Thursday, February 5, 2015

lying: ain't it the truth?

Lying is an activity usually reserved either to keep something hidden or to attain a goal the liar is unwilling to straightforward about.

Religions and other well-coiffed social efforts tend to disdain and discourage lying, but when push comes to shove, I wonder if the truth, whatever it may be, could be revealed even in the best of circumstances. Anyone can lie, but can anyone actually tell the truth? I don't know.

One of America's most famous news anchors has apologised after a story he repeatedly told about coming under fire in Iraq was revealed to be untrue. 
NBC's Brian Williams said he was on a helicopter forced down in 2003, but veterans have now disputed his account.
Williams may be squirming after entering the news spotlight he is accustomed to shining on others, but his 'betrayal' of public trust hardly strikes me as unusual or even especially reprehensible in the world of agitation-and-propaganda he inhabits. He, like any CEO or individual, might wish to be believed and accredited, but which is more sensible? -- believing or disbelieving? Am I wrong or is trustworthiness/ethics these days based more on a majority sentiment and less on any verifiable fact?

Is truth as touted merely a matter of public accolade? If my ethics are bounded by a cheering public sentiment, does that make me moral? Is it lying or not to use words like "misspoke" when referring to lies? Is sincerity an excuse worth heeding? And if, by chance, a liar were to reverse course and lay his cards on the table, would that then imply he was telling the truth?

Don't get me wrong -- I do not intend to promote some slick, self-serving cynicism that doubts and tears down at every turn. I am not a Republican. But I am interested both in the willingness to tell lies (as I have) and the inability to stop doing so. Relativism is a cheap date.

As a delicately genteel nudge from the past once had it:

I love myself
I think I'm grand.
I go to the movies
And hold my hand.
I put my arm
Around my waist.
And when I'm fresh,
I slap my face.
I say so unabashedly: I prefer the truth. I do not like liars. I say these things without much investigation: Let's face it -- it sounds good and I like the warm nods and accolades that saying so may elicit. I freely admit that lies are some of the best implements when it comes to winkling out the truth. But into that stew, if it's to be worth a shit, I feel compelled at add the spiciness of, "OK try to tell the truth without lying. Go ahead! I D-double-dare you!"

Naturally, I can bring a hundred excuses to bear when it comes to lying: Everybody's doing it, so it must be OK; it's for the greater good; I forgot; it's a kindness; the dog ate my homework; I am sincere; I want to be a good person; I screwed the pooch even if I cannot know who or what the pooch is ... etc. etc. etc.

I guess Mark Twain had it about right when he said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." It's such a rich and nourishing field that I can hardly imagine anyone's putting the plough back in the barn.

1 comment:

  1. Is the truth knowable? It's certainly not against the law to tell lies. Although if you've sworn to an official to tell the truth you can get in trouble. Lying to the police is common enough to be commonly regretted.

    Generally we all qualify as either liars or idiots and dislike those qualities in others, and if sufficiently honest, ourselves. But some lies are deliberate, and if financing is available, shouted until accepted as truths.

    And lies can have entertainment value. I'm told this was a winning entry in a liars club competition, exposing lies by contradiction...

    Pull up a chair,
    and sit on the floor,
    I'll tell you a story
    you've heard before*

    One bright day
    in the middle of the night
    two dead boys
    got into a fight
    they stood back to back
    and faced each other
    pulled out to guns
    and stabbed each other
    a deaf policeman heard the noise
    pulled out a knife
    and shot both boys
    If you don't believe me
    this lie is true
    just ask the blind man -
    he saw it too!