When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, Maybe

why we lieIn a relative world, what is true and what is not true depends on what one believes. People tend to believe what they want to believe and nothing else. And everything a person believes is the truth. Who would say, “Everything I believe is a lie”? In a sense, people sometimes choose delusion.

Those who understand this have little trouble taking advantage of others.

In his book Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, David Livingstone Smith makes some interesting points about the human propensity toward deception. Here are three.

First, Smith contends that the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait. Those who can easily deceive others are more likely to survive than those who can’t.

Second, just as the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait, so too is the ability to detect deception. Smith uses a poker game as an analogy. An excellent poker player is one who easily bluffs the other players at the table. In addition, an excellent poker player easily detects when others are bluffing. Players with neither of these skills should not play poker. I don’t play poker.

The ability to hide telling traits is the third and most interesting point Smith makes. It’s not enough merely to mask tell-tail signs of deception with a poker-face, because someone skilled in detecting deception will see through the mask. Smith contends that the greatest deceivers are those who can first deceive themselves. If I believe that what I say is true, I will have a much easier time convincing you that what I say is true. Then you become a believer. And truth becomes relative to belief.

A relative truth cannot be wholly reliable because it is based more on belief than reality.

As belief propagates in ever-widening circles it transforms into the kind of truth that must be true because “I saw it on TV (or the Internet).” That’s why negative campaign ads work so well. Negative ads need not be true. It’s necessary only that people believe they are true.

Self deception—whether by means of denial, repression, self-righteous bias, or any of the other defense mechanisms and biases psychologists have identified—is a door that always leads away from truth and toward delusion.

With this knowledge, it’s easy to see how people are so easily led astray and deluded by the used-car salesman who just wants that piece of junk off his lot or the politician who just wants your vote. Both will say anything with absolute sincerity to get what they want.

Is it possible to know the truth? Yes, but only with the understanding that belief and truth are not the same thing. You can discover truth once the layers of deception and delusion—both internal and external—are peeled away to expose things exactly as they are, not as you want them to be.

You will know you’re getting close when what you find is disagreeable and difficult to accept.

5 Responses to The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, Maybe

  1. I hadn’t thought of that, Paul but building confidence is a good example. Mine is similar, but in the field of love. If you think a loving relationship is better or stronger than it actually is, than you may be more enticed to stay committed and be happier in that relationship. Of course, on the flip side, such a lie could instead lead to neglect of the relationship or the “stretching” of its boundaries under a false assumption that it could endure that.

  2. @TWF, you said:

    …do you think that there is ever a time, or is there subject matter, in which self-deception is good in and of itself? I can think of one possible way,…

    Well, the only example I can think of is when a person wants to accomplish something he may otherwise not have the confidence to attempt. If not that, I’m stumped. Do say what you have in mind.

    @Sabio I’m be suspicious of this statement too, for the same reasons you suggest—when it comes from someone else. But I know my mind (or do I?), and I’m intent on peeling things away. I admit, though, at being discouraged more often than not by how difficult it is.

    I think deception is our natural home — a person can not escape it.

    You are, I know, familiar with the word “dukkha.”

    @Peter Ideally, I’d post something every two or three days, but even that’s been a difficult goal to reach. But I’m more comfortable here than on When This Is,That Is, which I’ve all but abandoned. That’s another story. And yes, do link me up. However you see fit.

  3. Just stopping by, Paul, to see what you’re up to. Good things, I see. Where do you get the time? Great that you’re doing this. I’ll get a link up on The Buddha Diaries? Would you like a mention? Are you planning this as a daily? regular? blog… Please let me know.

  4. Sabio Lantz says:

    I’ve read this stuff in other sources over the years and thing the points are incredibly important.

    You said:

    Is it possible to know the truth? Yes, but only with the understanding that belief and truth are not the same thing. Truth can be discovered once the layers of deception and delusion—both internal and external—are peeled away and things are seen exactly as they are, not as we want them to be.

    Really? I am suspicious on such talk. The Buddhist notion of “Relative vs. Absolute Truth” is used incredibly deceptively. I think deception is our natural home — a person can not escape it. This is why we build systems outside ourselves as checks and balances. When you feel you are not deceived, your deception is probably hidden at a level that is hard to reach. I’ve never met people who have peeled away their deception — though I have met people who claim they have (it is a great spiritual marketing scheme).

    As TWF implies, self-deception exists because it works. As the book said, nothing more convincing than a salesman who believes himself.

  5. As I read, I couldn’t help but think of Polonius’ blessing of Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

    This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    Not because of direct relation, but rather the inverse. Be false to yourself, and that way you can be false to everyone else! 🙂

    I love your last line. It’s often rare, and hard to get to that point, because self-deception is so much more comfortable.

    Besides getting the better of other people, Paul, do you think that there is ever a time, or is there subject matter, in which self-deception is good in and of itself? I can think of one possible way, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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