Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lying and Deception: Epilogue

(Prologue to this series here. Part I here. Part II here. Part III here. Part IV here.)

If we're going to be honest about lying and deception, we need to start by being honest with ourselves: truth is terribly overrated. People often don’t want to hear the truth anymore than they want to tell it, and they follow their instincts accordingly with society's approval. The philosophers and theologians who say otherwise -- Augustine, Wesley, Kant -- deceive us and themselves. We need to lie, in order to stay well and functional.

Lying becomes pathological not when it's habitual (for it's always habitual), but when it leads to certain conduct disorders. Irresponsible people, criminals, and those with substance-abuse problems lie in order to rationalize hurting and mistreating others, as well as stealing. But even here a word of caution is in order. Because anti-social disorders are common in lower class urban settings (i.e. challenging home situations), some psychologists argue that such behaviors result more from a "protective survival strategy" than "pathology" per se.

We've seen that the inclination to lie and deceive is hardwired into the human race, and that it becomes stronger in specific contexts. Honor-shame cultures and the postmodern climate, for different reasons, summon even more deceptions from humanity. Literary authors have lied about their identities, for reasons ranging from the respectful, to the selfish, to the playful. In the end, the only lies called out as such are those deemed socially unacceptable.

If we're stuck with being a race of liars and deceivers, we can at least be truthful enough to acknowledge it. We can stop pretending that honesty is attainable to the degree other virtues are -- like compassion, justice, and wisdom -- or that it's necessarily a virtue at all. Honesty actually has very little to do with morality. To imply that something is wrong because it's dishonest is about as meaningful as saying that something is wrong because it's unnatural.

Bibliography to this series

Ehrman, Bart. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Keyes, Ralph. The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Pilch, John. The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. Liturgical Press, 1999.

Smith, David Livingstone. Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens
Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Cultures
Lying and Deception in Authorship
Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting reading. You may have found a new regular reader here. Some of this goes a long way toward explaining a trouble experienced when I joined the USAF back in the 70s. Every new recruit was given a pretty simple standardized psych evaluation to complete during the 1st week at boot camp. A few people in my flight, including myself, were given a second evaluation to complete. Two of us were then given yet a third, very strange evaluation, which culminated in a series of personal interviews with a psychiatrist. In the end, after this had gone on for about 5 weeks, I was told that although there was nothing actually "wrong" with me, the USAF would like me to allow them to discharge me "for the convenience of the government". I declined the discharge, after being informed that I didn't lie enough on my evaluations or in my interviews.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Interesting observation. Thanks for mentioning it.


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