Three reasons I hate lying so much
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Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I absolutely hate lying. Everyone hates lying, you might say. And for a long time I thought everyone felt the same way about the truth as I do. But I was wrong.
As a case-in-point, my understanding is the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on a landmark abortion restriction case. Justice Amy Coney Barrett stated that she doesn’t understand how pregnancy and childbirth impacts a pregnant person if they can give the baby up for adoption.
I would respect her, and everyone who shares her beliefs, one thousand times more if she admitted that pregnancy and childbirth are often incredibly dangerous but she's willing to use state violence to force every pregnant person to risk bodily harm or death to implement a policy that all empirical research shows will kill more pregnant people than save fetuses. I don't agree with that calculation, of course. But I can respect that people have different priorities. I can't respect people who lie about the facts of the situation.
This is a consistent position for me. I have more respect for people who are honest about their sincerely held morally repugnant beliefs and the facts around them than people who hold less-repellant beliefs but lie. I will put up with a lot of bullshit in my relationships, but I have an *extremely* low tolerance for any kind of dishonesty.
From everything I’ve seen and heard, I am on the far end of the spectrum.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I feel this way.
I’m a moral relativist. I can’t justify my moral intuitions with data, argumentation, or appeals to what I think a higher power believes. So I don’t *think* lying is worse than prioritizing a few fetuses over the lives of millions of pregnant people. I *feel* like lying is worse than prioritizing a few fetuses over the lives of millions of pregnant people.
Why do I feel this way?
I think one reason is that I’ve been wrong before.
One problem with lying is that you can't get pushback on your ideas if you never admit to them. To lie about what you think is to say you're so convinced you're right that you have no use for information that might challenge your conclusions. I know from experience that this is a deeply dangerous position.
I used to believe some really wrong stuff. If I had always lied about what I believed I would have been wrong longer than I was.
Another reason I hate lying is that lying is coercion. For a choice to be consensual, it must be made without force, fraud, or coercion. If I support an abortion ban in part because I believe that pregnancy and childbirth are fun and easy I don’t necessarily actually support an abortion ban, because pregnancy and childbirth are often not fun or easy.
The reason I hate lying is that I’m probably still wrong now about a lot of stuff. Honesty is a check against being wrong. I want pushback on my ideas. I don't want to push policies most people don't want by lying to them about what they do. If a policy isn't better for most people in the end, I don't want it implemented. I want to get most people on board with my priorities. That seems like the right thing to do. I believe with good information and argumentation, most people can be won over by better ideas. And in the end, isn’t what’s best for most people what matters? Isn’t each person having the freedom to truly choose how to live more important than any particular policy?
I'm not so confident in my policy ideas that I want them implemented despite intractable widespread opposition. Who am I to force things on people?
Another problem I have with lying is that it’s so boring. If ACB and I were in a room, having a beer, we could have a conversation about whether our legal system should impose large costs on a large number of pregnant people to save the lives of far fewer fetuses. That’s not an empirical question. We could make it empirical, by talking about the economic costs of forcing people to give birth, for instance. Or we could try to quantify the total suffering the policy would create and prevent.
But at the end of the day, it’s a moral question. Whose rights matter more? Whose suffering is more important? How many dead pregnant people are we okay with to save one fetus? These are interesting questions with no right answer. I mean I know what I think and feel. But I’d love to know how she justifies her position. (I’m assuming, based on the fact that she’s very Catholic, that it amounts to “God said so.” But even then we could theoretically have a conversation about the pros and cons of making policy based on what you think God wants.)
But if she said to me that pregnancy and childbirth have very little impact on the vast majority of pregnant people if they can give the baby up for adoption, well, then we need to have an argument about the facts. And that’s hella boring. I’m right about that. She’s wrong. Pregnancy and childbirth are quite dangerous for a large percentage of pregnant people and extremely taxing for the vast majority. Most people who give birth are temporarily disabled for weeks or months afterwards and a large percentage of them don’t have paid leave. Many people are permanently maimed after giving birth. Many die. This is not a cakewalk.
There’s nothing interesting in that conversation, except maybe digging into how an adult human can give birth many times and live to middle age and not realize how disabling and dangerous it is for most people to give birth in the US.
I don’t want to spend my time correcting people’s facts. I want to spend my time discovering truth with people. I want everyone to come to all of these conversations with correct facts and honesty about what they believe so we can have an honest conversation about how to juggle competing moral intuitions and priorities.
There is no policy priority I have that supersedes becoming more right about policy. Because I’ve lived the other way. I’ve insulated myself from new information that might challenge what I believe. And the results were terrible. I advocated for policies that hurt marginalized people to benefit the powerful.
And I am not so full of myself that I think I could never do that again.
I hate the illegibility shit because it’s dangerous. Like Evangelical Christianity, it’s a system of epistemic closure. And the more powerful you are, the more closed off you can remain to better information and argumentation. It entrenches power.
So, in sum, I hate lying because it tends to exacerbate epistemic closure, entrench power, and be boring as hell.
I’m not saying lying can’t ever be the right thing to do. I’m not saying everyone has a moral responsibility to put themselves in danger to publicly broadcast their least-popular views.
But I think I am willing to say that *if* you’re going to engage in discourse with the goal of shifting public opinion, I think you have a moral obligation to be honest about the facts and your true beliefs. Because you might be wrong. You might be dangerously wrong. Having been on both sides, I would much rather be publicly corrected than to continue to push ideas that turn out to hurt most people (again).
But, of course, I might be wrong. I’m open to arguments and new information.