Searcher
Vol. 10 No. 4 April 2002
SEARCHER'S VOICE  
Liars, Inc.
by Barbara Quint Editor, Searcher Magazine
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The other day I got a call from some liars. No, not the usual liars, not telemarketers. Actually, those liars still call all too regularly, but my sales resistance must be wearing them down, because now they've gotten computers to conduct the "conversations." Even the telemarketers' computers seem a little wary. You say, "Hello," and they pause before they reply. The pauses can last so long that you hang up. For a while I thought I was being plagued by a deep breather, but it turned out to be these timid computers. Probably their reptilian masters have taught them to fear me. GRRR!!

No, this latest call from Liars, Inc. did not come from a telemarketer...well, not a typical one, anyway. It came from some outfit in the east Wisconsin or Michigan or somewhere like that, though the boiler room housing my interrogator actually lay in Oregon. The firm conducted political polls and wanted to survey my opinion. Wary as always of telemarketers in disguise, I anticipated another one of those "surveys" filled with fake sincerity and claiming an earnest, near obsessional interest in my opinions, but quickly revealing themselves as advertisements. ("On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being best and 1 being least, how important do you rank the survival of the human species?... Thank you.... As the only Proposition on the ballot written to ensure human survival, how likely would you be to vote for Proposition X if the election were held today? Very, very likely; Very likely; Likely; or Undecided.")

This call was different. They cared about my party membership, but it seemed only because that represented the ballot I would have received. Their real interest concerned the California gubernatorial primary, and, after running the entire list of candidates and determining which names I even recognized, they then ran down each one of the three leading candidates for whom I claimed some awareness. For each candidate they offered a range of positions on different issues and asked how favorably or unfavorably the candidate's espousal of each issue would affect me.

Where the survey became peculiar is when the issues raised kind of bumped into each other. It was sort of like reading one of those astrological, "What's your sign?" descriptions "Capricorn's like..., Aquarians detest...," where some of the character traits seem almost but not quite in opposition to each other ("You are very organized and disciplined but highly intuitive and subject to impulses.") Some of the positions described didn't hang together, e.g., strong fiscal conservatism and a commitment to reforming the entire state educational system. With what? Jellybeans?

Intriguingly, the survey didn't seem to care which candidate said what. I couldn't figure out how the out-of-state pollster had gotten the contract. They couldn't have sold their services to all the individual candidates and then just decided to lump them together to save on phone charges. Maybe the party had unified its polling budget and let the contract on a lowest-bidder basis. Very fiscally conservative alright, but it left the nominees' masks hanging at half-mast.

As far as I could tell, this survey was designed simply to ascertain what lie, what deceit, what half-truth, what sucker bet would work. They say that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. Well, apparently virtue will have to find some other way to pay the rent. This is the ultimate application of commercial advertising and sales techniques to the body politic. Do you want a red box or a yellow one? Does 89 cents sound like more of a bargain than 90 cents? Which sound bite will get us your vote? Rate the bites on a scale of 1 to 5. They don't even care any more if you know it's a lie.

Throughout the interview I kept trying to tell the person the reason behind the answers to my questions. All she cared about was filling out the boxes on her sheet so she could go on to her next call.

She should have listened. You see, I'm a mole. I switched parties several years ago, but I never changed my registration. Now, when I vote in my ex-party's primary, I always vote for the candidates I think my new party can most easily beat. And so my answers to the survey questions favored the position statements I considered least likely to fly with the voters.

Two can play at that lying game.

So what does all this have to do with online searching? Never believe what you read in the paper. Liars can type and Liars, Inc. can afford ad space.
 

...bq 
Barbara Quint's e-mail address is bquint@mindspring.com.
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