“The lie kills nations”

Hermann Sasse was contending with Nazi Germany, but his words about how “the lie” kills nations–presenting cultural dissolution “as a glorious ascent,” in which “decline is viewed as an advance”–have an unsettling resonance for today. [Read more...]

Breakthrough in implanting false memories

Scientists have successfully implanted false memories into mice.  The researches are excited at prospect of applying the same processes to human beings, which they say holds promise for treating emotional problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.  Read about the experiment after the jump, and then I want to pose some questions. [Read more...]

“The least untruthful manner”

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, had been asked in a Congressional committee if the U.S. government was collecting data on millions of Americans.  He said, no.  But now with news about PRISM and other data mining programs, he is being accused of perjury.  But what I want to draw attention to is his defense and a great phrase he has entered into the English lexicon:

“I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.”

[Read more...]

Luther on Learning

Thanks to Prof. Scott Ashmon of Concordia University Irvine for yet another great quote, this one from Martin Luther:

“How dare you not know what can be known?”

(Quoted in Robert Benne, “A Lutheran Vision/Version of Christian Humanism” Lutheran Forum 31 (1997): 42.)  [Does anybody know the source in Luther's Works? Or is this one of those apocryphal sayings of Luther?  Even if so, it's still a great line, an explosion of Christian anti-intellectualism.]

How might this principle be applied?

The three stages of error

Charles Porterfield Krauth was an American Lutheran theologian of the 19th century.  His book The Conservative Reformation is a classic of theology and church history.  You may perhaps have heard what he said about the three stages of error–from the request for toleration to a demand for equality to the imposition of superiority over truth–but thanks to Pastor Mark Schroeder for posting the actual quotation:

“When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of the others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and then only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate the faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.”

via Steadfast Lutherans » Charles Porterfield Krauth’s Three Steps to Doctrinal and Ecclesial “Nihilism”.

Can you think of some examples of this?

Lying to tell the truth?

Mike Daisey has been performing a one-man-show entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in which he exposes the unsafe working condition in Apple factories in China.  NPR picked up the story and interviewed Daisey on “This American Life” about what he found out during a visit to one of these Chinese factories.  It turned out that Daisey made up the more dramatic details.  When this information came out, NPR retracted the interview.

Consider this defense of Daisey from tech reporter Joshua Topolsky:

Mike Daisey was lying.

No, he didn’t lie about all of it. He did go to southern China and meet with workers from Foxconn. He was there, all right, but he wasn’t honest about what he’d seen. There were no underage workers he’d spoken with, there was no man with a maimed hand. In one passage of his show, ­Daisey talks about workers who had been poisoned by a gas called n-hexane. That part was true — there had been workers poisoned by this gas at an Apple contractor somewhere in China. But Daisey never spoke to them. Like many of the most upsetting moments in his show, Daisey simply fabricated the encounter.

The lies were so clear and so egregious that after learning the truth, “This American Life” issued a retraction of its report by way of a new show — a show in which host Ira Glass confronted Daisey over the deception.

It’s an uncomfortable listen. As Daisey is called out by Glass, you can hear the hesitation, the panic, and the fear in his voice. He doesn’t offer much in the way of excuses. The main point he drives home is that he felt it was necessary to embellish his story in order to retain the “truth” of the message of his show. He lied to tell the truth, basically.

In some immediate way, this defense rings true. There are many documented cases of worker mistreatment and injuries in Foxconn factories. There have been reports of underage workers. There have been suicides. Some of the most important and honest revelations of these issues have come from Apple itself, which issues a supplier responsibility statement every year detailing both the improvements and problems it’s having with international partners.

But until the radio broadcast Daisey took part in — and many of the follow-up interviews he gave — this problem was never discussed in a such a big, public way. Daisey’s lies inspired honest questions about the gadgets in our pockets. Did he betray the trust of the public and journalists by lying? The answer to this question is easy: Yes. But were the lies necessary?

We have a tendency to tune out the things we don’t like hearing. That is doubly true when money is involved. I’m not suggesting that we didn’t listen when Apple issued its report, and that we didn’t pay attention when the Times published its findings. What I’m saying is that sad songs have a way of sticking with us long after we’ve heard them — and Daisey found a way to tell the sad, human part of this story. To make it catchy enough to stick, even if it was a lie.

via Why Mike Daisey had to lie to tell the truth about Apple – The Washington Post.

So in order to expose abuse of workers he had to make up cases of the abuse of workers.  In order to tell the truth, he had to lie.   Does this make any sense?

It’s true that fiction can tell the truth–a novel can express truths about the human heart, even though its incidents never happened–but, as Sir Philip Sydney has shown, fiction isn’t a lie because it presents itself as imaginary.  A lie, on the other hand, presents itself as truth.  Which is what Mike Daisey did.


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