Friday, August 04, 2006

Truth & Honesty

I’m often times struck (ouch!) by how some people will rip into you and then justify it by saying something along the lines of “it’s the truth.” With some people, like politicians, you ask them a straight question and get an answer…to something completely different from what you asked. I also recall some statement on “The X-Files” or whatever where a scientist compares human beings to ants and concludes that ants are more “honest about it [how they live].” All these random statements have very little in common, but one thing they do share are the notions of honesty and truth. Being an anal-retentive freak, I kept thinking about it and decided that no, ants are not “more honest” than human beings for one simple reason: they cannot choose to be dishonest. Honesty goes beyond mere truth. One can tell the truth and yet be dishonest. One can lie at the same time they are telling the truth. Consider this pointless experiment: You and another person are sitting around insulting each other when you take out a scrap of paper and, while concealing what you write from the other person, you jot down a number from 1 to 10 and place the piece of paper on a convenient coffee table (not tea mind you). Having thus exhausted yourselves, you and your associate walk into another room to get an alcoholic refreshment. While the two of you are thus occupied, a nefarious individual sidles into the room and replaces the scrap of paper with another that contains the number “5” written on it. Upon returning to the room, you announce to your compatriot that you have written the number “1” on the paper. Consider the following scenarios:
  • You decide to lie to your friend and actually wrote done 5. You told the truth, even though your intention was to mislead your friend.
  • You decide to be honest with your associate and actually wrote down 1. You did not tell the truth to the other person, but you tried to: you were being honest.
The point of this anecdote is to waste time. In addition, however, it illustrates that intention is crucial to whether one is being honest or deceitful. Intention is basically another word for choice: in this case the choice of whether to mislead or not. A politician is deceitful as a matter of course – it’s a politician after all. Beyond that, choosing to answer some question with a load of blather about some other topic is deceitful because their intention is to avoid answering the question. If one does not have the choice to mislead or be honest, then one cannot lie or misdirect. Thus our six-legged buddies with the antennas cannot be honest because they cannot choose to be otherwise. At least as far as I can tell. On the other hand, they do look pretty cool, what with the antennas and all. In a similar vein, there is the notion of kindness vs. cruelty. You could walk down the street, commenting in a loud and obnoxious manner about the weight of people that you encounter. This may be honest from your point of view, but point is that you do not have to do this. You have chosen to try and inflict harm. Thus “being honest” is no defense for someone who is ripping into when no feedback as been solicited.

1 comment:

Q said...

I like the way you think.