ISSUES IN FOCUS
Week of August 30, 1998
SPEAK FOR YOURSELF!
An especially evil idea is being touted by Clinton apologists: the claim that everyone does it, i.e., that everyone lies. The everyone-does-it assertion is yet another falsehood in the litany of lies spewing forth from the mouths of statists, splattering the good name of every honest person with their unfounded claims. Not only do they impugn the character of every honest person living today, but they go on to rewrite history and smear the reputations of all past presidents by claiming that all of these men were liars.
Even if the specious claim that everyone lies was true—and it is not—the fact that everyone engages in a certain activity doesn’t make it right. Such a claim is similar to the "argument" used by children when pleading with their parents to allow them to do something: "Johnny’s parents let him do it." Such an argument begs the question. The question is: should anyone be doing it?
This everyone-does-it ploy is usually presented in the form of the flat assertion that anyone would lie if they were in an adulterous affair. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with lying in such a situation, as if the commission of the wrongful act of adultery somehow justifies the act of lying. By this reasoning, someone who has committed armed robbery and lies about it in court should not be prosecuted for perjury.
Would you lie about an adulterous affair? Let’s suppose you would lie; but consider why. If you have corrupted your character to the extent that you cheat on your spouse, then lying to hide this wrongdoing will be no big deal to you. What if you robbed your local convenience store? Would you lie in order to hide your crime? Most likely you would because by the time you have sunk to the level of robbery, your character has become so corrupt that lying is a routine part of your life. You would lie because you are no longer an honest person.
The question is not whether you, now a dishonest person, would lie in such circumstances. The question is whether you would ever initiate the process of evasion and dishonesty within your own mind to bring you to the point that you would commit adultery or rob a convenience store, thereby putting yourself in a situation in which you would lie. The truth of the matter is that the first immoral act—either committing adultery or robbing the store—led to the second immoral action, the lying. Both are wrong. The fact that you did something wrong and needed to lie about it to save your fanny doesn’t justify the act of lying.
Honesty is a virtue; lying is not. To lie is to knowingly, on a premeditated basis, tell someone something that is false. There are three, well-defined and strictly delimited, contexts in which it is permissible to lie: when faced with the initiation of force, in a life-and-death emergency and in the case of a joke. If faced with an armed robber, lie your head off to save your life. In an emergency, if you have to lie to get your loved one to the hospital, then do it. If you want to have a surprise birthday party or play a joke on your spouse, then deception in such a case is harmless. Outside of these extraordinary contexts, lying is wrong—yet it is precisely in the normal course of life that statists claim everyone lies. They are wrong.
The blurting out of an untruth, on rare occasions, when confronted by an unexpected, embarrassing question is not a moral failing and, strictly speaking, is not a lie (statists will try to claim this is lying in order to bolster their claim that everyone does it). It is an instantaneous, automatic response, without prior thought or premeditation. The only time this kind of response raises a moral question is if this kind of behavior becomes routine, a way of life; then such behavior becomes lying and is wrong.
There is a school of thought, in certain circles, that maintains it is proper to lie in order to protect one’s privacy—an idea to which Clintonites would leap to instant agreement. Even if there is some extraordinary context in which such lying might be permissible, under normal circumstances it is neither necessary or proper. You can protect your privacy by a simple refusal to discuss a private matter or by refusing to answer certain questions that are no one’s business.
Everyone does not lie. Most of the individuals I know are honest and do not lie. The next time you hear someone declare that everyone does it, you should tell them: speak for yourself! And speak for themselves is, in fact, all they are doing: they are confessing that they lie and feel compelled to believe everyone else does, too. Diogenes, the Greek cynic, is said to have searched the streets of Athens for an honest man. His spiritual descendants, statists, spend their lives evading the existence of honest men.
August 30, 1998
© Copyright 1998 Fulton Huxtable