Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lies, Liars and the Search For Something Good

Wow. That sounds like the title of a best-seller. Actually, there's a scholarly and somewhat overlooked book called "On Bullsh*t" (asterisk added so my blog doesn't get yanked) by Princeton professor Harry Frankfurt. In this philosophic essay, he reviews the evolution and meaning of the term and the effect of bullsh*t on the perception of reality. Rather than turn this into a review of the book, why not get yourself a copy and read it - I'm sure one can be had on eBay or Amazon for a couple of bucks. I found the book very interesting because Dr. Frankfurt expounded on a knowledge-state that is very apparent in our modern society and it expands on some specific points in Ayers' The Problem of Knowledge, which I would also recommend if you're a philosopher, I guess. Frankfurt makes the point, or floats the theory, that a preponderance of bullsh*t eventually washes out the basis of what we understand to be true until even simple truths are no longer self-evident.

There are certainly some apparently good reasons to not be entirely truthful. As children, many are taught to not necessarily disclose each and every thought to the point of the precocious four-year-old being chided for observing in a guileless way, perhaps, that old Mr. Jones is pretty fat, for instance. So, we're taught that deception in the form of non-disclosure and omission is sometimes the right thing to do. Left undiscovered, such a pattern of lies may become a convenient form of leverage or otherwise turned to a less-than-honest purpose and certainly a way to avoid responsibility.

But what about the circumstance where, say, a loved one meets their end, the State Troopers arrive and promptly announce that little Timmy fell headfirst into the woodchipper and gosh what a mess and then the machine must have gotten jammed because it was stopped when they found him with only his legs sticking straight up like some kind of V-is-for-victory sign and funny, but no one heard his screams. That would probably not go over very well with whomever was unfortunate enough to have answered the door. Or the infamous "do these pants make me look fat" question that every married man dreads and so universal is the sentiment that innumerable television commercials have centered around just that topic.

It's a fine line to walk, indeed. Self-editing is a subtle skill started at home and honed in the schoolyard. And that skill is something diplomats, lawyers, used car salesmen and successful lovers all have in common - know when to hold 'em and know when to lay the cards out on the table.

Of course, the latter option is more difficult. It means that the revelator has to be ready to own, and possibly own up to, the likely unfavourable feedback upon delivery of said revelation. It's much easier, and probably less likely to result in bodily harm, to simply hold back the fact that Carla really shouldn't be wearing fitted Capris or to share only that Timmy is gone, all, oh, okay, mostly gone.

Confession is apparently good for the soul. The Catholics even have a method by which a compromise is effected where the Sinner can be absolved for less heinous crimes by a Deitistic Intermediary, in private, all on the QT. Jews (and I am half of one) don't even bother - just tote 'em up and neatly dispose of them with the L*rd directly, once a year, wholesale, no middlegod involved.

What about complex confessions that could have been avoided by being honest from the beginning? Ah, well, the more complex the fib, the higher the price to pay - it's only fair. But perhaps the ultimate price is that of devoted Stoicism, where nothing is confessed and instead, the interests of those who might be hurt are preserved, possibly at an emotional price, but at a discount, let us say, over the full-tilt blather. In other words, if there is something to say, it had better be worth the pain for all involved and not simply be a matter of principle, otherwise, the hurt is doubled. Or worse.

Speaking for myself, I admit I have many sins to confess, none major except for those I regret. But what would my motivation be to "come clean?" I would probably feel better, at least after recovery from my coma that the beat-down would produce, but in that case, I'd only be helping myself. So, I guess I'm punishing myself, being responsible and prudent by keeping my big mouth shut. Oh, there's a line, of course, but I would only cross it if there was a clear benefit to the recipient of my well-salted tale.

Even here, there is a compromise. Everyone wants something. I want peace for myself, but no longer at the expense of others. I am hoping that this will make me somewhat less misanthropic, meaning that I'm willing to set aside my self as priority so that those who gave their care and abidance to me should not have to pay for that generosity.

Yep, Carla, those jeans are lookin' pret-ty good, if I do say so myself. Yow! Nice. I'm a liar, but I'm your liar. Ain't that sweet?

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