06 February 2009

Lying (from the forthcoming book 'The Corpse and the Kingdom')

I have observed that in my experience the human race seems to like it best if the socially agreed view of the situation not merely distorts but actually inverts one or two of the salient facts.

To this one may add the observation that people tell lies more often than seems necessary to arrive at the (apparently) desired objective, and that they like to engage in manipulating other people's psychology. The less successful the manipulations are being, and the more self-evident it is that the victim of the manipulation is aware of what is going on, the more forcefully and obsessively do they insist on behaving as if he is unaware.

A motivation for this may be postulated. Reality (however much they may insist that it is impossible to define it except by reference to social agreement) is seen as a sort of threat, or potential rival, to social agreement. And there can be no more satisfying way of asserting the supremacy of the latter than by insisting that it is right when it is obviously wrong.

Market forces alone protect the freedom of the individual to act realistically and independently of social agreement. Hence a society in which market forces are weakened is likely to contain a suicidal drive.

I have alluded elsewhere in this book to a story about a tribe of native Americans who sallied forth to battle clad in ‘magic’ shirts which were no protection at all against real lead bullets. This is an acceptable story because it is supposed to illustrate the inferiority of superstition to rationalism, or the foolishness of supposing that there might be more to the situation than met the eye of a materialistic monist.

But there are times when modern society strikes me as being very like that tribe.

Of course this is only a hypothetical suggestion, which cannot be taken too far, at least not on the level of social organisation. No doubt this psychological factor, if present on that level, is modified by many others. How, for example, would one account for the fact that the suicidal drive is not shown by completely communist countries, and to a differential extent even by countries which are not? Part of the answer might be that once market forces have been completely eliminated and the state has assumed full control of what may be thought and expressed, external reality is no longer felt as a threat in the same way, so there is no longer any need to behave suicidally.