I’ve spent several days discussing why we should not deceive others, even when we say we are doing it for their own good. After yesterday’s post I thought I was finished with the matter, but some more thoughts have occurred to me that I would like to get down. Today I want to call out how improbable it is that our lies can be harmless in the long run, and tomorrow I will look at the matter from a more global scale.
The Arrogance of a Lie)
When we lie, we concoct a world that is in some way different from the real one. Most of us think we will get away with a “little, white lie” because we think we are concocting a world that is virtually indistinguishable from the real one. We believe that the person we deceive will still continue along the general path of reality, just with an imperceptible tint slightly coloring their view.
But that is a supremely arrogant assumption. If telling such a lie were even possible, it could only be done by having a perfect understanding of our subject and their context in life. We would have to know what they already know and believe so that our lie would not have any unintended side effects. For example, if our lie was about another person, we would want to know what our subject already thought and felt about that person in great detail, so that our deceit wouldn’t warp the relationship in any way.
We would also require a comprehensive view of our subject’s situation in life to know if our lie, seemingly harmless by itself, might unravel in terrible ways when combined with other factors. Not only this, but we would also need to be prophetic, anticipating all future states that our subject would be in, so that our lie would not become harmful in future situations.
And finally, if this is to be at all moral, we must also know that our subject, if made aware of this intended deception, would willingly choose to have it administered to them. Obviously we cannot ask them that, but we have to somehow know for certain that this is what they would choose. For even if you did believe that it was genuinely good for this person to be deceived, everyone should still have the right to embrace hard truths if that is what they choose.
Of course, none of us know all of these things when we set out to deceive another. As such, we are not at all sure whether telling them this lie is good for them or not. If we could be honest about our deceit, we would admit that it really isn’t about doing what is best for them at all. It is about what is doing what is best for ourselves. We are trying to moderate and manage another person’s experiences in a way that is more pleasant for us to deal with. It is, put simply, entirely selfish.
When we tell another person a lie, what we are really doing is gambling with their safety and their happiness. We are putting their heart on the line, rolling the dice, and hoping for our desired outcome. We hope that we won’t hurt the other person, we tell ourselves that that won’t happen, but we create the very real possibility that it might happen. That is our exposure, that is what is on the table to lose, and we are deliberately making a decision to accept that. And what’s more, with every lie we are stacking the odds higher and higher against the person’s happiness, but most of us still continue rolling the dice for as long as we possibly can.
Gambling with just money is morally questionable enough, certainly there can never be any justification for doing so with another person’s heart. No matter what sort of justification you might have for your lie, it should be abundantly clear that it is still immoral. Even if the odds of success were far in our favor, it would still be fundamentally immoral.
As I’ve explained above, we have nowhere near the perspective or the intelligence for even half decent odds of success. It’s impossible to know what the chances really are, but in my experience, virtually every lie gets undone eventually. The house always wins sooner or later, but we’re stupid and arrogant enough to think that we’re the ones in charge. We are totally, unjustifiably confident, and so much so that we’re betting with the most valuable commodity that we can. Is there any more obvious a recipe for failure?