Welcome Back. Honestly.

An old tome fell out of the bookshelf while I cruised through titles searching, ironically, for something new to teach this fall: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Sissela Bok. Bok’s premise is that we are all liars. What should matter, she argues, is when we tell the truth. It’s one thing to say you’re having a great day when your day has been mediocre at best. It’s quite another to tell your shareholders that your company expects record earnings during the next quarter so you can sell your stock, secretly, at a profit.

For Bok, “clearly intended lies” own a gravitas that little white lies do not. Yet any form of deception, from changing the subject to deploying vague euphemisms, can have a significant, detrimental impact. The simple solution would be to tell the truth all the time. That may smack of hopeless naivete, but when you act with integrity, everything else is easy. It may also help to distinguish between important facts (specific truths involving person, place, and time) from truths (values we hold dear).

Lying was published in 1978, which means that it does not include any ways to cope with the information overload brought on first by cable news and then by the internet. If you were to add a chapter to her book, how would you equip readers to discern truths in the media on which they rely? Have we gotten to the point where ideology determines both fact and truth?

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3 Responses to Welcome Back. Honestly.

  1. Keyan Rahimi says:

    The fact that “Lying” was written before the age of the internet is very interesting to me. These ideas that are outlined are only amplified now that we have the ability to spread our lies and deception across the world in an instant. The ease of use in social media, from things such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, allows us to share anything almost too easily, allowing for “impulse posting”, analogous to an impulse purchase at a retailer. This ease of use also brings out more lies, as the consequences do not nearly hit the populous as hard as lying to a person’s face. Although these Social Media Lies are (mostly) insignificant, they can easily lead to a loss of integrity, and as a sort of gateway into more gruesome lies in the future, whether they be on the internet or not.

  2. Dylan Griffith says:

    Everyone has been told at least once that you can’t trust everything you read on the internet. If anyone told you otherwise, they would be lying. With the ability to publish our thoughts in less than a second, humans have created a vast ocean of information online which we must learn to navigate. The information on the internet falls on a spectrum in between truths and lies. That wiki page you’ve stumbled upon may not be 10 notches beyond the FALSE side of the spectrum like your teacher would have you believe, but odds are its not entirely true either. The trick to discerning information online is to have a solid background on whatever it is you are researching by gathering information from credible sources. Would you pull your information on Olfactory biology from Jane PhD or from Mr. Science on YouTube? Obviously, most scenarios in the real world won’t be this easy but the same concept sill applies. Once you have the ability to weed out the junk online from the trustworthy creators, you’ll be one step closer to understanding the complex information superhighway.

  3. Elena Eaton says:

    History often repeats itself. In 1798 the United States enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts in preparation for a rapidly approaching war with France. In particular, the Sedition Act made it a crime to “write, print, utter, or publish… scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States” (An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes Against the United States, sec. 2). A test of the freedom of speech and press, the Sedition Act sought to minimize public dissent until its expiration date in 1801. Later in 1918, nearing the end of World War I, another Sedition Act was passed. The Sedition Act of 1918 criminalized “willfully utter[ing], print[ing], writ[ing], or publish[ing] any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States” as well as “willfully urg[ing], incit[ing], or advocate[ing] any curtailment of the production” of such texts (The Sedition Act of 1918, sec. 3). Specifically targeting the muckrakers, also referred to as yellow journalists, of 1904-1930, this Sedition act aimed at containing rumors that tarnished the good reputation of the United States. It is not a huge leap to infer that these acts, in dispelling defamatory statements, were issued to unite the nation in a time of war; for, a country at war with itself becomes an easy target for foreign aggressors. One hundred and two years after this second sedition act, history has come full circle. We are living through a period of sensationalism in the press. Often, online articles, televised news broadcasts, and even printed newspapers are too clouded in opinion and political bias for the reader to discern any truth from the contents. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be another Sedition Act on the horizon so it falls upon the individual to find truth in the publications of today’s yellow media. If I were to add a chapter to Sissela Bok’s book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life I would encourage readers to read the news through a factual lens— distinguish the author’s opinion from the evidence. Once one is aware of the facts they may form an opinion that is well-supported and entirely their own, as opposed to accepting and simply reiterating the argument of the author. I don’t believe we are, or will ever be, at a stage where ideology determines fact and truth because those terms are irrefutable. A fact can be proven true one hundred times over, thus it will never cease to be true. However; because of the lack of independent analysis of news presented in the media, it is becoming increasingly common for an individual to assume that a piece of news is correct merely because it aligns with his or her ideological preferences, regardless of validity. Thus, I repeat, if I were to add a chapter to Bok’s book, I would greatly encourage readers to separate fact from the author’s opinion and then use good judgement when taking a stance on the issue.

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