Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lying 2

Lying 2 – by Lawrence JC Baron

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is it necessary to lie in life?
Friday, March 09, 2018

As you can see, the last time we discussed lying was way back in 2005, and with a context driven question in 2018. This is not surprising since lying is one of the key topics in ethics and morality. I am also not in the habit of re-reading my past essays so I shall, on this occasion, discuss a very narrow aspect about lying, mainly: do we have a duty to find out whether people are lying to us? And if we do what is the anatomy of lies, or at least big ticket fibs?

My enquiry does not imply that we are not victims of liars nor that lying is not morally reprehensible. What I mean is that just because we are victims of liars it is still the rational and reasonable thing to do to identify liars before they cause us any real damage. And my position is not based on some moral or ethical duty to prevent liars from causing us any harm. But rather it is a matter of survival prudence to try and stop liars from causing us any harm. There is nothing ethical about avoiding harm; it’s just an occupational hazard.

Before I proceed further, I will not concern myself with white lies, survival lies, eg lying to the gestapo, or not-me child type lies. I am thinking in such big ticket lies as: if you invest all your savings with us you’ll receive a 25% return on investment; trading on WTO rules is more profitable than negotiating international deals with friends and neighbours; for-profit health care services are better than universal health care. And I chose these examples, although not exclusively, because they are very common everyday banter, they are very easily verifiable and they cause us, and have caused us, great damage and harm.

I will argue and hope to show that the best way to understand the anatomy of these dangerous lies is to use the immunology model for infectious diseases. The validity of this model is to help us understand that lying is based on the following principles: microbes are a type of life that can interact with humans in the same way that lies can interact with our knowledge and beliefs. Even more, our beliefs are our personal precious jewels and thus more susceptible to harm rather the cold objective knowledge and facts we might have learnt in our life. But our beliefs are our weak spot.

Another aspect of the model is that we know, a priori, that dangerous microbes and dangerous lies will cause us harm unless we do something about it.  And up to an extent and, due to scientific methodology on the one hand and rational moral principles on the other, we have means to identify, understand and counteract against diseases and lies. I will come back to this model later on.

We grow up in life with this false belief, and no doubt I am guilty of this as anyone else, that truth is indeed the antidote and the refutability of lies. When lies hit the wall of truth, we believe, these lies will disappear into harmless nothings. Unfortunately, this is philosophical bunkum and a dangerous one at that. Earlier I said that beliefs are our personal jewels and described knowledge in terms of cold objectivity.

Lies are indeed like "microbes" that attack our precious beliefs and thus destroy the value of our jewels. It’s one thing for us to change our mind but a very different matter for liars to infect our mind with their lies and usurp our beliefs with their lies. In other words, liars want to convert our emotional beliefs to take the appearance of hard cold knowledge. Hence, liars are trying to usurp our understanding of the truth with their fake version of the truth. The new “truth,” that is an infection of a lie, acquires the properties of beliefs such as emotions and visceral feelings whilst pretending to be hard cold knowledge or facts.

Cold objective facts, are anything but emotional, but more importantly, we are not entitled to our own facts. We are entitled to our own beliefs, but not to our own made up or unverified facts. A lie from others converts a possible belief we might have into “knowledge” thus inheriting the emotive impulse to act whilst neutralising our natural cautious instinct to question new information: basically, we suspend our risk assessment skills we naturally employ to new information.

Unlike beliefs, facts can and are scrutinised by agreed methodologies that have worked well and when they don’t we find better ones or fix them. Beliefs cannot be so scrutinised not just because we haven’t got a powerful Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine to read our brains, but because reading our brain does not equal to a belief: an image of the queen mother is not HM the Queen Mother. This is what I mean by our beliefs are our jewels: we create our beliefs in the sanctum sanctorum of our brain with no recourse to the outside world. We are the omnipotent god of our beliefs.

In a way there are two functioning “engines” to control infectious diseases. In its wisdom or by chance nature gave us a powerful immune system to fight and control a myriad of infectious diseases. And it’s not a surprise that the “philosophy” behind immunology is what we philosophers call empiricism; basically immunology is a biological system to gather information, provide intentional actions and most important of all learn from experience. Of course, the discipline is nothing like this but my description is enough for my purposes: I have no intention of exploring the details and risk coming across the devil.

The other “engine” is the principle of vaccines: in my argument vaccines “teach” the immune system to recognise and attack invading diseases, in the same way that facts teach us to distinguish among lies, beliefs and reality. Facts are the foot soldiers that fight lies, and once lies are destroyed we enjoy the emotion euphoria which we call the truth.

Vaccines, like facts, work on the principle of “Herd Immunity” (search term for details): basically immunity against a disease works by having as many people as possible vaccinated against the disease. Protection against an infectious disease is not just us being vaccinated but also by others being vaccinated too. In philosophical terms the Herd Immunity functions on the principle of cooperation or to use a modern business term, herd immunity is a numbers game.

Facts (knowledge) work in the same manner as herd immunity: the more facts we know the more we are likely to identify liars or counter act lies. Dangerous lies will only survive if people are not aware of the facts, but today due to higher standards of living, mobile phones (as Alfonso always argued) and the internet we have some tools for efficient personal learning and access to practical facts. Of course, I am not saying that what we label as a fact is indeed a fact. As I said, facts we can use are usually the result of an accepted methodologies, such as the scientific method, fact checking, evidence based information and so on.

Thus big ticket lying can be defeated or at a minimum contained by learning and accessing real life facts. Experience is a means to adjust our application of knowledge to function as intended. This schema is practically the immunology model described in less than a score and four words.

The problem with the herd immunity model for us, in the debate on lying, is that the bottom line is always that our beliefs are our jewels and we shall never give them up lightly. Thus, members of the herd might not always employ herd rationality but rather stick to herd mentality.

Best Lawrence


New essays:

"Lying" by Ruel F. Pepa

Lying 2 – by Lawrence JC Baron

Past Essays on Lying including essays by Ruel:  
--- Ruel F Pepa:
"The Value (or Transvaluation) of Lies" 

"The 'Fifth Columnist' Art of Elegant Deception: Survival in a Crazy Urban Jungle" 

--- Lawrence JC Baron:
Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is it necessary to lie in life?
Friday, March 09, 2018

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