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Why Even Pretend to Be Honest?

A plumber corrected me today. When I accused him of trying to cheat the taxman out of Value Added Tax (VAT) he explained that he was not registered for VAT, so there was no deception of that type. The plumber went on to explain the reason he asked for less money when paid in cash was because he intended to cheat the taxman out of paying the income tax that would be incurred for doing self-employed work. He considered the obligation to pay income tax to be a different and entirely separate principle to the obligation to pay VAT, implying that I was wrong to accuse him of deception. This is symptomatic of the world we live in today: you point out somebody is an unashamed liar, and they respond by explaining that your criticism is not justified because you have not sufficiently researched their dishonesty, so should not rush to form an opinion about it.

I saw today on social media that Brett Kavanaugh is accused of being not just a rapist, but also of taking part in gang rapes. Or rather, I saw an opinion which stated that ‘even if’ somebody – by which they meant an American white man – is accused of such despicable crimes they might still dare to profess their innocence during their ‘job interview’. That was an odd and deceitful way of putting it. Perhaps Kavanaugh is a liar, but the social media post was not about a hearing where an accuser had accused Kavanaugh of rape, or gang rape. The accusation at that hearing was from a woman who accused Kavanaugh of groping her. Groping is wrong, rape is wrong, gang rape is wrong. All three are wrong, but if you cannot distinguish groping from gang rape than you have no sense of perspective. But why pretend that the person who wrote this social media post cannot distinguish groping from gang rape? Of course they can, and they would make the distinction if an accusation was levelled at somebody they like and respect. They simply choose not to acknowledge the difference between groping and gang rape, so that if one woman appears to make a credible accusation about one thing, then every woman who makes an accusation must be treated as equally credible, even if there is limited evidence to support the less serious accusation, and none to support the more serious accusation. Everything is poured into a cauldron of shared dishonesty, where white men like the plumber are always dishonest, and always getting away with it, whilst no woman has ever lied, and certainly none have ever benefited from a lie.

We tell children not to lie, but I do not know why we would expect them to be honest any more. Not only is it the norm for adults to lie, but none makes even a modest attempt to disguise their brazen dishonesty. Consider the role of journalists, which is supposedly to provide information. Journalists repeat claims with almost no supporting evidence, which is why David Cameron will always be remembered as the guy who put his penis in a dead pig’s mouth (as claimed to be true in a book written by somebody who does not like David Cameron, who was reporting a story told by an anonymous person who had not witnessed the act, but was themselves reporting a story they heard from some other anonymous person who apparently was there), and Barack Obama was plagued by accusations that he was a Muslim who was not even born in the USA. It would be simpler not to reproduce lies, but journalists now reproduce them in full, even whilst dismissing them, because the goal is to profit from the distribution of lies, not to provide the public with information. But beyond that, how many journalists are now employed in the full-time inanity of recycling what other people have tweeted about some contentious event? So now we not only suffer a lack of accurate information, but we are encouraged to spend time validating and recycling falsehood presented as thoughts and feelings.

Vladimir Putin no doubt affords himself a chuckle at the stupidity of Western democracies. Being a former spook, he was trained to be a professional liar, and now he uses all the resources of the Russian state to promulgate lies so ridiculous that nobody should take them seriously. And yet people do, when it is convenient. They do this not because they care to speak truth to power, as they falsely claim, but because they care about their place within their tribe. Consider the following lies spread by Russia, or denied by Russia, and how different tribes will select which ones they take seriously, and which they will dismiss:

  • Donald Trump paid prostitutes to piss on him
  • Neo-Nazis took control of Ukraine’s government following the pro-EU Maidan coup
  • A civilian, who may or may not be Russian, but who subsequently proved to be Russian, and who took a peculiar and spontaneous interest in a church in Salisbury, after never previously being interested in similar churches, was coincidentally in that city at the same time as people were attacked with Russian poisons, and has consequently been wrongly mis-identified as a military operative who looks just like him, although some British politicians were quick to observe we should not rush to judge anything because only a liar would make that mistake
  • If any Russian sports stars took drugs, it was despite the best efforts of Russians employed to perform anti-doping tests
  • Brits voted to leave the European Union because Russians successfully manipulated people through social media

It was only a few years ago that lefties uncritically repeated Russian propaganda that the Ukrainian pro-EU revolution was just cover for authoritarian fascists taking control of that country. Now the same lefties uncritically howl that leaving the EU only occurred because of Russian manipulation. Meanwhile right-wingers who agreed with Reagan that the Soviet Union was an ‘evil empire’ now claim it is perfectly rational for the US President to toady to the Soviet-trained tyrant who assumed control of Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. Honesty has become irrelevant; people choose to believe what is convenient for them to believe.

The quality of a fact is not measured by the evidence supplied to support it, but the extent to which it corroborates an existing worldview, and is convenient for the community we identify with. Is it any wonder that some people now openly pretend that all men are liars, or that all women are liars, except for those few who adopt a contrary position to the majority? Truth is both utterly individualist and confirmed by a community of fellow-believers. We no longer need to reserve judgment, or entertain doubt, or change our minds, because once we know what we believe, we must merely find other people who have those same beliefs. And when we find people who are the same as us, we must be the same as them. A transitory coincidence becomes a permanent bond. We accept the common will in order to belong to superficial communities of fellow-travellers, even if that community has nothing in common except a desperate emotional need to belong. The most superficial common attribute is a common hatred of a perceived common enemy, whether they be refugees, or old white men, or liberals, or neoliberals, or social justice warriors, or gays, or TERFs, or any of the other labels most commonly deployed as the speaker’s bile builds in the back of their throats.

In times like these, it will become obvious to a few that the great majority of the human race are only worthy of utter contempt. George Orwell may have risked his life to fight fascism in Spain, but the resulting intellectual journey concluded with a vision of a world where a boot repeatedly stamps on a human face because the vast majority of human beings would welcome it. People would rather endure repetitive abuse than the realization that they are both alone, and unspecial, and that their life has no meaning because they lack the capacity to give it meaning. Faced with that stark truth, they will prefer the certainty and camaraderie that comes with always having been at war with Oceania, or always having been at war with Eurasia. Once we look beyond eating and shitting, what most people have in common is only their desperate need to have something in common.

Orwell was right to observe that “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” but this is not unrelated to the fact that human beings are prone to deceit. On the contrary, people seek the ease and comfort of dishonesty just like they thirst for water or long for affection. The average person is not a revolutionary; most people are just squalid liars. And so observing this era of universal deceit I can only retain some shred of my personal integrity by honestly conveying my opinion about the entire human race: if we were all to be brought to our end in one sudden cataclysmic moment, it would represent no great loss. The universe would be fine without us, and only our vanity makes us believe otherwise. Our species is squalid and ugly because the vast majority of us are doomed to be delusional from birth, despite the punishments we give to children who tell lies. We lie not just to others, but to ourselves. So rather than conspiring to maintain our pyramid of dissimulation, if forced to choose which tribe I stand with, and which I must oppose, I would call for a plague on all our houses, for that would be the one true fair outcome we collectively deserve.

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