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TOTW: True Lies

Telling lies can be a matter of survival. When is it okay to lie to others? When is it okay to lie to ourselves?

Everybody lies. And if you don’t, you’re lying.

This everyday tool of deception can save your ass or ruin your life depending on how you use it. And we have good reasons to lie: manipulation, self-defense, avoiding consequences. For someone stepping outside the boundaries of the law, relationships, work expectations, or simple social graces, telling a tall tale can be easier than facing the music. Fortunately, our collective compulsion to not tell the truth has grayed the moral waters of even our most definitive institutions – when asked if lying is wrong, a shaky “ehhhh, it depends” echos from the Church halls and Scientific offices. Even courts with perjury laws rarely enforce them.

Our languid stance on lying may stem from the fact that it’s a long-standing survival tactic. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon says, “we probably would never have made it to the Fourth Glacial Period if our ancestors had refused to tell a lie. Strategically deployed, deception and self deception are survival enhancing social tools.” If lying can be the difference between life and death, how are anarchists using it today? How can lying help us survive our current period?

Of course, another reason lying goes largely unpunished is because we live in a world of strategic half-truths, omissions, and fabrications: courts, cops, corporations, politics, media, military, religion, technology. Lying even has bi-partisan support, just with different strategies. The Right impressively contorts lies into truths for their audience using the Media, while the Left relies on outrage to defend the sanctity of Facts. Determined to not be left out of the fun, where do anarchists fit in? How do we currently lie to these powers? Is it of any use? Can we capitalize on this moral uncertainty and make the best use of our deception?

When shouldn’t we lie, though? When is honesty the best policy? How do we wrestle with notions of Trust, Respect, Loyalty, and Facts? Are we compelled to be truthful to our lovers or family? Should anarchists ever hide the truth from one another? If self-deception can be used as a survival tool, how have we lied to ourselves to make it this far? How can we go further?