Honesty has clambered its way through a barbed, unkempt wilderness and into the forefront of my mind.
I should make it clear- I am not possessed with a compulsion to be honest. It is merely the concept of honesty that is pinging about in the ol’ brain case. To suffer a bout of veracity would be fatal to my career, most of my cabin crew earnestly believe I’m a real pilot (can you imagine? With this eye patch?!) and I’m sure they would make some minor protestation should they realize that I am, in fact, a small wooden figurine of a moth sneezing.
I pull your leg.
To sharpen the blunt point-
But these falsehoods reveal a serious point-
How much do we rely on lies?
The word ‘lie’ is used almost exclusively in an accusatory manner. A mainstay in the nomenclature of the pious, with their arsenals of stones stowed far away from anything that could be described as a glasshouse. ‘To lie’ is to deceive, and to deceive is to be amoral and malicious. To deliver an inaccuracy in such a way that it is considered objectively positive is called being ‘tactful,’ a quality regarded glowingly. Surprising, when you consider that the latter is the clone of the former, at least in composition. All the same motives, ingredients and skills are active and both fall under this absolute definition-
‘A lie is that which is believed to be false but is portrayed as true’
So, imagine both the statements below are untrue-
“I am not cheating on you”
“Your horn compliments your speech impediment in such a way, that neither are noticeable. Like when you use white wine to remove a red wine stain. Those people must be looking at some other monstrous frog beast.”
Intuitively we feel that the former is black and the latter ‘white.’ Why exactly? How do they differ?
They both aim to preserve peace. To renew tranquility. The lie protects both parties. The intention is to euthanize misgivings. Whether out of kindness or cowardice is up for debate, but neither motive is ontologically clear from the statements themselves, and we come no closer to meaningfully distinguishing the two.
But still- the disingenuous sycophant is accepted and the adulterer ostracized (unless i’m wrong about that?). So we must accept that duplicity is a morally grey area, it’s usage can render one both selfish and altruistic in the same motion. Akin to hitting a nail with a hammer twice, the first time the nail is embedded into the wood, with the second it is retracted.
Apparently, we think it appropriate to lie as a kind of social lubricant that can be seen as ‘white’ or altruistic. (More about that and supporting studies here)
When do we think lying is ok?
Job interviews are riddled with half lies. It’s an ensconced exchange. You’re expected to lie, the test is how competently. I.e.
Q. “What’s your greatest weakness?”
A “I have a tendency to work too hard”
Q”Are you competent enough to have prepared a reasonable answer to this standard question?”
A”Yes, I used google and found 1000 blogs suggesting ideal answers, one of which i used”
We are expected to lie out of politeness. Politeness is an ingenious construct that provides us with a collective camouflage for truth. The more unimaginatively we perform these hard-wired protocols the thicker the veil.
Q. “Are you all right?”
A “Yes, fine thanks”.
Q “We know each other so it is customary for me to acknowledge you with a perfunctory pleasantry”
A “Although I have innumerable concerns, there is no compelling reason to reveal them. In fact, i don’t have any data that, after analysis, suggests it is possible to safely reveal anything to you that could make me potentially vulnerable.”
Ok, maybe that’s a bit too clinical but you get my point.
Another pervading lie is the ‘public image lie’. I’m willing to accept that we all vary in the concentration of bollocks in our self projection, but I firmly believe that we all have this concept of the ultimate ‘Me.’ The ideal you might be a wit, or a thug, a hard worker, a laugh, a comic, a spiritualist, well-traveled, strong, sexy, independent, wise, tortured, confident, intelligent, caring and so on. We are guilty of trying to convince ourselves and to convince those around us of these attributes.
A common example of this is when we try to make ourselves seem impervious, which gives way to that most reactive and throwaway statement:
“I don’t care”.
Am I making my point here? I don’t mean to suggest that every utterance is shrouded in smoke and mirrors. Only that we are constantly juggling a lot of abstract ideas and expectations that make us stretched and fallible.
If in doubt, make a list (section 2.1.314 of the bloggers manifesto). Here are some other lies I would label as-
“I can’t remember”
“I love …”
“I will never hurt you”
“It wasn’t me”
Just some examples of the perfect balance between fight and flight. We do not flee, nor do we fight, we compromise, we give the most acceptable answer, we dress up the truth and push out the hastily doctored version- scantily clad, as inscrutable as it is unsatisfactory, ready for consumption.
But the disguise is obvious, tellingly so. Picasso put it better (I don’t mind telling you)-
“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
Naturally, some fabrications are entirely self-serving. “I didn’t steal your money” is a pretty one way street. The problem with the moral decision process that we imagine preludes the creation of all fib-kind is that the arbiter is the most bias, self-serving possible: the benefactor. So those who have pretty lax moral screenings are quite capable of contriving some truly colossal tales (that little fellow with the wolf to name but one). Anyway, I’m sure that many have felt their own nonsense justified and other people’s reproachable. But the commonplace, reactive approximations we churn out endlessly are not so easily explained.
Why say “I’m fine” when you are not? Why pretend you know what you don’t? Why subscribe to this communal inhibition? Why pretend, act and appear?
For the answer to this I refer to Picasso’s far more succinct summation above.
We know it is not truth.
The words we have are simply not adequate to portray the complex, unknown nature of the thing. Lies are comfortable and, a really heart-wrenching one, can tell us more about reality by the shadow it casts across the gaps between thoughts than the bravest attempt at earnest eloquence. The absence of light is at least proof that something is missing.
So have respect for a fiction that’s crafted especially for you, keep and scrutinize it like you would a love poem or portrait. Study the movement of the shadows and guess, like a product of Plato’s cave, at its meaning.