Lies and More Lies

I picture a cartoon in the New Yorker: a child with her mother watching Trump on TV–“Mommy, how do I stop myself becoming a billionaire?”

The level of lying reached by Trump and his associates has reached epic proportions. People appear on TV telling outright lies and clearly know they are. Trump himself will say absolutely anything to get out of trouble (usually self-created). I wonder what this is doing to the national (and global) psyche: is it creating disgust for lying or is it legitimizing lying as a tool of persuasion? What would Kant think? Can lying become so prevalent and so tolerated that it eclipses truth-telling? Will it all become a question of who can tell the best lies? My sense, though, is that the disgust at lying might well counterbalance the epidemic of it.

12 responses to “Lies and More Lies”

  1. John Ellard says:

    The fog of lying is – at least – something we all have to deal with. I don’t know how we learn to detect it but mostly we do. The assault on our common-sense is now quite intense, through advertising, spam emails and the odd way that politicians don’t engage in debate but just make statements. Defending against lies is important unless you want to go broke so we all need to spot the fraudulent spam, phone calls and sadly we can’t all achieve that reliably all the time. ‘Our hamburgers are made with 100 percent beef’ ought to be a classic example of dissimulation since, clearly, beef is beef. The intention is to deceive and we all have to master the skills to spot the lie. This wastes a lot of energy and time and of course lies are just that – lies. There are lots of ways to characterise the problem – ‘spin’, ‘marketing’, but the intention is to influence not inform. There are no half-truths; there are true statements and false statements. I suppose there are also statements that are just meaningless too.

    I hope you’re right that disgust will win out.

    • Colin McGinn says:

      We should really teach lie detection at school.

      • Colin McGinn says:

        The fog of filth has now reached a new level. By now the President is hated and despised by the majority of Americans and almost everyone else in the world, and with good reason (is that his own orange blood on his face?). Yet his “base” continues to support him and hate the media for reporting honestly on their hero. Where will this end? How much worse can it get? This is not over.

        • Colin McGinn says:

          The story about using the Enquirer to threaten journalists is yet another shock to the system. It has Americans reaching uneasily for their moral vocabulary.

  2. Vivian says:

    ‘My sense, though, is that the disgust at lying might well counterbalance the epidemic of it.’

    Humans are animals who have evolved to use deception to survive. Lying is thus partially what makes us human. And we all lie. Indeed, the very claim ‘I don’t lie,’ which some of us moronically utter, is itself a lie. So this so-called epidemic of lying is neither new nor interesting: for humanity has always been―and likely will continue to be―as deceitful as it is now. Our only hope to improve greatly in this regard is a far-fetched one, likely to lead us to global catastrophe, not utopia: our use of genetic engineering and other scientific techniques to eradicate some of our less virtuous survival mechanisms.

  3. Vivian says:

    I agree; for many kinds of lies are bad according to my self-created system of morality—a system that’s ultimately a kind of big lie itself, which I adhere to simply for the sake of not losing my mind. (Moral nihilism, after all, is rather disheartening.) But my prior point is that I don’t think humanity or America is at some high point of telling lies—of either the permissible or impermissible kind. Since we’re sly animals who have evolved to use both kinds of lies, among other things, to survive, the number of permissible and impermissible lies in the world has likely been about the same (or at least not significantly different) for a long, long time, sadly. That someone with an exceptional gift for taking pleasure from lying has become the U.S. president is likely not going to have much of an effect on the average number of lies in American society. Truth will out run Trump, in the long run; in the short run, he either will be run out of office soon or will be voted out after four years.

    • Colin McGinn says:

      I think you adhere to your morality because you think it is morally right. It is not a “big lie” that murder is wrong. The danger with Trump is that he makes lying seem normal, though there is a countervailing disgust.

  4. Vivian says:

    Because I’m not psychopathic, I of course feel that murder is wrong, yes. And this feeling itself is generally the reason why I ascribe moral goodness or badness to various actions. But as soon as I try to analyze the deeper grounding for my feeling that murder is wrong, I find myself quickly sinking into a form of moral nihilism that turns (1) my sense of moral wrongness and (2) morality in general into an illusion—in other words, into a big lie. The article ‘The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality’ by the philosopher William Lane Craig sums up what I often think: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/meta-eth.html. And since, currently, I do not believe that God grounds morality, I am at a loss for a ground for my feeling that murder is wrong. Here’s a passage from that article:

    ‘It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values. Are the values we hold dear and guide our lives by mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not? Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, and if so, what is their foundation? Moreover, if morality is just a human convention, then why should we act morally, especially when it conflicts with self-interest? Or are we in some way held accountable for our moral decisions and actions?’

    As for Trump’s lies: I may be a statistical outlier experientially (I doubt I am; I’m a blue-collar worker at a grocery store), but I find myself in a world of men and women like Trump; so his deceitfulness, far from striking me as abnormal, strikes me as rather normal, unfortunately.

  5. Vivian says:

    Colin, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve studied normative ethics (such as Kant’s moral imperative–a clever trick), but only superficially. So I’ll look into it more deeply. As for things not being as bleak as I suppose, I hope they’re not.

    • Colin McGinn says:

      A good question is what you think the basis of your logical beliefs is: not God and not feeling or the senses, but still rock solid. Isn’t it self-evident that pain is bad and that one should keep one’s promises?

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