The Habit of Lying

I am reposting here on a topic that seems even more relevant today than it was when it was originally posted more than a year ago. It does seem to me that lying has become the new TRUTH and we need to get a grasp on this problem lest we become lost in a world of make-believe — if we aren’t already lost in that world. There is such a thing as truth and there is such a think as a blatant lie. Just because there are those who manage to convince people otherwise does not mean that we should not hold fast to the distinction between truth and falsehood like a life-raft in the swirling chaos of confused thought that surrounds us. 

It started with advertising I think — though I can’t be sure. I refer, of course, to lying. I don’t mean the occasional lie. I mean the chronic lie, lying as a matter of course. Selling the car to the unsuspecting customer by telling him that it was owned by an old lady and never driven over forty; selling the house without mentioning the fact that the basement leaks whenever it rains; insisting in the face of overwhelming evidence that global warming is a fiction.  I realize, of course, that people have always lied. But what I am talking about is the blind acceptance of lying as a way of life. It seems to have become the norm. Everybody does it, so it must be OK.

As one who taught ethics for forty-one  years I have a bone to pick with this sort of logic. Just because everyone does it (which is a bit of an exaggeration) does not make it right. In fact, the cynic in me is tempted to say that if everyone does it it is almost certainly not right! From an ethical perspective it is never right to lie, not even in an extreme case, although one might plead expediency in such a case. But it is never right, not even the “little white lie” that we might tell about our neighbor’s hat in order not to hurt her feelings. I might tell the little white lie, but I must realize that it is not the right thing to do, strictly speaking. In this case it’s just the expedient thing to do, since hurting her feelings would be much more upsetting than simply telling her that her hat is lovely when in fact it’s perfectly awful. It’s the lesser of two evils, if you will. In any event, the little white lie is not the problem. The big black lie is the problem: it has become commonplace. And it is the fact that lying has become accepted behavior that is of greatest concern.

When my wife and I were babysitting with our Granddaughters some time back I sat and watched several Walt Disney shows the girls seemed to like. The plots involving teenagers and their bumbling parents were absurdly simple, but they tended to focus on a lie told by one of the characters that generated a situation that required several other lies to be resolved. It was supposed to be funny.  I was reminded of the “I Love Lucy” shows (which I did love) that were also frequently based on a lie that Lucy told Ricky and which generated a situation from which all of Lucy’s cleverness was required to extricate herself. I then began to reflect on how many TV shows generate humor in this way. These situations are funny, of course, as were the Disney shows, I suppose. But the point is that the lie was simply an accepted way of doing things. If you are in a tight situation, lie your way out of it.

On our popular TV shows, it’s not that big a deal. But when our kids see this day after day it must send them a message that lying is simply the normal way of dealing with certain sorts of situations that might be embarrassing or uncomfortable. In any event, when it becomes widespread and commonplace, as it has clearly done in today’s world, it does become a larger problem. When Walmart claims it always has the lowest prices and has to be taken to court to reduce the claim to always having low prices we become aware that the rule of thumb seems to be: say it until someone objects and after the courts have ruled we will make the change. In the meantime we will tell the lie and expect greater profits. And we all know politicians lie without giving it a second thought: whatever it takes to remain in a well-paid position requiring little or no work whatever.

As we listen to the political rhetoric that fills the airwaves and makes us want to run somewhere to hide, we realize that bald-faced lying has become a commonplace in politics. Tell the people what they want to hear, regardless of the consequences. It’s all about getting the nomination and then winning enough votes to be elected. If those lies result in harm to other people, say people of another religion or skin color, so be it. Consequences be damned! It is possible to check the facts, of course, but very few bother to take the time since if the lie supports the listener’s deep-seated convictions and prejudices it will readily be believed, true or false. And if it doesn’t, we simply stop listening. For example, one could simply search “FactCheck” and discover that the majority of Donald Trump’s claims are a fabrication or are blatantly false. But, then, truth does not enter in. We don’t seem to care much about that any more. Sell the house. Sell the car, Sell the political candidate. Whatever it takes. The end justifies the means.

This, of course, is utter nonsense.


Going For The Green

I have never done this and don’t plan to make it a practice. But a recent piece in the Sierra magazine caught my eye and in the spirit of re-blogging, I want to pass it along verbatim. It shows once again the lack of conscience exhibited by large corporations as they pursue the almighty dollar. The article is titled “Greenwashing Golf.” I will omit the parts that don’t seem pertinent.

“. . .For a mere $200 and a self-report of green virtue — no independent on-site inspection required — some 2,300 U.S. [golf] courses have tried to hitch themselves to one of the world’s most respected environmental brands: Audubon.

“The golf industry has long been hammered for wasting oceans of water, using toxic chemicals, and bullying local communities. Then along came a New York group called Audubon International (A.I.) which shares only a name with the renowned bird-focused environmental group and which offers to ‘certify’ the environmental stewardship of golf courses. Courses now happily attach the famous name to scorecards, signage, and offers for duffers to play on ‘Audubon approved’ links and to buy McMansions beside ‘Audubon golf sanctuaries.’

“‘It’s patently obvious what A.I. is trying to do,’ says National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold. ‘It’s deliberate obfuscation.’ A.I., however, won a court judgment that the Audubon name is generic and that there’s no confusion in the marketplace. Yet, admits California golf course owner George Kelley — whose course is A.I. certified — ‘If they called themselves the XYZ Environmental Golf Company, they would not have had anywhere near the success they have had.’

“A.I. is funded by DuPont, cement maker LaFarge, Disney, and the U.S. Golf Association. Now founder Ron Dodson wants to certify chemical refineries, shopping malls, highways, even cars. Says Dodson, ‘We would not discriminate.'”

In this case “discrimination” would be a good thing! But what is most appalling about this story is the deceit, the underhanded attempt on the part of the golf courses and the corporations who support this effort to appear environmentally responsible when in fact this is not the case. Ignoring for a moment the horrible record large corporations like DuPont have in their treatment of the environment, golf courses are, as suggested above, some of the worst polluters in the country. But my objection, like those of so many others, will fall on the closed ears and minds of those who run these four corporations (and others like them) and who only see where they can make even more money. Brace yourself, you may soon be living near an “Audubon approved” Walmart.