Monday 29 August 2011

English honesty


I suspect that the main evil of the past several decades in England has been the erosion of truth, of honesty, as a value.

The process has been very rapid and very obvious in England; the change has been enormous; and it is one which shocks me deeply.

Public discourse in England, discourse within the state bureaucracy, within any large organization, is now routinely and pervasively and deliberately dishonest - in private as well as in public.


This is not a matter of Machiavellian officials being candid with each other behind the scenes and manipulating the masses; rather it is a matter of officials lying all the time, to each other as much as to the public, and lying to themselves about even this.

Modern English organizations are not even trying to be honest, they are not even pretending to be honest.


Yet a mere forty, even thirty, years ago the opposite was the case - most English organizations and communications were boringly, almost ridiculously, concerned with literal accuracy, with understatement, with not-exaggerating.

It was, indeed, a defining national trait.


The change has been led from the top, by the UK government, by public administration, by bosses and executives; the rot of dishonesty began in the head and spread downwards.


Let me be clear: I am not complaining about specific lies, but of making no attempt whatsoever to be truthful.

Because truth is a habit, or it is nothing.

Once the habit of truth has been lost, public truth is lost and cannot be found by individuals. Truth becomes a private affair.

And this is the state of affairs.



James Kalb said...

In America we have the same pervasive dishonesty, no doubt with some differences of local color. I'm not sure we had as far to fall.

"This is not a matter of Machiavellian officials being candid with each other behind the scenes and manipulating the masses."

Just so. These people really believe what they say, although it's not clear that "belief" means exactly what it used to mean in the absence of a robust concept of truth.

At the level of ideals a lot of the dishonesty has to do with PC--if the truth isn't PC then it's not even conceivable that it could be the truth, the thought never enters the head of any decent person, and you get really odd distortions of reality to preserve understandings that are now thought metaphysically necessary.

At the level of general practice, it has to do with applying means/ends reasoning to everything and indeed treating it as the whole of rationality. With respect to truth-telling, the tendency started with public relations and advertising, developed into the art of political spin, and has achieved intellectual respectability of a sort through theories of discourse and social construction.

dearieme said...

Yes, but. In working in different places in England I have found Englishmen of an older stripe much less given to the blunt truth than I was used to in Scotland. So perhaps PC found fertile soil in England. (Mind you, no doubt it has flourished in Scotland too, however less promising the soil.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - I'll say this for the Scotch: they are invariably forthright and direct about other people's faults...

The Continental Op said...

Then England really is kaput. It's a nation of liars. Do they know that, or do they really believe the lies, believing themselves to be hardboiled truth seekers and truth lovers and truth tellers?

The Crow said...

I have, in the course of my adventures, been blessed with a few very astonishing revelations: one having been to understand the absolute requirement for honesty.
Deciding, then and there, to never lie again, has resulted in a clear and orderly existence, singularly lacking in mental-madness.
Would that honesty could, once again, become something valued and ubiquitous throughout society.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jim - I agree with your sequence of how dishonesty spread.

@CO - Well, as you know, I am not an optimist...

One thing that sustains dishonesty is that people are too busy, and in such a state of continula 'crisis' (mostly self-imposed) to spend long enough to reflect on the fact that they are habitual and compulsive liars. They would be astonished, offended and hurt to be told of the undeniable fact of their untruthfulness; but would have dozens of excuses lined-up.

It is hard to imagine that a few hundred years ago the ruling elite would rather be (for instance) imprisoned or even burned to death than tell a lie on a subject of importance...

Bruce Charlton said...

From a Comment by Continental Op:

"Crow, I have recently uttered some shocking things to my fellow churchmen. I daresay they think I'm some kind of radical. As Orwell said, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."

"Given that taqiyyah is an established part of Islam, what effect would it have on us Christians if we were to co-operate consciously and deliberately with Muslims in trying to roll back liberalism? (...)"

The Crow said...

Golly! That really is radical.
Whereas taqiyyah is an established Islamic practice, I doubt it is a Christian one.
Any cooperation would need to be honest cooperation if undertaken by a Christian.
Are there any honest Christians left?
But, yes, it's a three-cornered fight, and it's getting difficult to know what to do or how to do it.

Interesting concept though :)

The Continental Op said...

The shocking things I've said have nothing to do with Islam, and then I just changed the topic to Islam...

To be honest, I'm horrified by the suggestion that Christians will need to co-operate with Islam to roll liberalism back. But I've seen it made. It looks like the temptation of Christ: "Bow down to me and I'll give you the kingdoms of this world."

Bruce Charlton said...


We agree on this, I think. Leftism is intrinsically self-destroying; but Islam is not - or at least not on a timescale of centuries. As Hilaire Belloc made clear many decades ago, Islam is formidable, by far the most formidable rival to Christianity, and given the experience of the past 1400 years it would be ignorant or foolish to imagine otherwise. Islam cannot be 'used' as a means to some other end; anyone who tries to use Islam will swiftly end-up being used by Islam.

Simon Barber said...

Perhaps introducing mindfulness meditation into the school curriculum would help?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon B - I'm afraid that this would be unlikely to have an effect in my opinion: things are too far gone. Meditation - without a basis in Christianity - might even have the effect of making people feel better about lying; at any rate, I don't think this kind of contemplative or consciousness-altering strategy has had any positive effect on morality since it became widespread in the 1960s, it may even have paralyzed the natural human resistance to dishonesty.

The Crow said...

Funny thing, you saying that, Bruce.
Meditation brought me to a state where any and all dishonesty was completely, and forever banished.
You have a definite bias against anything you consider to be "new age", whatever that is.
Which is understandable, given the sheer numbers of fakers and posers involved.
But it's a shame, since real results are obtainable, that utterly transform life, from a dull, meaningless disappointment, into something beyond exquisite.
I don't meditate any more. I don't have to.
It got me where I am, and that is exactly where I wish to be.
Which is something Christianity had no chance of doing, for all my enthusiasm and faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - I was 'into' New Age, meditation, Shamanistic consciousness changes etc - pretty actively for a decade, preceding my becoming a Christian.

The Christian view would be that meditation without repentance leads to spiritual pride, which is the most resistant of all sins (sin being conceptualized as a false perspective concerning reality).

For Christians, humans (different from animals) are naturally and inevitably sinful creatures with free will, who must repent and love God (via Jesus Christ).

(Leaving aside hard cases and gray areas.)

Spirituality without repentance is regarded as an attempt at autonomy (hence a rejection of God, forgiveness, and love) - and if successful it will be given what it has chosen: autonomy, eternally.

The thing is - modern 'neo-pagans' lack that sense of sin which (I believe) *all* pagans had in antiquity, so modern pagans are post-pagan, post-Christian: i.e. something new.

Ancient pagans would never have supposed that meditation as such would lead to a higher state or escape from sin or suffering; at most to a lower state: to psychological indifference.

The Crow said...

I guess, then, like so many millions of others, you failed to reach the promised land.
It is necessary for you to be meditating, not your ego.

This is the nature of the beast: there is nothing autonomous about the genuine experience. It places "God" firmly where "God" is. One becomes a part of that which one reveres, as opposed to being counter to it.
Autonomy depends upon ego. Without ego, one ceases to exist as something that can be counter to the greater picture.

Further: the enlightened being needs no "faith", for he has obvious and simple proof. One is. In contrast to one spending one's life wondering if one is, and what one is.

But your path is your own path. You choose it. You deal with the results.
I am here to let you know, from what I hope you consider a reliable source, that what you seek is eminently attainable.
But only you can attain it.
I wish you success :)

And honesty, as you venture, is the only key that opens the initial door.