Mark Twain had a lot to say about lying. Like in this quote from Following the Equator ; Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar; “There are 869 different forms of lying, but only one of them has been squarely forbidden. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Now, I would have to agree with the Biblical admonition against lying to get the people you dislike thrown into prison or beheaded. I am especially concerned with some of the false witness pooping out of the mouths of some presidential candidates that would like us to believe their anti-science, anti-climate change, and anti-immigration lies would make good laws for our country. If they go with Donald Trump’s idea of taking away birthright citizenship from the children of immigrants, then my three children will lose their citizenship and could be deported from the only country they have lived in. After all, after twenty years of marriage and applications and legal fees and enough frustration to make her give up on the whole idea, my wife is still not an American citizen. She is from the Philippines, and Filipinos are one of the main groups that politicians site as reason for taking automatic citizenship away from foreign-born marriage mates back in the 1980’s. And if we truly believe that climate change is a hoax and disproven by having Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe bring a snowball into the senate chamber, I believe we are all going to fry in Venus-like atmospheric conditions (Venus is 400 degrees Centigrade on the surface due to rampant greenhouse gasses like those emitted by the factories of Senator Inhofe’s primary campaign donors). Some lies have fatal consequences, (and also, apparently, got Senator Inhofe the chairmanship of the Senate Science Committee).
But not all lies are bad lies. Twain also says; “In all lies there is wheat among the chaff…”
– A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
And; “The lie, as a virtue, a principle, is eternal; the lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man’s best and surest friend is immortal.”
– “On the Decay of the Art of Lying”
So I have actually started to think that the lies not forbidden by the Bible because of their fatal consequences are actually all good things, and not bad. Yesterday in a post about talking to stupid people, I suggested that you should tell them lies about how you care about them and want the best for them, and you should lie about it so hard that you believe in the lies yourself. After all, story-tellers like me tell nothing but lies. My made-up stories are based on real events and people, and reveal real perceived truths about life, but they are basically nothing but lies. This essay is a lie. I was brought up in Iowa to be truthful and always tell the truth… and that was repeatedly reinforced by religious training from every church I ever attended. And yet, the more I tried to tell the truth, the more I realized that I could never say anything that was not a lie. Think about it, what is there in all the factual things that you know that you can actually prove is true? “I think, therefore I am,” (a quote from Rene Descartes) is the only thing anyone has ever said that I can prove by my own perceptions. Every scientific theory is constantly reviewed for lies and untruth and inaccuracy so that they can be revised for something better that is also not ultimately provably true in every detail. It is entirely possible that everything else truly is a lie, and then the whole universe, science, physics, logic, and everything is basically untrue.
So, what do I do? Anything I say is a lie. Some of the lies are hurtful, even deadly. So I have to be careful about those lies. I should fight against those lies. But the lies that make our existence in life meaningful and full of hope and mystery… I have to let those lies live, and even learn to do them artfully.
“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.”
– Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain.