Lying by Sam Harris

This book is, by far, one of the silliest that I’ve ever read. Sam Harris makes bold claims about how lying is always morally wrong and goes so far as to argue that a college lesson by a professor influenced him into realizing that lying is always wrong. Harris actually claims that even in the situation of Nazis knocking on your door on the hunt for Jews that you’re protecting, lying can be seen as morally wrong.

By the end of the book, Harris’s claim left in the most ridiculous “thought experiment” to try and argue his extreme interpretation on the morality of lying. When setting up the example of a Nazi knocking on your door, Harris states that redirecting the Nazi to some other location would put other people in danger. Okay, great, so why not just say “No, I haven’t seen them.” and continue to hide the Jews that you’re protecting? He never addresses the most obvious option and goes on to make some absurd statement about threatening the Nazi with a gun. Because apparently, a single person with a gun that shoots and kills an officer of what is effectively a military dictatorship is going to live after that experience and keep the Jews in hiding safe. Even if that one officer dies, his fellow Nazis would hear the shot, see the body, kill you, and raid your house. The example and explanation that Harris used simply lacks any degree of critical thinking that I’m surprised that he felt confident enough to publish an argument that he wanted people to regard seriously.

I couldn’t help but read the Amazon reviews and realize that Harris’s fans have effectively become the equivalent of atheist evangelicals. How can they not recognize the obvious defects of Harris’s scenario? The rest of the book is just cherry-picking examples of situations that cause severe social problems. It certainly isn’t good to lie but telling the truth isn’t always the answer.

Now, a weakness of this review is that I can only bring my own personal opinion to my argument. I don’t have any qualitative data so please just regard this as my own biased and self-centered outlook on life because that is all I can provide. However, I would like to add that Harris’s use of social psychology seemed dubious to me from the citations that he used but I digress . . .

There are three chief points that I feel necessary to argue as a counterpoint to what I view as a silly argument by Sam Harris.

The first is that people enjoy being told lies. The brief feelings of appreciation, self-worship, happiness, and what they feel to be innocence when being told a lie that makes them feel happy is enough to satisfy the majority of people. That is precisely why the elected officials, in all democratic countries, are evasive and indirect in their responses. The public calls it lying, but the politician knows that a brief moment of self-reverence is all that the public needs to feel that their lives are meaningful and to convince them to vote for the politician. We see this all the time during elections. That is how empty the lives of the majority of people are; a few seconds of kind words is all that people need to feel appreciated and to convince them to vote for a man or woman that they recognize as two-faced and condemn as a liar every other month. The majority of people are, indeed, that shallow within your home country and across the world. If I’m wrong, then prove me wrong; the people’s actions speak louder than their angry responses. A few seconds of cheering up is all the meaning that the majority of people require in their lives. To be clear, I am not saying this to be insulting; I’m saying it because it’s what I’ve observed. I might be wrong and I hope that I am.

Second, people don’t want the truth; they just want their preconceived notions to be the truth. When people holler in real life or online that they’re just going to say the truth, what they’re really espousing is their own worldview because they believe it to be the truth. A person could honestly believe that 9/11 was a government hoax or that President Obama is a Muslim pretending to be a Christian but both these “truths” that the person believes is empirically false. Thus, people don’t honestly want the truth; they just want their view of the world to be the objective truth.

Finally, and this part is truly a complete anecdote and shouldn’t be regarded as anything else but a personal view, I can safely say that, for the majority of times in my life from grade school to now, I have hardly ever seen a situation in my life improve from telling the truth. It was almost always the opposite. Even when I didn’t mean offense, and simply felt that something needed to be said, it was never appreciated. It was always seen as spreading “shit-talk” among my ex-high school peer groups, as making complaints about my grade school teachers, as insulting my friends, or just being viewed as an asshole. Even when said upon the nicest possible terms and in the most compassionate of reasons, I was simply viewed as a jerk and an idiot for bringing up “the truth” of a situation. The truth has hardly ever brought any positivity in my life. I usually received degrading insults and deprecating remarks as rebukes. I honestly find no compelling reason to believe that Sam Harris’s argument for this particular book, Lying, is anything but sophistry or naïve stupidity. The very few times I recall a situation improving was due to clarifying something I didn’t know in school. However, the majority of times were just totally disparaging. People hate being told the truth and view you as a terrible friend when you’re honest. Now, certainly in situations of health, fitness, and habits, people should be told the truth to improve but otherwise I see no use for it. For the most part, people seem to enjoy living in their own illusions about themselves and the world. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m probably also part of that equation.

It’s also one of the reasons why I don’t bother using my real name or showing a picture of myself on this blog or twitter. I just don’t want to bother with any possible hounding or stupid comments. It’s just not worth my time and effort. Maybe I’ll get over these misgivings in the future. I’m pretty sure people dislike the mystery and I apologize for that.

Anyway, Harris’s book gets a 0/10. It fails on every level and I don’t find cherry-picking examples to be compelling evidence. His failure to address his own lauded argument about Nazis at the door is what clinched this negative review. This book is a total failure. Sorry for being honest.

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