression.

Lying and secrecy are powerful influences in scripting for Mindlessness, and lies along with discounts are capable of producing the kind of mental confusion which is called “schizophrenia” and which I prefer to call madness.


One per cent of the United States population, we are told, will at some time in their lives occupy a bed ifl a mental hospital. That is to say, one per cent of the people in the United States will lose their minds, go crazy, become “mentally ill.”

All of us have an awareness of this spectre of madness. Some of us have actually been temporarily or continually mad. Some of us know people who are mad, perhaps members of our own family. Some of us have read literary accounts describing the madness of fictional characters or real ones like Vincent Van Gogh or Virginia Woolf. For some of us madness is a joke, something to nervously laugh about; for others it is a state of mind that we profoundly fear or pity.

Going crazy is an utterly terrifying experience in which nighttime is filled with sleeplessness or night-mares and infinite fear and dread, and in which daytime is fraught with incapacity to act, unwillingness to move, contempt and abuse from others, confusion, disorganization, suspicion, despair, and a recurring wish to end one’s life and be done with it. People who “lose their minds” experience them-selves as slimy, inferior human beings, patronized by others, the subject of detached inquiry and examination, absurd thoughtlessness, disrespect, incarceration, institutionalization, army-like scheduling, forced feeding and drug taking, electroshock therapy, and perhaps even lobotomy.

People who go through this experience are said to be “mentally ill”; usually the psychiatric diagnosis is “schizophrenia,” though psychiatrists by their own admission have very little to offer to its many victims. Major tranquilizers are now believed to be effective in allowing the “schizophrenic” to “function”; hospitali-

zation can help “compensation”; but there is no hope that “schizophrenia” can be cured. The “schizophrenic” is seen by the psychiatrist as a semi-human being, a subject of pity and charitable thoughts.

I believe that the state of mind described above, the state of being mad, is the end result of a childhood and adolescence filled with discounts and lies, and devoid of support and nurturing. The antidote to madness is awareness, validation, and human support.

Fortunately, people’s drive for health is powerful and children grow up in a world that includes more than the family and the many other oppressive forces of society. The world is also filled with human beings who are compassionate, loving, attuned, and who account for people’s feelings. Very often a child that grows up in a family that conspires to make it crazy meets up with a teacher, a minister, an aunt or grandparen t (and yes, even a therapist), or reads a book, or sees a movie which accounts for his feelings or conveys the message that he is, after all, O.K. rather than incurably mentally ill.

Schizophrenia is not an illness; it is not anything except an insulting name which mental health workers use to describe the wretched of our civilized earth. Being “diagnosed” a schizophrenic is like being given a plaque to wear around one’s neck for everyone to see and stay away from. Young people who are taken to psychiatrists or other therapists and are labeled schizophrenic are often dealt with this the final in a long series of blows. This label—schizophrenia—is the ultimate sentence, which from then on causes the person to think of himself as “schizo-phrenic” and to be treated by others as “schizophrenic,” perhaps hospitalized, sometimes for long periods. The resuit of this action on the part of the family and therapists who collude with it is to render the victim truly hopeless and mindless.

Madness can be quiet, agitated, pathetic, fearsome, or dramatic. The most dramatic form of madness is so-called “paranoid schizophrenia.”


The official psychiatric view of paranoid reactions is that they are psychotic disorders with persistent delusions, usually grandoise or persecutory, and the creation of pseudo-communities. This shorthand description of paranoia is interesting to examine. The paranoid person usually feels that she is the center of a scheme by a group of people, such as the FBI, the Mafia, Con Edison, or General Motors, to persecute her, usually because she has some special importance. Hence, the description of grandiosity, namely the exaggerated self-importance assumed by thinking that the whole of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Mafia or both would be focused on her. Paranoids often feel that different groups of different people who are supposedly connected with each other are banding together to persecute them, hence the statement about pseudo- commun-ities . For instance, a paranoid may think that his psychiatrist and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Communist Party are connected in a scheme to kill him. Characteristically, the paranoid person’s intelligence is intact, and the behavior and emotional responses of the person are consistent with his ideas. The paranoid does not feel that his delusions are mistaken or wrong, and therefore does not seek or welcome therapeutic aid

Typically, classical psychiatric views of paranoia allow that paranoia has some connection to external stresses. Speaking of precipitating factors associated with paranoia in the American Handbook of Psychiatry, Cameron’ mentions external challenges, close competitive situations, or being in close quarters with like sex persons for long periods of time and being socially isolated. Cameron mentions humiliation, failure and defeat, the loss of the major source of security or even gratification as well as someone’s death or desertion, an actual rebuff, neglect or deception, economic loss, or physical incapacitation as being possible causes for paranoia. Later, however, he discounts all these facts when he says:

                    This must not be taken to mean that adult paranofd

                    reactions are produced by aggressive rivalry and

                    erotic temptation, by failure and defeat, by sudden

                    close contact or social isolñtion and by losses of

                    security and gratification. These are only precipitating

                    factors. They tip a chronically unstable balance, one

                    dependent upon an infantile defensive organization,

                    with defective reality testing, a selective hypersen..

                    sitivity to unconscious processes in others, and irresis-

                    tible tendencies to project and form pseudo-

                    communities. Nevertheless, these precipitating factors

                    are dynamically and clinically important since they

                    can start off a process of paranoid development in

                    which the patient, because of his defective personality

                    organization, may then become powerless to stop.

Thus, in spite of the evidence that external stress and oppressive conditions precipitate paranoia, the view remains that paranoids have “defective reality testing” and “infantile” personalities.

I have a different view of the phenomenon of paranoia. In my opinion, what is called “paranoid schizophrenia” by psychiatrists is a state of mind which occurs in people as a result of systematic lying and oppression in childhood and in the real person’s present life. “When a paranoid person projects what he denies,” even Cameron says, “he does not project at random. He describes hostile and erotic impulses to people who actually exhibit minimal signs of a corresponding very unconscious impulse. Since everyone has hostile impulses . . . it is not difficult for the selectively hypersensitive paranoid to find persons on whom to project. Thus there is always a core of truth in paranoid accusations.” Here Cameron, in typically convoluted psychiatric jargon, states (only to let it pass) the most important fact about paranoia: namely stated in my words, that paranoia is a state of heightened awareness.

We all have a touch of paranoia. We may feel persecuted by neighbors, or think that people talk about us behind our backs. We don’t believe politicians, or we think the oil companies are deceiving us, or that our telephones are tapped. Most of our paranoias are controlled and do not run amuck. We are careful whom we share them with, and if they are discounted by others we don’t get especially upset; in fact, we are likely to agree and go along with the discount. Only a few of us get to the point where we lose our minds and become wildly paranoid. The kind of delusion that is involved in extreme paranoia can genuinely be described as a form of madness. It has, however, the same source and origin as the small paranoias which all of us are subjected to.

All of us have enemies who speak behind our backs; all of us are the victims of conspiracies to divest us of our money, to cause us to vote one way or another, to cause us to agree or disagree with our politicians. For example, when an advertising agency puts together a campaign for menthol cigarettes depicting various beautiful outdoor scenes with young, beautiful, healthy people smoking menthol cigarettes in them, this is a conspiracy to influence our judgment so that we will consume menthol cigarettes . When politicians get together in smoke-filled rooms and agree to create an image for a presidential candidate which everyone in that room knows does not correspond to his personality, again this is a conspiracy to affect our thinking. When we buy a car or a house or an appliance, we are likely to deal with sales persons whose interests conflict with ours and who are willing to conspire to use deception and half-truths in order to get us to buy. When a spouse carefully disguises her interest in other men and, reacting with guilt, feigns love for her husband, she is conspiring to deceive her husband. We are all aware of these conspiracies. It’s safe to say that there are many other conspiracies we know nothing about, since the essential element of such a conspiracy is that it is kept secret and that its nature will be concealed from the person who is being conspired against.

Jn the late sixties, the period in which the “New Left” organized to stop the Viet Nam war, a few people, represented in a few “paranoid” underground newspapers, claimed that the United States was secretly bombing Cambodia, that there was a conspiracy by President Nixon and Attorney General Mitchell to deprive dissenting Americans of their constitutional fights, that telephones were being tapped, that illegal entries were being committed, and so on. Those few people who believed these things to be going on were labeled paranoid, and the majority of the people ignored their statements. Today, of course, those paranoid perceptions have proven to be true. I use the example of the “New Left” as a general example which applies validly to paranoia in general. Namely, paranoia is a state of heightened awareness, a period in which a person begins to become aware of certain facts, such as the fact that he is being persecuted by communities of people (his family, whites , “big business,” politicians, etc.) who are conspiring in some way against him. Whether it be political activists who are being conspired against by the police, blacks who are being conspired against by whites, woman who are being conspired against by men, or just people who are being conspired against by their families and their leaders, they all have such dawning awarenesses of the attempt that others make to oppress them—and these present themselves in the form of paranoia.

When this kind of paranoid heightened awareness is met with discounts and is categorically denied and rejected, then, as has been pointed out before, peopie have a choice. They can go along with the discount or they can disregard the discounter and operate independently of information coming from the outside. The Little Professor who is perceptive and aware of the covert behavior and motives of people will use its intelligence to build elaborate schemes which explain its perceptions and the discounts of them. When these schemes become elaborate enough, when they are peppered with enough imagination and a certain amount of perverse exagger-ation, then they become the full-fledged paranoid delusions that we see in people who have gone completely mad. However, these paranoid delusions all have grains of truth, and the only way to understand them is to see them as exaggerations the person is forced to concoct because her perceptions are being denied.

In this light, we begin to understand paranoia and paranoid schizophrenia completely differently from the way it is presented to us by the usual psychiatric view. We can understand the mental hospital patient who believes that his food is being poisoned and that there are tape recorders in the wall that record everything he says, and who feels that there is a conspiracy by the communists, in league with his psychiatrist, to destroy his brain with X-rays, when, upon examining the situation, we find that he’s being forced to take excessive and harmful amounts of major tranquilizers daily, that his utterances to other patients and to the staff are being meticulously recorded in the nurse’s log, and that the staff of the ward are considering the possibility of administering electroshock therapy to him. It is these oppressive facts which are the source of paranoia, not the “infantile emotions,” the “defective reality testing,” and so on. When the perceptions of these facts are not discounted but honored we find that paranoia recedes and that, as in the case of all other forms of madness, the person who is being teated. nurturingly and whose feelings are being accounted for will become sane once again.



Copyright @ September 1974 By: Claude Steiner

A Bantam Book - Published by : Grove Press, Inc.

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