Jung on Lying

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.

Jung on Lying

“In judging a doubtful case of simulation, one must bear in mind that successful simulation is not a simple thing at all, but often makes the greatest demands in the matter of shamming, self-control, and psychic toughness. This cannot be achieved by mere lying, for the deception must be kept up with consistency and unshakable willpower for weeks or even months on end. All this requires an extraordinary amount of energy, coupled with an art of shamming that would do credit to the most accomplished actor.

…. The art of shamming, however, seems to be a gift that is widely disseminated among criminals. It is found chiefly in thieves and poisoners…. Only thieves lie skillfully and naturally. They lie unthinkingly, without a moment’s hesitation, as soon as they open their mouths. They no longer even know that they are lying. It has become so much second nature to them that they believe their own lies.”

Jung (1903)[1]

“All these pathological features–complete lack of insight into one’s own character, auto-erotic self-admiration and self-extenuation, denigration and terrorization of one’s fellow men …, projection of the shadow, lying, falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and doublecrossing – all these were united in the man …”

Jung (1945)[2]

“… he was characterized by a subform of hysteria: pseudologia phantastica. In other words he was a “pathological liar.”…. it is difficult for the layman to recognize such cases as psychopathic. ”

Jung (1945)[3]

The newspapers and magazines at the end of 2022 and early 2023 were full of articles on lying politicians and deceitful “fakers” “playing fast and loose with the truth.”[4] Jung witnessed such transgressions also in his day. As the dates above indicate, Jung was not referring in these assessments to Donald Trump,[5] George Santos,[6] Elizabeth Holmes,[7] Rishi Shah,[8] or Charlie Javice;[9] he was referring to Adolf Hitler.

In this short essay, I consider Jung’s views on lying, with the questions: What would Jung make of our current spate of politicians, tech founders and others who seem to fabricate lies and operate in a world of “fast and loose fakery.”[10]? And why is our society seemingly normalizing what was once regarded as a serious moral failing, if not a venal sin?

Jung’s Views on Lying

Empiricist that he was, Jung defined lying and its opposite–truth-telling–in terms of efficacy: something is “… a truth when it works, and when it doesn’t work, it is a lie, it is not valid.”[11] In the same vein, Jung was explicit that “we can know something is true because it helps us live–to live properly.”[12]  According to Jung, believing in “fake facts” and adhering to “alternate realities” are not how we can hope to “live properly.”

As a psychiatrist, Jung recognized pathological conditions, and one of these he termed pseudologia phantastica, or pathological lying.[13] In this mental illness, the liar lies “unthinkingly, without a moment’s hesitation….”.[14] For the pathological liar, the mere act of opening the mouth will produce a lie. More than this, for the person living in this pathology, lying has become so habitual that the liar does not know he/she is lying–s/he has come to believe the lies.

Jung also recognized how pathological lying can distort the liar’s character, manifesting in traits like “projection of the shadow, … falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and double-crossing…”.[15] Liars will rail against those who rip others off, while repeatedly doing this same thing.[16] Or they will market as a major advance a medical test that does not work,[17] or they cook up multiple achievements, degrees and qualifications on a resume designed to impress–all of it fictive.[18]

Jung on Politicians and Tech Types

Jung was an astute observer of his world, and he recognized that certain groups were more susceptible to lying than others. Jung felt that politicians, with their “politico-social delusional systems,”[19] were especially prone to “monkey tricks”[20] which “poison the utterly incompetent mind of the masses….”.[21] Jung wrote these words in the mid-20th century, and they are even more valid seventy years later, as entire television networks spew lies daily, in order to garner higher ratings and gain market share[22] by “tickling the ears”[23] of their listeners. Any sense of a higher duty to the truth, or the ultimate welfare of people and the nation gets sacrificed to insatiable greed.

The tech types were no better, in Jung’s estimation. Jung was explicit that technology offers “nothing to overcome our spiritual stagnation,”[24] nor do the techies offer us any “answer to our spiritual dissatisfaction and restlessness.”[25] Instead, the creators of new technologies create devices and software that foster addiction and further inducements to live in “virtual realities.”[26] With their video games, social media and other creations, tech types are encouraging us to turn away “from the truth and turn aside to myths.”[27]  Even worse than addicting people are the repeated instances of fraud, as greed drives putative tech whizzes to promote inventions and companies based on lies.[28]

Jung was aware that much of the erstwhile success of these liars and fraudsters was made possible by the credulity and lack of critical thinking on the part of supposedly sophisticated and experienced people, e.g. venture capitalists and technocrats. Why such complicit behavior? To answer this question, we must consider Jung’s assessment of our collective reality.

Jung on Our Society’s Current Condition

Politicians pursue a line of work that makes “the construction of an artificial persona… an unavoidable necessity. The demands of propriety and good manners are an added inducement to assume a becoming mask. What goes on behind the mask is then called ‘private life.’…” and this leads to a “painfully familiar division of consciousness.”[29] This division the politician is not inclined to examine because he/she is usually a strong Extravert,[30] oriented much more to outer life, rather than given to introspection or self-criticism. In the face of these realities, we should not expect our political leaders to be above succumbing to lies and prevarications.

The leaders of technology companies and venture capitalists are not running non-profit businesses serving the public good, but men operating in our materialistic world.[31] Given this reality, we should not expect them to be altruistic in their motivations. Greed is a major driver of the actions of many people in our modern society, and it can make many people commit or be complicit in illegal or deceptive behaviors.[32]

As much as Jung was critical of politicians and technocrats, he recognized that we–the general public–are also partly to blame for the condition of our society. Are we always faithful and informed voters? Do we diligently educate ourselves about the assumptions and values that undergird our modern technologies? Do we exert ourselves to understand the workings of our social and economic systems? OR do we fail to vote,[33] fail to investigate the forces behind the creation of our tech devices,[34] and zone out at the prospect of interrogating the systems within which we live our lives?

Why Is Lying Becoming Normalized?

To answer this question we must remember that we are living during the transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius–that fraught and confusing interval when features of both aeons show up in life.[35] Jung recognized from the glyph for Pisces that the two fish represent two intervals–the first being the thousand years of Christ, the second, the thousand years of the Anti-Christ, aka “Satan.” We have been living in this latter half–the 1,000 years that have seen multiple Satanic actions, e.g. the Napoleonic wars, the U.S. Civil War, the decimation of hundreds of indigenous cultures, World Wars I and II, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust and other genocides, and a persistent tendency to “define deviancy downward,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted.[36] In terms of “deviant” behavior, Moynihan included the growing willingness of the public to countenance or ignore moral lapses like lying.

How tempting it is to project all the blame “out there”–on to politicians, techies, fraudsters who spot a way to make a financial killing, and liars who create personas for personal benefit! But Jung would have us wise up to our projections, and recognize that we are living in an era full of devilish temptations–an era when our personal and collective unconsciousnesses are reflected in the society we have.[37] If we seek to become more conscious (one of Jung’s major desiderata for us),[38] then we must recognize society as “the agglomeration of all the nonentities composing it”[39]–and these “nonentities” could include us, unless we commit ourselves to the rigorous and lonely task of “acting justly and loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God”[40]–which cannot be Mammon.

Bibliography

Angwin, Julia (2023), “Something More Dangerous Than Hate Speech,” The New York Times, (May 7, 2023).

Bazerman, Max (2022), Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fandos, Nicholas, “Santos’s Lies Were Known to Some Well-Connected Republicans,” The New York Times (January 13, 2023).

Griffith, Erin (2023) “Announcing the End of Faking It in Silicon Valley,” The New York Times (April 16, 2023), 1, 5.

Jung, Carl (1970), “Psychiatric Studies,” Collected Works, 1. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1965), Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1977), C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, ed. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1998), Jung’s Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, ed. James Jarrett. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kessler, Glenn (2021), “Trump’s false or misleading claims,” Washington Post (January 21, 202l); https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/24/trumps-false-or-misleading-claims-total-30573-over-four-years

Raspberry, William (1992), “Defining Deviancy Down,” Washington Post (December 28th, 1992); https://washingtonpost.com/archieve/opinion/1992/12/28/defining-deviancy-down/

Twenge, Jean (2017), iGen. New York: Atria.

Van Eenwyk, John (1997), Archetypes & Strange Attractors. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Zuboff, Shoshana (2019), The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. New York: Public Affairs

[1] Collected Works 1 ¶303. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated as CW.

[2] CW 10 ¶418

[3] CW 18 ¶1384.

[4] Griffith (2023), 1.

[5] Trump made false or misleading claims 30,573 times during his presidency; Kessler (2021).

[6] In his campaign for a House seat in the 2022 election, Santos cultivated the image of a wealthy financier, claiming fraudulent academic degrees, stardom in volleyball, marriage to a woman (although he is openly gay)–all an “elaborate web of deceit” that Republican campaign officials knew about; Fandos (2023). He was recently indicted on multiple counts by a federal prosecutor.

[7] Holmes was ordered to begin serving an 11-year sentence on April 27th for her role in the blood-testing start-up Theranos; she is appealing this decision; Griffith (2023).

[8] Shah was found guilty of defrauding customers and investors in his Outcome Health software start-up; ibid.

[9] Javice has been arrested for falsifying customer data related to Frank, her financial start-up company; ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jung (1998), 49.

[12] CW 18 ¶686.

[13] Ibid. ¶1384.

[14] CW 1 ¶303.

[15] CW 10 ¶418.

[16] E.g. Donald Trump.

[17] E.g. Elizabeth Holmes.

[18] E.g. George Santos.

[19] CW 9i ¶49.

[20] Ibid., ¶477.

[21] CW 18 ¶1302.

[22] Angwin (2023), SR 9.

[23] 2 Tim. 4:3-4.

[24] ” Letter to DorothyThompson,” 23 September 1949; Letters I, 536-7.

[25] Ibid.

[26] On the deleterious effects of people caught up in virtual reality with their video games, see Twenge (2017), 58-59, 73, 189-190.

[27] 2 Tim. 4:3-4.

[28] E.g. Elizabeth Holmes, with her Theranos blood-testing start-up, and Charlie Javice, with Frank, her financial aid start-up, both arrested for fraud. Griffith (2023), 1.

[29] Ibid., ¶305.

[30] Jung (1977), 303.

[31] So tech leaders have developed algorithms that keep people on their sites as long as possible, thus bringing in more revenue, despite the fact that outrageous and divisive content is what keeps people glued to the site; Angwin (2023), SR 9.

[32] Bazerman (2022), 117-132. This is an excellent, thoughtful study on complicity, and how all of us can be guilty of it; Bazerman explains in chapter 7 how he became complicit in the Theranos deception out of trust in co-workers who had failed to apply rigorous analysis to some of the claims made by this company.

[33] 46% of Americans vote. I got the figure of 46% from this Web site: www.ehow.com.

[34] For an incisive investigation of these forces, see Zuboff”s groundbreaking The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; Zuboff (2019).

[35] Transitions at any level–human or global–can be times of chaos and confusion (think of the teenage years, a classic transitional period when child and adult exist within us, causing changes and experiences that feel confusing); Van Eenwyk (1997), 39.

[36] In an essay in The American Scholar, Winter 1993; reported by Raspberry (1992).

[37] CW 9i, ¶49 and CW 14, ¶342.

[38] Jung (1965), 326.

[39] CW 16 ¶223.

[40] Micah 6:8.