TOTW: True Lies

Telling lies can be a matter of survival. When is it okay to lie to others? When is it okay to lie to ourselves?

Everybody lies. And if you don’t, you’re lying.

This everyday tool of deception can save your ass or ruin your life depending on how you use it. And we have good reasons to lie: manipulation, self-defense, avoiding consequences. For someone stepping outside the boundaries of the law, relationships, work expectations, or simple social graces, telling a tall tale can be easier than facing the music. Fortunately, our collective compulsion to not tell the truth has grayed the moral waters of even our most definitive institutions – when asked if lying is wrong, a shaky “ehhhh, it depends” echos from the Church halls and Scientific offices. Even courts with perjury laws rarely enforce them.

Our languid stance on lying may stem from the fact that it’s a long-standing survival tactic. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon says, “we probably would never have made it to the Fourth Glacial Period if our ancestors had refused to tell a lie. Strategically deployed, deception and self deception are survival enhancing social tools.” If lying can be the difference between life and death, how are anarchists using it today? How can lying help us survive our current period?

Of course, another reason lying goes largely unpunished is because we live in a world of strategic half-truths, omissions, and fabrications: courts, cops, corporations, politics, media, military, religion, technology. Lying even has bi-partisan support, just with different strategies. The Right impressively contorts lies into truths for their audience using the Media, while the Left relies on outrage to defend the sanctity of Facts. Determined to not be left out of the fun, where do anarchists fit in? How do we currently lie to these powers? Is it of any use? Can we capitalize on this moral uncertainty and make the best use of our deception?

When shouldn’t we lie, though? When is honesty the best policy? How do we wrestle with notions of Trust, Respect, Loyalty, and Facts? Are we compelled to be truthful to our lovers or family? Should anarchists ever hide the truth from one another? If self-deception can be used as a survival tool, how have we lied to ourselves to make it this far? How can we go further?

There are 25 Comments

The context should be positive or negative emotive speach information, not by empirical objective verbalizations such as ---yes---no---
Everybody tells WHITE lies, so technically not everyone tells lies if the lies are beneficial, because the human language is always ambiguous when the question of innocence and not harming negatively the feelings of someone.
One must often lie to children because the objective truth hurts.

Why do we call them white lies?

White missionaries started it by telling indigenous folk about god and heaven and god and his friend the King or president need your land and stuff,and history made it like, okay, that lie is okay, so lets call it" white lie" and colonization is okay then.
That's wot this christian marxist told me!

You're joking hahaha. In case you're not, its a simple black/white absolutism. Its an easy way to think, blissful maybe, but some psychology regards absolute cognition as a simplified thought process which cuts corners, and amounts to a deluded minimalist perception of real life problems, and a denial of complex relational conditions and circumstances leading to a harsh and insensitive behavioral eccentricities.

Sure, we all lie. As we are fond of saying, context matters.

To whom are we telling falsehoods?

Why are we omitting the whole truth?

Etc etc etc.....

Chagnon is an interesting choice to quote here, and without any contexualization. What lies is he referring to? Or is what is meant something like camouflage or stealth, which are sort of lies?

"And we have good reasons to lie: manipulation, self-defense, avoiding consequences. "

Weird, 2 of the 3 good reasons listed are iffy at best. As anarchists is manipulation really a good reason to lie? Isn't manipulation a form of coercion and aren't we against coercion?
Hmm. Ok, self-defense. Self-defense is probably the only one of these that on its face seems acceptable as a reason to lie, but it also depends on what one is defending oneself from.
Like, avoiding consequences. This does not seem like a good reason to lie, except in the case of lying to avoid going to prison (or similar punishment from the state) or to keep someone else from going to prison. But if we are talking about avoiding consequences for, say, rape then no, of course not.

As with many issues raised here, the framing lacks nuance. In general, for myself, I try to avoid lying at all, especially with friends and people I want to get along with.

yeah, the whole point of choosing my friends carefully is so I can indulge in luxuries like honesty.

as for the rest of the world, gotta lie to get by!

With hostile people and agencies (and you know there are many in this society), I got no problem being manipulative, deceptive, and unresponsive like a diabolical villain. Anarchism to me doesn't mean being nice to everyone just coz they humans, or part of the ever-elusive "community". That's socialism, brah. And no, no matter how Reddit anarchists want you to believe...

So as far as people are being dishonest or disrespectful with me, this usually means I give absolutely zero fucks being nice or merciful with them. Why waste the effort?

...but yeah, I often disappoint at being too nice with others, still. Perhaps there's worth in showing some ruthless people the value of honesty. Sometimes. Depends if they got the self-awareness for it.

Oh wow, remind me not to invite you to my Stirnerian authenticity gatherings in the future!

it's easy to defend lying for self-preservation or out of selfish interests or epistemological uncertainties, but where's the love for honesty?
Fuck honesty as a default (is it, even?), honesty is honestly radical. Our society is built on lying at every stage. Fuck lying to people to keep them from "hard" truths, fuck lying to yourself (even if we can't stop it entirely), fuck lying to each other. Lie to your enemies, lie when it's good to you, but being honest is not done enough and all the time people are just plastering over what they perceive to be true in order to keep what disturbs them and wider society at bay
shake shit up, tell the truth for once :p

You'll get seriously muzzled or worse if you start that shit, like Assange. You gotta keep your mouth shut, keep honesty like its your own precious diamond, hide it for just your loved ones, because by being truly honest, you're going to be poor and unpopular, that's the truth. Instead live a quiet but rich life within your own unique authentic bubble, why pierce it and let all the dishonesty flow in, even if it promises financial wealth and a pleasurable hedonistic lifestyle, it still has nothing on your own insular honesty.

Briwfly, total honesty is material poverty but intellectual and emotional prosperity.

I have a preference for honesty/literality but I also feel it's impossible to tell the whole truth, since it's impossible to include every detail of the truth which might conceivably be salient in some eventuality. Another problem here: there needs to be a "real reality", a something-referred-to about which claims can be true or false, for there to be truth and lies. Does one always "lie" when using language because "the map is not the territory" and language is always incomplete, or (on, say, a Buddhist reading) differs fundamentally from what "really exists"? Does someone's capacity to tell the truth depend on meanings common between themselves and the listener - when does a misunderstanding because of lingusitic differences become a lie? Is a lie the same thing as a confabulation? Can one lie to oneself? Can one come to believe one's own lies? Also, are there statements of such a kind that their truth-status is irrelevant? Is there a difference between a lie, a joke, a sarcastic remark, a dramatic performance, and a work of fiction?

My impression is that the most frequent liars fall in two groups: 1) people who believe the "real reality" is simply a struggle to survive or succeed at the expense of others, and whose statements are thus created as "strategic" manipulations within this presumed background field, and 2) people with a moralised but relativistic epistemology (such as idpols, cognitivists and poststructuralists) who believe that one can really create or change realities through words or that "reality" is simply a series of multiple truths each reflecting particular interests. Both groups will assume everyone is in a sense lying, that truth is nothing more than an effective lie, and that their own confabulations "in a good cause" (themselves, their group) are utterly justified, even moral.

The possibility of untrue statements is built into language. I very much doubt lying is a "survival tactic" and I wonder what theory of hunter-gatherers underlies this... there aren't many occasions where lying has self-preservation benefits for individual or society in hunter-gatherer contexts. Rather, it would seem that general honesty among a codependent band, and reduction of intragroup conflict and distrust, would be survival-beneficial. The examples I'm aware of (such as humility or boasting about hunting successes: Bushmen "lie" by downplaying success apparently to avoid any perceived slight to less-successful hunters, Yanomami make exaggerated claims about their prowess during ritualised singing contests, Ilongot claim all to have caught the same amount to save face for older/less capable hunters) seem mostly to be face-saving.

Interesting question: do animals lie? Animal "speech" generally seems to be functionally expressive and/or illocutionary, and any truth-content thus relates to the intent or internal state of the animal (a snarl means "I am angry" or "fuck off before I bite you"). Can a dog, say, snarl if it isn't feeling anger? A domestic dog can be "conditioned" to snarl to manipulate humans, which seems to be lying, but it's not clear whether the dog is just being "conditioned" to feel anger in these cirucmstances, at which point the snarl is not a lie. In exceptions where there's some kind of representational communication (prairie dogs, bees), there does not seem to be any possibility of lying: a bee will follow a route in the hive analogous to the route it just flew, informing other bees whether this route is nectar-rich or not; AFAIK a bee cannot decide to show a false route so as to keep the nectar for itself (nor an ant with pheromones). In principle a junior female prairie-dog might have an interest in not correctly reporting the passage of a dangerous animal towards the queen, thus increasing her own breeding chances, but it's not something I've ever seen reported.

There are of course species which have evolved to deceive others, for instance by copying markings of more dangerous species, or the whole thing with cuckoo eggs, but this doesn't necessarily involve any conscious intent or knowledge. There's also a lot of deception such as for example animals making themselves look bigger than they are to scare predators or rivals, imitating other animals' calls, even males which disguise as females to evade the surveillance of dominant males. Animals which hide, blend in against the background and effectively "pretend they aren't there"; I've seen cats go under cover and then assume no humans in the room know where they are, suggesting some degree of consciousness of deception.

I don't think lying is present in early childhood proto-language because claim-making is expressive and invocatory (one cries when hungry, in pain, etc). It seems however to enter fairly quickly. I think it might actually evolve from an earlier process of denial in which a child simply refuses to accept an unpleasant reality, posits a hallucinatory or willed reality instead, and verbally insists on the existence of the latter (this would also generate make-believe/play). It later gets attached to self-preservation once parents or other authorities start imposing unpleasant prohibitions or demands. Since these initially have no moral force, and/or are marked with persecutory anxieties, it will seem obviously legitimate to lie in order to avoid detection and/or punishment. This belief will be weakened if the parental commands are later internalised and moralised, though self-deception can also be directed towards such internalised beliefs (ergo "rationalisations", "neutralisations" etc). There are people out there who never lie. Always either autistic or obsessive-compulsive AFAIK. This apparently arises from a particular expressive relation to language (similar to that of a very early infant) in the former case, and a strict superego (possibly imagined to be all-seeing) in the latter. There are also people who compulsively lie, even when it has no clear benefit. This seems to be conditioned on lying being transgressive, and coincides with other types of compulsive/impulsive rulebreaking (in so-called sociopaths): rebellion against a failed and sadistic superego.

I would expect those who consider themselves to be in an antagonistic (warlike, class struggle...) relationship with an adversary to condone lying to the adversary, but also to discourage or limit lying among the group with whom they share the hidden transcript. In some cases there's also a kind of nod-and-wink lying which acknowledges some kind of affinity, like McKenzie's "don't look there" (not itself a lie, but a way of saying: I'm up to something I don't want monitored, remembered or reported, pretend it's not happening).

My heuristic rule is that lies are justified in a situation where force would be justified, and to ward off threats to autonomy. Affinity/intimacy precludes lying; the greater the affinity, the less secrets and lies there should be; if one has to avoid "true" statements because the other can't handle them, the level of affinity is somewhat less, although omission and simplification are also different from lying (and in many cases people will agree to work together on a right-to-know-only basis). Lying to pigs, bosses and the like is fine; so is lying to nosey relatives and suchlike about such matters as being an anarchist, doing drugs, or being gay; so is lying in the course of an undercover action and other actions against an adversary, and lying to get money (or something else one wants/needs) out of cunts (such as banks and governments). Activities such as spoof press releases and poetic terrorism fall under play/poesis rather than lying.

The rest of the time, lying is against my ethos because it undermines both trust-building and ability to trust others, and my sense of my own authenticity and its expression in the world. However, I often have doubts whether "I'm telling the truth" because my motives are obscure to me and I'm well aware I don't understand my own unconscious very well.

A difficult grey area: telling the truth about something one knows the other will misconstrue, or react-to based on spooks - where in a sense, they would not hear the truth as the truth. Another grey area is how far one can play along with someone else's delusions or ideologies (trying to convince them of something from their own premises, indulging delusions when trying to help someone solve a difficult mental crisis).

you mean like that time where I told you poole's land was a hippy dumpster fire and I knew that because I spent time there but you wanted it to be the bucolic anarchist commune so you tried to argue with reality?

Well according to page 823 of the Hobo Manifesto, hobos can gain access to shape-shifting powers if they consume shrooms and live for one week at Poole's Land, then the true nature of reality will be revealed, that everyone not wearing a suit and tie is infact a crypto-hippy insurgent with a fire-fetish!

You still butthurt about that? Literally all you had was "uhh well it's not anarchist cos this one guy there got paranoid and threatened me". Which was being used to back up an argument that *no* drop-out projects *ever* work. LOL.

I would honestly like to hear what *your* vision of anarchy and/or strategy for changing the world and/or anarchist ethos in the present actually is. You seem to love tearing down other people but your contributions never get far beyond "this sucks, everything sucks, nothing works, the world is shit, and I'm better than you because at least I realise the world is shit". This would seem to preclude an anarchist world ever existing or having existed even partially; and an "anarchist" way of living in an irreducibly shitty world is then to grumble a lot, tear down other people's illusions and/or egos (especially any glimmer of optimism), and... what?

Also how is this anarchist, because I've come across plenty of conservatives who think the world is irreducibly shit and whose political agency consists of grumbling a lot, tearing everyone else down for being too idealistic, and feeling superior because of it.

TBH you do seem to have a metanarrative... a kind of totalising pessimism... though I suspect it's not very reality-checkable. Unless something is 100% perfect then there will always be some hook on which you can hang your pessimism and say, "see, I was right all along".

ohhh fascinating! what a lovely case study we have here! cute little example of how we lie to ourselves with our rhetoric, perhaps? it's not my first rodeo so no, you won't be running offense as defense and switching to interrogating with the classic "WELL?! YOU DEFINE EVERYTHING THEN!!!"

nope! since you're being a little shit, i won't be answering to your bad faith questions but I will address more directly how you dodged what I said before you started attacking your weakass strawman.

what I said at the time was I actually went there and there was very little intentionally or explicitly anarchist about the place imo. as in, it was a wealthy benefactor who was whimsically generous to the local hippy transient kids, nothing wrong with that! but then due to illness, this person was largely absent and some more unpleasant folks seized on the power vacuum to do the usual, mostly making money. then there was infighting and finally, after the illness had run its course, the next of kin decided they didn't want to fuck with random communes.

you know, like it's a pretty ordinary story about poverty and the whims of an eccentric and what I find strange and sad is how people desperately project their ideological assumptions on to it from thousands of miles away, up to and including this hyper defensive little display you just put on here.

I just wish, intra-anarchist, we encouraged truth telling. That the default mode of communication in the current culture (anarchists included) is to never be exactly authentic in our words, even with friends, is a hallmark of how fucked up this culture is. Isn't clear communication anarchist on its face? As in, isn't it non-hierarchical to be straight across in communication? When we lie we assume a lesser status to the person we lie to and amongst ourselves, this is odd. Though, of course, all the usual exceptions apply. I just think the habit of lying gets us in trouble when the situation changes and we need to rely on others to have our backs, but they are so deep into bullshitting they are useless.

That’s the thing. Most anarchists who lie to you aren’t even doing so from a place of malicious intent, i.e: they’re not trying to harm you. But the lies, regardless their intent, almost always wind up fucking you over down the road, or maintain an otherwise untenable situation should the truth be known.

You should never lie to your friends. It sucks this even needs to be said. And also wtf with that commenter who said they delight in manipulation and deceit? Like holy shit dude. I remember back when Hostis and the Politics of Cruelty came out there was a moment where a lot of (A)s were making a “politics” out of their malignant narcissism... Is that trend still a thing?

Well yeah I suppose that trend goes hand in hand with throwing rocks and molotovs and destroying public property. To not lie and be malicious requires an intense self-analysis of one's driving desires and how behavior is influenced by any deeply ingrained ressentiment, and how that flows into everyday life.

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