2012-10-22T21:27:22+01:00

Tell lies from time to time.

Here are my notes from book "A Pack of Lies: Towards a Sociology of Lying" by J. A. Barnes.

  • p2 Let not my readers imagine, that I propose writing a panegyric upon the art of lying. It were absurd to recommend to mankind, what is already in such universal esteem. In court it assumes the name of good breeding; in religion it is called pious fraud, it is mystery in trade, and invetion in poetry. In our political contests it is stiled opposition, liberty, and patriotism.
  • p4 By far the greater part of what philosophers have written treats lying as a form of deviance, and not something as an instance of conforming to special norms and expectations.
  • p7 The ubiquity of lying prompts the question: Why should we ever tell the truth? But while this normative inquiry may be appropriate for moral philosophy, social science is more properly concerned with answering slightly different questions: not why should but why do we so often tell the truth, and when do we not do so? For we find empirically that , in societies and cultures of great diversity, with their distinctive codes of religion and ethics, the truth is told more often than not.
  • p7 So large is the Empire of Truth, that it hath place within the walls of Hell, and the Devils themselves are daily forced to practise it; ... in Moral verities, although they deceive us, they lie not unto each other; as well understanding that all community is continued by Truth, and that of Hell cannot consist without it.
  • p8 Learning to lie properly is an important feature of the process of human socialization, for we have innumerable good accounts of adults, in a wide variety of social and cultural contexts, exercising their social skills in telling the right lies at the right time, and to the right people.
  • p13 As well as being categorized as successful or unsuccessful by reference to outcome, lies can be classified in terms of the intentions of the liar. From this standpoint, lies are often referred to as white, social or altruistic if the intentions of the liar intends to do harm. Protective lies may be constructed to shield the interests of some other person, who may or may not be the dupe, but they are often designed to protect the liar, without necessarily harming anyone.
  • p16 You tell the first lie of the day when you put your clothes on.
  • p23 Ambassador - an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.
  • p23 An absence of mutual trust may lead to an abundance of lies, each party trying to deceive the other, but the presence of trust does not necessarily result in an absence of lies. In intimate face-to-face relations the shared expectation of mutual trust may lead to collaboration between, or more likely connivance by liar and dupes in order to maintain the plausibility or a lie, as well as the plausibility of continuing trust. When this happens it is no longer obvious who is deceiving whom.
  • p26 Propaganda - The branch of the art of lying which consists in very nearly deceiving your friends without deceiving your enemies.
  • p30 Politics - The art of governing mankind by deceiving them.
  • p30 Q. How can you tell when politician is lying? A. When he moves his lips.
  • p33 George Washington couldn't tell a lie, Richard Nixon couldn't tell the truth, Ronald Reagan couldn't tell the difference.
  • p42 Many peasant legal systems are likewise concerned with reaching acceptable compromise outcomes rather than arriving at some constituted truth, even when dealing disputes that are not centered on the family. ... They cared about ending conflicts, to forestall supernatural vengeance. The compromise solutions they reached 'may be based on outright lies, which everyone knows are lies but which offer the only possible route to agreement'.
  • p54 In warfare lies are taken for granted: in politics lying may be perceived as frequent, but occurs in the face of protests and is regretted; in bureaucracies protective lying is legitimate but other kinds of lies are not; academics usually assume that references, favourable and unfavourable alike, have been written in good faith even when doubting their validity. When people move from one domain to another, they may have to adjust their expectations of the truthfulness of others, as well as their own level of truthfulness.
  • p67 In Russian culture a distinction is drawn between two kinds of lies, vranyo and lozh which do not have exact parallels in English. Vranyo has been claimed as uniquely Russian, and seems to consist of telling untrue but credible stories, a practice not condemned by those who recognize what is going on.
  • p68 Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
  • p71 The world is a lie my friend, all of it's a lie.
  • p72 Mediterranean societies, Peristiany refers to 'the defensive use of deception and the offensive use of ridicule', with secrecy as the other major defensive strategy used by families jealous of their honour.
  • p73 In the defensive category are lies told to conceal an inability to live up to the highest requirements of the social code, either by oneself or by one's family, and those told to conceal unintentional failures, such as being poor or being turned down in a projected marriage match.
  • p75 Campbell, who studied the sheep-herding Sarakatsani, notes the distinction they made between young unmarried shepherds and older men who were heads of households. Young men were pure and 'innocent in the sense of freedom from guilt or the need to use guile'. They were free of contamination from women who possessed 'the ability to deceive their men "forty times each day"'. For a household head, however, 'Deceit and lies are always needed'. As protector of his family and his flock, he should have 'the skill to plot with guile and craft'. He 'must continually use lies'. Indeed, Campbell says 'men lie as a matter of habit and principle to deny other people information'.
  • p81 The value of truth-telling is very high. A sharp line is drawn between in-group and out-group. Truth is for the in-group. Lying to outsiders or performing other negative acts toward them will either be given different names or different evaluations, or both.
  • p81 An individual who can be duped in one situation as an outsider may in different circumstances become an insider who must be treated truthfully. Not all fellow members of the moral community are treated alike; relative status within the community has to be taken into account.
  • p83 Untruths provide weapons for the weak to resist the strong and for the strong to moderate the antagonism that their dominance provokes from the weak.
  • p84 These remarks may be lies, but are told because the liar hopes that falsely inflated estimates of their ability will make dupes happy and encourage them to do better next time.
  • p86 ... since a man with then wives can have more children than could a woman with ten husbands ... men have more often been in a position in which self-deceiving up has been to their reproductive advantage .. and self-deceiving down has more frequently been to the advantage of females...
  • p88 Hartung writes that only in humans does the self have 'social interaction with itself, controlling information transfer between the conscious and subconscious in order to manipulate its own behavior, ...' and Fingarette identifies 'man's enormous capacity for self-deception' as one of the most salient human characteristics.
  • p90 Durandin comments that 'lies of justification' in particular take the form of an inner dialogue. We can make excuses for ourselves to ourselves; we also sometimes have to make excuses for ourselves to others.
  • p90 If you are going to lie about something, eventually you have to believe it in order to live with yourself.
  • p92 I couldn't tolerate my sense of guilt at being that dishonest. So I began to say, 'Well, if he weren't such a bastard. If he didn't yell all the time'. I kept on rationalizing in order to make it okay for me to be doing what I was doing. In the beginning... I didn't even start to think about morally. I just felt that I was not telling him to protect him.
  • p92 'Doublethink' is holding 'simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing both of them' and is a process that is conscious and unconscious at the same time.
  • p92 ... Dan Bradley, who, he says, 'had long since accepted the idea that homosexuality was powerful enough to twist a person into any shape and to make him lie to himself and anyone else, as necessary'. Bradley eventually declared publicly that he was homosexual, but many of the other secretly gay men discussed by Branch showed more of that firmness of purpose envisaged by Orwell. Where it occurred, it took the form of active support for the repression of homosexuality; as Branch puts it, they 'flew broomsticks to the witch-hunt'.
  • p93 Only self-deception is likely to create a semblance of truthfulness, ... the more successful a liar is, the more people he has convinced, the more likely it is that he will end by believing his own lies.
  • p95 Perhaps the ability to succeed in public life is linked to an ability to believe one's own lies without continual inner conflict.
  • p97 Self-deception promotes short-run psychological health and adaptive decisions. It also helps maintain the sociental status quo, thus promoting political stability. Long-run psychological health and beneficial social change, however, are thereby constrained.
  • p99 But as much as I wanted to be a detective and find him out, I didn't want to either. Because the truth, I was afraid more of the truth than living in the lie kind of.
  • p100 I had words with her and it was like we both knew this was going on and we didn't let on that we knew ... We were talking about the weather as far as our conversation was going, but there was a lot more going on. And I was aware of it and she was aware of it ... Although we never talked right on the subject, I talked about how much I care about him ... giving her messages that I was not about to give him up, for her or anybody else, although never actually coming out and saying it, nor she asking.
  • p101 One interesting feature of the above account is that R2 seemed not to place a high value on her relation to her husband, except in the context of appearing to compete with the other woman for her husband's affection. She said: 'But I got very competitive with her, very competitive', even though ' around [my husband] I had no feeling of self-worth and I had low self-esteem'
  • p102 What! you little liar! You knew we weren't telling you the truth and didn't tell us!
  • p113 Two Jews met in a railway carriage at a station in Galicia. 'Where are you going?' asked one. 'To Cracow', was the answer. 'What a liar you are!' broke out the other. 'If you say you're going to Cracow, you want me to believe you're going to Lemberg. But I know that in fact you're going to Cracow. So why are you lying yo me?'
  • p132 The frame provides license. A lie revealing itself as a lie is not called a lie but a fiction.
  • p139 People are much happier when you agree with them and tell them what they want to hear.
  • p140 A truth that is told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.
  • p141 He is such a fool that he will tell the truth without any reason at all.
  • p143 In very simple circumstances the lie is often more harmless in regard to the maintenance of the group than under more complex conditions. Primitive man who lives in a small group ... surveys and controls the material of his life more easily and completely than does the man of higher cultures. ... the practice of his life is guided in the main by those few facts and circumstances of which his narrow angle of vision permits him to gain directly a correct view. In a richer and larger cultural life, however, existence rests on a thousand premises which a single individual cannot trace and verify to their roots at all, but must take on faith. Our modern life is based to a much larger extent than is usually realized upon the faith in the honesty of the other ... Under modern circumstances, the lie, therefore, becomes something much more devastating than it was earlier, something which questions the very foundations of out life ... modern life is a 'credit economy' in a much broader than economic sense. --Georg Simmel
  • p145 The lie is a technique for the restriction of the social distribution of knowledge over time, and is thus ultimately woven into the system of power and control in society.
  • p151 Together with Machiavellian skill and its associated theories of mind, the ability to deceive is facilitated by the ability to indulge in fantasy.
  • p154 Tension between its sincere and deceptive uses is unavoidable. Locke was not entirely mistaken in saying that 'men find pleasure to be deceived', yet most of the time people dislike being lied to. They feel that the liar is trying to manipulate them, and any trust that may have had in him or her is undermined. Hence they have a hostile attitude to lying, even if they also tell lies.
  • p161 Thus, though we might prefer to contemplate a world in which all citizens were adequately empowered to detect and expose the lies told to deceive them, we have to recognize that in the real world the ability to detect and expose, like all other aspects of lying, is closely related to the distribution of power.
  • p163 The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way... --Samuel Butler
  • p164 Perhaps more importantly, the removal of the stigma attached to lying should make it easier for individuals to admit to themselves that they too, like everyone else, tell lies from time to time. If easiest person of all to deceive is oneself, then to avoid this hazard we need all the Machiavellian skill we can muster. Machiavellian skill is definitely an asset that contributes to general well-being. But that other asset, the enhanced capacity for deception that comes as part of the package, must be used only with moderation and restraint. This caveat is particularly relevant in those domains of social life where some use of deception is regarded as legitimate. The danger of counter-productive lying are greatest for politicians, police officers, bureaucrats and those in similar occupations where lying in the course of duty is something called for. We cannot assume that an optimal distribution of honesty and deceit will be reached, even in the long run, by any automatic tendency towards social equilibrium.

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