The Father of Lies

A post by commenter PBW:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

John 8:44

On November 9th, Tucker Carlson offered the following prescription for curing the ills of the USA.

Let’s all stop lying. Lying about everything that matters, every day of our lives. That’s what we’re doing now. Have you noticed? How many times did you lie today because you had to? Let’s repeal our national dishonesty mandate (it’s a law never codified but still ruthlessly enforced) and tell the truth instead. That’s our only hope. Tell the truth about everything.

It is startlingly apt in this season of lies. But it is not a new formula. In a 2013 interview, Natan Sharansky, a Soviet refusenik and now a member of Israel’s Knesset, said:

I was a loyal Soviet citizen until the age of 20. What it meant to be a loyal citizen was to say what you were supposed to say, to read what you were permitted to read, to vote the way you were told to vote and, at the same time, to know that it was all a lie.

Theodore Dalrymple had made similar comments in 2006.

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

In the final two decades of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites, the same notes were being sounded. In an essay called The Power of the Powerless, Václav Havel in 1978 analysed the situation of those decaying regimes. In a famous passage, he dissected the state of mind and motivations of a greengrocer:

The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” … the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise head-quarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years. … If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life.

Havel’s is a long essay. Four years earlier, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a brief farewell letter to his countrymen on the eve of his exile, that sums up all of this commentary. The name? Live Not By Lies.

For an idea of how bad the situation is, try the search phrase ‘Tucker Carlson “let’s all stop lying”’ in your favourite search engine (I tried with DuckDuckGo). His appeal attracted a barrage of ridicule from the gatekeepers of PC. I suspect that when Solzhenitsyn and Havel wrote, almost everyone in their homeland audience knew exactly what they meant. They wrote from within regimes even whose petty commissars had ceased to believe the ideology behind their own positions and powers.

We, on the other hand, are locked in an earlier phase of totalitarianism, somewhere between, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity,” and Solzhenitsyn. Certainly, the petty commissars of political correctness still express their invincible ignorance with passionate intensity. Such intensity is the modern hallmark of “truth,” and it serves the useful practical purpose of putting all reasoning interlocutors on the back foot. But in the best – the defenders of the best in Western culture and the best in the Faith that nourished that culture – bewilderment is being replaced by a smouldering anger, growing in intensity. That does not augur well for the keeping of the peace, but at least they are prepared to resist.

It was over 50 years from the Russian revolution to Solzhenitsyn’s essay. It has been 70 years since Mao drove the Kuomintang out to Taiwan. Neither of these societies had previous experience of what we now reservedly call “democracy,” but it is nonetheless disturbing to see how long brutal totalitarianism can last. Yet, despite the open book of recent history, the Red Guards, the Green Guards and sundry blackguards are loose amongst us, with a longing for destruction.

24 thoughts on “The Father of Lies

  1. Yesterday I was challenged on the latest leftist meme, which seems to be that Trump “took a pass” on locking up additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine. I searched on DuckDuckGo and found a reasonable explanation for the controversy, to wit, the government has contracted for 600M doses from six different companies and that it would be unreasonable to purchase them all from one company, not knowing at the time (mid-summer) whether the vaccine would be superior to the others or even be effective at all. It was from a Newsmax article that quoted the chief science advisor for HHS.

    I searched on Google using the same exact search terms. The first ten pages of results failed to show a single article explaining the HHS perspective or quoting the science advisor. For all I know, it never showed up because I only looked at the first ten pages. But they did have a lot of articles quoting Trevor Noah, which I guess is where America gets a lot of important news.

    Yeah, Google (Gulag) is the big-time Father of Lies.

  2. This is a subject close to my heart. In my 2012 minibook Not Even Trying, I described how I lived though a period of about 25 years when British scientists went from almost never being dishonest, to being dishonest almost all the time. And in total denial about this total degeneration of science into bureaucratic careerism, from which the previous ethic of habitual truthfulness is excluded by multiple sanctions. Real science is now dead, except among a few amateurs.

    • That same devolution – as of course you, of all people, know full well, and have been foremost in noticing – has affected every institution of society. Math, logic, and engineering are perhaps the last redoubts of unapologetic, unrelenting devotion to Truth – because they simply cannot be practiced in its absence without leading to such things as catastrophic bridge failure. Oh, and of course, also, the trades: mechanics, plumbing, building, and so forth. Any job that can proceed only by means of acts reconciled properly to the concrete world is such a redoubt.

      And the pity is that everyone does at least a few such jobs; one cannot wash a load of laundry or sweep a floor in defiance of the Real. Hell, one cannot whistle a tune or walk down the road in any other way. Everyone then has some contact with the True: with the concrete Real.

      It becomes ever more difficult then to account for the divergence from Reality of our culture; or to understand how that divergence might possibly endure for more than a few years. Yet it has. And it grows indeed ever more intense and more particular and more insistent in its disagreement with Reality.

      When’s the comeuppance, then? When does it finally all hit the fan? I’m amazed that it has not yet happened.

      Perhaps only a radical catastrophe will suffice to shake our nations out of their fantasies. Bring it on, then. Let’s get it over with.

      Perhaps, indeed, we are already involved in that very sort of catastrophe. God send it is so. God send we come all out the other end of it intact, together, and healthy.

      But, above all: God send that catastrophe.

      • And the pity is that everyone does at least a few such jobs; one cannot wash a load of laundry or sweep a floor in defiance of the Real. Hell, one cannot whistle a tune or walk down the road in any other way. Everyone then has some contact with the True: with the concrete Real.

        It becomes ever more difficult then to account for the divergence from Reality of our culture; or to understand how that divergence might possibly endure for more than a few years. Yet it has. And it grows indeed ever more intense and more particular and more insistent in its disagreement with Reality.

        Perhaps not so difficult to account, really. I think we’ve become worse at practice in those fields that require close contact with reality, in a corporate sense. The rampant cult of lies has blunted our ability to act as engineers, logicians, mathematicians, physicists, and so forth. I suspect it has also blunted our ability to sweep floors, wash laundry, whistle, or raise children. As for the trades, I don’t practice one myself, but I would not be surprised to find they were to a lesser or greater degree affected as well.

        This is how a civilization collapses.

      • You know, come to think of it, the trades have certainly been affected. I wager that every tradesman who has been on the job for more than a few months has come across at least one piece of work by a predecessor that is not even “good enough for government work” – that, moreover, violates building codes or is even a threat to life and limb. I have seen too many tradesmen discover and deplore such insults to their trades to think otherwise.

        I recall the time I was moving a washer and dryer around on the sleeping porch of a house we had just bought, so that I could vacuum behind them. I saw a cord coming out from under the bottom row of shingles. I thought, “Wonder what that is?” Like an idiot, I reached out to grab it with my bare hand. I got an electric shock that knocked me four feet back against the opposite wall. Enraged, and not a little fearful at what I might find, I started pulling shingles off the wall, then the siding beneath. I found that some fool had turned an outlet formerly servicing the bathroom on the other side of the wall 90 degrees, rocked over the aperture in the bathroom, then plugged an extension cord into the outlet, which he then ran out onto the sleeping porch and shingled over. Much later, a fool – perhaps the same one – had no longer any use for the extension cord on the sleeping porch, and cut off the plug, leaving behind a stub of uninsulated cable. Which could have killed me.

        When I unplugged the extension cord – which I did with insulated pliers, thank you very much – I found that the insulation all along it had grown brittle and cracked. It could have burned the house down – hell, it could have burned down a whole neighbourhood.

        I called our electrician, so he could take a look at it and make sure there were no other hidden enormities in the vicinity. He came over right away and started in to swearing. He kept swearing the whole time he was rotating that box another 90 degrees, out on to the sleeping porch and replacing the ancient outlet with a GFCI unit. O my gosh, was he pissed.

        Men hate it when fools or idiots or reprobates deprave their vocation. I feel the same way when I see the malfeasance or stupidity of so many financial advisors. I feel the same way when I see a stone wall badly built, or a pile of stove wood cut 5” too long, and none of it properly split.

        There has of course always been that sort of thing, and excellent men have always had to labor to correct the errors and cheats of their lessers. What we face now, though, is systematically different. There are not enough virtuous men in any field to keep up with their vicious competitors.

        I will say this, though: the market for honest, excellent work in every field has never been better. People are *desperate* to find help they can trust to do the right thing properly. For the virtuous, it is a seller’s market.

      • To at least partially agree with Bruce above, Truth is still has a large presence in engineering and the hard sciences, but it is in full retreat. The best that can be said is that there is still a lot of real truth in them when they’re allowed to stick to their proper subjects. However, their personnel have to bend the knee. For example, every department of mathematics or computer science must unofficially discriminate against white men while officially lamenting that it is tainted by white patriarchy. And it must listen with respectful silence to claims that indigenous peoples have equally valid…superior, really…ways of knowing math. One can’t help but suspect that the systematic dishonesty is starting to bleed into (what they in their heart of hearts know is) their real work.

        The trades, then, are the last redoubts.

      • Everyone then has some contact with the True: with the concrete Real. It becomes ever more difficult then to account for the divergence from Reality of our culture;

        I might remind you that you recently claimed that the death risk from Covid was comparable to that from automobile accidents (in reality it is 20 times that and climbing).

        I’m glad your fool of an electrician didn’t kill you, but your fool of a president already has at minimum several hundred thousand excess deaths to his credit. He was elected by fools who apparently have a similar relationship to truth as you do.

        From talking to you and to my right-wing relative, I’ve had to draw a sad conclusion: being a fool is not incompatible with education and eloquence. Arguing with fools is inherently a waste of time; my persistence in doing so is no doubt a sign of my own foolishness.

      • Our culture’s divergence from Reality is not a partisan issue. Our perceptions of the world are mediated, whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and in neither case is the media a clear plate glass window. The intelligent response to this state of affairs is a degree of charity towards our opponents and a degree of humility about ourselves. An even more intelligent response is to understand that Reality is necessarily shaped by culture, and that the clear plate glass window does not, could not, and should not exist. So the question is not who is more connected to Reality, but rather whose reality do we think most possible and desirable.

        In your reality 300,000 Covid deaths are politically significant as evidence of right-wing folly. Indeed, that folly is so great that it managed to increase 300,000 by “several hundred thousand.” I think you are wildly overestimating the importance of government policy, and also the difference between that of D. Trump and that we could reasonably expect from H. Clinton. As you know from studying the data, around half of these deaths are due to Western medicine prolonging life beyond its natural span, and thereby producing a large population of feeble old men and women who were living, so to speak, on life support. I am not indifferent to this group. My own elderly parents are part of it. But the growth of this population has far more impact on Covid numbers than any politician, real or imagined.

        I think we should reserve the word fool for genuine fools, and should not use it to insult those with whom we disagree. I also find it hard to see how anyone who disagrees with me can do so other than as a fool or a knave, but I observe that many who disagree with me are neither fools or knaves, and I accept this rather puzzling Reality.

      • Our perceptions of the world are mediated, whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and in neither case is the media a clear plate glass window. ….. An even more intelligent response is to understand that Reality is necessarily shaped by culture, and that the clear plate glass window does not, could not, and should not exist.

        I agree 100%, but can’t help noting (again) that you folks sure are free with the postmodern multiple-versions-of-reality patter when it suits your purposes. What happened to Truth with a capital T?

        In your reality 300,000 Covid deaths are politically significant as evidence of right-wing folly. Indeed, that folly is so great that it managed to increase 300,000 by “several hundred thousand.”

        The estimate of excess deaths due to Covid in the US are around 400,000 now, and will certainly increase. This is many times higher than that of other comparable countries who dealt with the outbreak better. And part of this high rate is clearly due to failures in political leadership. I’m not very interested in arguing this point (see below). As demonstrated by Kristor’s refusal to concede he lost his wager, there is no way to settle such disputes if there is no agreement even on relatively simple matters of fact.

        I think we should reserve the word fool for genuine fools, and should not use it to insult those with whom we disagree.

        I don’t suppose I can convey this very well in text, but I do not mean to be insulting, it’s just my honest estimate. I suppose that actually makes it more insulting – sorry.

        A fool, as I am using the term, is not someone who is stupid. Stupid people can be educated, but a fool is immovably wrong, because they are devoted to a set of bad yet self-reinforcing ideas. Ideas that are not just bad, but harmful to the point of fatality. These sorts of fools are a danger to themselves and when they wield influence in the world through politics they are a danger to everybody else.

        There is no point in arguing with a fool. It’s a waste of time. This kind of foolishness is like a cult, and nobody is ever reasoned out of a cult; they need to find their own way out or be forcibly deprogrammed.

        I’m sorry to talk about you folks to your faces in such a way, but again, just being honest. You regularly paint the ideas and people on my side as being driven by or aligned with Satan; what I am trying to say seems roughly similar. I don’t believe in Satan, but I believe in the power of bad ideas. Donald Trump is not Satan, but if your faction puts him forward as a leader then obviously the ideas that drive that faction have something seriously wrong with them, to put it mildly.

        It’s an interesting open question as to how groups who view each other in this way are to live with each other. The ideal of liberal democracy was to put something like rationality and economic utility as the common central values of society, with the instrangience and violently incompatible moral values characteristics of religion relegated to the private sphere. I think we can all agree that that hasn’t worked out very well, but other than open warfare or some kind of geographic separation, it’s not clear how else a modern cosmopolitan society is supposed to work. I know you guys long for a monarchy or theocracy or something like that but that’s an obvious non-starter for the rest of us.

      • I would call the type you describe an ideologue, a fanatic or a bigot. All will act unwisely, but I think of the fool and his folly as a special kind of unwisdom. The fool lacks shrewdness, which is why he and his money are soon parted. The ideologue, fanatic or bigot is too shrewd for his own good. The fool never thinks about tomorrow, where the ideologue, etc. sit up at night brooding about tomorrow. I agree that arguing with a fool is futile, but that is because he will not (likely cannot) argue. The ideologue is the exact opposite. He will argue ’till the cows come home, but it is never a dialectical argument.

      • Excellent response to a.morphous’s foolishness, Prof. Smith! I’m not as ‘cultured,’ nor therefore as charitable, towards his ilk as you seem to be (I can nevertheless ‘run circles around him in so many ways he cannot possibly understand or appreciate that he humors me beyond belief with his abject ignorance and stupidity).

        Below is a good Hollywood rendition of what an a.morphous sees when his rulers show him the COVID numbers. I disagree that he “knows” anything at all from “studying the numbers.” What he “knows” about the numbers is what he wants to believe about them; we’ve discussed this phenomenon so many times in the past, here and elsewhere, it has become boring, to say the least. Anyway,…

      • A fool, as I am using the term, is not someone who is stupid. Stupid people can be educated, but a fool is immovably wrong, because they are devoted to a set of bad yet self-reinforcing ideas. Ideas that are not just bad, but harmful to the point of fatality. These sorts of fools are a danger to themselves and when they wield influence in the world through politics they are a danger to everybody else.

        Dude, you’d best better take a long look in the mirror before you go about trying to instruct those of us your political opposites on what amounts to “bad, self-reinforcing ideas.” You can’t see that, can you? Well, no surprise from this corner of the internet. I reiterate, this has been discussed so many times in this space and other (dissident right) forums, it has become boring. Your personal rendition of the same bullshit is boring, if you know what I mean.

        Y’all will pardon me, I trust, for not paying proper homage to a.morphous’s degenerate education and intellect. A “Fulsom Street Degenerate,” highly intelligent and highly educated or not, is all the same to me.

      • a.morphous’s comment seems reasonable to me, although I admit I hadn’t been following the earlier discussion.

        “Foolishness” as he defines it seems more properly a quality of belief systems rather than people. Natural selection is one of those general ideas that explains a great deal about the world. In an environment of ideological warfare, one would expect belief systems that survive and propagate to be very good at accommodating just about any type of observation. If falsifiability is the mark of science, the most unscientific belief systems will be selected as the most adaptive. This is indeed a bit worrying.

        Similarly, an environment of virtue signaling competition, where shaming is constant and the weapon of choice, will select for the most shameless groups and individuals, rather as overuse of antibiotics can lead to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

      • You recently expressed fear that the well-intentioned falsehoods of woke science might weaken the habit of truthfulness in real science. I expect that expedient “truth” will tend to displace veridical truth over time, but would suggest the most adaptive belief system is one that is absolutely veridical on “bread-and-butter” questions, and absolutely expedient on everything else. In fact, this was the arrangement in the classical Liberal social order. The material sciences were veridical, the moral sciences were expedient, and there was firewall between the two. Now that firewall has broken down and we have fanatics proclaiming their moral science as veridical, and postmodernists proclaiming their material science as expedient.

      • … one would expect belief systems that survive and propagate to be very good at accommodating just about any type of observation. If falsifiability is the mark of science, the most unscientific belief systems will be selected as the most adaptive. This is indeed a bit worrying.

        Well, but there are two sorts of metanarratives that are going to be able to accommodate almost every observation: those that are sloppy and incoherent, but that are so alluring as to maintain robust vigor (in a mind, in a culture) under the stress of massive cognitive dissonance, and those *that are true.* Of those two sorts, one is easier in the short run, and leads to disaster, while the other is easier in the long run and leads to prosperity. Selective pressure favors the latter.

        The foregoing argues for aristocracy.

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  4. I need to thank you all for your patience with me the other day. I’d had a rotten day and this was the most likely place for me to rant on, but now it seems like I was awful rude to dump on you all that way.

    I now have the damnable pronouns on my email signature. I’m commenting now only to point out that to give one’s personal pronouns is to lie by telling the truth. Yes, I prefer the pronouns any sane person would use of me, but to list them is to tell the lie that I’m on board with all manner of transgender propaganda/child abuse/evil/nonsense. Likewise, I think it would be a mighty fine thing if the workers of the world united, but if I put up that poster it would be a lie because what I think is that all the workers should be Christians and distributionists but what the poster is saying is that communism is great. So I was upset the other day over telling a lie by telling the truth, which somehow struck me as just the greatest obscenity.

    Anyhow, thank you all for being so kind to me.

    • Nell, you are always welcome here. That means your complaints are welcome, too.

      You were not at all rude.

      Try thinking of posting your proper pronouns as a form of protest. That is what it is, in effect. Let everyone see how many people are normal humans, and want to be that way, and want to be treated that way. Force them to treat you that way – or else, face an employment discrimination lawsuit, brought on by their own silly policy about pronouns.

      Hold fast. Ten thousand years from now, these last few years, and the next few, will seem an evening gone.

  5. Excellent post, Kristor. My favorite part was the Dalrymple quotation: “that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity.” I am constitutionally unable to lie (pretty much), especially to students, but I lie by omission plenty of times.

    • Nell’s discomfort with her accommodation to the requirement of specifying a pronoun for herself is I suppose at bottom a discomfiture with what appears to her as a lie of omission. By going along with the requirement while omitting to protest it, she feels she is implicitly affirming it; which is a lie, since she does not affirm it. Or something. It’s complicated!

      The thing about PC is that it forces you to degrade your own sense of probity no matter what you do or do not do, because almost anything you might do can be interpreted as an affirmation of PC: with the sole exception of opting out of it forthrightly, and so attracting the Eye.

      PC is jizya. That’s no problem for Muslims, who can lie for the sake of the faith with impunity. But it is a problem for Christians.

  6. We have all seen the movie where the brave underdog speaks truth to power, and suddenly “the people” roar with approval. That was just another lie. If you speak truth to power and are not destroyed, power had already decided to phase out that lie.

    • But then, on the other hand, there are moments such as 1989, when everyone suddenly admits what they had known all along but had been afraid to say: that the Emperor is naked.

      I suppose that in such circumstances, the truth is being spoken at last to quondam power; which, having already been deleted de facto, and now forthrightly and de jure, will in due course be replaced by some other power. Much of what the Left these days construes as their own speech of Truth to Power is of just this sort: they are the new Power, speaking its truth to an old.

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