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By a lie a man throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a man. –Kant, ‘Doctrine of Virtue’

I have offered my ‘current’ definition of ‘Lying’ and (there is almost always an ‘AND’) at the same time I see nothing wrong with either a narrower or a broader definition of lying.  There is a caveat: Each retains the prerogative of morally evaluating the intentionally misleading statements, whether they fall within the definition of lying or outside of it.  Here is an example.

Consider that all faith and humanist traditions and all ‘Cultures’ espouse the following: Thou shalt not kill!  A simple, clear, concise, unambiguous statement.  YET, all faith and humanist traditions and all ‘Cultures’ amend this statement; they espouse one idea and live by another.  Oddly, there is no agreement as to when it really is wrong to ‘kill.’

Consider that, like ‘Thou shalt not kill!’ all definitions of lying smuggle in terms – moral or amoral, generally not immoral – that also require an evaluation.  To say, for example that it is not lying to speak falsely to those with no right to your information often glides over the vast question of what it means to have such a right to information.  This leads us back to my more neutral definition of lying: an intentionally deceptive message in the form of a statement.

Consider this, gentle reader.  All deceptive messages, whether or not they are lies, are often affected by one or more of three factors: self-deception, error, and by variations in the actual intention to deceive.   These act as filters that distort, color and/or alter the ways in which a message is experienced by both deceived and deceivers.

In order to complicate matters even more, a person who intends to deceive can work with these filters and manipulate them.  The deceiver can play on the biases, the imaginations, the prejudices, the fears, and etc. of the other(s).  Watch any number of ‘attack ads’ during an election year and you can see this clearly play out.  It has become so common that ‘We the People’ have become immune to the deception – to put it bluntly, ‘We the People’ just don’t care – if the ‘attack ad’ supports our prejudices we will agree with it if it does not we will dismiss it as ‘fake news.’

All of this involves great complexity and each year we learn more and more about the complexity of communication and about the role my-your-our brain plays in sending and receiving messages. We are learning more and more about the intricate capacities of each person for denial, deflection, distortion, and ‘selective loss of memory.’  Add to this the fact that communication often takes place over a period of time – sometimes over a ‘long time’ – and often includes a number of people and the complexity increases, often exponentially.

I am thinking of the ‘Telephone Game.’  I have played this game with forty adults – all ‘leaders.’  A simple one sentence message was whispered into the ear of the first person.  Then, he or she would whisper the ‘same identical message’ into the ear of the person sitting next to him/her.  This continued until the last person receiving the message would repeat it out loud to the entire group.  In every instance, the final message was not even close to the original message.  ‘Distortion’ at its best.  No one person intentionally set out to deceive and yet deception occurred.

Next time we will begin to focus on ‘Two Perspectives: The Deceived and The Deceiver.’

Never have I lied in my own interest; but often I have lied through shame in order to draw myself from embarrassment in different matters.–Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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A great man – what is he? . . .He rather lies than tells the truth; it requires more spirit and will.  There is a solitude within him that is inaccessible to praise or blame, his own justice that is beyond appeal. –Friedrich Nietzsche (‘The Will to Power’)

I concluded my last entry with a definition: Lying = an intentionally deceptive message in the form of a statement.

There are many philosophers and theologians who would accept this definition – but not all.  One of the things we do know is that the choice of definition frequently presents a moral dilemma.  Specific religious and moral traditions have been – continue to be – rigorously, if not absolutely, opposed to all lying; my definition is too narrow for them.

Yet, when examined more closely even these ‘absolutist’ traditions define lying in such a way that some deceptions-falsehoods did not ‘count’ as lying.  The Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius (considered by many as the ‘Father of International Law’) argued on the behalf of Protestant thinkers that speaking falsely to those – like thieves – to whom truthfulness is not owed cannot be called lying.

The ‘absolutist’ tradition was so confining that ‘wiggle room’ was necessary (actually, much of what emerged was a much larger room than a ‘wiggle room’).  One ‘out’ was the emergence of what is commonly called the ‘mental reservation.’  The beauty of this concept is that I can tell you a lie and convince myself that I am not lying.  What a great concept!  This is how it works.

‘Richard, did you cut down the cherry tree?’  After a bit of quick thinking I reply, with great conviction: ‘No I did not!’  Now, I add the ‘mental reservation.’  In my ‘mind’ I add these words: I did not cut down the cherry tree last week.  This is a true statement.  With my ‘mental reservation’ I make my ‘verbal statement’ true; I do not ‘tell a lie.’  Yup, this is truly a great concept.

By adding these addenda to the definition I can subscribe to a strict tradition and at the same time have the leeway to practice what I truly desire – in this case, to lie without lying.

Here is another example.  My son, Nathan, when he was 12 years old announced the following (I do not remember the situation but his insightful words have remained with me).  Nathan announced: Dad, I will never lie to you; I will always tell you the truth. ….Pause…. As long as you ask me the right question!  How great is that.  How many young folk actually abide by this rule?  Actually, we adults are even better at this; we have built upon this.  One way we do this is to deflect the question (listen to a daily Whitehouse press briefing and you can experience this being played out on a daily basis; yesterday’s was a classic).

Consider this, gentle reader, that whenever a law or rule is so strict that most folks cannot actually live by it, creative efforts to discern loopholes quickly ensue; the rules about lying are no exceptions.  We will continue exploring this next time.

Today I will conclude with the words of the goddess Athena.  She is addressing Odysseus in the ‘Odyssey’:

 Whoever gets around you must be sharp
and guileful as a snake; even a god
might bow to you in ways of dissimulation.
You!  You chameleon!
Bottomless bag of tricks!  Here in your own country
would you not give your stratagems a rest
or stop spellbinding for an instant?
 
You play a part as if it were your own tough skin…
No more of this, though.  Two of a kind, we are,
contrivers, both.  Of all men now alive
you are the best in plots and story-telling.
My own fame is for wisdom among the gods –
deceptions, too. 

The abuse of truth ought to be as much punished as the introduction to falsehood. –Pascal, ‘Pensées’

As I noted last time, Gentle Reader, this morning we will briefly explore ‘Dumping-Delight’ and ‘Truth-Dumping.’  Then we will delve deeper into a definition of ‘Lying’.

Dumping-Delight.  This concept evokes the pleasure, excitement, allure and challenge that lying involves.  The concept includes any or all of the positive feelings that emerge when one lies.  I might well feel pleasure when I lie to a gullible friend  or to the glee that I experience when I mislead the other.  When I was seven years old I was standing on the street corner by our house.  A car pulled up and the driver asked for directions to a certain place.  I had no idea where this place was but I acted as if I did and provided him with detailed directions and felt great glee when the driver thanked me and drove off.

The liar might feel the excitement of anticipation – as the lie is being delivered; I felt this as I was weaving the fabric of my lie.  I felt more excitement as I was offering the driver the completed fabric; the excitement that comes with the unknown – will the dupe accept what I have woven?

After the lie has been accepted there is the pleasure that comes with relief, pride of achievement or feelings of contempt for the one duped.  At ‘seven’ I did feel pride; I don’t recall a feeling of contempt for the driver [‘contempt’ is an abstract concept that seven year olds can’t grasp – thankfully].

Truth-Dumping.  This concept conveys the harm that brutal, often needless and uncaring truth-telling can wreak.  Parents do this when they bombard their children with criticisms.  Spouses do this when they dwell on the short-comings of one another – when they focus, over and over again on each other’s dreariest traits.  Curt health-care professionals shock unprepared, or ill-prepared, patients with grim news.  Each would – often does – claim that ‘I am only being truth-full!’  They do not realize that they are violating standards of care, compassion, love and respect (or they counter this realization with the ‘I am only telling the truth!’ or ‘This person needs to hear the truth!’)

Consider, Gentle Reader, this question: What would the world be like if each of us told nothing but the truth ceaselessly?

To pose this question we must assume that we operate, in our world, with only two alternatives: lying or constant, no-holds-bared truth-telling.  Yet, there is something amiss with this either-or.  It leaves no room for discretion, for the ability to discern what is and what is not intrusive or injurious or cruel.  Part of our challenge as people who care is the challenge of how to be ‘truth-full’ without being seduced by ‘truth-dumping.’

This leads us back to: How do I-You-We define lying?

Consider, Gentle Reader, that when we undertake to deceive others intentionally, we communicate messages meant to mislead them, meant to make them believe what we ourselves do not believe.  I-You-We do this through gesture, through disguise, by means of action or inaction, even via our silence.

Now here’s the question: Which of these innumerable deceptive messages are also lies?

I offer, again, my ‘current’ definition [‘current’ means for the past 30+ years]: A lie is any intentionally deceptive message which is stated.

‘Statements’ are most often made verbally or in writing, but can of course also be conveyed via smoke signals, Morse code, sign language, etc.  For me, ‘Deception’ is the umbrella category and lying is one part covered by the ‘Umbrella of Deception.’

Now, Gentle Reader, I am aware that it is possible to define ‘lying’ so that it is identical with ‘deception.’  For my purpose, however, I invite you to hold a primary distinction between ‘deceptive statements’ –lies – and all other forms of deception.

Here is my definition again: A lie is any intentionally deceptive message which is stated.

We will explore this a bit more next time.

Certainly, it is heaven upon earth to have a man’s mind move in charity…and turn upon the poles of truth. –Bacon, ‘Of Truth’

 

 

When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful. –St. Augustine, ‘On Lying’

Consider Gentle Reader that trust is a precious resource easily squandered, hard to regain.  Trust can thrive only when deeply grounded in respect for veracity rooted in moral integrity.

When it comes to engaging our topic, ‘Lying,’ it is crucial to remember that how we define ‘Lying’ is crucial.

You cannot see me, Gentle Reader, sitting here in one of my favorite coffee shops attempting to decide how much I want to ‘muddy the waters.’  Pause…Pause…Pause…

Part of me wants to offer a simple, clear, concise definition of ‘Lying’ and another part of me wants to briefly explore four topics (of many available) that might be helpful to us AND (remember, there is almost always an ‘AND’) add to the complexity of our topic – hence the ‘muddying of the waters.’

More Pausing. . .

I think I will risk muddying the waters a bit.  As I noted above, I will offer us four topics to consider: Confabulation, Compulsive-Pathological Lying, ‘Dumping-Delight,’ and ‘Truth-Dumping.’

Confabulation.  My unabridged dictionary offers us a number of definitions; the one I think that might help us is the one that is offered by the discipline of Psychiatry.  Confabulation = the replacement of a gap in a person’s memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true.

‘Confabulations’ are stories told by those suffering from Alzheimer Disease and by those suffering from a variety of other psychiatric and neurological conditions.  These people fill gaps by spinning false tales about their lives with utter confidence that they are true-real.  They cannot, therefore, be thought of as engaging in lying or any form of deceit.  At the same time, because their statements so clearly depart from the ‘truth’ or from ‘reality,’ it is equally difficult to speak of ‘truthfulness’ in characterizing their stories.

Now, consider this, Gentle Reader.  There is a large category of statements where deceit is not intended but where truthful communication is far from being achieved.  It is important, therefore, to take into account all that can help to distort communication quite apart from an intention to deceive.

I know from my own life’s experience that I have conveyed false information in the belief that it was true.  Upon reflection, I discerned that I was exhausted, misinformed, inarticulate, or that I had been duped by another.  My INTENTION was not to mislead or to lie; deception occurred – Did I lie?  My statements may have been false, yet, I did not knowingly utter falsehoods.

Now, there is also a second (at least one other) party involved.  The recipient of my message.  The person(s) may become deceived through no fault of mine – consider that the person might be hard of hearing or the person might not have a good command of the English language (children and those whose first language is not English often hear the ‘concrete’ and miss the ‘abstract’).

Compulsive-Pathological Lying.  Consider that Pathological Lying is to ‘lying’ what kleptomania is to stealing.  Any consideration of ‘moral choice’ (Lying involves a moral choice) regarding whether or not to lie must, I believe, take into account cases involving such compulsions and the ways they can take over a person’s life.

We will continue with ‘Dumping-Delight’ and ‘Truth-Dumping’ and other considerations next time.

If, like truth, the lie had but one face, we would be on better terms.  For we would accept as certain the opposite of what the liar would say.  But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand faces and in infinite field. –Montaigne, ‘Essays’

 

The trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. –Hannah Arendt

Three weeks ago part of my energy switched; I began noodling about ‘Lying.’  The impetus for this was rooted in a bit of news.  The Wall Street Journal, a bastion for Republican Thinking, noted that beginning on his inauguration day and through April 15, 2018 – 15 months – D.J. Trump lied to ‘we the people’ more than 3,000 times.  The Journal noted that these were the lies that we knew about.

I found myself holding a number of questions; here are three of them: What is lying?  Do we, in our Culture, lie so much that we have become immune to its consequences – so immune that we accept lying as simply a part of our Culture?  Have we, our Culture, come to cynically believe that certain people (think: Politicians) will, as a norm, lie to us? Yesterday I decided that I had noodled enough so that I might put finger to key and write a bit about this interesting topic (interesting for me, at least).

Hourly, it seems, social media resonates with accusations of lying and with disputes concerning a diversity of prevarications, evasions, perjuries and outright lying.  Hourly, it seems, social media reveals to us a parade (remember Stafford’s poem: ‘A Ritual to Read to Each Other’) of public-elected officials, bankers, lawyers, union leaders, and executives of all types who have been ‘caught’ lying.  It appears as if the abnormal, lying, has become the new normal.  The sheer volume (think: 3000+ lies in 15 months) leads us to shut down and turn off – ‘It’s all too much!’ a fellow told me two days ago.

Here’s another question that emerged into my consciousness: Is lying more excusable in the context of prurient and humiliating probing of intimate affairs? [I am thinking of two Presidents – Clinton and Trump; you might recall, gentle reader, that we did elect one of two Clintons to be our President].

Here are two more questions that have emerged for me:

What are the arguments for and against lying to family members, lying to protect the ‘other,’ lying to presumed-or-actual liars, and lying to my-our enemies?

 Under what circumstances does lying inflict the most damage or the greatest unintended consequences?

Given all that has been unfolding with D.J. Trump, I began to reflect a bit upon President Clinton’s sexual-scandal and his lying in order to avoid.  As you read what follows, gentle reader, you might think about what D.J. Trump might be caught up in – a lie, or a series of lies, that might do him in.

With President Clinton, the intertwining issues of lying and truth-telling and of concealing and revealing secrets came to be joined as never before at the highest level of our government.  As one consequence, these issues were explored, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, in every quarter – families, class rooms, board rooms, courts, Congress and globally (can we even begin to imagine what social media would have done with the Clinton-Consequence).

As the controversies engulfing President Clinton intensified, some folks argued that there could be no moral problems whatsoever about lies protecting privacy, and especially, sexual life, least of all when it comes to our elected officials [D.J. Trump might well become caught up in one of the unintended consequences of the investigation that President Clinton was put through].

As I recall, when pressed, few maintained that claims to privacy automatically justify not only silence but falsehood; much less that elected officials who have taken an oath of office to uphold the Constitution ‘without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion’ should go so far as to present intentionally misleading testimony.

Nevertheless, even while most of us living in the United States took the President to have acted wrongly, we also overwhelmingly rejected impeachment as too harsh.

On April 12, 1999, a ruling Federal Judge, Susan Webber Wright, in Little Rock, Arkansas, helped to bring a measure of closure to some of us.  Referring to his August, 1998, televised address to the nation and his deposition under oath [yes, the President can be required to testify under oath in a civil case] the previous January, Judge Wright found President Clinton in civil contempt of court, having given false and misleading responses designed to obstruct the judicial process.  She wrote:

It is simply not acceptable to employ deceptions and falsehoods in an attempt to obstruct the judicial process, understandable as his aggravation with plaintiff’s lawsuit may have been…  Sanctions must be imposed, not only to redress the President’s misconduct but to deter others who might themselves consider emulating the President of the United States by engaging in misconduct that undermines the integrity of the judicial system.

I conclude this morning’s post with this question: Are we lying more today than ever before?

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence. –Abigail Adams

In September, 1962, I was 18 years old and I entered a Monastery.  I lived there 16 months.  I began to consciously learn about and find the truth, beauty and goodness in other faith, philosophic and humanistic traditions.  My learning continues; I still have much to learn.

When I was 18 years old I learned that ‘Traditions’ of all types (faith-philosophic-humanistic) often depend on unchanging and unchangeable ‘doctrines-dogmas-rituals’ that resist shifts, changes, adaptations and transformations.  They state with great surety that we have THE revelation.

For faith-traditions who hold the surety that they hold the ONLY path to salvation and that they hold the answers to the deepest questions position themselves as knowers rather than as continual learners.  Consider, however, gentle reader that once we seek to understand that the ‘Creator’ is working in and through us now, co-creating our world, it would seem that my-your-our ‘faith’ would continually provide us with new eyes with which to recognize GOD’s ongoing creativity.  ‘Our eyes’ would not limit us to looking inward but would direct us to look outward and to discern GOD at work in all traditions.

For me, ‘I believe’ is rooted in doubt and ‘I know’ is rooted in surety.  Too often we humans equate ‘I believe’ with ‘I know’ and these are not the same.  When I find myself saying that ‘I know’ I also find myself closing the doors to searching-seeking-understanding.  When invited to consider or when I am challenged I up the ante by becoming rigid and judgmental and, at my worst, I strike out rooted in ‘righteous surety.’  I do not believe I am out of the norm.

On the other hand, when I say that ‘I am learning,’ I feel as if the doors of my perception, receptivity, searching and seeking have opened wider (or at least a bit wider).  I actually feel most alive when I am searching and seeking; I also feel most creative.

I also know that BOTH my ‘learning’ and my ‘knowing’ ground me in the soil of commitment.  Yet, they also ground me in very different soil.  The ‘soil of learning’ is tilled often, diversity thrives and cross-development occurs.  The ‘soil of knowing’ thrives by pulling up the ‘weeds of difference’ and helps ensure that cross-development does not occur.

My-Your-Our ‘learning’ in this way can happen if we are open to ‘Entheos’ – the Spirit that sustains us and animates us and instills us with the confidence to embrace searching-seeking-understanding.  For me, this is the Holy Spirit that I believe is always working within each of us and that calls us together so that together we can confront our human condition and be formed by the Holy Spirit in truth, beauty and goodness (see: John 15:26, 16:13).

For me, a critical piece is that my ‘faith, rooted in doubt’ enables me to keep my heart and mind open to all faith, philosophic and humanistic traditions.  Why would I choose to limit my searching and seeking?

When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, its sound is often no louder than the beating of your heart and it is very easy to miss. –Boris Pasternak

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? –Antonio Machado

 One of the ‘gardens’ that we humans have been entrusted with is the garden we call ‘intellect’ or ‘mind.’  Our intellect and its capacities continue to evolve and develop.  How our intellects develop is crucial to how the garden called ‘earth’ will evolve or devolve.  It is crucial to remember that everything is either evolving or devolving; ‘steady state’ occurs when there is ‘death.’

Consider if you will, gentle reader, that we humans tend to take great pride in our capacity to know yet, is there anything that we know – anything at all – that has not changed (evolved or devolved) in the course of our lives?  I have two adult-children.  Their love for me has evolved – more breadth and depth; they ‘love me differently today than when they were one and two year olds.

Evolution and devolution provide us an opportunity to understand ourselves and embrace ourselves as continual learners (whether or not we embrace this opportunity depends upon what we choose).  If we choose to embrace continual learning as primary then choosing to be knowers becomes secondary.  As a species, we humans cannot, it seems, stop ourselves from seeking, searching and learning.  We cannot stop from changing (think: either we evolve or devolve).  For example: No matter how hard we try we will ‘age’.  As we age (evolve or devolve) our story changes.

Now consider this if you will, gentle reader: God’s story changes as well.  For example, we have had to re-learn creation and know it now not as something that has happened once but is a continual process.  God didn’t just create ‘in the beginning,’ God continues to create (we call this evolution); at times we are co-creators with God.

There has been a steady movement, a ‘push, ’toward deepening consciousness, increasing complexity (think: technology for example) and diversity.  If I am, if you are, if we are searchers and seekers today, more than ever before, we are seeking to understand that the universe is a single, continuous event happening every moment and this requires us to embrace an evolving (radical?) interpretation of who and how our God is.

Huston Smith (one of my favorite authors – gentle reader, you might check out his book, The World’s Religions) reflecting on our efforts to speak of God, wrote: Minds, taken in their ordinary surface sense, are the wrong kind of instrument for the undertaking.  The effect, as a result, is like trying to ladle the ocean with a net, or lasso the wind with a rope.  The awe-inspiring prayer of Shankara, the Thomas Aquinas of Hinduism, begins with the invocation, ‘Oh Thou, before whom all words recoil.’ 

Perhaps we should always write and speak the word GOD in caps, bold, and italics, to remind us that in fact we don’t know what we are really talking about!

God wants us to know that life is a series of beginnings. –Bernie Siegel