Ming the Mechanic:
We're all liars

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 We're all liars2004-11-19 18:49
8 comments
by Flemming Funch

Interesting article Questioning Authority, an interview with David Livingstone Smith, who's a bit of an authority on lying. He says some fairly eye opening things about how much all of us lie to ourselves and others a lot of the time. And, depending on the circumstances, it isn't always a bad thing.
You say that self-deceived people are often mentally healthier than those who are honest with themselves.

Yes, lying to oneself promotes psychological well-being. Research shows that depressed people deceive themselves less than those who are mentally healthy. Frankly, if we did not deceive ourselves, I think we would go mad from distress. For example, the simple fact that we're all going to die, that there are various people in the world out to get us, that a good deal of the world lives in unrelenting misery and hunger-it's all enough to drive everyone bonkers. Unless we are capable of shielding ourselves from that, we would be constantly disturbed. It's why we worry more about missing our favorite TV show than about a dirty bomb going off in a terrorist attack.

Also, self-deception relieves us from a sense that we're constantly living in contradiction. We each have a set of values that we constantly violate. When you're aware of transgressing one of those values that you hold dear, you tend to feel bad about yourself. In deceiving ourselves, we relieve ourselves of that burden, making life a lot easier and lot more pleasant for ourselves. It's quite wonderful.

Finally, if we convince ourselves we're not really lying, we can lie far more effectively than might otherwise be the case. All of our social lies, like the fake smile, involve the manipulation of how others see us. Our lives are saturated with pretense and dishonesty. Although we claim to value truth above all else, we are also at least dimly aware that there is something antisocial about too much honesty.

Hm, so we kind of make the world more bearable and more pleasant by lying. Optimism is a kind of lying, I suppose. Anyway, he isn't exactly advocating that we should all become better liars. There are some social issues with it, of course:
So should we value lying more than telling the truth, especially since you said that good liars have an advantage in life?

When I'm talking about advantage, I'm talking about what gives an individual organism success. But all sorts of things can give individual success. Killing one's rivals is an example, but just because it gives you an advantage doesn't morally justify it. Put it this way: If one thinks that individual advantage is the ultimate value in life, it would follow that one should work at becoming a very good, calculating liar. But encouraging lying to one's individual advantage will always receive social disapproval, because if you are taught to lie better, that's against everyone's interest. Just as it might be advantageous for each of us to lie, it's disadvantageous for each of us to be lied to. For lying to be advantageous, society has to place an emphasis on honesty. Unless we have a sense that there's truthfulness enough of the time, lying ceases to function. That's illustrated in the old story about the boy who cried wolf. If we get a situation where we're all cold-bloodedly out to lie to each other, we will lose trust in each other, lying will stop working, and the world would collapse under the weight of too much lying.

Well, how about if we said that it really depended on the intention, whether lying is appropriate or not? If I lie to myself and others to make our lives better, and it actually sticks, and there's no big letdown where they discover a different truth. That would be a good thing, no? If you're deadly sick and you walk up to a healer and he puts his hand on your forehead and with a loud and convincing voice says "You're healed!!", and you actually believe it, and you get up and walk out all cured, does it matter if he were only bluffing? If you're presented with an impossible situation, but you refuse to accept it, and you lie to yourself, and thereby you make it possible, and you solve it? Then you'd be a magical manifestor, rather than a liar. But if you lie to somebody else in order to sabotage them and give yourself an undeserved advantage, that would be the bad kind of lying, I suppose. And if you lie to yourself to make things worse than they realy are. Is the glass half full or half empty? Depends. Depends in part on where you're going with it. If you saw it half full, and you proceeded to fill it, your intention reveals itself. If you saw it half empty, and you proceeded to waste the rest, likewise.


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8 comments

23 Nov 2004 @ 13:02 by eric schneider @212.99.205.194 : ridiculous
well, partly this may appear to be true, but its no good. there are a lot of schools of though and wisdom that tell us being ture to oneself and others is the ebst way to fare well and feel fine. also to develop good relations, and it is the good relations that make me SUCCESSful through allies in love, family, fun and business and any other underatkings. now one the most public liars in all regards, to himself and the world is bush, and if somebody calls him succesful he must have real big blinkers on concerning what makes a good life.

when you stay true to yourself over a long period of time, also throguh heavy and painful times, there is a gift to discover that you could never dream of nor evaluate in money.

wish you luck to experience that.  



23 Nov 2004 @ 14:03 by ming : Being true to yourself
I certainly think the best advice is to be true to oneself, and to be in contact with one's own integrity.

But the paradox is that sometimes that might mean that one "lies" on a more superficial level. One might believe in one's own success in some field, because it feels right, deep down, but to get there one might have to tell oneself all sorts of optimistic things that aren't objectively true, but which makes it much more likely that one will arrive.

And then there's "Do I look fat in this dress?". The answer is "No, Darling, you look lovely! But how about that one there?", even if she does look a little fat. Maybe because what she's really asking for is an expression of affectionate feelings and support, rather than an objective assessment.  



26 Nov 2004 @ 23:52 by Reflexions @66.151.149.25 : Everything I say is a lie
[{link:http://reflexions.typepad.com/reflexions/2004/11/everything_i_sa.html|trackback}]: Ming the Mechanic spotted an interesting article in the September/October 2004 issue of Across the Board.  


1 Dec 2004 @ 13:38 by PRIMO @216.68.17.214 : to add
we do not want what we desire allthough that is the reason for said emotion. instead it is the idea of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that we hold so dear. we are more fantasy driven than materially motivated. because once you have what you desire it becomes impossible for you to desire it anymore. thus, becareful what you wish for!!!  


23 Jan 2008 @ 01:21 by Lloyd T. Rainwater @24.74.7.218 : wish for or simple expect professional
Go forward simply , without anything except to learn and not act like a fucking idiot. It is not that hard, actually it is fucking simple. Make some money and have a nice day. Anything less is half full, half empty or half ass.  


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