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Post No.: 0620honest


Fluffystealthkitten says:


Sometimes people continue to support particular political leaders despite their clear and constant lies. That’s because their lies serve these people’s agendas (or at least they believe so). So people don’t despise lies per se – they primarily despise lies, and even truths, that oppose their own interests.


It’s obvious that we trust upfront and honest politicians more. Yet it surely cannot be enough to like or trust someone just because they’re upfront or honest about their beliefs or behaviours – like a politician who’s not even trying to hide his awful attitudes towards women(!)


Being honest in opinion isn’t the same thing as expressing a true fact. Honesty isn’t the same thing as being right either, whether one genuinely believes in a falsehood or in supporting an immoral act. A lot of ‘straight talking’ is about predictions rather than certainties too, and we shouldn’t be arrogant but humble about our predictions.


There’s no correlation between being curt and being correct. In certain contexts it can be appropriate but for those who claim that one should always ‘say it like it is’ – it can be tactless and lacking in social intelligence.


Okay I’ll ‘tell it like it is’ then – that’s ****, she’s a **** and he’s a ****! It doesn’t make for a cogent argument to anyone who applies a modicum of critical thinking though. People also cannot use the excuse of, “Don’t judge me if I offend others because I say whatever’s on my mind”, otherwise one could retort, “Don’t judge me if I claw you in the face because my paws claw whoever they want”(!) It’s not the kind of world we should want. Meow.


Contrary to any pernicious stereotypes, everyone around the world behaves in the same dishonest ways. Culture may affect one’s perception that e.g. infidelity or bribery is acceptable or not, but there are no differences ethnically. We may also think that women and men are different when it comes to dishonesty, but experiments show that there’s no overall statistical difference between the sexes.


People should, rightly, criticise politicians whenever they lie. Yet businesspeople will consider their own lying or ‘faking it to make it’ in this context as ‘charm’ or being ‘shrewd’, and people in general will consider lying on their CVs/résumés or social media pages as ‘just doing what others do’.


Just because something may be a ‘common practice’, this doesn’t necessarily make it morally okay (or perhaps it does if morals are relative?) When dishonesty becomes the cultural norm within a group, members feel less guilt or shame if found out because everyone around them is passing similar deceits. Thus even the most normally honest and regular people can fall into routine dishonest behaviours by performing small steps of dishonesty that gradually build, and that socially reinforce amongst their peers, until their morality becomes eroded or reshaped over time (a real ‘slippery slope’). It’ll then usually require an outsider to question their morals. Strong leadership that leads by an upstanding moral example is therefore crucial.


So if one hangs around other cheats for long enough, one will likely cheat and think cheating is normal. If one works exclusively around multimillionaires then one might begin to think that a million is nowhere near enough to have too, which could either make one feel depressed or motivate one to embezzle or ‘borrow’ funds because ‘they won’t miss it’.


We all lie. We shouldn’t be surprised if even those closest to us lie. But we can convince (or delude) ourselves of things to maintain a positive personal image or self-concept e.g. that something unhealthy is healthy for us and therefore we’re not being gluttonous. If people were always honest when asked the question ‘what do you like doing in your spare time?’ – a lot more adolescents, whatever their gender, really ought to admit that they like watching pornography(!)


Sometimes people don’t want to know the truth e.g. about how many calories are in that burger, because they believe ignorance is bliss – as if, if they don’t know the facts then they can deny culpability.


Ignoring what we don’t wish to find out – possibly because it’ll challenge our self-concept or a worldview we’ve deeply invested in – is about avoiding cognitive dissonance. Our ability to divert attention away from what we want to ignore, and onto what we want to believe, is instinctive. But of course we’ll only be fooling ourselves.


Yet if we can fool ourselves then it makes it easier to fool others – our body language will appear congruent with being honest if we truly believe we’ve got nothing to be guilty of ourselves. As social creatures, that’s possibly one reason why humans have an instinct to rationalise their behaviours as being moral, fair and honest; like people convincing themselves that something is ‘for someone else’s sake’ even though it mainly serves themselves – such as eating that last cookie so that one’s spouse won’t get fat!


The wrongs that others commit are automatically deemed reprehensible whilst the wrongs we commit are rationalised away wherever possible, even if we hypocritically (would) do the exact same things e.g. at the supermarkets during expected shortages, it’s inconsiderate hoarders who ruin our plan to stockpile supplies(!) In other words, if we get there first then we’re fine about ourselves, but if others do then they’re ****holes! A common rationalisation (or excuse) is ‘other people are doing/would’ve done it too’. This classic excuse of ‘everybody’s doing it so it’s okay for me to do it’ fails in contexts like seeing other people going outside for non-essential travel and not respecting social distancing rules during a pandemic lockdown, or breaking laws in general. A common heuristic when people are unsure about what to do or what they’re allowed to do is that they follow what others do, but this can lead to the blind leading the blind.


So we cheat more if others are known to be cheating too, especially if they’re our peers or in our ingroup. Most people tend to compare themselves to the worst to feel better or self-righteous about themselves e.g. ‘they exaggerated more than me’.


People tend to be more comfortable about stealing things that don’t explicitly reference a monetary value, like stationery or a can of drink, compared to hard physical cash – the more distant something seems from cash, or from us, the more we seem to be able to rationalise stealing, dishonesty or cheating (which could potentially be problematic for an increasingly cashless society if security isn’t up to scratch).


Even wallets containing cash are more likely to be handed in than wallets that don’t. Wallets with keys are also more likely to be handed in. Empathy may be involved, where one understands how bad it is, or would be, to lose one’s own cash or keys? (Maybe there’s also the awareness of entrapment i.e. wallets left by psychology researchers who are recording their moves?!) Reasons for not handing over found money though may include being ‘too busy’, or perhaps most people have a price and the particular amount they’ve found matches or exceeds their price to take it relative to the guilt they’ll feel for taking it, the ‘stupidity’ for letting it go, or the low risk of getting caught? Maybe it’s easier to surrender money if you’re wealthy enough that the particular amount won’t make a difference to you? Or alternatively, if one thinks the amount is only trivial, there’ll be a lack of empathy because one will believe the victim won’t miss it?


Corporations find it comparatively easier to partake in tax avoidance schemes than individuals because companies are separate entities and thus seem more distant to the individuals involved, even though the individuals involved are the ones who’ll ultimately profit from it. Company executives will also rationalise it as ‘doing it for the sake of the shareholders’.


The method of cheating can facilitate rationalisation too e.g. taking performance-enhancing drugs orally feels less burdensome on one’s self-concept (because it can be explained away by imagining that it’s just a headache pill) compared to injecting a drug.


So it’s all about whether and how we can rationalise our dishonesty so that we can still feel good about ourselves. Hence maybe the solution is less about external punishments and surveillance and more about getting everyone to be less comfortable with themselves if they cheat, to be more aware of their own biases, delusions and cognitive traps, and preventing or reducing flexibility in terms of their, often unpremeditated, rationalisations for unethical behaviour (like stating all the rules and penalties beforehand rather than deciding them in an ad hoc manner whenever it suits us)?


Or of course, removing any opportunity for cheating works, and more reliably, too. Yes there will still likely be some individuals who are highly motivated to cheat, and they should be caught and punished accordingly – but overall, the total from all the little bits of cheating from lots of different people has a larger impact on the economy, hence removing any temptations is worthwhile e.g. introducing self-service checkouts in stores increased the amount of theft – tactics include claiming more expensive avocados as cheaper and denser carrots, and swapping barcodes on packets of meat!


It’s often those who’ve been the most reputationally disgraced who’ll turn out to be the most honest and open about their own mistakes – they cannot fudge their belief that they’re ‘always honest’ anymore. This therefore means that those who think they’re always honest can actually be the most dishonest of all.


Separate to the notion of ‘telling it like (one thinks) it is’ – people who swear tend to be more honest in what they say too, because they perform less self-censorship. In many contexts, expletives are deemed culturally offensive and a breach of good etiquette but I’d personally say that swearing isn’t bad language unless it’s used in a threatening way. It’s better than physically hitting others or breaking things to vent a little frustration, and it can mitigate our perception of physical pain and therefore help make us more resilient in the face of strenuous situations. Swearing can be cathartic. It’s not in itself a sign of a narrower vocabulary but a wider one because it includes more words like ****ing and ****er. Therefore the context and content of a sentence that contains profanities needs to be taken into account, rather than judging such words in isolation. Swearing causes a listener’s heart rate and blood pressure to temporarily rise, but temporary or acute stress is okay for our health compared to long-term or chronic stresses.


Anyway, those who care most about their public image or appearance are most motivated to pretend, fake, conceal or self-censor for the sake of shaping or maintaining their desired façade. People who are more creative at rationalising things and weaving stories, like those involved in advertising, tend to habitually exaggerate more too.


Also, those who believe more in fate (that their circumstances compel them to behave in certain ways, or that humans are a duplicitous species and aren’t supposed to be monogamous) to explain why they are, or ought to be, selfish or two-timing – tend to lie and cheat the most. It’s their justification, not only to themselves but also to others for their behaviours. Those who believe in having individual volition tend to cheat and lie less.


Conflicts of interest can present situational factors that affect honesty e.g. we can sometimes get caught up in lying for friends or family in order to help them out. Normally good people who face dilemmas can hence do bad things.


…Like with all behaviours, there are individuals who are exceptions, and contexts that create exceptions, but some common excuses after people are caught include ‘you’d do it too if you could’, ‘they would’ve done the same or worse’, ‘I’m just trying to do the best for my own children’, ‘it was my job’ and ‘there are worse crimes’.




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