Thursday 11 July 2019

If this inverted world were turned upside-down... A restored discourse of truthfulness

Perhaps the most obvious fruits of repentance and awakening would be public honesty - in small things as much as large. It would be startlingly obvious, and would have immense consequences.

In no other area have there been such changes in my adult life as the expansion of dishonesty; from a few enclaves such as advertising and government to embrace all major institutions and activities, all of the time - in private as much as in public.

For example, in the worlds I worked in - universities, science, the medical profession - honesty was normal and almost complete at the lower and middling levels. Dishonesty (including deliberate misleading) while considerably more frequent, was not common even at the leadership levels - rare enough that it stood-out, and attracted explicit adverse comment, often sanctions.

But lying and misleading rapidly got more common from the late 1980s until the present situation when almost all public discourse is essentially dishonest - only containing enough factual truth to sustain the basic and motivating lies.

I found this particularly shocking in science which - in Britain at any rate - was almost ridiculously honest about almost everything forty to fifty years ago. Honest to the point of pedantic dullness (but, in retrospect, what an admirable fault!)

Even more widely in academia (I knew English Literature and Philosophy pretty well), there was an aversion to exaggeration, to one-sided selectiveness, to anything smacking of self-promotion.

Yet now, scientists do not write or speak even a paragraph without 'massaging' the spirit of truth into something more expedient. And as for Western politicians...

Because of all this systematic dishonesty everywhere, we inhabit a virtual reality - our world is a tissue of lies; and honesty strikes most people as a brutal act of aggression. Indeed, they regard honest men as obvious liars, because they assume truth is the mass consensus. Plain honesty is insensitive: one of the worst of crimes. 

If ever Western Society turns-around and becomes qualitatively better; it must include a restoration of the transcendental Good of Honesty in all public discourse - and this would be so shocking as to seem cataclysmic.

If this unlikely event ever were to happen, you won't miss it: Imagine the sensation of this inverted world being upended, and restored to stand right-way-up, on a solid base of truth...


William Wildblood said...

Honesty was the main quality that people respected in the British up to about the 1960s. You knew you could trust what someone said: that he would do what he said he would do or wouldn't do what he said he wouldn't. We were brought up like that and, as most people behaved in that way, you followed suit, regardless of personal qualities. That has gone now though the pretence of it remains.

I think the real turning point, in Britain at least, was the Blair government and also the public adulation of Princess Diana who I saw as a particularly manipulative and deceitful person who, unwittingly, of course, gave those characteristics the veneer of respectability because of her high profile.

Philip Keefe said...

I agree the lack of honesty is depressing. People do not see a need to be honest as there is no accountability.
I was born in the UK in 1946 and had a Catholic education which may explain why though I am imperfect I have a highly developed conscience even now, though I have had issues with religion for many years.
Philosophically I have always thought that what you gain from lying or deceit you do not deserve and I have been working on a poem on that theme for a while. I do not understand how people can be at peace within themselves when they do others down under false pretenses. I guess it is another symptom of sick individuals in a sick society.
I have to say that my grown kids have no religion that I am aware of and they were not exposed to much religion growing up. I often ask myself where they, and others of their generation, get their moral values now. Perhaps it is my generation of parents that are to blame for being too laid back.
It may be too late to change things barring a cataclysm and reset over many years.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Philip - There is no repentence, and no obvious sense of having done wrong - successful careerism justfies all.

This particularly shocking example of large scale plagiarism by an Oxford Professor, Sir Leslie Iversen, is illustrative - and the total Non reaction by Oxford and the scientific community when the dishonesty was exposed.

For me, as was the tradition with all real scientists, such unexplained and unrepented dishonesty invalidates all previous and subsequent work by the author.

The Continental Op said...

I wanted to note that, though I don't comment, I still read and very much appreciate your work, it bolsters the spirit.

Geir said...

Interesting that you should write about this at the same time as I have been thinking about how to recognize evil objectively. And as you have said so many places, the inversion is the mark of evil. The thorough dishonesty. I recognized this at our research company in the early 90s when we were to be measured by how much we published. We would then necessarily publish without regard for being read, and all research would become "what sells" and for the completely wrong purposes. At the same time we had to produce research applications, and to make a long story short, we could make an expert system containing all the right phrases that had to be invoked. Again thorough dishonesty. The logician Quine wrote about the hopeless situation of the research scientist in an essay, that he only asks for grants for what he thinks sells, and not for what he finds important or interesting.