the image on top is "Welcome Home Sweet Sugar" by Kelsey Brooks

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Relationship Between Honesty and Desire

"The Relationship Between Honesty and Desire"

Do people want to be lied to? We lie to our lovers and we lie to our patients, our political bases, parents and teachers. This custom has clouded our society to the point that some now habitually assume that anything told to them is quite likely to be the opposite of the reality in question. Hand in hand lies the belief that, dramatically, people cannot handle the truth, that it would cause them to be tragically unhappy, and it is our foremost responsibility to each other to avoid this fate.

To challenge these circumstances, I argue that honesty is in every way more desirable than deception. As people begin to see themselves as agents who choose their own experiences, they strive to empower their intentions into actions. As a result of this relationship, there becomes a compelling relationship between accurate information and what a person desires.

In so far as a person's actions strive to achieve an objective, any manipulation of the information about that objective is coercion of a person's desires, and a deliberate assault on their free will. To take that argument one step further, the preservation of one's own free will begs for a purity of information, a world in which someone could strive for the goals without questioning whether what they hope to attain really has value. A world in which people are constantly manipulating information in attempt to alter your desires and choices is a world where one has to be constantly on the alert, where analyzing the currency of information becomes the primary concern.

Firstly, honesty is a source of empowerment. I believe that one can begin to take ownership over one's own experience through the practice of honesty and being as open and accurate with one's intentions and information as possible. I consider honesty to be the practice of being as intentionally accurate with oneself and others as far as possible.

A person is endowed with tremendous powers to manipulate information, especially through his conscious choice to emphasize one thing over another, glamorize certain ideals and repress others entirely. People's beliefs can cause them to live in worlds that range from heaven to hell. With such tremendous power attributed to thought and language, it seems that, at first glance, that the most reasonable thing to do is to use language to ameliorate all situations one encounters.

Yet the detriment to the individual that chooses to do so cannot be overstated. From an existential viewpoint, if one makes oneself, then to be a walking contradiction is a living nightmare. Only honesty enables one to proscribe meaning to one's actions. Successfully aligning meaning with action requires a completion of belief. John- Paul Sartre is correct to note that consciousness is such that it permits one not only beliefs, but awareness of those beliefs. Awareness casts doubt, the possiblity of non-belief, onto ones own beliefs. So one's beliefs tend to be dualistic, insecure and incomplete. To secure one's beliefs, to cement them and embolden them, one uses honesty and accuracy, or good faith, and avoids what is called 'bad faith'. 'Bad Faith' can be simply understood as pushing oneself to believe what one does not, on the ground that one should believe it and it is proper to do so. While good faith seeks to align one's own actions with one's thoughts and beliefs, bad faiths flips that around so that one conforms their beliefs to justify their actions. This leads to a constant confusion amongst one's own beliefs and intentions- were the original intentions the true ones, or perhaps the justification is a better fit?

If one comes to question the meaning behind their own actions, that is, if one does not trust oneself, it is unreasonable to assume that anyone else would either. The maintenance of integrity is a crucial point, of course, but it could be argued that an impressive front or a shiny appearance could do just as well. Perhaps, in the attainment of any one particular goal, a flawless appearance might be very helpful indeed. Yet, in multi-faceted continuing existence of a person, who usually must live beyond a single moment or a single goal, the maintenance of a duality between what one is and what one appears to be is an exhausting and destructive way of being. The hidden danger lies in the fact that it is impossible for a person to choose something without also assuming that their ideal conception of a person would perform the same action as well. Sartre continues to say that in the mind of this person, all persons will act this way as well. Thus, a liar assumes that an ideal person would lie, and it follows from this assumption that all people lie as well.

On of the most influential sentences I've read in my life is James Baldwin's commentary that 'White America' is composed of people who fundamentally distrust their experience. "The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality- for this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitude," says Baldwin.

On the other hand, if the same person was to tell the truth, they would be able to rely on themselves as a stable force in any situation.

A final theme I would like address in my colloquium is the idea of what could possibly be considered accuracy in a postmodern society. Vitally, it is important that a conception of accuracy does not overlook the incredible complexity of reality, and takes into account the transformative elements of perspective. I would most disagree with Montaigne, in Essays, writes that “If, like truth, the lie had but one face, we would be on better terms.....but the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand faces and an infinite field”. My conception of what is true is the exact opposite; lies are the easiest to spot through the discomfort of contradiction. A lie is also realized in one's own conscience by the recognition of an intention for one's statements to be misleading. It is only the intentional manipulation of information that renders it inaccurate. Truth is vast, there are an infinite variety of true statements about any particular thing. The point could be made that, if there are an infinite amount of true possibilities and perspectives to bring to an object, then there are also an infinite amount of false ones. This is so, but although every true statement can stand alone, a false statement made intentionally must negate an already formed true thought in one's own mind.

Exhausting yet arguably necessary, in a society where trust, a social good like any other, has been eroded, embarking on any venture or entering into any association becomes difficult. Furthermore, in a society where people are constantly slanting and twisting facts, where this practice is widespread and rewarded, the experience of an individual becomes incredibly insecure. Lies can make one question if they do, in fact, live in a mutual world with others around them. If one were to believe everyone, they might assume that each person lives in their own head, that everything is a matter of pure perception.

“Lies are designed to damage our grasp of reality. So they are intended, in a very real way, to make us crazy....What we accept as real is a world that others cannot see, touch or experience in any direct way. A person who believes a lie is constrained by it, accordingly, to live “in his own world”- a world that others cannot enter, and in which even the liar himself does not truly reside. Thus, the victim of the lie is, in the degree of his deprivation of truth, shut off from the world of common experience and isolated in an illusory realm to which here is no path that others might find or follow” (Frankfurt On Honesty.)