Essential ethics: Honesty in a time of disinformation

There can be no ethics without moral consistency nor without honesty.

Hypocrisy, specifically of a partisan nature gravely damages society as a whole, since it subverts the objective character of morality making it into a weapon instead.

Hypocrisy that favours your group, ideology or leader also risks turning into a ‘the ends justify the means’ mindset, sure the leader of my party might have molested teenage girls but he’s necessary to prevent the reactionaries/marxists/fascists/populists.

This can even develop into circular reasoning where people are forgiven for having covered up child abuse because they’re supposedly fighting it now (by supporting the right ideology, Reinhard Marx, cough). Next, we support the use of war crimes

Now the ends justify the means to an extent. There is a difference between a defensive and an offensive war. But a just war doesn’t justify war crimes.

The Americans killed more civilians (intentionally) by throwing the two atom bombs on Japan then they killed citizens (due to collateral damage) during the entire Vietnam War. This is not too mentioned the hundreds of thousands killed during previous air raids.

Who would say this was justified as revenge for Pearl Harbour? Yet people try to justify it because of how a fight to occupy Japan would have resulted in far greater casualties on both sides. This ignores both Japan’s desire to negotiate a conditional surrender as opposed to an unconditional one (something granted to Italy) and the fact that even if Japan didn’t officially surrender or face occupation its military and economy were crushed and the country could have been left in permanent isolation without oil till it agreed to a proper surrender and demilitarization.

Is ensuring the unconditional surrender and occupation of the aggressor in a war sufficient to justify war crimes?

A basic moral rule that no cause justifies violating is: murder, the intentional killing off the innocent, is wrong. Always. Murdering the disabled to remove ‘useless eaters’ is wrong, murdering people because they’re family of political opponents is wrong, and so on. A righteous cause justifies fighting for it, but to protect not to sacrifice the innocent. Evil must always be called out in our own circles, otherwise we cannot presume to claim moral superiority.

Systematic hypocrisy turns morality into a farce. It is even worse than a nihilistic society since people can act self-righteous and feel morally superior. A deluded conscience can commit even greater evil than the lack of conscience. This is why many of the worst atrocities have been committed by regimes that followed fanatical ideologies and excelled at propaganda and disinformation. The worst mobs tend to be inflamed by a twisted sense of justice.

Lying is harmful for largely the same reasons. They destroy trust, truth, relationships and objectivity. Lying gives an advantage to those who have power and specifically those who have the ability to quickly and effectively communicate with large numbers of people.

Lies can be used to convince good people to do evil things. If you repeat a lie long enough, you yourself will probably end up believing it. If a group does it, especially in a situation of polarization, distrust or paranoia, the effect of this will be even worse. Falsehoods mixed with truth is lies poison put into water.

Catholicism condemned all lying as a sin, a continuation of the position taken by ultraconservative Pharisee leader Shammai.

Lying involves speaking falsehood, the opposite of the truth, yet for certain cases it was found permissible to use sophistry or equivocate. To tell half truths to people who couldn’t be trusted with the full truth. This way, the person speaking half truths always keeps the truth as his starting point, he merely conceals parts he cannot afford to share. The other person can be misdirected to certain assumptions that lead them to interpret the equivocation incorrectly but there is no outright lying.

But if sophistry has no limits it becomes just as poisonous as the ‘occasional white lie’.

This is why one should tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth not just when under oath in court, but when making any oaths or even mere promises to people or when speaking to people who deserve your trust; parents who have been decent parents, reliable authorities and so on, or when speaking about matters of great moral importance. Letting your yes be yes and your no be no is essential to a basic level of trust in society.

A culture that believes in truth and justice and people who uphold these ideals, have been the basis for every society that wasn’t just successful, but also benevolent and devoid of excessive cruelty. All tyranny starts with the abandonment of objectivity in favour of rhetoric, disinformation, might=right thinking and herdism.

The worst totalitarian regimes have forced people to lie. You destroy their dignity, self-worth, reason and independence. If you make people say that 2+2=5 you have forced them to reject common sense in favour of fear. Indoctrination is a key element of totalitarianism. Unlike in authoritarian regimes, the state doesn’t merely prohibit actions, it compels actions that go against your conscience and eventually even forces you to think or feel differently. People need to internalize the state’s ideology. The state tries to control the mind itself.

Even the Inquisition handed over people to be executed by the state if they refused to convert, they weren’t tortured, starved or kept in camps till they had converted.

Johan van Schaik

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