I Find It Very Difficult to Lie

I Find It Very Difficult to Lie June 18, 2021

I thought that I had written this article before. And perhaps I have but I can’t find in my archives or it didn’t transfer over from the Skeptic Ink Network. This is in response to Dave Armstrong’s comments here below:

[Him, quoting me, quoting him] Atheist anti-theist polemicist Jonathan MS Pearce wrote in his screed…

As long as Pearce keeps lying about the Bible, I will keep exposing it. His choice. He can continue to embarrass himself and the atheist community if he likes. I don’t see what reward he gets out of that: as long as the lies continue to be exposed for what they are…. I have a big problem with intellectual dishonesty (upon correction) and intransigent refusal to retract statements that have been proven to be false.

As I just stated in a comment on your blog, I will apologize and retract if you show me where I have attacked you personally. Here, I apologize for using the phrase “intellectual dishonesty.” I must have been overly frustrated. I don’t believe this about you (as you do about me, having called me “disingenuous” several times now).

So I will change that language (and thank you for highlighting it). “Lying” can have a second meaning of simply “falsehood” but probably only one person in a hundred knows that (anyone can look it up in a dictionary). That was what I intended above, but people always take it to mean “deliberate lying” and so it’s not good to use the word if the charge is simply spewing falsehood.

This made me think quite a bit about lying. This post has nothing to do with Dave Armstrong really at all.

My musings might well depend how you define lying, as you can see from the above quote. This post might also look a little bit like, “Hey, look at me, look at how wonderful I am.” It’s not meant to be that. Not at all. This is hopefully an honest appraisal about myself as it pertains also to the sorts of things that I write here every day.

So, I have a real thing about lying. I know one could make the accusation that this is a sort of thing everybody tells themselves. But I really do find it difficult to lie, even about the smallest of things. I am really, really truthful. If I get things wrong, it’s not because I’m lying on purpose. There may be scenarios where I really believe that I am being truthful but am ultimately not; so it’s more about my own beliefs than whether I am dishonest or not.

It may be that I just don’t get round to things that people demand of me. I’m not lying or being dishonest about the subject or demand, and it’s not shirking. I struggle with fatigue and motivation – that’s my multiple sclerosis cross I have to bear. And it gets a lot worse in summer (a quarter degree change in body temperature can screw with MS symptoms. Fun fact, they used to diagnose people by putting them in hot baths). Oddly enough, I am busier than ever and still putting out a whole lot of content (effectively for free – this gig really doesn’t pay – at least, I would need to multiply my readership twentyfold at least. It turns out that the minutiae of pitch in Ancient Egypt isn’t what people dig or share! Screw them.).

I’ve often wondered where I get this approach to lying from and I’m pretty sure it comes from my dad. He’s the sort of person who wouldn’t lie to an insurance company, as the saying goes. He is just incredibly honest in any given context that I can think about. Goodness, he’s been scammed because he’s too old-school and thinks that everyone else is honest, too, and just can’t bring himself to say no. He is honest to a fault. And he’s certainly hoinest about his politics with me… But that’s another story.

Either there’s some kind of genetic determinant in there or I have picked up from environmental cues in my youth. Either way, I think I’m pretty similar to my dad in the respect of lying (though I am far more worldly-wise and utterly politically antithetical!), even if we differ wildly on pretty much everything else in the world.

One of the ramifications of this is that I don’t lie to myself. I don’t know whether that has to do with the aforementioned or whether it is to do with philosophical rigour, but if I have an issue with any of my beliefs, I will not pull the wool over my own eyes. As physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

If there are areas in my worldview that really are problematic, or are not coherent with other areas of my worldview, then that’s not good enough. It simply isn’t. I can’t live with that inconsistency. There will be areas of unknowns, of course, but that is to be expected. However, if there is intellectual dissonance, there be trouble. I would just lie in bed at night working on it until it became harmonious. Dissonance means something is wrong and I can’t live my life being wrong. I have to fix it, and now.

This is why I always bang on about working from the bottom up rather than from top down. This is why I always bang on about sorting out what the basic building bricks of reality are, like abstract objects, and then piecing together the foundations of worldviews before arriving at a conclusion. I like to think that I’m not the sort of person who starts with a conclusion and works backwards. I have changed my mind on pretty much every major idea in the world from God to free will, morality to epistemology. However, we are all victim to cognitive biases and things like confirmation bias will always be a component of any person’s conclusions.

I really do like to think I am honest with you all here, as well. Where this gets a bit fuzzy is where some of my writing becomes overly rhetorical. And things like politics are slightly less black and white, maybe, than, say, historical analyses or, topically, archaeology. Even then, there is an awful lot of scope for interpretation. What I have been saying about pitch in the recent flurry of articles concerning the archaeology to support (or not) the Exodus accounts, I really believe. But, if Dave Armstrong, for example, was to really give me some solid evidence against my position, then I would change my mind and be honest about it. I don’t have a problem with that. I am not an archaeologist, so I do take on their expertise. I have honestly changed my probability assessment of that tiny area by around 15%. And I happily admit that.

Let’s exemplify with the pitch argument. When I read, in the 2020 paper that Armstrong hit me with in his latest broadside, and it includes the line “Given that evidence for bitumen use in Egypt in the New Kingdom has previously been limited to a few individual samples from objects with poor provenance…” I feel vindicated. I am not lying to you and I am not cherry-picking. This line, in his lauded source, sums up my whole argument as constructed. Yes, it was refined as we went on, but I wasn’t being disingenuous with the way I was reading the sources. I didn’t cherry-pick quotes and ignore problematic ones (indeed, I made a point to discuss the quotes in various sources that could be problematic, rather than ignoring them!). I think I then dealt with that new paper and evidence honestly and fairly.

I really don’t lie to myself and I especially don’t lie to others. At least, I really don’t think I do. I definitely don’t do it consciously at all. I just can’t. It makes me feel so weird. Well, I say it does, but I really don’t do it as far as I am concerned, so I don’t get to experience that feeling I am saying I would get (if you catch my drift). I avoid that feeling. Even if it is utterly benign or inconsequential to lie, I don’t do it. It’s just a habit. I don’t think it is even a point of being worthy of praise since it is just part of who I am. I don’t “choose” to be like this, I just act to avoid bad feelings, I guess. Or something.

I wonder if this has anything to do with me not banning people here? I’ll think on that to work out whether it is connected. It doesn’t sit well with me closing people off and not allowing them a voice in a kind of truth way. And this is strained to the limit when such people routinely make arses of themselves.

It’s the same with board games. I don’t cheat. It’s just a thing I don’t do, and now that I hear my partner say it about me, it’s become a principle I definitely have to adhere to! It gets to the point where I am playing FIFA with one of my boys on career mode on PlayStation on Professional level, and we are losing an important game, so he switches sides and scores some own goals. This causes arguments. “You can’t do that – it’s cheating!” “But if we don’t win this game, then we won’t get promoted and this whole season will have been a waste of time!”

And then I start having a debate with myself about whether there are times cheating can be justified if the ends are that important? And, no, Trumpists, I don’t want to bring up the Big Lie. Or perhaps it is pertinent. That lie has really pissed me off, because it is cheating an electorate, it is cheating the US out of global respect, and it is unfair. Power begets power, and the GOP are so power-hungry, they will break the rules, cheat and lie their way to retaining power and privilege for themselves.

Stay on target, stay on target…

You would think with being such a liberal I would have a much more rebellious side to me but when I play board games with my family, I am a stickler for the rules. The only manner in which that liberal psychology – that is so wrapped up in openness to new experience – comes in, is that I now really recognise the arbitrary nature of rules to games. So, where I used to think you had to play by the exact rules set out in the rule book because…they are the rules, I now get all philosophical about it and say, “Well as long as we all agree on what the rules are, we can make whatever the hell rules we want.” I am living out a sort of pragmatism whilst also recognising the arbitrary nature of most things. But rules are important for consistency and fairness.

This whole post is a case of me thinking out loud here – I have not planned or thought about any of this writing (I am actually doing speech to text so it really is a case of thinking out loud!). But I suppose perhaps one aspect of the psychology of liberals, as is commonly understood by psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt, that I employ both in board games and in life is a sense of fairness. I cannot emphasise this enough, but unfairness really gets my goat. I abhor it. There is a sense of fairness and justice that is inside me and drives my philosophy and politics. This is where the topic of political psychology really fascinates me because it is a case of trying to understand what the causal determinant is: politics and morality driving one’s psychology, or psychology driving one’s politics and morality?  I have long argued that psychology is so important as it seems to drive our behaviour more so than rationality, more’s the pity.

So where Christians might think I am spewing falsehoods, I am certainly not lying. There is no intentional lying here and I am certainly not lying to myself about any of my beliefs. Of course, I would say that – we would probably all  say the same. However, I honestly believe this. I’m not prepared to live my life based on shaky foundations or on multiple beliefs that aren’t coherent! I’m not going to go to the bother of political activism and moral justice built on foundations of lies to myself!

This is definitely not supposed to be self-congratulatory but a bit of self-analysis, and I sure there are plenty of readers who will say “bullshit – you lied about X, Y and Z”. Bring it.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. I’m sure everyone will say the same sort of thing: “Of course I never lie!” I really don’t though. Not even white lies – I can’t do it. I see them as gateway drugs. I’ve always thought, “If you can lie in that really inconsequential area, who’s to say you aren’t doing it in much greater, more self-beneficial ways elsewhere?” It is why I get so upset when my twin boys don’t tell the truth. I wonder where it will go. I am going to work hard on trying to instil this into them.

I think the biggest challenge to holding myself to the highest account in terms of truth is probably when I get overly rhetorical. And perhaps that is something I need to work on. I have never been intellectually dishonest. At least, I have never intentionally and consciously been so. Where I have been, please point me out and I will explain myself.

Of course, I could be lying about this. ;)

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