Untruth has to do, not with greed or with need, compulsion or coercion, but with my life-view – and my life-view begins with my conception of the world. From this arises every untruth.Psychologist Richard Gregory puts it in a word: we, as humans, are motivated by the “unexpected”. That is, whenever and wherever I hold up my personal conception of the world to the world itself, and there discover a disjoint, I am moved to act. Therefore, prior to all of my actions is the way in which I arrange the world in my mind.
Supposing then that, in my imagination, my life is a happy family in suburbia – a friendly dog, fresh muffins on the table, and daisy-chains and laughs. Then I look from my kitchen window, to see my little girl with her face down in the grass. Suddenly there is a disjoint, and I spring into action. Of course, different people will spring into action for different reasons, and this reveals their various conceptions of the world. Some may not want a happy family in suburbia, or a dog, or fresh muffins on the table. Some may want to be loose and wild, and some may want to immerse themselves in figures. The possibilities are as many as the people.
And so, on the one hand, our conception of the world may be balanced and broad – or on the other hand, short-sighted, self-interested, and parochial. Some will live a “large” life, which is well-rounded and meaningful – while others will live a small-time existence, a self-destructive life, as fools or bunglers. In short, some will become wise, and some will become fools. With these simple observations, we may now describe the first of three forms of untruth we shall survey: namely, foolishness. Foolishness is rooted in the “small” view life – and where we find it, we tend to pity it, laugh at it, or denigrate it. But we don't much take it to heart. It matters little to the rest of us.
Now consider that all of us arrange our worlds differently in our minds. And, again, from these conceptions of our world, our motivations arise. But now, given different conceptions of our world, and different motivations, it stands to reason that my own motivations may come into conflict with the motivations of another. And if I do not yield to the other, then the other must yield to me. This must mean that if the other cannot, through natural processes, change my own conceptual arrangement of the world, they may yet be able to change the conceptual stuff that I have to work with. With a few targeted ruses, they may change the world I think I live in.
I may feel passionate about the village duckpond, for instance, while another person wants to build a helipad there. But if they cannot overcome my passion for the pond, by fairly changing my own conceptual arrangement of the world, they may tamper with the conceptual stuff I have to work with. They may tell me (falsely) that permission for their helipad has been granted on high authority, or that duckponds are death-traps for children. This now differs from mere foolishness, in that it seeks to manipulate what I know – and it happens all the time, whether on the personal level of lies, or on the political level of propaganda. It is our second form of untruth: namely, lies and deceit.
But further than this. Not only may one change the way in which I arrange the world in my mind. One may change the world itself – through force and through violence, or comparable actions. Think again on the person who wishes to create the helipad. In the dark of night now, they send a small-time crook with a dump truck, to fill in the duckpond in one dramatic act. Now my conceptual arrangement of the world must change, because the world itself has changed. I have no pond left to defend, and no more purpose in opposing a helipad.
The dynamics of course may be more complex in the real world. It may be easy to see that a pond was filled in on the orders of the person who had a vested interest in it. It may be less easy to see that running me out of town with false rumours had to do with the pond, or that someone now drives a new Bentley on this account. And so the world of untruth may become tangled and dark, and as vast as the ocean. One finds it in lies and in half-truths, bluff and deceit, rationalisation and subterfuge – and now, thirdly, in violence of many kinds: physical, emotional, verbal, financial, sexual.
Now notice what has happened in the course of this short post. By means of some basic principles, all manner of evils in this world have been reconciled. Whether someone is reckoned to be a fool, a liar, or a thug, these are all basically one and the same. It is through a false conceptual arrangement of the world that people fall prey to each one. And notice something else: something about human nature, which seems to speak louder than words. Our moral integrity (or not) lies beyond our immediate control. It lies beyond all moralism and legalism. It changes only if our very life-view changes.