by Eric Heubeck
“Principle is not limited by Precedent.”
I hereby make the audacious claim that it is realistically possible to create societies throughout the world that are free of virtually all lying.
But such a goal will never be achieved by scolding people about the “immorality” or “naughtiness” of dishonesty. Pious exhortations and admonitions will—by themselves, anyway—get us nowhere; history has proven that beyond all doubt. Humanity can and will prevail against lying and dishonesty—but only when it finally learns to systematically take advantage of the fact that, according to the intrinsic nature of things, honesty among a group of people works and enables the group to succeed; while, comparatively speaking, dishonesty among a group of people does not work and does not enable the group to succeed.
It is this one basic, central, indisputable fact of nature that makes the development of thoroughly honest societies something that is not only doable, but even inevitable—because in developing such societies, people would be working with nature, and not against it. The fact that dishonesty has always been present in human societies in no way proves that its continued presence is something that we must regretfully resign ourselves to—any more than the fact that during the vast majority of human history people did not fly in airplanes proves that flying in airplanes had been impossible before we began to do so. It had always been theoretically possible to fly in airplanes; it was merely our ignorance of scientific laws and how to apply them that prevented us from actually doing it. Likewise, human beings can choose to remain ignorant of the fact that lying is fundamentally unnatural for human beings who must live together in societies, and because of that ignorance, be willing to accept its supposedly “inevitable” existence—and for millennia they have chosen to do just that—but that does nothing to change the fact that honesty is natural for human beings; and dishonesty is unnatural. It always has been, and it always will be.
Dishonesty in society will disappear forever once a society’s mores have been crafted in such a way that the practice of dishonesty finally becomes revealed before the eyes of the public for what it really is: a practice that necessarily tends toward failure for a society. Whenever lying seems to be the more “rational” course of action to take, it is only because the lying is being looked at from the perspective of a single individual, or of some group smaller than society as a whole. From the perspective of society as a whole, lying is virtually always a self-destructive and therefore stupid practice—which means that any society that freely tolerates lying among its members must be a self-destructive and therefore stupid society. And if the relatively dishonest members of society sometimes appear to be more successful than the fully honest members of society, it is only because the fully honest members have heretofore failed to exercise the intelligence to deliberately and systematically organize themselves as “fully honest” members of society and stand together within a mutually supportive “honesty culture” of some kind for the sake of advancing their own collective self-interest. Once they finally do, the “relatively dishonest” members of society will eventually become “fully honest” members of society along with them.
In short, what I am proposing is that we set up a peaceful competition between an “honesty culture” and the rest of society (which might be referred to as the “dishonesty culture”). If it can be accepted as axiomatic that, all other things being equal, honesty among a group of people leads to greater success for the group than does dishonesty among a group of people, then in the sort of competition I am proposing, a culture consisting of members who are genuinely and strongly dedicated to the practice of honesty must eventually defeat a culture consisting of members who are not. And with the final victory of the honesty culture, the values that made that triumph possible—especially including honesty—must likewise become triumphant in society.
We do not need to wait for our “depraved human nature” to somehow be overcome before we will be able to bring an end to dishonesty in society; we do not need to wait for people to spontaneously “want” to stop lying. It is simply a matter of consistently engaging in logical thought coupled with logical action—and not vainly hoping for a preceding universal emergence of “goodness” among human beings. It is within our power as rational human beings to create the correct incentives to guide people’s behavior in such a way that their own perceived individual welfare will be fully aligned with their society’s true welfare.
And, in my overview of “truth groups” and the “honesty culture” strategy, I offer a practical, grassroots, decentralized, “bottom-up” method, by means of which we might gradually bring that ideal state of affairs into actual existence.