Sunday, August 06, 2006

Existential Liar

TO and I once debated the subject of Doug’s dishonesty. TO held the position that Doug is not guilty of “lying” when he delivers a bald-faced lie, because, according to TO, Doug really believes the lie when he utters it. In other words, since Doug really believes his lies when he tells them, he is therefore not guilty of lying. To TO, it doesn’t matter if Doug says one thing and five minutes later completely contradicts it; TO believes this involves consistency and competence, not honesty.

I do not deny that Doug believes his own lies at any given time, even when he contradicts them within a 5-minute window. However, I hold that Doug has studied the finer points of rhetoric and he understands the importance of closing the deal, i.e. a salesman, or con artist, will not bag the customer unless he prevails upon him with his sales pitch, which relies not only upon the content of his words but their delivery. Therefore, Doug taught himself how to use persuasion in order to lie, and he learned that he could not persuade others unless he persuaded himself, or at least appeared persuaded. Of course, self-persuasion, or the appearance thereof, is not without cost. Scripture teaches that hypocritical liars scorch their scruples to a stub: “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2). But I digress.

TO’s analysis correctly identifies the reason that Doug is a successful liar, i.e., he deceives himself before he deceives others (TO does concede that Doug is guilty of self-deception). But TO fails to explain why self-deception should be exculpatory. Consequently, his analysis boils down to a ridiculous question: “Which came first, the deceiver or the self-deceiver?” as if the liar who depends upon self-deception to successfully mislead is somehow not culpable. Who cares?

If Doug predicates his lies on self-deceit, then Doug’s self-deception reveals premeditation, which only aggravates his sin. It certainly doesn’t justify him. He lies, and he calculates his lies to exonerate him. He does this by design. It’s all planned — every word. Therefore, if Doug has disciplined himself to actually believe his lies before he tells them, then he is simply an existential liar, but a liar nonetheless.