The Philosophy of Falsehood

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DATE LAST REVISED:  22 MARCH 2014

In my last article, I covered a few current news stories, that featured lying and massive distortions of the truth. Indeed, that is a prominent feature of most news stories ….. because it is a prominent feature of most human events since the beginning of time. In most news stories, either the reporter is biased and distorting, or the people in the report are lying and distorting. Lying is easy; all it takes is words, which proceed constantly from our mouths or our gadgets. Lying is perhaps the easiest unethical act to do and get away with, or sometimes (rarely) the easiest ethical thing to do. All of us must be concerned about lying, because we need to know if we can trust the words of the people around us. Our judgment of this is key to our success or failure, in any field of human endeavor.  Words are a powerful weapon, a powerful tool, and a powerful paint. Paint does not change the shape of the thing it covers, but it drastically changes the appearance.

 Like painting, lying is a fine art, and all of us are artists, of greater or lesser skill. Some of us are like photographers, minimizing the distortion, trying to paint a very accurate and objective picture of reality; and others are like abstract artists, maximizing the lies, painting a very distorted and selective picture of reality.

 Dividing communications into “truth” or “lie” is far too simplistic. People “spin” their communications with exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and distortions, to paint a picture that they believe is to their benefit, or to the benefit of people they care about. I believe everyone does this to some degree, as an integral part of human nature. That does not make it OK, it is just my observation. It seems to me that much lying is done to justify oneself or protect oneself from disapproval. I would say that self-justification is the first commandment of the human ego, and everyone does it, to some degree, in an ethical or unethical manner. If you disagree with this observation, please let me know. If you agree, also please let me know. This is the first time I have tried to describe it in writing. I do not have handy any literary references for this argument, but I am sure I could find some.

“Spinning” or lying can be done in an ethical manner with good intentions (the proverbial “white lie”), or in an extremely unethical manner with harmful intentions. We should all know this, and I think this is self-evident, in history and in current events. A few years ago, I wrote a piece of philosophy about lying, and here it is, with some additions. This is a subject as timely now as it was in the times of Immanuel Kant, as timely now as it will be 1000 years in the future…..like I have written elsewhere, philosophy has a shelf life of a few thousand years…… Philosophy, ahh, who needs that?  You do, I do, we all do, and rather urgently…..

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THE PHILOSOPHY OF FALSEHOOD

             The foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying.

                 — T. H. Huxley, Science and Morals

            There are times when lying is the most sacred of duties.

                 –Eugene Labiche, 1815-1888

A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.

     –William Blake, 1757-1827

If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup.

     –Turkish proverb

Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall piss you off, if you have believed the lies.

                 –Original to this work

 Before we delve into the shadows of human lying, let us first leave the human realm of thought, as if humans did not even exist on this planet. Consider the use of deception in the natural world around us. In nature, deception is a crucial element of life. Both predator and prey depend upon deception for their very survival. This is true for virtually every class of animal, from the smallest to the largest. A virus survives by tricking the cells of an animal’s body to manufacture more of the virus. Doctors inject dead virus material into our bodies to trick our immune system to manufacture the antibodies to kill the live virus. Some plants use deception to trap and eat insects. Many insects, fish and birds use color patterns and deceptive “eye spots” to confuse predators. Some deep-sea creatures use light-generating chemicals to become invisible to predators when viewed from below, for they blend in with the extremely weak light from above. Some fish and turtles use worm-like tongues or tentacles to lure hungry or curious fish into their mouths. Predators use camouflage patterns, stealth and deceptive pack-hunting strategy to catch their prey. Indeed, predators could not survive without deceiving their prey in some way. Many prey animals could not survive without deceiving predators in some way. If God is responsible for all of this, then he incorporated deception into the very fabric of his great tapestry of life. If evolution is responsible, it has somehow incorporated deception into the very genetic code of many species, controlling both their appearance and their behavior. Animals are born with deception painted on their skin, and written into their genes….. they have no choice in the matter.

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Human bodies, even in their various colors, stand out like a sore thumb. Our camouflage is located between our ears. With intelligence and free will, at the top of the evolutionary ladder, we should learn from the deception of the animal kingdom below us. We would be foolish not to use deception to thwart our enemies, to defeat evil and preserve goodness, which is the God-given mission of humanity. Life all around us, even inside us, uses deception to survive, and we must use it too. But for humans, apart from catching food or avoiding becoming food, the primary MORAL use of deception is to oppose evil. A secondary moral use of deception is for innocent humor or comedy, or the entertaining clever sleight-of-hand of “magic”, as practiced by popular illusionists such as David Copperfield, Criss Angel, and Lance Burton. Also, we can all enjoy a good-natured jab or prank among friends, as long as it does not go too far.

 Up front, let me plainly state my personal opinion that in most cases, for humans, lying is unethical and harmful, even destructive. But when we are faced with enemies who are trying to destroy us or harm us, lying may become necessary, in order to survive. Now let us see what others have written about deception, through the eons of recorded history:

 First, because they are the most glaringly wrong, consider the teachings of Islam, our President’s favorite religion….. (maybe this is why)…..

According to the Koran, Muslims are allowed to lie to unbelievers in order to defeat them. A Muslim who follows this doctrine feels no guilt in lying to non-Muslims. They are only obligated to tell the truth to fellow Muslims. The two forms of lying are:

Taqiyya – Saying something that isn’t true.

Kitman – Lying by omission.  An example would be when Muslim apologists quote only a fragment of verse 5:32 (that if anyone kills “it shall be as if he had killed all mankind”) while neglecting to mention that the rest of the verse (and the next) mandate murder in undefined cases of “corruption” and “mischief.” 

Though not called Taqiyya by name, Mohammed clearly used deception when he signed a 10-year treaty with the Meccans that allowed him access to their city while he secretly prepared his own forces for a takeover.  The unsuspecting residents were conquered in easy fashion after he broke the treaty two years later, and some of the people in the city who had trusted him at his word were executed.

Volumes more could be quoted about the Muslim sanction for lying, and if you want to pursue it further, you can start here, where I got the above info:   http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/011-taqiyya.htm  Believe me, this is just scratching the surface of the history of Muslim lying and deception. Now, on to other more truthful religions:

An ancient Babylonian writing warns those who lie: “Whose mouth, full of lying, avails not before thee; thou burnest with their utterance.” An ancient Hindu text declares: “A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.”

Buddha had a lot to say about Right Speech, which is one of the crucial elements of the Noble Eightfold Path: “And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”…..”The truthful one never knowingly speaks a lie, not for the sake of his own advantage, or for no other person’s advantage, or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever.”…..”The truthful one unites those that are divided; and those that are united, he encourages. Concord gladdens the truthful one, he delights and rejoices in concord. The truthful one aims for deep concord by his words.”

Buddha was very wise, and concord is very cool.  I especially like this teaching, and try to follow it in my own life. The trouble is, the people I deal with do not seem to want concord. They seem to enjoy conflict, seeking  it out, challenging me to a duel, a fight for dominance of doctrine. So I fight back, and try to open their eyes to a larger, higher truth of the universe.  But here is a basic, lower truth of the universe, that I have discovered through many years of painful experience::  those people who are divided, do not want to be united. The divided will go to vicious extremes to remain divided, and will attack anyone who tries to unite them. There are cosmic, metaphysical reasons for this, and struggling against cosmic fate is a waste of time, as I am beginning to realize. Instead, I have to try to figure out what God is really trying to do, in my life, in my mother’s life, in my father’s life, in my son’s life, in my friends’ lives, in my enemies’ lives, and figure out how to help accomplish that mission,  completely outside of my own self-interests:  “Not my will, but Thy will be done, O Lord.”  It is a tall order, and every day I fall short of that goal, but that is what I am trying to do, with every step that I take, with every breath that I breathe, with every beat of my heart, until it stops beating….. I am in hot pursuit of the truth of the universe, and the goodness of God….. no matter how the forces of evil try to distract me….. so let us now continue with my main topic,  The Philosophy of Falsehood::

The Ninth Commandment from the Bible states: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). A Hebrew psalmist wrote: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34:13). The Proverbs also condemn lying: “There are six things that the Lord hates…..a lying tongue” (Proverbs 6:16-17). “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22). “It is better to be poor than to be a liar” (Proverbs 19:22). Jesus weighed in with these words: “It is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions come: …..deceit….. All these things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21).

It is interesting that God’s Ninth Commandment given to us through Moses did not categorically state: “Thou shalt not lie”,  as a blanket rule. It certainly could have. The simplest Hebrew word for lying is  “kazzab”,  but it was not used here. Instead, the Ninth Commandment specifically said: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor”, using the Hebrew word “sheqer” for  false. The word “sheqer” also means lying, but it is used more in reference to the swearing of oaths, as in a court of law. Does the wording matter? Of course it does. Does this mean that lying against an evil enemy is allowed? I think it does. Christian theologians are divided on this subject. Some, like Saint Augustine, believed that it is never permissible to lie. Others, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had time to contemplate this issue from the perspective of a Nazi prison cell, held that under certain circumstances lying was not only morally permissible but morally mandated. Thus, Bonhoeffer advocated deceiving the enemy in circumstances of war, and he had no qualms about lying to help Jews escape, who were facing extermination. I have also seen this issue addressed on at least one other person’s website, http://www.missiontoisrael.org/9thcom-pt1.php, the website of minister Ted R. Weiland, which states: “The Bible provides many examples of people lying to protect their own lives or the lives of others. These people were not condemned, and, in some instances, they were even commended and blessed by Yahweh.” It goes on to provide many examples from the Bible, which are very interesting. If I had the time to research the scriptures and the issues, I think I would agree completely with Ted. Judging solely from parts of his website, I think he is zeroed in and on target, concerning the ethical use of lying.

God according to GodAnother brilliant author, physicist Gerald Schroeder, gives a possible example of God withholding information from Abraham, in a very human encounter. This passage is found in Schroeder’s latest book, God According to God (2009), in a chapter titled Knowing Truth in Your Heart: “The wording of several biblical passages reveals the extent to which even an agent of God will go to maintain affections within a family. Divine messengers have come to bring happy tidings to Sarah and her husband, Abraham. Sarah, from within the family’s tent, overhears the angelic messengers telling Abraham that she will bear her first child the coming year. That was quite a piece of news, considering that Sarah was 89 and Abraham was 99. ‘And Sarah laughed within her herself saying,  ” After I have become old shall I have such a pleasure? And also my man is old.” ‘ (Genesis 18:12). When God recounted Sarah’s words to Abraham, God omitted Sarah’s reference to Abraham’s advanced age. ‘And God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Shall I truly bear a child, I who am old?’ ” (18:13). We would call it a white lie, a slight divergence from the full truth to maintain family peace. It is part of God’s command to be just and good.

This omission or withholding of information sounds like something almost anyone might do, to avoid provoking a bad reaction in a family. But here we have God himself visiting a family and using this very human strategy of withholding information. And he was not doing it to save someone’s life or property. He was just doing it to avoid causing discord. He would have known how Abraham would react to Sarah’s inner thought about his age.

In Schroeder’s book, he was finished with his point, but this Biblical story gets much more interesting, a couple of verses later: “Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he (God) said Nay; but thou didst laugh.” (Genesis 18:15). Here we have Sarah lying to God’s face, though she may not have believed he was God at the time. She thought she could deny her thoughts, for she had laughed within herself, not aloud. But God being God, he had heard her inner laugh and doubt, and he called her on her lie. God does not get angry, he just corrects her with the truth, but again omits her thought about Abraham being old, to avoid getting Abraham angry at his wife.

Doing good deeds is hard work, and full of potential for damage. Here is God, appearing as a man, telling an old couple about a miracle he is going to perform for them and their descendants, and he has to tolerate being disbelieved and lied to by a woman, and he has to commit a lie of omission himself, twice, to avoid causing any trouble between the two people he is trying to bless!!

There is also an interesting verse from Jesus, which says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Being “wise as serpents” implies the use of deception and withholding information, perhaps lying, to defend yourself against the “wolves” of evil, while still being “harmless as doves”.  

However, official Christian doctrine is quite clear: lying is evil, harmful, and against the will of God. Christian philosophers and theologians, starting with St. Augustine, have reinforced this position. This is called the deontological position: that all lying is morally wrong and lying should never be sanctioned. An even stricter statement of this position is given by the famous German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant is the strongest advocate of this position that I have found. In his Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, Kant says: “Lying is the obliteration of one’s dignity as a human being. A man who does not himself believe what he says to another … has even less worth than if he were a mere thing.” Kant is hailed by some liberals as the greatest philosopher of the last 3 centuries. This is surprising, given most modern liberals’ rather casual relationship to the truth, and their tendency to defend moral weakness. But we shall soon see the link.

Immanuel Kant

In his Lectures on Ethics and elsewhere, Kant strongly condemned lying. He described it as an act against humanity itself, since it attacks the condition and means through which any human society is possible. For good people, this is a compelling argument: Lying is wrong because it adversely affects mankind universally and man individually. Lying violates Kant’s moral decree, his “Categorical Imperative.” That famous and much-debated imperative is stated as: “Act only on that maxim which you can, at the same time, will to become a universal law.” In other words, act only as you judge that all people must act. Kant taught that his Categorical Imperative covered words as well as actions. Therefore, it meant that we should always tell the absolute truth, and never utter a false statement of any kind.

As an ideal principle, I agree with Kant. If everyone in the world followed Kant’s principles and told only the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the world would be a much better place, and perhaps a more shocking place. But that will never happen, and we have to learn to deal with people who lie. We have to deal with people who lie with good intentions, we have to deal with people who lie with malice. We have to deal with people who lie about their evil intentions, and we have to deal with people who are honest about their evil intentions.

Benjamin Constant

The latter category sparked a debate in Kant’s famous career. Kant was like a rock star in 18th century European high society. Kant was so opposed to all lying, it became a topic of heated discussion in social circles. There is a famous incident in which a prominent French writer, Benjamin Constant, asked Kant to consider if one should lie to a murderer bent upon killing your friend, who is staying in your house. Benjamin likely sets up the scenario this way: A known murderer approaches you to inquire as to the whereabouts of your friend, who he wants to kill. You know the murderer’s intent, and you know where your friend is. In fact, your friend is staying in your own house, trusting that you will protect him. The murderer knows the two of you are friends, and he asks you if your friend is at your house. So now, what do you tell the murderer?

Incredibly, Kant says that you cannot lie, and you must tell the murderer where to find your friend. He responds that “To be truthful in all declarations…is a sacred and absolutely commanding decree of reason, limited by no expediency,” including human life. So, to keep yourself morally pure, you knowingly send a murderer to kill a friend. One wonders what Kant’s friends thought of this idea, or if he had any friends at all. If he did, then after this amazing episode, they knew how little he valued them. He stubbornly respected a moral rule, more than the moral principle of opposing evil, more than the moral value of protecting human life, more than the simple trust and loyalty of friendship.

After their initial debate, Benjamin Constant wrote of it in a French journal published in 1797. This provoked Kant to publish a response. Here is a link to Kant’s (translated) written response to the challenge and criticism of Benjamin Constant. It is titled “On A Supposed Right To Lie From Altruistic Motives”: http://www.unc.edu/courses/2009spring/plcy/240/001/Kant.pdf

You should go to the link and read it. It is the most impressive example of intellectual self-deception and trying to defend an indefensible position that I have ever seen. It supports my postulate above that self-justification is the first commandment of the human ego. It is an egotistical lie, told by a celebrated philosopher, to defend unconditional honesty. It is a philosophical train wreck. It reminds me of the saying: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.” Kant tries to do both, but it falls as flat as a guilty child’s stubborn retort….. because it is just plain morally WRONG. It also strikes me as cowardly, as Kant explains that telling the truth to the murderer carries no risk to yourself, while lying to the murderer incurs legal liability, and you might be sued if anyone is hurt. In his eagerness to defend himself, Kant lowers himself to the level of legal considerations, which are far removed from the lofty morality he claims for himself. Laws are only basic rules, which can often be used equally as a weapon for good or evil.

Perhaps I am overconfident in the moral competence of humanity, but I would be surprised if a single person reading Kant’s response would honestly agree with him. Even criminals would not be likely to betray their friends in this way. Kant is way out in left field here. Kant’s insistence on helping the murderer is just too extreme, too harmful, too morally naïve. In fact, in his zeal to defend himself, Kant has overlooked some obvious alternatives. His ‘moral’ solution to the problem, telling the truth, is in this case the MOST harmful and LEAST moral thing one could do. There are four options that come to my mind, which do not even require lying. They are listed here in order of morality and bravery. First is to run away, second is to say nothing, third is to state that you refuse to answer his question, and fourth is to strongly condemn the murderer, and threaten him with retaliation if he harms your friend. The fifth option (my personal choice) is to lie, to send the murderer as far away from your friend as possible. The sixth option is physical violence, which may become necessary if you choose options 1, 2, 3 or 4 and the murderer becomes violent with you.

Regardless of your choice, even if you obey Kant and tell the truth, your next “moral duty” would be to follow the murderer and thwart his efforts, or contact your friend and warn him. Kant, the champion of “moral duty”, does not even mention these duties. Perhaps they did not occur to him, because he was a spineless coward…? Kant’s brave solution– giving the murderer what he demands and then letting him go on his way without opposition– is the only one that involves no risk to yourself. For after the murderer finds your information to be true and kills your friend, he will have no quarrel with you. One wonders why the great moral thinker Kant did not include these steps (the following and the warning) in his great decree. For here is hidden evil exposed, a murderer confessing his intent before committing a murder, a rare occasion indeed. But Kant does not lift a moral finger to oppose it, or even to acknowledge the opportunity. For such a moralist as Kant, this is a serious omission. It uncovers the fatal flaw in his philosophy: the failure to deal with evil. Kant’s idea of bravery in the face of evil is to take no risk, to avoid lawsuit, to do evil’s bidding, to help it find its victim by telling the truth. This perverts morality to such an extreme, it almost makes me sick.

Thus Kant’s extreme scenario, meant to teach a lesson on the immorality of lying, actually teaches us little about lying or telling the truth. It teaches us to be mindless robots to rules of morality, even if this costs other people their lives. It teaches us to be pacifists. It teaches us even to be submissive to evil. It encourages cowardice. It ignores the effective options one may take without even lying. It ignores the immorality of telling the truth in some cases. It advocates the elevating of a rigid moral rule over more important moral principles and values. These are Kant’s real points, which are all presented and reinforced without directly stating them. And with some of these points, he teaches the faulty values of liberalism, and that is why liberals still honor him today.

Kant’s solution, telling a murderer the truth at the cost of your friend’s life, reminds me of the popular “no evil” trio of monkeys. You know the ones….. they are sitting on their butts side-by-side, one with hands on his ears, one with hands on his eyes, one with hands on his mouth….. representing the Buddhist teaching of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”. For in Kant’s scenario, you hear no evil intent in the murderer’s words, you see no evil in the presence of a self-proclaimed murderer, and you speak the truth because you think all lying is evil. But in this case, telling the truth is evil, and lying is your best weapon of the moment against a murderer seeking his next victim. If you tell him the truth, you are as stupid as a monkey, and an accomplice to murder.

If you agree with my solution to Kant’s problem, then you agree that lying is permissible in some cases. This classifies us as utilitarian in philosophical terminology. According to utilitarian ethics, we judge the morality of a lie by the benefit or harm it will cause. A lie is permissible when it will maximize benefit or minimize harm. In natural moral philosophy, we must say that a lie is permissible when it will promote goodness or oppose evil. Further, when evil persons are on the prowl, as in Kant’s example, lying to them to thwart their evil mission is an absolute moral imperative. It is a powerful weapon in our arsenal of options to oppose evil.

Even if they do not lie, agents of goodness certainly have no twisted Kantian moral duty to tell agents of evil all they know. That is what Kant is advocating. If all good people obeyed Kant and did this, the evil people would quickly learn its usefulness. A robber would need only to ask, to learn the location of a man’s house, and the times he will not be there. A rapist would need only to ask, to learn the location and names of a man’s wife or children, and the times that they are the most vulnerable. They would need only to ask, to learn a man’s bank account number, credit card number, and social security number. For if Kant says we must sacrifice our friend’s life to evil, what do these smaller things matter? But what would this do to society? Law and order would have no meaning, and civilization would collapse. Evil men would rule everything, without opposition. In the light of moral reality, we see that Kant’s moral duty to always tell the truth is a violation of Kant’s own “Categorical Imperative.” For when the presence of evil is acknowledged, this moral duty cannot and must not be universally applied. It would quickly bring about the complete triumph of evil. Kant seems to assume that evil would gradually cease to exist as people learn to do their moral duties. But if that is his assumption, he is wrong. Evil is here to stay, for it is born anew with every new generation. It is an important consequence of Kant’s own dear “freedom of will.” Kant does not see the consequences of his own philosophical system.

This is not just a problem with Kant, it is a strong fallacy running through almost all of religious philosophy. This amazing doctrine of non-violence and compliance with evil finds refuge in some corner of every faith. When evil strikes us, pacifists remind us that Christ would have us turn the other cheek for the next blow. This is supposed to impress us as an enlightened moral position, but in many cases it is moral folly and wishful thinking. Pacifists ignore these sayings of Jesus:

Do not think that I am come to bring peace on Earth; I came not to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. (Matthew 10:34-36 NASB)

But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. [Luke 22:36]

There is also the incident where Jesus becomes violent himself, using a length of rope or cord as a whip to drive the livestock out of the temple in Jerusalem, and overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple:

Jesus with whip

Jesus overturning table

Since Jesus taught different lessons at different times in different circumstances, it is up to us to learn how to apply them. Pacifism in the face of violence is considered noble or admirable, and sometimes it is. Jesus proved that by allowing himself to be captured and executed. But if it is misapplied, as Kant misapplies it, it is  the same as cowardice. This strategy may work in certain cases, but as a general policy or doctrine it is a dismal failure, and it is far over-rated by modern liberal society.    

Kant is considered (by liberals) to be the greatest philosopher of the last 300 years because he was the most successful in expressing the goodness in humanity. He eloquently transformed it into a moral duty. But he filtered out evil. His precious “freedom of will” means that humans always have a moral choice, but Kant did not instruct us how to deal with those people who choose to do evil. Any philosophy that does not acknowledge the willful and permanent presence of evil, and does not develop effective ways to deal with it, is committing a serious error of omission. As Kant himself demonstrates with his famous example of telling the truth to a murderer, it is a fatal error, for Kant is willing to sacrifice his friend’s life to follow a rigid moral rule. With his concept of “radical evil,” Kant did acknowledge permanent evil. But he gave it short shrift, and failed to give us a successful way to deal with it.

After this extreme example of telling the truth at the cost of a friend’s life, Kant further illustrates his moral confusion with two other examples. These are not as well documented, but I found them. They are found in Kant’s Lectures on Ethics. In the first example, if a known thief asks a person with 50 dollars if he has any money, Kant says a justifiable answer would be, “I have no money,” a clear lie (which would not turn away any respectable thief). Kant explains: “The forcing of a statement from me under conditions which convince me that improper use would be made of it is the only case in which I can be justified in telling a white lie.” So, while a friend’s life IS NOT worth lying for, 50 dollars IS worth lying for? The murder of our friend is not an “improper use” of our statement?

Later in his lectures, Kant gives us another confusing example. Your neighbor asks you to point out his faults to him, but you know to do so would hurt his feelings, so you are not forthright with him. Kant explains: “If we must blame, we must temper the blame with a sweetening of love, good-will, and respect. Nothing else will avail to bring about improvement.” Now we are to disobey a neighbor’s direct request for our knowledge, when earlier we gave our knowledge freely to a murderer. So, while a friend’s life IS NOT worth lying for, a neighbor’s feelings ARE worth lying for? There is no way to resolve these inconsistencies in Kant’s thinking. He showed us with the first famous example that he is in serious error, and he shows us with these later examples that he is in serious confusion. If he was just modifying his view, then he had the moral duty to point out and correct his earlier error. But he did not do so. As his career played out,  his position on lying swung impulsively from one extreme to the other, without explanation or apology.

With these latter examples, Kant is now leaning toward the third philosophical view of lying. That view of lying is called teleological. According to teleological ethics, lying is permissible to avoid harm to ourselves or others, produce benefits for ourselves or others, promote fairness and justice, and protect the truth by counteracting another lie. Defenders of this view say we may lie to friends to avoid conflict or decrease social friction (Lying in Prime Time,Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Leslie, 1992). They say complete honesty could make relationships tedious, even laden with conflict (Lying, American Psychologist, Saxe, 1991). They say lying is a valuable tool which permits a person to adapt to society and the world of nature (The Importance of Lying, Ludwig, 1965). Lying is transformed into a behavior which is virtuous, caring, merciful, and fair. But Ludwig cautions us to distinguish between “useful and constructive forms of lying, and the useless and destructive forms.” This is indeed the moral duty falling upon those who would lie so freely. And this is the task many modern philosophers have taken upon themselves, to reject the moral rule against all lying, and to teach us how to lie with skill and honor. I do not advocate such a liberal teleological approach to lying, but rather a cautious utilitarian approach.

In contrast to this, or perhaps at the end of the teleological road, over the cliff, is what I consider the most notorious and immoral use of deception in human history. In China in 1956-1957, Chairman Mao conducted what is known as the “Hundred Flowers Campaign.” Mao made many speeches inviting criticism of the Communist government. In one speech he said: “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” The Chinese people were very suspicious of Mao’s intent. But after more speeches, they were encouraged, and millions of letters poured in to the government, giving Mao exactly what he had asked for. China’s intellectuals wrote freely in newspapers and magazines, there were rallies in the streets, there were posters proclaiming a new freedom of thought. People criticized the suppression of intellectuals, the harshness and brutality of previous crackdowns, the slavish following of Soviet policies, the appalling poor standards of living in China, the banning of foreign literature,  and corruption among party leaders, including the fact that “Party members enjoy many privileges which make them a race apart” (Wikipedia).   Then Mao claimed that the criticism had gone too far, and used the letters to track down and punish or kill about half a million dissidents who had been drawn in by Mao’s deception. May he burn in Hell forever, if there is a Hell. For this demonic deception of his was just one small episode in decades of the most brutal and frightening oppression one can imagine, with a death toll of perhaps 30 million….

…..and let us not forget, Mao is a role model to many “progressives” and Radicals in America today, and in our government. Someday, this COULD happen here…..

  

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The current “Occupy” movement was orchestrated by Van Jones, the former communist sympathizer who had to resign from the Obama administration. The Occupy movement is the latest brainstorm of the Radical movement, in the tradition of Saul Alinsky. Saul Alinsky taught the use of deception and lying to defeat capitalism. The Radical movement is very similar to communism, which I have already written of here: https://goldenmeantx.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/radicalism-the-dark-side-of-liberalism/

The most relevant paragraph of that article is:

“The ethical Liberal may groan and say, “there you go again, equating Liberals and Radicals with Communism….. it is not the same.” But the underlying philosophy of Radicalism and Communism IS the same. The labels are different, but both of them depict the history of civilization as a war between rich and poor, and depict the rich as the evil enemy of the innocent poor. Both of them want to confiscate the wealth of the rich, destroy the upper class, and remake society according to their doctrine. They are both essentially unethical, willing to lie, misrepresent, mislead, and willing to destroy the reputation or livelihood of their enemies any way they can. The only essential difference between Radicalism and Communism, is the degree of violence they will employ in seeking their power, and the degree of violence they will employ after they gain power. Radicals stage riots and throw a few bombs; Communists stage massive purges and throw millions in prisons or concentration camps. We have yet to see what Radicals will do in America if they gain decisive, irresistible power. We must ensure that they never get the chance to show us what they will do.”

Radicalism and Communism both think nothing of deceiving and lying to defeat their political enemies. They use it as a main strategy, until they gain enough power to establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which has some parallels with the Occupy slogan about the so-called “99% against the 1%”. What we may be seeing is a new pseudo-communist movement being born under our noses, with the support and agreement of President Obama, who said that he stands with the protesters. But that is no surprise, for Obama wrote in his own book that he sought out Marxist professors and students in college, and he appointed a Marxist-leaning activist, Van Jones, to his administration. Jones was the driving force behind the movement that became Occupy Wall Street (see my last article).

I am NOT saying that Obama or the Occupy leaders are communist. But they both have Radical roots, and Radicalism teaches the heavy use of deception and lying, as does communism. That is all I am trying to point out here. Radicalism and communism teach the routine, constant, heavy use of deception and lying.  Political labels can be misleading, but doctrines and behavior point to the truth. If it quacks like a duck and lies like a duck…..

I, on the other hand, support only the non-routine, occasional use of deception and lying, in extreme cases where life, liberty, or property is under attack. Let no one try to accuse me of hypocrisy or double standards on this. They will not succeed.

I hope this discussion of lying has illustrated the difficulty of following moral rules, in terms that all of us can understand through personal experience. If we follow the simplistic moral rule, “Do not lie”, like Kant did, we will soon find ourselves in situations where we are violating moral values which are much more important than a rigid moral rule. Human life is not a simple game with simplistic rules; it is highly complex contest of wills between those who try to help and those who try to hurt. Telling the truth to people who will use the information in harmful ways IS NOT A MORAL DUTY. On the contrary, I must argue that withholding information and/or lying to such people is the proper moral duty. Protecting goodness and opposing evil are far more important than any moral duty to tell the truth. Both goodness and evil have available to them the entire spectrum of behavior and physical action, and evil will use that entire spectrum without hesitation. This means that goodness, when opposing evil, must do everything from telling lies to killing people. Goodness must violate moral rules to preserve moral values, depending on the situation. This is not a modified version of “situation ethics,” it is a proper response to aggressive acts. This is not a typical everyday routine, but a non-typical response to destructive evil in desperate situations. We can rule out certain acts that good people should never do, such as theft, rape, torture, taking of hostages, killing of innocent bystanders and other behavior motivated by intentional cruelty. As Aristotle argued, such acts are inherently evil in themselves, and can never be justified. But other than this one category of prohibited behavior, good people must have available to them the same options of deception and physical force that evil people have. When lives and property are put in danger by agents of evil, the opposing agents of goodness must take strong and decisive steps to defeat them. This is not just a fanciful “Hollywood” brand of goodness, for use only in violent action movies where the good guys defeat the bad guys, often by killing them. This is instead a vital elementary moral principle, usually honored in times of declared war, but not understood or supported in times of so-called peace.

 What good people must realize is this: as long as evil exists (and that will be as long as life exists), as long as evil people are among us, there is no true peace. Lying or telling the truth is just one small part of the problem. War is not just “over there” in Iraq, or wherever our troops happen to be fighting at the moment. The real war is  internal  and spiritual….. between love and hate; charity and greed; creating and destroying; building up and cutting down; setting free and enslaving; giving power and taking power. In simpler terms, the real war is between those who help and those who harm. Which side do you fall on? Really? According to who? Would your family and friends and co-workers agree with your opinion of that? Which side do they fall on? Really? According to who? The battlefield is everywhere, in all our lives, and in all our hearts.

True peace would be complete separation of good people (those who mostly help) from evil people (those who mostly harm), as soon as that quality could be determined, and for as long as that quality lasted in the person. Until that is accomplished, there is temporary peace for individuals lucky enough to avoid evil, but as soon as they become a target of evil, their peace is over, and they will be lucky to escape with their lives and their sanity. But if they fight back with all the tools available to them, some of the same tools evil is using, they have a chance to win. Fighting evil and winning gives a person the greatest satisfaction and the only genuine peace there is, in this world.      

We must also realize that humans are intelligent creatures of limited knowledge, but unlimited creativity. There is also that pesky ego, telling us that we already know  everything we need to know, but we don’t, and we never will. So while we can never know enough to tell the complete truth, we can know enough to paint some very convincing pictures of the truth, that can be very misleading.

Life on this planet is like a walk through the ultimate art gallery in the Twilight Zone, to purchase a painting for our home. We must try to pick out the few masterpieces painted by angels, among the many masterpieces painted by demons. We must also try to pick out the more ordinary pictures painted by well-meaning folks, among those painted by mischievous imps. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. But we should pick carefully, because someday, somewhere, somehow, I believe we will held accountable for our choices.

Or perhaps, we are also constantly being held accountable. I recently ran across an interesting quote from Buddha: “We are not punished for our anger, we are punished by our anger.” I would add that all the people around us are punished by our anger as well, and they may not deserve it.  But that is another subject…..

….. at any rate, I hope this article has served to illustrate the importance of philosophy in our everyday lives, whether it is formal philosophy, religious philosophy, or political philosophy.

Philosophy….. who needs that?  You do.  I do.  We all do.  And rather urgently.

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About goldenmeantx
Truth seeker, fact finder, amateur philosopher, amateur historian, ex-soldier, ex-motorcycle racer, world traveler, rancher, hunter, gun owner, dirt bike rider, mountain bicycle rider, husband, father, grandfather, hard worker, good friend to all who put up with me, and even some who don't.

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