Quoting from Wikipedia, “a lie is a statement used intentionally for the purpose of deception.” This definition is based on definitions from the Oxford Dictionaries and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The key words are intent and deception. Further, in Wikipedia, 36 types of lies are described, some acceptable and some not. Or is lying never acceptable?
In my not-so-humble estimation, we all lie, on average, five times a day. Generally, these lies are inconsequential and often merely part of societal interaction (political correctness?). A friend asks you how your day is going after you just had an unpleasant meeting with your boss. You reply “fine, thank you,” not wanting to unnecessarily unload and bother your friend. By the definition of lying, you are intentionally deceiving your friend. While one might argue that the question should never have been asked, friendly inquiries are part of the social norm.
In the meeting, the boss asked you if you had read the Communist Manifesto as assigned the night before. You had, in fact, read it, but it was 20 years earlier in that mandatory but boring class in college. So when you presented your analysis with many errors, your boss KNEW you had not read it as assigned. You argued that you had read it, leaving out the fact it was 20 years ago. While the outcome was inconsequential from a discussion point, the boss either assessed you as incompetent or lying. Either way, it was not a good outcome.
Later in the day, you heard on the radio that the new local tax law had passed with the promise of great economic growth for the region. Everyone will “benefit” from the governmental use of these new tax revenues based on a secret study by BS, Inc., a study company headquartered on an island in the South Atlantic. While the legislation was public and available for review, only three members of the voting body were allowed to review the secret statistical study. Further, the three people with access were an historian, an English teacher and a world renowned chef, all without statistical background. Further, each of the three had established political perspectives.
Clearly this is a highly exaggerated story, but it illustrates a major problem we collectively face today. As complexity in everyday life grows, how do we know whom we can trust not from just a perspective of potential lying, but also from a perspective of intellectual incompetence?
In the Wikipedia article, one of the types of lying is lie-to-children and is used to describe a simplified explanation of technically complex subjects. While the term refers to children, it is also used to refer to laypeople. For example, consider Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Have you read his paper and understood it? My answer is no. I rely on the descriptions of others. While I might argue that I could understand it but chose this alternate path, I would be lying. In contrast, if the topic was local economic development and statistical evidence, I could, with some authority, claim competence.
Along time ago, right here in Los Alamos, the issue of building an Olympic size swimming facility was being considered by the County Council. At the time it was describe as the “Blue Whale.” Among the arguments for building the Larry R. Walkup Center was that it would spur economic development significantly by attracting swim teams wanting the benefits of high altitude training. While the facility is truly good for the community and some teams come here for the high altitude training, Los Alamos has not grown in size and we remain dependent on LANL. Were the statistics used for the economic development argument really lies or confabulations?
Switch focus a bit. At one point in time in New Mexico, “all” Native American jewelry was discounted in stores by at least 50 percent. Legislation (my memory) was passed saying that said jewelry had to be offered at the “retail” price for a period of time before it could be discounted. Today, everything seems to be discounted. How often do you pay the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP)? Or is the MSRP really a lie? Actually, it’s not because the manufacturer suggests it. But are you really getting a good deal?
Is lying acceptable? Sure it is, sometimess. It may be (probably is) essential for undercover operations. It may be (probably is) essential for security operations. But is it acceptable for society as a whole? Is it acceptable for interpersonal relations? Is it acceptable when your intent is personal gain? More importantly, how do you judge the truth, whom do you trust?
Till next time….