Rebirth of Reason


The Temptation to Lie
by Tibor R. Machan

Have you noticed that when you ask someone on the street where the next post office or drug store or some other locally known place is, they usually tell you it's just a couple of blocks when in fact it is a lot farther than that? Or when someone tells you she will be there in a few minutes and then you wait for half an hour and she is still missing? Or when you are told on the phone 'May I put you on hold for a moment?' and you are still waiting ten minutes later?
Why do people prevaricate so much? It comes out big time just before Election Day -- we are sure to win, the candidate states with the utmost confidence, only to lose by a substantial margin a few days later. This happened in the recent election -- the Republicans came on various news programs saying their own micro-polls tell them they are in far better shape than the mainstream polls would have them. And then they lost bigtime. It happens a lot. As someone who votes Libertarian when I vote, I sometimes find candidates of the LP predicting they will win when it is completely ridiculous -- they haven't a ghost of a chance in this country where the bulk of the public is suffering from what might best be called the entitlement mentality. You vote for those who tell you that you are entitled to this, that, and yet another thing, all of it paid for from other people's pocketbooks. Libertarians cannot honestly make such promises since they hold firmly to the view that stealing from Peter so as to benefit Paul is morally wrong, a view that is in fact correct. But sadly most voters believe in redistributing wealth that doesn't belong to them.
OK, so LP candidates should know by now that the time hasn't come yet that most voters recognize that stealing is wrong. Sure, they usually don't steal in their circle of neighbors but when it comes to stealing from strangers across the country, they definitely believe stealing is just fine. And all of this is happening in a supposedly Christian country, with the clear commandment from God that prohibits stealing.
But despite the facts speaking a clear message, even LP candidates predict victory. Why?
I suspect the reason is that people believe they have a duty to tell others only what will please them, what will appear to benefit them. This altruistic outlook -- namely, never bring bad news to people even if that's the truth of it -- is encouraging millions of people to be liars. Yes, the Post Office is just around the corner -- not because that is the truth but because it will make you feel good! Yes, you will only be on hold for a moment or two, not because that is the truth but because then for a little while you will feel good and I will have seemed to be doing you a favor.
Indeed, altruism may well account for why so many yield to the temptation to tell lies to others. Many people simply do not dare to tell the truth if that truth isn't pleasant, if it doesn't promise what is desired. The truth is often unpleasant. You may have to wait for 20 minutes on hold, yes, and there is nothing pleasant about that (especially with all that cheesy music being blasted into your ears). Yes, you will have to walk ten blocks to get to the drug store and this may not promise much comfort for you but it is the truth. But for me to bring to you an unpleasant truth is to make you feel bad and my duty is, of course, to make everyone else feel good. Or so altruism would have it.
Maybe it would take a bit of patience to help people get acclimated to the truth of things, to have them face up to what's what instead of what they wish for. But in the long run it would even serve them better to learn the truth -- it would set them free of illusions, free of wishful thinking. But no; instead, millions are taught to serve others, which then leads them to try to make them feel better rather than be straight with them.
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