To lie is to make an intentionally false or deceptive statement. Lying is common in society and as such it is prudent to consider its ethical implications. I have observed that lying is often unsuccessful, if not counterproductive. As such, I refuse to tell lies because I think they contribute to mankind’s destruction. I have various reasons for reaching this conclusion.
Reason #1: A society that denies truth often degenerates into tyranny or anarchy.
George Orwell’s “1984” is a classic example here. In Orwell’s novel, society is brainwashed as the media and government promote propaganda and lies about the state. I think it’s clear that avoiding the truth is responsible for this society’s problems. People are afraid to speak (or think) their true feelings, so they lie or remain silent. Worst of all, people lie to themselves when they don’t acknowledge their own lies or those of their peers. This exemplifies how refusing to acknowledge the truth leads to tyranny or anarchy. The society’s restrictive government is thus demonstrably the consequence of individuals refusing to tell the truth. The lies don’t begin with the tyrannical government. The lies begin with the individual and over time lying becomes the social norm. Once lying becomes the social norm, the political norm follows suit. This lying creates a society in which the state of reality is constantly distorted. Historically, such conditions have produced Nazi Germany (i.e. persecution, scapegoating, and atrocities that became normal over time), and as such I think that it is our utmost responsibility to tell the truth.
Reason #2: The facts don’t change when you refuse to accept them.
When you refuse to accept the truth, this doesn’t change the objective state of reality. For example, one can deny the fact that they have unpaid bills, but that’s not going to keep the lights on for very long. Additionally, denying your addiction to alcohol won’t save you from fatty liver disease (steatosis). Ignoring problems is a form of lying because you ignore reality in doing so. This can wreak havoc over time because problems don’t solve themselves if you ignore them. In acknowledging the truth, one can effectively diagnose problems, and thus solve their problems with enough effort. A problem cannot be corrected unless it is identified, and a problem is never identified if its existence is denied. Therefore, lying about objective reality is a destructive act because it impairs our ability to diagnose problems.
Reason #3: Lying makes problems much worse over time.
Ignoring your problems will only allow them to grow bigger and manifest, subsequently allowing them to rot away at your being or at society’s expense. The rate of climate change only accelerates continue burning fossil fuels and neglect the issue. Lies about climate change may render areas uninhabitable, thus harming all sentient life if not eventually ending it. Debt only increases as bills remain unpaid over time. Increasing debt hinders economic development locally and perhaps over generations if children cannot afford an education, thus this harms society. Debt also consumes an individual given an increase in stress with more unpaid bills and the insecurity that accompanies impoverished life. Untreated alcohol addiction only strengthens in time. Further alcohol consumption only degrades your health and reinforces bad habits. In each case, ignoring the problem only makes it worse because the problem gets bigger if you ignore it.
Procrastination is another form of lying that worsens problems over time. When you procrastinate you lie because you prevent yourself from completing an assignment that you know you should complete, thus your actions don’t reflect your intentions. This avoids the truth because despite knowing that you should complete the task, you act as if this isn’t the case. Therefore, your actions undermine your intentions when you procrastinate, which is equivalent to acting out a lie. This results in more suffering than necessary because it entails rushing to complete the task later, if ever. This elusion of truth is especially detrimental because exemplifies that you exacerbate your own misery. Procrastination is a thus lie that undermines your intentions and contributes to your later suffering. As you procrastinate further, your pride decreases and your only workload accumulates. Continually procrastinating over time further engrains this habit and makes it harder to correct, thus fueling the cycle of procrastination and subsequent scrambling to complete tasks.
Reason #4: Lying doesn’t typically work out, or at least not as expected.
Lies may fail to produce the intended results, even if the lie produces the outcome you had expected. This occurs because you do not likely know your precise goal in lying, even if you think you do. For example, Carl wants to engage in sexual intercourse with a random girl at a party. As such, he lies about his relationship status and claims that he’s single. Carl’s lie goes undetected and he succeeds in having sex with the girl who thought he was single. Carl later discovers that he contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the process. Carl’s lie thus elicited the intended response, but Carl did not receive what he wanted.
Further, you have to remember all of your lies if you want to ensure that they won’t backfire. This is may be troublesome. If you make a habit of lying, then recalling your lies becomes increasingly difficult. This can only proceed for so long before others notice. For example, you lie to your boss and tell him that you have to take the day off because you are sick. You are not actually sick, but you have made plans to attend a concert. You post about attending this concert on social media, failing to recall that your boss follows your account. In this case, your boss realizes you lied to him because your memory failed you. This example could easily occur with friends. Remember how Tara wanted to make plans that day and you said you were busy? She thought you were at work that day when she saw your post. Therefore, depending on your memory’s reliability, you risk getting lost in a maze of your own lies.
Reason #5: Lying corrupts social constructs.
Lying corrupts social constructs because lies often undermine trust. Lying undermines trust because when people notice that you’ve lied to them, they are less likely to trust you in the future. Tara and your boss probably don’t think that you’re very trustworthy anymore. Your lie thus contributes to the destruction of the social construct because others now hesitate to believe you. People are less likely to trust you if you’ve betrayed them in the past. This further corrupts the social construct because betrayal is one of the most devastating experiences, especially when strong trust is broken. Recall Carl. Carl thinks he cheated on his girlfriend (Brooke), but it’s fine because she will not find out about it. Then, Carl eventually has sex with Brooke and transmits his newly acquired STD in the process. How does Brooke feel when she finds out weeks later? Somebody she thought she could trust has now betrayed her. To make matters worse, the truth remained concealed until she learned about the STD. Brooke is now devastated and suicidal, while Carl is regretful and bitter. The social construct is corrupted because lies undermined trust.
To further exemplify that trust and truth are the pillars of social interaction, refer to close friendships and the economy. Your closest friends are the ones that you can always be truthful with and this isn’t a coincidence. Trust helps all parties because it enhances cooperation and forms mutually beneficial relationships. This cannot happen if two people cannot trust each other. Trust is therefore requisite to human interaction. This same rationale holds in economic transactions. For example, if you cannot trust the seller on eBay, then you are much less likely to make a purchase. You won’t purchase goods from a “snake oil salesman” given your suspicion that he is selling something fraudulent. Similarly, if don’t trust a customer to pay you for your services, then you are less likely to work for them. Lies are destructive because they eliminate trust and deny truth, thus contributing to the collapse of social systems.
The inverse of the above is also true. Your enemies are those who you cannot trust because you are suspicious of their intentions and think they might harm you. You may refer to your enemies as “snakes” and this is for good reason. In the biblical story of Adam and Eve, a serpent tempted the couple to eat forbidden fruit, despite God’s intentions. Here the snake tempted Adam and Eve into sinning given its will to smite both God and humanity. A serpent thus symbolizes deceit, malevolence, threat, and evil. You may therefore refer to somebody as a “snake” because you deem them dangerous, deceptive, or threatening. The snake symbolizes your enemies given their shared capacity to hurt you. Snakes harm you through deceit, thus lying destroys the trust that synthesizes social systems.
Reason #6: Even white lies are often unhelpful.
White lies are often not very useful, because a white lie is an insufficient solution to a larger issue. Though they may seem harmless, many white lies may be counterproductive. For example, if a teacher lies to a student about their quality of work as to not hurt the student’s feelings, this is actually a disservice. The student maintains naivety to their errors because they’ve been mislead to think their work is sufficient. This is a disservice because it prevents diagnosis of a problem. In misleading the student, the teacher only contributes to their lower quality of work. A student who produces a noticeably lower quality of work on an exam will suffer for it in the future. The teacher’s initial lie thus contributes to the student’s later demise, despite seemingly positive intentions behind the lie. Upon retaking the class, the student will feel much worse. Therefore, though a white lie may seem harmless, it is often not a good solution to the issue at hand. These white lies, while potentially encouraging, often ignore a problem that consequently goes unresolved and later induces suffering.
This doesn’t mean that you should tell the entire truth all of the time. Though it is a good idea to not lie, you can’t ever be sure that you even know what constitutes the truth. Further, even when you are certain that you know the truth, the truth isn’t always useful. For example, walking up to a stranger and telling them how ugly you think they look is not a useful endeavor. However true you assertion may be, it is unlikely to produce a positive outcome. In cases where you don’t know the truth, it makes sense to express as much of what you know to be true as you can, or to simply not address the issue. Catastrophe will typically be avoided if you don’t lie.
Reason #7: Your life improves when you establish a personal truth.
Your life may improve when you develop a sense of meaning in accordance with both your values and those of others. Meaning is established in living your personal truth, because anything less and your life becomes a lie. If you refuse to be yourself, then your life is no longer yours. I think it is crucial to pursue your “ideal” because anything less and you lack a sense of purpose. The process of determining your values and ideal can be difficult, especially if you often lie to yourself about what you want. This process thus requires some deep introspection because your goal in life should reflect your values. Once you establish this goal, then you have a personal truth to strive toward. It may then be meaningful to take action and make progress towards achieving this goal throughout your life. The first step to establish this truth is to stop lying. If you constantly deceive yourself or others about what you want, then you will consistently struggle to accomplish your goals. This is because your goals ultimately need to work for both you and society. If your goal doesn’t work for you, then it is not your goal. If your goal does not work for society, then any progress you make towards your goal will be at other people’s expense. It is therefore vital to find your personal truth and pursue it, because anything less will not fulfill you. If you expect to bear life’s suffering in an appreciable manner, then establishing this overarching goal may save you from tragedy. Whether or not you set a goal, you will endure life’s suffering, so suffer while living your best possible life and perhaps you’ll transcend your misery.
Despite the appeal of distorting reality to fit your needs, lies tend to hurt all parties affected. Lying deteriorates a society by destroying the trust that otherwise holds society together. Lies often prevent diagnosis of problems, making problems worse over time. White lies provide poor solutions to identified problems. Even “successful” lies may produce undesired outcomes. Lies are therefore unlikely to help anybody and as such I implore you not to lie.