When first we practise to deceive

Here we are again – in the run up to the General Election. Manifestos are out, politicians are quizzed: it’s a good opportunity to think about truth in the public forum. No doubt there are few direct lies, if only because a discovered lie carries a heavy price. But, short of that, it would seem that distortions of truth are the order of the day.

My theory is that politicians do genuinely fool themselves that getting themselves into a position of power, or continuing there, is always for the common good. And it is this which justifies their economy with the truth. I have just been reading Broken Vows, which is a biography of Tony Blair in power, written by Tom Bower. This presents me with a picture of a whole government, including the civil service, which is a stranger to the truth. Fighting for position, doing down your enemies, making sure that your views are accepted no matter what. It is a cauldron of deceit. You can only serve the people by dishonesty – from the subtle to the flagrant. And I write this on a day when I have just heard that epitome of virtue, Theresa May, claim that her ‘end of life’ social care plan remains the same notwithstanding the collapse of a major element. I am thankful that when many years ago I toyed with entering politics I decided that I was unlikely ever to be able in conscience to subscribe to a complete manifesto.

But, while politics by nature tend towards the distortion of truth in the thrust for power, it may be useful to consider the standards of honesty which we impose on ourselves. I am not thinking only about direct lies, I have in mind a variety of ways in which we might deceive others. Telling a truth which we know will be misunderstood is one example. Failing to say some thing which should be said is another. Presenting selective information to get our own way, is not confined to advertisements – it is to be found in family conversation. We might go deeper down and think about lies which we take to be good manners. Have you ever told a cook how much you have enjoyed a meal when it fact you disliked it? Kindness intended, no doubt, but a lie nevertheless. I recommend an exercise in which we take a single day and note how often we diverge from the complete truth, even if we distinguish between the important and the trivial.

The fundamental principle is that we have been created, as rational social animals, to communicate with each other. And ‘communicate’ means ‘to come together’. Divergence from the truth, or omission from a truth which is owed to another, is an offence against communication. It does not bring us together, it pushes us further apart. We might see ourselves as honest persons. But in fact honesty is not a stable characteristic, it is one we have to work at continuously as we step up the long ladder which leads to God.

Advertisements

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries, Synod and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to When first we practise to deceive

  1. Barrie Machin says:

    This is perhaps one of Quentin’s most poignant blogs (brave almost !) that none of us can ignore. We have all had experience of soul searching following a lie that we try soften it to ourselves by calling it just a white lie.
    Politicians have been accused of lies, damned lies and statistics but I seriously hope that the unpleasant scenario Quentin paints is restricted to a minority of politicians but even the worst offenders find that even for them truth will out – and not to their credit.

  2. Hock says:

    I think I write the truth that we have covered this topic many times before on this blog.
    Inevitably the question arises from a blogger as to what we would respond if living in Nazi Germany or one of the countries they conquered and we were quizzed as to whether we were hiding a Jewish refugee. Would we answer in the positive if we were hiding a Jew when we knew it meant certain death for that person and perhaps our own family too; or would we tell a lie and deny it?
    It is the old moral dilemma that we have debated times numerous.
    Leave it to conscience is the only reliable yardstick.

  3. G.D. says:

    This sentence in the post is, for me, the crux of the matter ….
    “Divergence from the truth, or omission from a truth which is owed to another, is an offence against communication. It does not bring us together, it pushes us further apart.”

    Much (most?) of our shared ‘communion’ (most obviously voiced communication, but also other ways) is uninformed by truth; we don’t ‘know truth’ and are walking ‘lies’.
    That’s not intended as a moral value judgement, just a statement of our ignorant state of being.
    And it’s the reason we are such a lying disparaging lot; disunited and at odds with each other, even when we agree to differ.

    That’s the importance, of course, of an ‘informed conscience’. To bring us to ‘know truth’ and enable us to act justly with it in communion with others etc.
    Which is usually reckoned to be a ‘rational information process’.(?) But is that not a way of enabling lying to each other; and, more importantly, to ourselves?

    Hock cites the Nazi/Jew dilemma, and sees saying ‘no Jew here’ as a lie, as is literally justified due to our rational take on truth. But is it really a lie?

    To deny the rational fact (presence of Jews) seems to me to be more convergent with Truth, and not a ‘lie’, because it’s not an offence against COMMUNION.
    (For all concerned, the Nazi included).

    Yes, for my literal reasoning, to all accepted extensive purposes, it’s ‘called a lie’. But the situation and actions looked at through the eyes of my intuitive Joycean perceptions, by definition, it’s a (T)truth ….??? ….

    My response to a lousy meal – may or may not be a lie, depending on how aggressive the cook looked! Thinking about it, if i said it was wonderful it would be more towards ‘to come together’, so a lie? …. Yes, a lie! …. But i wouldn’t worry about it too much if it kept my nose in one piece.

    And …. i have no problem believing that most politicians lie at will to suit their own ego agendas!

    • Martha says:

      Your lousy meal reminds me of one of Tommy Handley’s jokes, I think, which tickled my father’s fancy after his war service in Burma, “Awful muck,” and then, catching the cook’s eye, “But beautifully cooked.”

  4. Brendan says:

    ” If we say, ‘ We have no sin ,’ we are deceiving ourselves , and truth has no place in us. 1 John 1-8 ( NJB)
    It seems to the voter as if more and more politicians are lviing on a kind of ‘ neo-gnostic ‘ plane somewhere from the rest of us, as if they can cleanse themselves from any ‘ faux pas ‘/falsehood with immediate exoneration by their public. No wonder the general public has little or no confidence in them as a class in the system.
    Take poor old Tim Fallon of the Lib.Dems. Now, neither side knows where they stand with him !
    On our own , none of us is going anywhere without Gods life-giving Grace. Little by little in a myriad of ways we dig our own graves without it….. that’s why Christ died to save us !

  5. John Candido says:

    Democracy is a strange beast. It is a modern paradox that inspires the best and worst in human nature, in gallingly equal measures.

    Churchill once mentioned,

    ‘It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.’

    Expecting any human being least of all a husband, wife, son, daughter or a politician to not lie, is hoping beyond hope itself.

    Lying is a force of nature. We are all liars to varying degrees.

    What makes democracy maddening to all of us and even politicians themselves is the unavoidable group-think of political parties and the solidarity of cabinets, despite every individual possessing their own individuality. As citizens of democratic nation-states, we have to be realistic about the role of lies in the body politic.

    Occasionally, a politician comes along who beguiles and charms everyone with the most sublime rhetoric. When once in a century they appear, we gladly follow them to the end of time. Annoyingly, this can be good or tragic especially when you are dealing with Hitlerian or Lincolnian iterations.
    Blindness attributed to ego is behind ‘their economy with the truth’ or their indispensableness. Political power is probably our greatest aphrodisiac.

    ‘I recommend an exercise in which we take a single day and note how often we diverge from the complete truth, even if we distinguish between the important and the trivial.’
    (Quentin de la Bedoyere)

    Too much rigour pollutes the soul.

    Lies like love, make the world go around. Someone’s lie is another person’s tactfulness, manners even. I am talking about inconsequential lies.

    I prefer this sage advice.

    ‘Never stand so high upon a principle that you cannot lower it to suit the circumstances.’ (Sir Winston Churchill)

    Words can kill. Lies can too. We have all heard of a boy called Emmet Till. 14-year-old Till was the catalyst of the American civil rights movement. The words that propelled him to his death came from a very conniving, evil, vacuous and self-serving 21-year-old married white woman, called Carolyn Bryant, who recently admitted to a university historian and author to lying about Emmet Till’s suggestiveness or misdemeanour, whatever it may have been.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till

    I cannot but roll my eyes when I think of the catastrophic consequences of Carolyn Bryant’s lies. They do not come more redneck than her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s