Sunday, March 13, 2005

Caught in a Lie

In Mary Renault's The Last of the Wine, the main character discusses a friend, saying of him that if he were caught in a lie, this person would be low on his list of people he'd rather have been caught by. It struck me that this was a more honest statement than many I have seen, as implicit in his statement is the idea that he does, indeed, lie at times. If we are truly honest we know that we have -- at one time or another, and probably countless times -- lied. Yet we are eager to catch others in lies or to show others up, particularly if we already disagree with them in other areas than that of truth.

I started thinking about the many people I know and respect and who I would rather be caught out by in a lie. I can't think of anyone who I would like to be caught by - but by and large I think that the person I'd least like to be caught by would be the person who, through long experience, I have learned to respect for honesty in particular, apart from other virtues.

One of the reasons I lie to people is that these are people who themselves lie to me. Most of my lies are about things like how I spend my time or who I talk to and what about. They are hardly ever about matters of belief or thought. Therefore I don't often lie to the most honest people I know. In fact I don't think I can remember an instance. Perhaps this is because I know to be true, what this person in the book said, deep inside me; even though I can't remember having thought about it consciously until now. Associating with honest people keeps us honest - it makes us strive to be honest, in fact.

An associated truth is that honesty is bound up very closely with use of language. This is one of the reasons I so love the writings of Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian. He made this point over and over, and attacked bad academic and bureaucratic writing, not for its mistakes (like spelling), but the intentional lack of clarity that made it, at its core, deeply dishonest.

Of the many people I have known only through their own writing, or the writings about them, I could probably say that he and Socrates are the two people who I would least like to catch me out in a lie.

Who would you shrink the most from lying to? Tell me in the comments.


Julaybib said...


On the topic of lieing, I bow to two legendary figures - Mulla Dopiaza and Lister from 'Red Dwarf'.

Mulla Dopiaza is an invention of Idries Shah, whose 'definitions' are hilarious. He defines a fool as 'someone trying to be honest to a dishonest person'.

Dave Lister of 'Red Dwarf' taught his robot friend, Kryton, to lie because he saw it as 'essential for your personal and psychological survival'.

Nuff said.


Anna in Portland (was Cairo) said...

Yes, Yacoub, and the type of lying that I engage in is usually a kind of Taqiyya like Lister describes. But what about lying to the honest yet discerning? The brutally honest and very discriminating logician (like Socrates) is the kind of person I am the least likely to be comfortable lying to. And I will never be a good lier - I can't even lie with conviction when the person I am lying to is a horrible jerk who deserves it. I turn red and my pulse goes up. Thank god I am not living in a time or place that makes Taqiyya necessary.