Saturday, August 04, 2012

Lying by Sam Harris

A book advocating for less lying and more honesty, this is a straightforward and accessible summary of the risks of lying and the benefits of being honest. The arguments are interspersed with mini-stories depicting someone lying only to subsequently be exposed, or where the lie interferes with relationships, or prevents people from recognizing and resolving real problems, or undermines our willingness to trust others enough to build well-functioning communities and societies, along with counter-examples depicting someone being truthful in contexts where people are tempted to lie. He argues that truthfulness simplifies our lives since we don't have any need to make an ongoing effort to protect previous lies, an effort which could itself spawn more lies or unravel. He points out that truthfulness can increase one's own influence and improve the odds for better outcomes, and that truthfulness sometimes requires that we take communal level responsibility instead of trying to pass on that responsibility to others or avoid responsibility. Honesty is actually easy, yet it is no less sophisticated and intellectual than the alternative.


Don Wharton said...

Yes he does a decent job in illustrating the points he wants to make. However, he totally dismisses such things as the complexities that arise in international conflict between nations and markets with financial gain deriving from less than truthful action. He also neglects appropriate sanctions that society should put in place for untruthful action.

Explicit Atheist said...

The focus of most of the book is on oneself presumeably because we control our own actions. Laws sanctioning lying is another topic. I don't agree that not discussing such laws in this book is an omission that weakens his argument.

He discusses lying by nations in the section Big Lies, citing the Tonkin gulf resolution and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He acknowledges the need for state secrets and to deceive enemies during war, which he separates from active deception targeting the nation's own citizens, which he considers to be unnecessary. Apparently, Sam Harris respects the democratic process as having the role of rejecting a presidential decision, including decisions to commit to going war. Of course, he doesn't discuss every possible scenario, how could he? Overall, I think the book anticipates and addresses complications reasonably well.

Don Wharton said...

I am glad that You liked the book and frankly I would not wish to make the countervailing case. However, consider the case of Countrywide Financial, one of the worst organization writing liar loans and vastly subprime credit in the mortgage market. The management of this organization made literaly hundreds of millions in the process of creating a subsequent financial disaster. These people paid little or no penalty for their actions. I imagine that there are literally hundreds of situations where lying yeilds substantial benefit to people with little or no negative consequence. Without objectively addressing the other side of his argument he cannot claim to have made a cogent case.