Postulating that Lying is Innate: or 'How NOT to Find the Truth'
- Lying, by Sissela Bok
- The Liar's Tale; A History of Falsehood, by Jeremy Campbell
- The Good the Bad and the Difference, by Randy Cohen
How I decided upon these three books is quite interesting. I was drawn to Bok's book simply because she writes about the consequences of lying, the definition of white lies, and excuses that people make to justify their lies. This was appealing to me because I've always been intrigued as to why people lie; why they think they're not going to get caught; and why they assume that their audiences are going to get duped by their lies. (I actually had a boyfriend in high school who's nickname was Compulsive Liar. He would come up with these outlandish lies that no one could possibly believe. Needless to say, the relationship didn't last too long!) Bok's position seemed to be that lying is not innate to the human condition; I agreed with that position. Nevertheless, I put the book back on the shelf simply because I didn't think that reading about a position I already held would be too interesting at this point.
Then I picked up The Liar's Tale. Campbell's book postulates that lying is innate to the human condition, and is actually somehow beneficial to survival. It seemed to me, after reading the book jacket and several pages, that he believes lying and defiance to be a natural part of the world. I found this to be preposterous! Maybe lying has become common place, but that doesn't make it somehow indigenous to the human spirit! It said right on the back cover that "(Jeremy Campbell) turns Sisella Bok's defense of truth on its head," so I knew I had to buy both of these books and compare and dissect their findings for myself.
Last night, I fell asleep reading Campbell's book. I was incensed that he inferred that deceitfulness is innate to the human condition. He based his findings on the work of Darwin, Kant, Freud, Nietzsche, etc. I mean, his book is a philosophical name-dropping expose. It occurred to me that everyone who he was quoting was a great 'thinker': all great thinkers, to be sure, but isn't it kind of a known fact that the Truth can't be found through the intellect? The intellect can't find the Truth. The Truth is beyond the mind. We use the mind to get us to the Truth, but not by thinking; by quieting the thoughts. Meditation.
So, I went to bed upset, saying to myself, "How could he (Campbell) expect to find the Truth when reading all Westerners. He should read some Eastern philosophy if he wants proof that Truth exists (not just spiritual Truth, but truth as is basic human goodness). How could anyone with a brain try to say that Truth (consciousness) doesn't exist without exploring the great Eastern thinker's work?" Then, you know, I sat there in bed wondering what I was getting so bent out of shape about. I mean, I had only read the Introduction and the first Chapter! Campbell's book definately struck a nerve!
It's just the idea that someone would propose a theory that humans aren't predisposed to goodness (and basically, that's what Campbell is proposing in this book) that gets me all worked up. I don't care what great minds you quote: tell about YOUR experience as a human being, not someone elses thoughts on the matter. If someone hasn't had the experience of the Self (God) within, it makes sense that they would be inclined to think that the Truth doesn't exist; but that doesn't prove that it doesn't. It's just great minds thinking thoughts.
I've always been the kind of person who makes it a point not to lie. I couldn't lie to save myself, anyway: people can smell the guilt from a mile away. Besides the guilt, I truly believe that the human spirit is GOOD. I believe humans have a predisposed goodness in them that we all try to achieve. Whether we achieve it or not is what we have to deal with as human beings. I believe even criminals know that their deception is wrong; and the ones who don't (without consciences), we call 'psychopathic'.
What do you think? Do you think that deception is a 'natural part of our world'? Campbell will quote 'Machiavellian intelligence' in theorizing that it's imperative for politicians to deceive in order to rule, and that the politician's deception is a part of 'natural order'. It seems to be the 'norm' that politicians lie to get ahead, but, like I said before, just because lying and deceit has become common place doesn't mean it's innate.
I believe humans are innately good, and the purpose of life is to find that goodness inside. What do YOU think?
I would like to make several points:
- I do believe that lies exist, and they make up a huge part of human existence. I just think they are a learned trait, and not innate.
- The third book I bought is a fun book on ethics by New York Times Magazine columnist, Randy Cohen. It's a collection of his columns that 'show us how to be good in the real world'. It's sort of the lighter side of the other two books!
- I'm going to propose ethical questions in the future in which YOU can answer them for yourselves and see which side of the fence you're on.