Monday, August 27, 2018

Beliefs Build And Protect Lies

Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.

On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires.


Princeton University’s Professor Harry Frankfurt wrote those thoughts in his book, On Bullshit. Frankfurt does a good job explaining the difference between lying and common bullshit. We find ourselves in a world where liars and bullshit artists become political rock stars. The inequity that exists in a capitalistic society give these modern-day bandits the ammunition they need to keep the lies coming.

Beliefs have salient features. And one of those features is they erode through the years. Beliefs are a combination of old as well as new thoughts, so they are always vulnerable when a new thought arrives. So if a fashionable societal belief doesn’t fit into a person’s perception of the world they live in at a particular moment, they create fresh beliefs from the old social beliefs. And the tweaks become lies.

Beliefs act like invisible cells. They build perceptions and choices to protect the lies. The liar lives in the glory of his tweaked beliefs. The liar becomes the truthful one in his world of perceptions. If others don’t agree with the liar’s perceptions, they become the liars.