Thursday, 18 June 2015

Lying – it’s what we do


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.


Demetrius said...

Heath was a person who had no concept of truth. I have met a few like this and reckon that politics is a sphere that attracts them. They are a nightmare to deal with and invariably leave a long trail of damage behind them.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - yes, attracting the wrong people seems to be a problem in a number of areas, especially politics.