Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lying – it’s what we do

source

What Spinoza, for example, calls ‘blessedness’ is simply the state of non-attachment; his ‘human bondage,’ the condition of one who identifies himself with his desires, emotions and thought-processes, or with their objects in the external world.
Aldous Huxley – Ends and Means

We all know that lying in all its many forms is a common aspect of human life. From exaggeration to evasion, from the sins of omission to barefaced lying we all assent to at least a few dubious narratives because we must and because this is how societies work.

To survive daily life we cannot be wholly non-attached in Huxley’s sense, so we must endure human bondage in Spinoza’s. We must identify ourselves with our desires, emotions and thought-processes, or with their objects in the external world. Hence the lies, hence the bondage.

Not so long ago, visitors to Grandson’s school told the children that God made the harvest. Was that a lie? In my book it was at best misleading. However those visitors saw their words as advocating a genuine truth, and would no doubt be mightily offended at my implication.

Worthy advocacy of noble causes is a particular problem when so few causes are really noble and so much advocacy is unworthy. It all goes to create an unhealthy culture of false virtue, armour-plated against any criticism, securely located on a mountain of furtive dishonesty.

Yet how does anyone advocate anything without so much as a hint of bias in all its many tangled forms? It is possible perhaps, but neither easy nor common. Advocacy is inherently biased because it is incompatible with non-attachment.

A few decades ago, Secretary of State for War John Profumo resigned from the government and from Parliament when he had to admit he had lied to Parliament over the Christine Keeler affair. Only a few years later, Prime Minister Edward Heath lied to voters about the nature of the Common Market as the EU then was.

“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”

Prime Minister Edward Heath, television broadcast on Britain’s entry into the Common Market, January 1973. 

Perhaps Heath saw this lie as worthy advocacy but he must have known he was lying and unlike Profumo he never resigned. Far from it – he appears to have seen his lying as an act of statesmanship.

The perennial problem is that we must advocate to live, to form stable societies and economies, to hold political debates, invest in the future, build civilisations and even cultures. So who doesn’t lie through advocacy, whether worthy or not?

As usual, the ethical folk are those who remain non-attached, people without causes, the non-campaigners who prefer not to campaign and the non-advocates who prefer to advocate as little as possible because advocacy is so intimately linked with lying.

The question of whether or not anything can be achieved without advocacy is yet another problem. Possibly not.

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6 comments:

Sackerson said...

JD responds:
_________________________

AKH writes-

"Not so long ago, visitors to Grandson’s school told the children that God made the harvest. Was that a lie? In my book it was at best misleading. However those visitors saw their words as advocating a genuine truth, and would no doubt be mightily offended at my implication."

I used to work with an Irishman who would often say "You're right, but you're wrong!" and that could easily apply to AKH's dilemma.

Picasso has the answer, of course. His comment about the nature of art could equally apply to religious dogma.

“El arte es una mentira que nos acerca a la verdad”
= Art is a lie which brings us closer to the truth (several variations of that in the original Spanish but all saying the same thing)

So in answer to the question of lying or being misleading, sometimes it is necessary to lie in order to reveal the truth.
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Another phrase attributed to Picasso was "¿Qué es el arte? Si lo supiera, tendría buen cuidado de no revelarlo." which translates as "What is art? If I knew that, I would be very careful not to reveal it." That could also be applied to religious dogma because such dogma is so easily misunderstood and misinterpreted; or, as I like to say - "In the beginning was the word, and that's when all the trouble started!"

A K Haart said...

JD - "dogma is so easily misunderstood and misinterpreted". This applies to a vast number of other narratives where there are legitimate or merely interesting interpretations beyond that which is officially advocated.

Paddington said...

I do my best to tell the truth, or shut up. I just find it too hard to keep track of the lies.

Two of my friends at work recently told me that it was always clear where I stood. It makes me a very bad navigator in political waters.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - navigating political waters is not at all easy unless a standpoint is used to provide ready answers. Some seem happy enough to do this but how it can be satisfactory for them I find difficult to imagine.

Roger said...

There seems a need for symmetry when lying, your lie needs a matching mindset. Creating that mindset is part of the lawyer's job and the politician's job. Complex rules and the ability to withhold information and partition the truth are useful tools to assist. A friendly media also helps.

A K Haart said...

Roger - yes it's an art, but easy enough to understand because it is so common. As well as friendly media we also seem to have friendly consumers of obvious untruths.