by Eric Heubeck
I believe that it would actually be possible to solve the age-old problem of lying and dishonesty in human affairs if there were only a relatively small number of people who were willing to consistently adhere to a strategy based on the formation of what might be called “truth groups” (or “honesty groups,” or “honesty associations,” to be more precise), which would together come to form a broader “honesty culture.” I certainly make no claim that the thorough elimination of dishonesty from society would be achieved in the very near future by means of using this strategy; but I do believe that, in time, it would be achieved.
The “four rules” of truth group members
I propose that members of truth groups would make four pledges, the first three being the most important to stress. First: They will never lie, either to each other or to outsiders—not even to those who have lied to them. (There would be a single exception to this blanket “never lie” rule: a kind of “self-defense” or “self-protection” exception that would apply in cases in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unreasonably threatened—for example, by being asked intrusive and impertinent questions.) Second: To the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate lying by others. Third: To the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate the tolerating (or condoning, or promoting, or endorsing, or enabling, or facilitating) by others of lying by others. Fourth: They will strive to reduce how much they lie to themselves (at least to the extent they are able to do so, given that some degree of self-deception in every person is inevitable, and one must fight a never-ending battle against it).
“Honesty culture” and “dishonesty culture”
A particular truth group could be formed around any interest that its members shared in common, or any mission or goal that they wished to jointly pursue. Any currently-existing group or association, including a small business, a non-profit organization, an informal club, or a religious congregation, could always choose to additionally identify as a “truth group.” Members of different truth groups wouldn’t need to have anything in common with one another except a shared desire to promote the development of a thoroughly honest society.
It is impossible to predict the exact manner in which the process would unfold, but my general expectation is that over time the various truth groups and networks of truth groups would “link up” and associate with each other more and more closely and exclusively, giving them a growing ability to “shun” individuals and organizations not associated with any recognized truth group network. Eventually, all of the truth groups would collectively come to constitute a broad and inclusive “honesty culture.” Any person who was a member of at least one recognized truth group would ipso facto be a member of the general honesty culture. But any person who was not a member of any truth group could not be regarded as a member of the honesty culture; in fact, he or she would be regarded as a member of the “dishonesty culture” that would be composed of all those persons who were not recognized members of the honesty culture. As it grew in size and strength, this honesty culture would progressively “secede” from the surrounding dishonesty culture and operate as independently of it as possible, continuing to focus on its own growth and on expanding its own social influence, until the honesty culture was eventually able to supplant the dishonesty culture entirely.
What would it mean for the honesty culture to “secede” from the surrounding dishonesty culture? For one thing, it would imply, whenever reasonably possible, patronizing businesses owned by members of the honesty culture before patronizing businesses owned by members of the dishonesty culture. In other words, there would be a partial boycott of economic actors that had not yet made the choice to locate themselves within the honesty culture (regardless of how honest and trustworthy any one of those particular economic actors happened to be—since, by itself, merely being honest on an individual basis is not enough to bring about the building up of an honesty culture). Members of the honesty culture would also be given preferences in other ways, such as in social interactions. Whenever there was a conflict between the two, a fellow member of the honesty culture would always be given preferential treatment as compared to someone still located outside the honesty culture.
The ultimate goal would be to create a completely parallel culture—and eventually, a dominant culture—that was simply devoted to honesty; and that’s it. There would be no “angle.” Organizing the truth groups would not be used as a pretext for pursuing some other political or social agenda that its members were really interested in pursuing. As a result, members of different truth groups would be free to continue to disagree with each other over every question except the question of the importance of insisting upon honesty in society. The distinction between the idea of an “honesty culture” and that of a “dishonesty culture” is a far, far more important one to make than distinctions such as those between, say, the political “Left” and the political “Right”; and it should override all other such distinctions. Persons who did not want to actively associate with the members of one truth group would always be free to form another truth group; but, so long as both groups required honesty from their own members—honesty toward both those inside and those outside their own truth group, as well as toward those located outside the entire honesty culture—each group would still recognize the validity of the other as a truth group (meaning that the members of each of the two truth groups would give preferential treatment to members of the other truth group as compared to persons located outside the broader honesty culture).
Good reasons to believe the strategy can work
By this point, a question may have arisen in the minds of some readers: How can one be so sure that by “seceding,” members of truth groups would succeed in “freezing out” dishonest persons and enablers of dishonesty from mainstream society, and not just succeed in freezing themselves out of mainstream society?
There are several good reasons to believe that through the use of a progressive, incremental “shunning” or “boycotting” strategy, an honesty culture movement would not keep itself stuck in a permanently marginalized position, but rather, would gradually become more and more dominant in society.
First, the fact that the honesty culture would take an inclusive stance toward all persons who sincerely held a single belief—namely, a belief in the importance of creating a thoroughly honest society—would prevent the honesty culture from ever being perceived as, or ever degenerating into, some sort of “weird cult” on the outskirts of social respectability. Every individual who was currently located in the dishonesty culture could for that reason always be seen as a realistic “convert” to the honesty culture as a whole. (Though not necessarily a realistic “convert” to any particular truth group, since the various truth groups would be quite diverse in nature—and it must be acknowledged that some of the truth groups might in fact appear “cult-like” to persons who were not members of them. But, so long as members of a particular truth group were free to leave the group, and so long as the group abided by the “four rules,” any perceived “cultishness” or “weirdness” in a group would not be the concern of the rest of the honesty culture.)
Second, the “reasonableness” standard found in the second and third rules would allow truth group members to continue interacting with and extracting benefits from the dishonesty culture to the extent that they found it excessively difficult to avoid doing so. Truth group members would not be asked to make an “all-or-nothing” decision, at least not in the early stages of the honesty culture movement when it was still in a weak position vis-à-vis the dishonesty culture; and they would never be asked to make any drastic sacrifices to advance the movement. (However, they would be reminded that the greater the sacrifices they were willing to voluntarily make, the more rapidly the honesty culture would grow.) Members of the honesty culture would always have the flexibility to decide the extent to which they felt reasonably able at any particular time and in any particular situation to “withdraw” from the dishonesty culture and do without the immediate benefits of interacting with it—the sort of flexibility that members of the dishonesty culture would see no reason to practice in their own dealings with members of the honesty culture. For example, when making a purchase, members of the dishonesty culture would invariably look for the best combination of price, quality, and seller reliability for the purpose of advancing their own individual, immediate self-interest; while for members of the honesty culture, price, quality, and seller reliability would certainly be taken into consideration, but the membership status of the seller would also play a role in determining their final purchasing decision. (In fact, to the extent that seller reliability was an issue, members of the dishonesty culture would actually tend to be more inclined to buy from members of the honesty culture than from members of their own.) By the failure of dishonesty culture members to discriminate against honesty culture members in their dealings, especially their economic dealings, they would be helping to build up, expand, and strengthen the honesty culture without even realizing it—but they would not be harmed by their unwitting failure to discriminate, since in the long run, they, like everyone else, would be beneficiaries of the final victory of the honesty culture.
Third, and related to what I was just saying, members of the honesty culture would not need to fear economic retaliation or reciprocal discrimination from persons located outside the honesty culture. It is impossible to imagine members of the dishonesty culture engaging in a boycott of members of the honesty culture in any way comparable to the one being engaged in by the latter, because any systematic boycott by the former would require that the dishonesty culture first take cognizance of itself as a “dishonesty culture,” and then organize itself along those lines—since there are no other lines along which the members of the dishonesty culture would be able to organize themselves if their goal was indeed to “retaliate.” And the notion of any substantial number of people deliberately organizing themselves around the “ideal” of dishonesty (accompanied by the closely related “ideal” of disloyalty) is a fundamentally incoherent and therefore inconceivable one.
Fourth, and most importantly, the strategy I am proposing actively strives to take advantage of the fact that groups of people who are required to be honest with each other will, on the average and in the long run, and all other things being equal, necessarily and inevitably be more overtly successful than groups of people who are not required to be honest with each other. To put it very simply: Honesty works; dishonesty does not work. It is the social benefits—including economic benefits—that flow from group honesty and trust that would eventually more than “pay for” the costs that truth group members would incur in gradually seceding from, and increasingly foregoing the immediate benefits of interacting with, the dishonesty culture; and it is this perpetual “profitability” of the movement that would permit the honesty culture to keep growing steadily and without impediment. By means of the consistent, principled, impartial, and deliberate exclusion from the honesty culture of dishonest persons and persons who were willing to tolerate, enable, or promote dishonesty (as opposed, that is, to the exclusion or inclusion of persons merely on the basis of visceral personal antipathy or affinity), it would become possible to capture and retain the social benefits of honesty—instead of allowing those benefits to dissipate throughout the entire society in such a way that they could be enjoyed also—or rather, even more so—by the dishonest members of society. This “capturing and retaining of benefits” is what would allow the honesty culture to gradually outcompete, outgrow, and ultimately supplant the dishonesty culture—resulting in the entire society being made a thoroughly honest one.
Fifth, and finally, a “ratchet effect” would be at work in the growth of the honesty culture movement. The growth of the movement would be gradual, but it would also be inexorable. That’s because while it would always be possible, through outreach efforts, to find additional recruits for the honesty culture, it is difficult to imagine many existing truth group members ever leaving the honesty culture to rejoin the dishonesty culture. Members of the honesty culture would, on average, be more honest, trustworthy, loyal, rational, sane, happy, and financially successful than members of the dishonesty culture. So the typical member of the honesty culture, once he had become familiar through first-hand experience with the advantages of belonging to the honesty culture, would realize that he would in no way benefit by relocating to the dishonesty culture.
The insistence that every individual take a public stand—one way or the other
The simple purpose of truth groups would be to win people over to a culture of honesty and away from a culture of dishonesty—by insisting that they make a choice, one way or the other. The overall strategy can be very briefly summed up as: Isolate and quarantine. Or, to use a somewhat different analogy, all of the honest people in society might be thought of as representing a host body besieged by parasites; and truth groups would be the means by which the host body could gradually, but systematically, one by one, either detach the parasites from itself, or else force the parasites to stop their parasitic ways and rejoin the host body as honest and fully constructive members of the greater organism. It is important never to forget that every liar—to the extent that he is a liar—is a parasite who benefits from the honesty of others, since it is their honesty that holds society together and makes it work.
In essence, the message delivered by the truth groups to liars and apologists for lying would be something along the following lines: “We’re not trying to force you to be honest against your will; whether you are to be an honest person or not is entirely your own decision—at least for the time being. But we are going to require you to choose which party you want to be a member of: the Party of the Lie, or the Party of Truth. If you choose not to join our party, we’re going to minimize our contact with you, and eventually—when we have the ability to do so—cut it off entirely. You will be left to fend for yourself in a ruthless culture of liars and lunatics and backstabbers, a culture made up solely of other people whom, like you, we have required to effectively ‘go on record’ as knowingly and deliberately rejecting honesty in society as something that is unimportant to them. Your culture of liars will get progressively smaller as time goes on, as we continue our outreach efforts and as more people find out about us. And, as it gets smaller, you can expect that the people remaining with you will, on average, keep getting more and more toxic, as fewer and fewer decent people will still be around to dilute the toxicity. Now, as this process unfolds, periodically ask yourself if lying—by yourself and by others—is still as much fun, and as funny, as it used to be, and whether the benefits you get from lying and putting up with lying are still able to offset all of the increasing unpleasantness in the same way that they used to. After all, wasn’t that the reason you embraced the Lie in the first place—the benefits? So, there’s no need for you to become defensive or hostile towards us. We won’t try to attack you for accepting dishonesty in your life. But we will let you stew in your own juices until you wise up; and in the meantime, we’re going to attend to our own affairs as free of your interference and harmful influence as possible.”
The general pattern of development of the movement
In the initial stages of the movement’s development, I expect that the truth group members would tend to consist mainly of idealists, long-range planners, and strategic visionaries. They would be the persons who were able to appreciate that once the growth of the movement had reached a certain point, the logic of the strategy would make the movement’s ultimate success inevitable—regardless of how dramatically the type of society created by the movement would differ from anything human beings have ever yet seen. They would understand that just because a certain state of affairs has never been seen before by human beings, does not mean that the creation of that state of affairs is not feasible—provided there is sound logic arguing in favor of its feasibility. They would recognize that the successful creation of a fully honest society would in no way rest upon vain hopes that human nature as we currently know it would undergo spontaneous changes, unaccompanied by changes in people’s economic and other incentives (although the eventual success of an honesty culture would of course lead to changes in people’s habitual ways of thinking), since they would recognize that, according to the proposed strategy, the successful creation of a fully honest society would in no way depend solely upon large numbers of people being verbally persuaded of the merits of honesty as an abstract value.
These early truth group members would also be the persons who were willing to make moderate short-term sacrifices for the sake of advancing the movement. They would do so partly out of their confidence that the long-term benefits made possible by those sacrifices would far outweigh their costs. But they would also do so partly out of a realization that, even in the earliest stages, if a member had already been a generally honest person before joining a truth group—perhaps to his own detriment (at least in “worldly” terms)—the immediate benefits he would obtain by associating to a greater extent than he had previously done with other honest, trustworthy, rational, and loyal persons might well even exceed the amount of sacrifice he would be making—since, again, the amount of sacrificing that would be expected of the average truth group member at any given time, in the form of “boycotting” or “shunning” of those outside the honesty culture, would always be in proportion to the size and strength of the honesty culture at that time.
But at some point, once the honesty culture had become large enough, a great many non-members—whose notions of self-interest were not quite as “enlightened” as those of the earlier truth group members—would finally come to perceive that it was in their own immediate self-interest to become members of the honesty culture, and to adhere to its standards, regardless of how honest or dishonest they were “by nature.” Once that “tipping point” had been reached, when perceived immediate self-interest had become fully aligned with an ideal vision of society’s future—so that the new members no longer perceived there to be any inconsistency between maximizing their own individual welfare and maximizing social welfare, and little if any rational foresight, or selflessness, or intellectual appreciation of the logic of the honesty culture strategy was still required of new members—the growth of the honesty culture movement would from that point on be literally unstoppable. But it would be the responsibility of the more idealistic and visionary early members of the honesty culture to see to it that, by means of ongoing outreach efforts, the movement grew just enough to reach this crucial “tipping point”—and then allow the intrinsic logic of the strategy to continue working itself out from there.
An initial “transition period” for truth group members
In addition to the “four rules” proposed above, I furthermore propose that there be an initial “transition period” for each truth group or truth group network during which members of truth groups would not be penalized for violating any of the “four rules.” In other words, during this initial transition period, as members were coming to learn exactly what would be expected of them as truth group members, and as they were getting into the habit of acting in accordance with those expectations, the “four rules” might be better thought of as “four aspirations.” Each truth group or truth group network would be free to decide for itself when it felt that it was ready to “get more serious” by moving to the next stage, at which point penalties would be assessed for violations of the rules. (And when I speak of “penalties,” this shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm. The “penalties” might involve nothing more than giving the violator a frown, or just calling attention to the violation and reminding the violator, “That’s not how we do things around here”—if the members of a particular truth group found that responses such as these were sufficient to generally deter future violations. Otherwise, more severe penalties might be required.)
Of course, a particular truth group might decide to forego such a transition period altogether; but I think that would be an imprudent decision, since, especially at first, I can envision truth group members having sincere disagreements with one another about whether or not a particular type of communication in a particular type of situation ought to be regarded as in fact constituting lying or dishonesty. Ultimately, the identifying of a particular instance of “dishonesty” or “misleading communication” is something that cannot be done except by making reference to the reasonable understanding of the person or persons to whom the particular communication was made. But determining what a “reasonable” understanding is, as well as helping to ensure that a person’s understanding be “reasonable,” both require that people already know something—and also be willing to learn something—about the thinking processes of other persons, including the particular individual or individuals by whom and to whom the particular communication was made, and also the members of society in general. An initial transition period for a truth group or truth group network would help introduce that needed “learning process,” during which members would be working toward achieving a rough general consensus as to what they would or would not consider to constitute “lying,” or “dishonesty,” or “misleading communication,” in various types of situations.
Local “preliminary” honesty cultures
Is there a specific method by which an honesty culture would be best able to “get off the ground” in its early stages? Would people have to geographically relocate to be near other honesty culture members? It is conceivable that some individuals might decide to do that, if they were especially passionate about the idea and wished to accelerate the process of building up an honesty culture; but I don’t think that doing that would be absolutely essential in order to enable the strategy to succeed, whether sooner or later.
I think it is reasonable to suppose that relatively few people would want to be among the first members of a real-world honesty culture so long as that honesty culture consisted of relatively few people. (Although I do expect that there would still be at least some.) Even among persons who were relatively “idealistic” in nature, many of them might not consider real-world involvement in such an honesty culture to be an especially worthwhile use of their time. I think that in the earliest stages, many of them might consider online involvement to be the best use of their time, when their top priority would likely be just trying to generate initial interest in the idea of an honesty culture. Many of them would at first simply be trying to gauge whether any other people were also interested in the idea, and how many.
Eventually, however, an honesty culture must come into being in the real world—inasmuch as an honesty culture would be composed of real-world truth groups. What would be the quickest way to reach that important stage? I offer a suggestion that people be given the option of committing to join a preliminary real-world honesty culture if and only if some reasonably large number of persons in close geographic proximity were to commit to doing the same. The method would somewhat resemble the method used by Meetup.com, only with a greater level of commitment requested of potential members.
For example, a local (or even national) organizer might create a website on which individuals could add their names to a list of persons living in a particular city or county who promised to agree to—at least provisionally—try to live in accord with something closely resembling the “four rules” (or “four aspirations”) proposed above—but only if, say, 999 other people agreed to do the same. As long as the number of persons who had committed to joining a preliminary honesty culture in that particular city or county remained under 1000, no preliminary honesty culture would exist in that city or county. But on the very day that the number of names on the list reached the “magic number” of 1000 (or whatever), a preliminary honesty culture in that city or county would instantly come into being. It would then suddenly “go live,” so to speak; it would have moved from its “potential” stage of development to its “actual” stage. The preliminary honesty culture members could then begin the essential work of organizing themselves into a variety of real-world truth groups (which could then choose either to begin their initial “transition periods,” or else to proceed directly to adopting certain rules and standards and then enforcing them); and small business owners might also conceivably begin making arrangements to give each other preferential treatment; and customers might also begin to decide to give some of those same small business owners preferential treatment when making their purchasing decisions.
I distinguish between a “preliminary” honesty culture and an “established” honesty culture for the reason that at the moment at which a local “preliminary” honesty culture first came into being, the new members would not yet have had an opportunity to form the real-world truth groups in which the members would need to discuss and agree upon what the specific governing rules and standards for each of those groups ought to be—and possibly decide to make amendments to the rules or standards initially proposed by the organizer. They would not yet have had an opportunity to hash out their differences regarding what exactly they regarded as “dishonesty” in particular situations, or decide exactly how wide or narrow they thought the scope of the exception to the “never lie” rule ought to be. An “established” honesty culture—that is, a genuine, organic honesty culture that emerged “from the bottom up” and not “from the top down”—could only come into being as a result of the members of each real-world truth group engaging in communication and dialogue with one another, as well as by means of individual truth groups choosing to form agreements with other truth groups, based on certain shared and agreed-upon standards, to associate in certain local truth group networks; and then, eventually, in non-local networks of such networks.
An argument in favor of requiring that the number of persons who commit in advance to joining a local “preliminary” honesty culture be relatively large before that preliminary honesty culture comes into being, can be derived from the key principle underlying the entire “honesty culture” strategy: the principle that, all other things being equal, honesty among a group of persons leads to overt success, while dishonesty among a group of persons leads to overt failure. It needs to be remembered that, with regard to most people at least, our primary goal is not to argue and badger them into feeling a sense of love for the abstract value of honesty; our primary goal with regard to those people is to publicly demonstrate to them that honesty works, and to offer them a means by which they can personally benefit from being honest and promoting a more honest society. But if a given city or county contains, say, only a single truth group with five members, that truth group will succeed in publicly demonstrating nothing at all.
The number of members of a preliminary (and eventually, an established) honesty culture in a particular locality must be, or must eventually become, large enough so that the existence of a distinguishable and increasingly self-reliant honesty culture will get noticed by members of the surrounding dishonesty culture; because when that happens, it will become possible for the difference between the level of success and happiness of the average member of the honesty culture, and the level of success and happiness of the average member of the dishonesty culture, to also get noticed. If the honesty culture in a locality is too small, it cannot function as any kind of distinct “parallel culture” with the ability to operate at least somewhat independently of the rest of society. And many persons who would like to be members of an honesty culture—even some of the relatively “idealistic” ones—may well not bother to get involved in the movement in the first place unless they’re able to feel at least some measure of confidence that the size of the membership of a future established honesty culture in their locality would sooner or later become large enough to get those average differences noticed. Even if those relatively “idealistic” persons were themselves willing to make certain personal sacrifices in the short-term for the sake of generating long-term benefits for society, they still might not even see the point of making those sacrifices if they were doubtful that the tangible personal benefits of membership in an honesty culture would ever become visible to the less “idealistic” members of the dishonesty culture.
So a primary reason for forming local preliminary honesty cultures would be to give these relatively “idealistic” (but still relatively pessimistic and less determined) persons additional assurance that enough interest in creating a local honesty culture existed so that, once it was established, it could be a self-sustaining one—which would enable it to continue to expand as time went on. A preliminary honesty culture would not need to be large enough to include anywhere near a majority of the persons living in a particular locality; the aim would be to make it just large enough to give many of its members confidence that the honesty culture, once it was established, could one day become large enough to include the majority of the population—and eventually, the entire population—as members.
Again, however, there would be nothing to stop persons from forming local real-world truth groups even before one of these larger preliminary honesty cultures had been formed in their locality; in fact, one of the main purposes of any such truth groups might well be to discuss possible outreach efforts for the purpose of forming one of those preliminary honesty cultures in their locality. And, of course, even before one of these local preliminary honesty cultures “went live” and persons became active members of it—that is, active by means of active membership in a real-world truth group—there would be nothing to prevent those same persons from engaging in discussions about exactly what form a future honesty culture might take, whether in their own particular locality or more universally. Although I believe an honesty culture (whether preliminary or established) would, once it was finally up and running, have to base its existence primarily (though not exclusively) in the real world, I see no reason why, during its “potential” or “preparatory” stage, most of the discussion about the general concept of an honesty culture could not take place online, and among persons who were not in geographic proximity. In fact, as I indicated above, I hope and expect that such discussion would take place, since I expect that that would be how many people would first learn about and become interested in the general concept of an honesty culture, perhaps eventually leading them to want to add their names to one of those lists of local individuals.
I wish to stress, however, that the use of this method of forming local “preliminary” honesty cultures would not be absolutely essential for the success of the strategy; even without this sort of “jump-start,” I can still imagine relatively small truth groups forming independently and gradually growing their membership by adding new members one by one, and then coming together to form larger truth group networks. But I do think this method of forming local “preliminary” honesty cultures might increase the likelihood that the strategy would succeed, and also increase the rate at which the movement would grow—and those two concerns are related, since the faster the movement grew, the greater the confidence there would be that it had the ability to continuing growing; which would attract even more people to the movement and thus enable it to grow at a still faster rate; and so on. The highly intangible and evanescent psychic qualities of confidence, morale, optimism, positive attitude, will, courage, “heart,” and faith all play a crucial role in the early stages of an effort such as the one I am proposing. Confidence tends to beget still greater confidence; and lack of confidence tends to beget still greater lack of confidence. We would—again, in the early stages of the development of the movement—be dealing to some extent in the realm of self-fulfilling prophecies. And this is related to the fact that the elimination of the Lie from human society has thus far proven to be impossible only because it has always been generally believed that it was impossible to do so; and not because it had actually ever been made impossible by the nature of things. It may sound paradoxical, but it would be by a certain requisite number of people changing their beliefs about what is and is not truly possible that a new kind of future for society would be made possible.
And that is why, no matter how small the honesty culture movement may happen to be at any given time, members of truth groups must always remember that IF they remain completely dedicated to the realization of their goal, and IF they consistently adhere to the overall strategy and core principles which I have outlined, the movement will—in its own time—attain its goal. If we are willing to meet nature half-way through human initiative and effort, then I believe nature can be counted on to take care of the rest. When I say that I think the formation of “preliminary” honesty cultures might “increase the likelihood” of the success of the strategy, it is only because I know that, as a practical matter, human beings do not always remain dedicated to a goal—even a worthy one—since they sometimes lose their faith and dedication in the face of adversity. But it should never be forgotten by members of truth groups that the logic of the “honesty culture” strategy does not depend upon large numbers of people becoming members of the honesty culture anytime in the near future in order for that strategy to ultimately succeed. If this thought were always kept in mind by truth group members, then hopefully those members would not ever lose their faith or dedication—in which case, the ultimate success of the movement would be guaranteed.
Truth groups: The means by which we can create a fully honest society
Truth groups could be designed in a variety of ways, and I would encourage them to experiment with different forms of organization—provided that they adhered to something closely resembling the four basic core rules that I described at the beginning of this writing; otherwise, they could not be considered to be truth groups “in good standing” by other truth groups and truth group networks. As I already indicated above, truth groups would not have to be nothing but “truth groups”; I certainly do not envision that most truth group members would do nothing but, say, sit around discussing books about alethiology (the technical name for the philosophical study of truth). I would encourage them to pursue other common interests, and so have overlapping identities. For example, persons could form a fishing club that also happened to be a truth group, or a golf league that also happened to be a truth group, and so on.
But, especially in the early stages, at least some truth groups would need to focus more on engagement with outsiders for purposes of winning new recruits to the movement as a whole: partly by consistently directing people’s attention to specific instances of lying and by insisting on the overall harm to society caused by its permissive attitude toward such lying; and partly by explaining to them the overall benefits that they would enjoy if they lived in a thoroughly honest social environment. But pursuing this sort of “intellectual activist” approach is not what would characterize a truth group; any such combination would be based solely on the interests and temperaments of the members of a particular group. In other words, “intellectual activism” would not be required of the members of all truth groups. The sincere desire to be honest and to live in an honest society would be the only requirement.
The idea of truth groups is especially appealing because there are no real means by which they could be opposed. There is nothing at all “controversial” about the idea, since everyone claims to simply adore truth and honesty—in public, anyway. Even someone who was anonymous on the internet would find it difficult to attack or demonize the general idea of truth groups or the development of an honesty culture and still be taken seriously by others. Really the worst that could be said about truth groups is that they wouldn’t be able to succeed at achieving their goal and that potential members would be wasting their time—but not that their goal was a bad one. (Of course, individuals might criticize the way in which a particular truth group or truth group network was executing the general “honesty culture” strategy; but that supposes that those individuals had already signed on to the general “honesty culture” strategy.) For the same reason, truth groups could not be suppressed by the use of legal processes.
So the only alternatives available to any opponents the truth groups might have would be to infiltrate or subvert or harass them; but, as a practical matter, I do not see how it would be possible to counter them in any of these ways either. For one thing, they would be too numerous (since if they were not numerous, then no one would feel threatened by them or take any interest in them); and it would not be possible to “make an example” of some small number of them, since, by definition, this would involve attacking them in public—which, as I have just indicated, would not be a viable option. For another thing, exactly how would one “infiltrate” or “subvert” a fishing club or golf league (or whatever) that was simply made up of people who wanted to be honest and promote honesty, given that it had no other political or social “agenda”? I suppose that the so-called “deep state” could conceivably send out secret paid agents to join fishing clubs and golf leagues all across the country, who would then act in a highly disruptive manner to induce all of the other members to quit. But this could not realistically be expected to happen; much more likely, the group would simply expel the disruptive new member.
In fact, I doubt that the truth groups would have opponents who would even have any serious desire to infiltrate or subvert or harass them. It’s certainly true that lying makes all sorts of evil in the world possible, so that evil-doers are dependent on the continued existence of the Lie if they are to continue getting away with their evil-doing. But even in those cases, the lying involved is almost always seen as a means to some other end. As I’ve indicated above, when one chooses to draw the distinction as starkly and simply as the distinction between “honesty” and “dishonesty,” making a deliberate point of not allowing any other peripheral issues to “muddy the waters”—and also making a deliberate point of never leading any discrete groups of people to fear that they are being targeted or might be targeted in the future, by our never viewing any non-members of the “honesty culture” as anything other than members of a general “dishonesty culture”—it becomes essentially impossible to organize any sustained opposition effort, because there is simply no basis to support it. I think there are very few persons in the world who have totally dedicated themselves to a full-blown war against Truth—and who also think of themselves as having done so.
So “they”—whoever “they” happen to be in the mind of any particular person—are not standing between us and truth. The only thing that stands between us and the realization of a fully honest society is the possibility that individual people might individually decide that they just do not want to give up lying—at least, not badly enough to risk giving up the supposed “perks” of being dishonest in a dishonest society. But I do not think most people would make that decision—once they had been pressured to make one. I think most people would choose to be fully honest if they knew that doing so would eventually entitle them to the benefits of living in a fully honest society. To put it another way, I believe a great many people would choose to be more honest and to make greater efforts to promote honesty—but only if they knew that they would get support from others around them if they were to make that choice. Truth groups and truth group networks are what would provide the needed beginning support for these people.
No matter how corrupt the dominant social institutions become, people always have the option of creating little havens of honesty for themselves through the creation of truth groups. And once established, the power of their growth is theoretically impossible to stop. But to bring theory into realization, there must in the early stages of the movement be some relatively small but still sizeable number of people who sincerely want and demand truth and honesty in their own lives—and are willing to make active efforts to bring that about. The very idea of truth groups puts into dramatic relief the existential choice that all persons have to make about how important honesty really is to them. With truth groups, it’s put-up or shut-up time. No more complaining about lying politicians, or lying news reporters, or lying used car salesmen, or lying whoevers. No more big talk about how you are going to take up arms and fight a revolution against the government. All you have to do is consistently not lie and not laugh off or make mental excuses for the lying of others when you encounter it. That’s it. If you’re unwilling to do even that much, then you’ve essentially forfeited any right you may have had to get upset about any other person’s lying—because that other person has apparently done nothing more than come to the same conclusion that you’ve come to: that insisting upon truthfulness and honesty in people’s communication is just too much trouble, that there are more pressing things in life to worry about, and that practicing and putting up with some dishonesty is just “how the world works.” Well, if you take pride in being such a “hard-nosed realist” about such matters, then you should stop whining and getting in a huff whenever you discover one of your fellow “hard-nosed realists” engaging in his own “hard-nosed realism” in some way that’s not to your liking. It is often (and rightly) said that “the truth will set you free,” but when push comes to shove the typical person has thus far proven to be more devoted to the maintenance of his own shabby little world of lies—to his own actual detriment—than to the great goal of attaining his own freedom along with everyone else’s. It is possible to imagine henceforth taking a very different and far more promising course.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I believe this world would become a veritable paradise if humanity—or even only some small portion of humanity—could just summon up the resolve to put all of its lying ways behind it once and for all. People could choose paradise at any time; and they could achieve paradise, step-by-step, by consistently making the choice never to lie, and never to treat lying by others—any lying—as something trivial in nature. (And I do literally mean “any lying.” Even when the privacy/autonomy exception to the first rule, the rule against lying, must be invoked, doing so should still be regarded as a serious and unfortunate act—just as a justifiable homicide committed in self-defense should always be regarded as a serious and unfortunate act. Justifiable lying, like unjustifiable lying, tends to erode the general level of mutual trust in society; but more importantly, it helps habituate people to the practice of lying—a matter which ought to be of grave concern to far more people than now even give it much thought.)
The really crucial moral choices in life are actually quite simple to identify (though not necessarily easy to make, at least not at first); but, taken as a whole, people have never even begun down the road of making them. I believe that this is largely because, by our collective failure to give the absolute highest honor and priority to the value of honesty, the identifying of our most crucial moral choices has appeared to be much more complicated and confusing than it needed to be. If people were able to rid themselves of that mental confusion, it is likely that they would be able to see, with considerably more clarity than they now can, what those really crucial moral choices are. And, once they had clearly recognized the moral path that they would need to go down, I think it would be possible for them, by joining with other people who desired the same goal and who would be there to provide mutual encouragement and support, to actually traverse that path and arrive at the destination of a fully honest society.
But before people can be expected to provide that encouragement and support to others, they must first desire the goal for themselves. People must learn to passionately want truth and honesty more than anything else in life—regardless of what anyone else might now seem to want. They must be determined to create a new state of mind in themselves; followed by a new mode of action in the world.
 When I say “they will never lie,” what I more specifically mean is that they will never deliberately or recklessly mislead or confuse other people. By incorporating the single “self-protection” exception into this rule, the basic principle that results is: A person will never try to introduce more confusion into the world than there was when he found it—not even for a supposedly “good cause.” It is essentially a “do no harm” principle. It does not entail any affirmative obligation to tell the truth (as a person understands “the truth”), regardless of whether the person wishes to tell it—or whether other persons wish to hear it. If, in situations in which a person’s personal privacy or autonomy was not being threatened, he ever felt that he was not reasonably able to say something true, then he should say nothing at all. And if he were threatened with punishment for not lying to innocent third parties, then he must accept the punishment—however harsh it might be. (Unless—perhaps—the threatened punishment was something extreme like the person’s own death or maiming, or the death or maiming of some other individual. And even then, the harm that the deception would cause to the innocent third party or parties, as well as whether the person expected that he would have an opportunity in the near future to retract or correct the deceptive statement, would also have to be taken into account. But such situations would be extremely rare. The only examples I can think of would involve hostages, P.O.W.s, and kidnap victims.) However, because of the “self-protection” exception, it would in that case be permissible for the person who was being threatened to lie to the person threatening him—for example, by promising that he would lie to innocent third parties even though he had no intention of keeping his promise, if telling this lie was necessary to avoid adverse consequences to himself.
It is implied in the foregoing that any affirmative lying done by a person as part of his employment duties or as part of his occupation would never fall under the “self-protection” exception. (This is an extremely important point; and if it is not insisted upon, the entire “honesty culture” strategy will be sure to fail. A person’s “autonomy” must never be understood to include the “freedom” to continue holding a particular job.) However, it would still be permissible for members of truth groups to work for or work with persons who lied, even while on the job, or do business with persons who lied—if they were not reasonably able to avoid doing so.
Also, it should be noted that the “self-protection” exception would be applicable only in some instances in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unduly threatened. If the person asking the question—even if it were a personally embarrassing question, the honest answer to which would be incriminating—had the right to expect that he would receive an honest answer, then the person answering the question would have a moral obligation to give an honest answer. I have no desire at this point to try to determine with exactness the sorts of situations in which a person would have a “right” to expect to receive an honest answer to an admittedly personally embarrassing question. (I will do no more than offer a single example of a situation in which I think a person would probably have the right to receive an honest answer to what is potentially an embarrassing question: when one spouse asks the other, “Are you cheating on me?”) I only wish here to emphasize the point that the “self-protection” exception might apply when embarrassingly personal questions are being asked, and not that it necessarily will apply in all cases. In determining when a person had a “right” to receive an honest and non-misleading response, the most important consideration would be to make certain that everyone had more or less the same conception of the sorts of questions and demands that would be considered unreasonably violative of a person’s privacy or autonomy, so that if they did choose to ask those sorts of questions or make those sorts of demands, they would not be surprised if they received responses that they later discovered to have been misleading in nature.
 It is worth clarifying at this point that while I do not consider honesty to be the only virtue, I do consider it to be the one really crucial virtue. That is because if a person—or a society—is not honest with itself, it cannot “think straight”; and if it cannot “think straight,” it cannot know how to make decisions about how it ought to conduct itself in such a way that it will best advance its own enlightened self-interest. If everyone in a society were required to be thoroughly honest with all others, then all of the other virtues could be arrived at through a process of rational persuasion, combined (in certain cases, anyway) with avoidance or exclusion of those who had not been similarly persuaded. And so while the generally applicable criminal law would continue to be enforced under such a scheme, it would not be based upon “virtue”—at least not in the sense that I have in mind as I am using the word here. “Virtue” would be arrived at through the free association of individuals.
I believe a variety of moral communities ought to be free to arise, with the variations among them due in part to the different ways in which their respective memberships chose to define “virtue.” But this would be a desirable state of affairs only so long as all of those memberships accepted honesty as the one common virtue that every person in society must be required to accept as the non-negotiable starting point for any kind of discourse or interaction between the members of one moral community and the members of any other. The members of each of the moral communities would be free to conduct their affairs by the moral code that they had accepted for themselves and their children—and then “sink or swim” accordingly. (This relates to the goal of promoting commitment and responsibility.)
 Such truth groups could exist both online and in the real world; however, it seems to me that to work, online truth groups would have to require the use of real rather than anonymous identities in order to ensure accountability. And, in any event, I think online truth groups should at most be adjuncts to real-world truth groups, since to be consistently honest and intolerant of dishonesty often takes courage, and so will require the real-world moral support of other people.
 Speaking for myself at least, I am content in the belief that in a society in which fully honest discourse existed (but only in a society in which fully honest discourse existed), rational and mutually agreeable solutions to our commonly shared problems would be found; so I have no desire to make an “end-run” around those solutions in advance by way of any “plotting and scheming.”
 In connection with this idea, consider the following line from the 2015 movie The Big Short: “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball… What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not ‘nice.’ Or that fraud is ‘mean.’ It’s that, for fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once.”
 I say “many truth group members” rather than “any truth group members” because I can imagine the occasional member “selling out” by getting a highly lucrative job that required him to lie as part of his job duties, which would make it impossible for him to remain a member of any genuine truth group. But relatively few members of the honesty culture would be presented with such opportunities, so the general “ratchet effect” would still be at work.
 However, the “learning process” would of course continue even after the initial transition period had come to an end, since this learning process is necessarily one without end: We can always be improving our knowledge of how other individuals will likely interpret, or make sense of, or react to, the communications that we make to them; and also improving our knowledge of how other individuals likely meant for us to interpret, or make sense of, or react to, the communications that they make to us. This ongoing learning process is the means by which we move toward increasingly effective communication—thus giving rise to an ever-closer or ever-tighter “meeting of minds” or “coming together of minds” or “gathering of minds” (which is, in fact, more or less what the words “communicate” and “commune” and “community” literally mean according to their etymologies).
Also, it would be sensible for truth group members to first reach agreement about, and focus their attention on, the more obvious and egregious types of lying. Then, over time, as a result of having become more accustomed to giving careful thought about the general problem of dishonesty, the types of dishonesty that initially seemed to many members to be “non-obvious”—the types about which the members were initially unable to reach agreement—would gradually begin to appear to the general truth group membership to more obviously be instances of dishonesty than they once appeared to them to be.