We all know lying is bad, but how bad is it, really?
Sam Harris is one of my favourite people on the planet. I don’t know him personally, but having read quite bit of his work and listened to almost every episode podcast, The Waking Up Podcast, I feel I know him quite well. Many who know of him indirectly with probably think of him as quite a controversial figure—namely, in his outspoken view of religion—but this is not, in my opinion, a justified label. For he is only labelled so, as trite as it sounds, because he speaks truth, because he is a realist; and as they say, the thing people tend choke to on most, is the truth. Sam is one of the few very smart people on the planet who actually do something that makes full use of their intellectual capacities. The coherency, reason, and logic in Sam’s arguments on topics such as Morality, Religion, Science and Philosophy in general, make him hands-down one of the most rational, sagacious and profound thought leaders we have today—and have ever had.
When I discovered he had written a book about lying, I promptly put its reading at the top of my to-do list. Why so immediate? To get a glimpse into the profundity and wisdom of Harris’ mind I suggest you listen to some of his podcasts, namely his AMA’s, his podcast with Scott Adams “Triggered,” and his conversations with the Physicist David Deutsch. Then you will see why I pay attention when this man speaks.
About the book, it is only a short read, and can be completed in under 2 hours; in fact, Sam originally wrote Lying as a long-form blog post, but was persuaded by others—mostly, by his wife, Anaka—to make it into a book. Thank God he did, because I may never have hit upon it.
The problems with Lying have always been obvious to me. The way I think about a lie is as a ’second thread’ running in the brain; that is, when you lie about anything, you have to keep another line of thought alive in your mind—a very cognitively draining process—because if you don’t, you’ll slip up. Even if you keep this thread going, however, you can still slip up—unless you’re expert, which unfortunately some people are. This had been my reasoning for avoiding lies, and even dishonesty, before coming to this fantastic book.
I will not go into the details of Sam’s arguments nor repeat anything he said in the book—because I think you ought to read them for yourself—but I will say that my stance on lying had been fundamentally changed by the time I’d finished it, namely, by him convincing me that there is absolutely no good to come from Lying. Even ‘white lies’—this lies you tell because you think it’s better for the other person not to know the truth—should be avoided. For to tell a white lie is to place yourself above the other person and essentially say “I am the best judge of whether you should know the truth”; furthermore, in telling white lies you may THINK you’re helping person, but you’re actually doing damage—especially in the long run.
There is absolutely nothing good about any form of lying (barring a life/death situation); and potentially, so much to gained from abstaining from it. For instance, once you stop lying you will be viewed by everyone you know as a beacon of truth, a refuge in which they can trust everything you tell them—a rarity today indeed. Further, the process of stopping yourself from lying is analogous to holding a mirror up to your own life: you will begin to see truth where you were to occupied to see it before. It may be painful—in fact, it will be painful—but it will also open up new opportunities, and without doubt, will change your life.
The thing about resolving to not lie again is that it involves virtually no effort on your part—know in Philosophy as a Negative Injuction. In other words, to NOT lie demands very little of your time and attention—you just decide to say things as they are—whereas lying, on the other hand, in which you have to consciously formulate a lie, and then maintain it, does.
Lies, from the most trivial to the most dangerous, are on the same level when it comes to the harm they do to the person telling them. Even the most insignificant lies one may tell to their children or friends, which apparently mean absolutely nothing, do do absolutely something to level of trust in the relationship: weaken it.
Sam finished the book with the following paragraph, which I think puts beautifully the need to stop drinking that poisonous drink we so blindly sip on when we indulge in a behaviour that evolution has made us very, very good at:
“The lies of the powerful lead us to distrust governments and corporations. The lies of the weak make us callous toward the suffering of others. The lies of conspiracy theorists raise doubts about the honesty of whistleblowers, even when they are telling the truth. Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste—everyone is potentially harmed by their spread.”
An Elegantly written and highly practical book by one of the deepest and most profound minds alive today. Lying is a must read—for everybody.