reasons not to be smart #2

Posted on: February 22, 2021

We all lie. Even when we try to lead an otherwise ethical life. We lie because truth can compete at times with other virtue, virtue that we think is more important and should override truth.

But we also lie about our lie. We lie to ourselves about the reasons why we take liberties with truth. Because, if we are to be honest with ourselves, lying is, for the most part, self-serving and this higher virtue that supersedes truth, this greater good we pretend to seek through our lying, do not exist. Even when we do protect other people from a damaging truth it’s hard to disentangle it from protecting ourselves from it.

Augustin and Kant didn’t think virtues can compete and be in conflict with one another. Virtues can be opposed only to vices not to other virtues. Thus a “civil war” amongst virtues would be nonsensical. According to them, truth is an absolute, telling the truth at all times, unconditionally is a categorical imperative and lying is never to be justified. No matter how dreadful the consequences. Lying in order to save someone’s life is bad. Telling the truth that results in someone’s death is good. When you make a statement, your only concern should be the correspondence between reality and your utterance. When you act your only concern should be fulfilling your duty. Abraham-like. Ignore the consequences. You are not responsible for them. God is. If your telling the truth ruins someone’s life it’s on God not on you.

In the dispute between these two ethical theories, consequentialism and deontology, as far as truth is concerned, I tend to be a consequentialist. Screw Kant. I can’t carry out a duty blindly. If I can save my Jewish neighbour from dying at the hands of Nazis, by lying to them, I will do it wholeheartedly. I hate lies but I am no purist whatsoever. Telling always the truth, with complete disregard for consequences, is not something I can easily relate to.

Given all these I should have some tolerance for falsehoods when I am lied to. And I do. I loathe lies and being lied to, but I can tolerate it to some extent. As they surely do mine. What I cannot tolerate is flat-out lies and sloppiness in their lying. It does matter to me how you lie to me. Because in the way you lie to me you reveal what you ultimately think of me. You insult my intelligence, or you take note of it. An obvious, careless, flat-out lie is offensive, and thus it triggers me, while a plausible one that can pe passed off as truth is not. And given the crappy unflattering lies and explanatory nonsense I had to listen to over the years from friends, boyfriends, relatives etc I am astonished at their low opinion of me. Of course, there’s always the possibility that they don’t care at all about how I think and how I perceive their deceit or they just overestimate their chances to get away with it. In either case the outcome is grim and appalling.

We all have a built-in bullshit detector after thousands of years of evolution as social creatures. But, like with everything else in life, we are not equally endowed. Some people have a bigger BS detection tool than others. By and large the smarter you are the bigger your tool – the more able you are to detect lies, deception, dishonesty, manipulation, rationalization, fraud. The smarter you are the more difficult is for you to be bullshitted on. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. And in some ways the smarter you are the more crap you have to put up with. Because while for some people the crap thrown at them will fly under their radar and they will be oblivious to it, for you, the detector will go off too much, too often. And that’s enough to make your life miserable. As a smart guy you don’t have the luxury of blissful ignorance when lied to. And we all need to not know we are lied to if we want to lead good social lives. Oblivion to people’s lies is a key requirement for our peace of mind and happiness. Limited insight is actually good for the health of our relationships. The need for opacity and shades is embedded in the fabric of our societies and complete transparency would be catastrophic. Being smart and highly perceptive then and seeing through people’s lies is not an asset but a social disability and detrimental to your happiness.

Being smart sucks. The savvy given to you at birth is a poisonous gift. You can no longer be lied to unknowingly. You can no longer see people how they want to be seen. The safe space between you and them where pretence can happen is shattered. Brace yourself for the misery of knowing too much. Brace yourself for the misery of seeing people for who they truly are. Brace yourself for unhapiness.

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literatura e efortul inepuizabil de a transforma viaţa în ceva real

The priest: Aren't you afraid of hell? J. Kerouac: No, no. I'm more concerned with heaven.

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