[OPE-L] honesty

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Oct 30 2006 - 16:14:54 EST

I thought that was a pretty insightful post. I would say markets might
promote honesty insofar as they require some basic trust, but also
dishonesty, insofar as people swindle. But I still think that proves my
basic thesis about it, i.e. that markets do not contain any specific
morality of their own, except what is necessary to settle transactions.

My most basic empirical indicator of morality is reported crime levels.
Since the 1970s, world crime rates have at least doubled. Why? Economic
growth and unemployment levels seem to have a lot to do with it - in a
society where everybody can make gains, crime is reduced; it seems that, the
more the gains of some are made at the expense of others, the more crime

I tend to define honesty as telling the truth while taking the other person
into consideration while telling it. I worked for a Statistics Department
one time, and you discover that when you have an array of data, you could
tell many different stories about that data, all true in the strict sense of
the word. Now what is "the truth", what is honesty?

At this point, the postmodernists start talking about a "significant other",
but the real point here is a "significant truth". And the significance of a
truth refers to a consideration of the people to whom it is told, and to
explicating the assumptions on which it is based. You tell the truth the
best you know how, being forthright about what you are assuming, and
considering the person you are telling it to. Thus, intention or motive
plays a role in honesty. This is reflected in the legal system: in a court
of law, you are supposed to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but
the truth".

Why bother with the truth about the number of deaths in Iraq for example?
Well the fact is, that this is a war started on false pretenses, and I think
that's a very serious matter, especially but not only because of  all the
victims. The perpetrators of course claim they acted with integrity on the
basis of values they had, but really they implied - with Straussian
philosophy - that "ordinary mortals" would not be able to grasp the true
reasons why this war was necessary and morally justified, lacking a
geopolitical perspective and all that. Personally I think precisely that's
bullshit, and I think the retrospective justifications for the war are
bullshit. Fighting a war is one thing, but fighting a war where it's not
clear to all concerned why it is being fought, is quite another. In the
latter case, we're back with George Orwell's 1984.

Why do they say there is no such thing as an "honest politician"? Precisely
because "there are truths and truths, big truths and little truths". Some
truths are highly significant in a particular context, others aren't, and as
politician you have to try to be correct at the correct time. Perhaps it is
true, that there are no totally honest politicians, insofar as you always
have to tell a story about what you know to be true in a given context. But
you can be a politician of integrity, i.e. ready to tell the truth when it
needs to be told. If that is not possible, there is not much hope for
politics as a means to solve human problems.

Is truth-telling utilitarian? If so, significant truths are useful truths.
There is something to be said for that in practical life, except that some
significant truths are not useful, and it begs the question of "useful to
whom"? The utility of a truth is related to an interest or stake somebody
has, thus, talking about "utility" while disregarding interests can in the
end only produce vacuous tautologies. A "useful truth" could also be a
"dishonest truth", i.e. an accentuation of one facet of the situation which
obscures the real situation as a whole, a sort of guile that mediates
contradictions. Very useful given a personal interest, but not really "the


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