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The departure of trust
How I learned critical thinking
I do not know for sure when I first realized that most adults lie to themselves and others. Lying, I have since learned, is what poisons human societies the most.
Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.
Harris, Sam. Lying (p. 30). Four Elephants Press. Kindle Edition.
We seem willing to lie about so many things, running the gamut from petty to world-ending. As Sam Harris notes in his book which I quoted above, our lies are like viruses. They can infect others of our species. Donald Trump’s serial lying has infected nearly half of the United States, although some people have beaten the disease, many others are still in the worst stages: willing to do harm in order to defend the dishonesty.
I learned lying from the Christians of the world. Specifically, my missionary parents, but more generally, all the “true believers.” From them, I learned the lesson that faith is toxic. That is because faith means believing in an idea or a body of dogma in the complete absence of any evidence. With faith, the truth does not matter, and reality is whatever you imagine it to be. Faith is the equivalent of being on serious hallucinogenics.
The Christians are not the only source of malignant dishonesty in the world. Lying seems to be an in-built feature of being human. You might think that telling your child the “tooth fairy” is going to visit is a completely harmless act. Ditto the “Easter bunny.” You would be wrong.
One lie believed primes the human mind in the service of believing other lies. Children’s developing minds tend to instictively question departures from reality. A constant stream of self-delusional fantasies can beat that young rationality into submission, however.
One of the greatest problems for the liar is that he must keep track of his lies. Some people are better at this than others. Psychopaths can assume the burden of mental accounting without any obvious distress. That is no accident: They are psychopaths. They do not care about others and are quite happy to sever relationships whenever the need arises. Some people are monsters of egocentricity. But lying unquestionably comes at a psychological cost for the rest of us.
Harris, Sam. Lying (p. 26). Four Elephants Press. Kindle Edition.
The psychological cost of the lies that were forced on me against my will growing up still ripple to this day. I learned to lie to get by as a teenager. I had to pretend I believed the Christian bible was the inerrant instruction manual from a divine being. An unchanging omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient deity who only wanted the best for me as long as I adhered to its crazy instruction manual. A book that has obviously not been divinely inspired and contains every logical fallacy humans have managed to ferret out over the eons.
To lie is to erect a boundary between the truth we are living and the perception others have of us.
Harris, Sam. Lying (p. 27). Four Elephants Press. Kindle Edition.
I didn’t get to live my truth growing up, because I was dependent on delusional people who engaged in the sunk cost fallacy.1 As soon as I became capable of supporting myself, I began reconsidering what lies I told myself, and what lies I told others. And that’s what the next essay will be focused on.
We will explore the decades of mental retraining that led from a life filled with fantasies and untruths to a life of radical honesty. Thanks for being a part of the conversation. Thanks for caring about the truth.