Lies in civilization are much like ground glass in an otherwise nutritious, delicious buffet. They are dangerous. They are potentially deadly if undetected. Quantity matters. One piece of undetected ground glass is serious. One hundred pieces means that some people will die. Twenty thousand means everyone who partakes of the buffet will likely die.
If one side lies constantly and one of the things they lie about is saying the other side lies, then, of course, your “loyalty” to your own side may get you to thinking: “Both sides lie equally.” Or, even more sadly, “The other side lies!”
Imagine Rembrandt’s Mona Lisa: a beautiful painting. Now, imagine painting a red stripe one inch wide diagonally through the painting. It’s only a small part of the painting, after all. Maybe 10%. But is the value decreased by only 10%? Of course not.
Ever use a dictionary? How much would you pay for a really good dictionary? How about a dictionary with 1% errors? How about one with 10% errors? How about one with 50% errors? How about one with 100% errors?
Imagine you finally manage to save up enough money to buy your dream house. Location: near highways, shopping, & parks. Style: perfect. Condition: perfect. Except for one small thing.
Living in a society that is perfused with lies is like living in a house situated right next to a sewage plant.
The *only* advantage humans have in their struggle to survive is their ability to cooperate and communicate. A lie diminishes that ability to coordinate. The impact is not just that one lie. It’s the spread of skepticism. It’s the felt need to double and triple check everything.
In a complex society, even a tiny bit of deception can multiply far beyond the immediate effects. That is particularly true if a deception passes through a number of weak points in what could be and should be the world-wide web of wisdom.
For example, an employee at a drug company might be pressured to downplay side effects in a report. He does so. But in a corporate culture of honestly, someone will catch the lie and patiently explain that this is not the way things are done around here. The error will be corrected.
And no-one will die from that lie.
On the other hand, the same employee doing the same act in a company with a sociopathic corporate culture might well have that lie not only propagated but further elaborated. As a result, the drug is over-prescribed and over-used. Millions of dollars, and then, that money is like seed money to buy layers and layers of political protection and press protection. At last billions of dollars flow from the pockets of customers into the pockets of the drug company. And, when I say “the drug company” of course, ultimately it ends up in someone’s pocket. Whose? A little of it goes to workers within the company. A huge amount goes to the top executives. But a huge amount also goes to the major stockholders — people who did nothing to discover or promote the drug, but in some sense provided money to support the company.
Guess what? It might even turn out that the drug’s drawbacks outweigh the benefits. In the short run, that might not diminish profits at all.
Again though, we need to realize that the damage to society is not limited to the effects of this particular drug (though those can in and of themselves be devastating effects). It is experiences like this, for instance, that play into vaccine reluctance. Because some drug companies have done some unethical things, people naturally have some degree of mistrust for *all* drug companies for *all* drugs. Nor is the mistrust that such a scheme produces limited to the drug industry. If people believe corruption is widespread, they may themselves become more tempted to engage in it. Even if they don’t themselves engage in lies, deception, bribery, etc., they will certainly be on the lookout for such schemes. It will be harder to take people at their word.
Putting crushed glass in a buffet injures people and ruins the buffet. And, if it happens often enough, it can turn you off from going to any buffets or any restaurants.
Lying can seem attractive in the short term. But in the long run, it will be found out. It will ruin your individual reputation, but it will also tarnish the reputation of your organization and even, to some extent, your entire industry. Beyond that, lies work to spoil society as a whole.
Imagine that a well-functioning society is something like a well-oiled machine. One part connects to another and things function smoothly. Lies are like pouring sand in the gears. Things will move more slowly. Parts will also wear out more quickly. Add enough sand and the motor will burn out or the machinery may catch fire. Would you put sand in your gas tank? Would you add sand to the oil in your auto? Of course not! Why would you support lies in your company or in your society?
Apart from the societal disintegration that lies promote, if you actively pursue a policy of lies to benefit yourself, you are basically taking a kind of informational poison into your own psyche and eventually it will poison your mind. You’ll become more and more addicted to a strategy of relying on lies rather than relying on doing a good job or learning from your mistakes. When someone asks a perpetual liar a question, they will not be able to simply answer. They will have to calculate who knows what and how easily the lie will be found out and try to recall what lies that they have already told to whom.
Just as more and more of an addictive painkiller must be used to achieve the same level of pain relief, so too, an addicted liar will find that they have to tell more and more lies. The lies may at first be “reasonable” lies. That is, at first, a liar may tell lies that are plausible. Over time, they will have to tell more and more absurd lies. If the liar is a popular figure, his or her fans may echo the lies despite not having any relevant direct knowledge. As the lies become more absurd, the fans echo not only plausible, lies but also echo absurd lies. To those who are not addicted to the lies, fan behavior becomes more and more ridiculous and pathetic.
The Invisibility Cloak of Habit
Myths of the Veritas: The Orange Man
A Lot is not a Little
Brian Balke said:
I hate to say this, Peter, but if you don’t know where you are going any road will do. In fact, choices are driven by localized criteria that ultimately conflate to “did I get what I wanted?” as the only truth that matters. This is why sociopaths identify with the statement “Well, I have my own facts.”
The tendency is to decry those patterns of behavior, but that is only to surrender our equanimity. It is internal harmony that should be our compass. A failure to cultivate it has debilitating mental and physical side-effects. Harmony is therefore the root of all healing, and when it is known, people like Trump and Barr and Ms. Powell become obvious and just pathetically uninteresting.
I wonder about the balance (tradeoff? positive correlation?) between internal harmony and “external harmony” that includes harmony with nature. I tend to think that they are positively correlated. If you have internal harmony, you are more likely to appreciate nature and others. By the same token, if you have access to natural beauty and natural processes via pets, gardening, walks by the ocean, etc. it tends to facilitate internal harmony.
Brian Balke said:
I agree entirely. There is an aspect of this that is cultivated, however, by our current information ecosystem, which is a hollowing out of our hearts. We are motivated by visions of a future that satisfies our primitive urges. That cultivates short-term, exploitative decision making in response to emotional triggers. Conversely, the heart is the organ most sensitive to metabolic rhythms and sustainability. If we don’t cultivate that connection, our sensitivity to harmony is cauterized.