Wednesday, 18 January 2017

White lies. When are they ethical?

Lying to convince others of a point of view.

Is it ethical?  Is it moral?  

What if you are really and truly convinced you are right?

This came up recently when I objected to an item on our local news.  It said that 90% of rural people surveyed agreed that human caused climate change is not only real, but a big problem. Now I know for a fact that that is bunkum. I am not arguing in this discussion whether climate change is real or not, what I am saying is that we should not be told lies about how many people believe it.  

This is a copy of the facebook discussion - 
Me - According to something on our local news, 90% of rural people believe that humans have caused Global Warming. The 'survey' was done by the Climate Council. According to what I hear when talking to the rural folk all around me, maybe 1% believe that humans affect the environment, though as many as 25% think there could be some changes in the climate - fewer even than that among older people, who have seen more seasons, good ones and bad ones.
In my view, our local news repeated the lie given to them by the Climate Council.

3rd person:  Humans have been affecting the climate ever since the industrial revolution it's just that they didn't realise it.

Me:  I am not arguing whether or not. I am saying that this '90% believe' is frankly untrue. Unless, of course, they polled ten-year-olds who'd just had the lesson at school - they teach it as fact at schools.

 Colin:  Well, good, because a fact is what it is.

And if we convince 90% of rural people that 90% of rural people accept climate change as a fact, that can only speed the day when they actually do.

Me:    So tell lies in order to get your 'truth' across? Is that ethical in your view? It seems to be in the view of the Climate Council. A large part of the reason that so many are sceptical is that various of their lies have been exposed.

Colin: It's not a "truth", it's a straight fact. "Truth" implies that human damage to the environment is subject to opinion; a fact simply is.

The worse lie here is perpetuating the notion that it's anything but a fact. If reiterating the self-evident truth of the fact is not efficacious, but a white lie will (in this situation) better overcome the persistent and literally pernicious lie in question, then the white lie it'll have to be.

If the dichtomy here is the facts vs what a majority of people choose to believe, then convincing the majority that they believe the facts is a sound approach.

 It might be a white lie now, but the facts underpinning it are true and will be seen to be so. Therefore, the white lie will become retroactively true. It's only temporarily unethical, it'll sort itself out when everyone's over their confusion vis fact vs opinon.

Me:  (You said that)  "More people will accept the facts if they believe that the majority accept the facts. "
That is not ethical in my view. In fact, I think it a shameful thing to do, even if far too common.
I believe in telling truth, not lies.

A bit more discussion including posts for others, and then this from Colin -
The vast majority of scientists do agree on this. The notion that it's in any doubt is a literally pernicious lie.
Besides, we see this particular method of popularising ideas used all the time.  How do they sell clothes?  Well, they tell Demographic X that Fashion Y is popular with people like them. How do they sell politicians? By saying that Demographic X generally agree with Policy Y. 

How do they detract from a rival politician's or policy's support base? By saying that Demographic X generally do not accept Policy Y.
All they've done here is use that to say that, actually, Demographic X are coming to agree that climate damage is real, and we're responsible.

As you see, Colin (not his real name) considers that it is reasonable and ethical to try and convince people that everyone else already thinks that. He agrees that lying is fine as it is only trying to get more people to agree with what he terms fact.

So is it ethical?  I believe not. Lying is lying.

Australian beaches
There have been other instances I can think of.  In the 70s, politicians and the media, those recently termed 'the elite'  (goodness knows why) were constantly telling us (Australians) that we were a part of Asia, and must deal with it.  They said that the 'Asianisation of Australia'  was inevitable, thus trying to avoid arguments from those of us who preferred our own Australian culture, thank you very much. There are now some suburbs of Australia very much ‘Asianised,’ but that push has become quiet, and Australia is not part of Asia.

Australia is changing
Multiculturalism.  We ordinary folk think that immigrants should learn to get on in Australia, respecting Australian laws, Australian customs, Australian people - integration, not ‘multiculturalism.’  

Around the 1980s, a new term was coined - 'Multiculturalism' - that all different cultures can live together, that there is no need for immigrants to adapt, and that the old expectation of 'assimilation' was something close to wicked.
The argument used so often at the time was that Australia was already a  multicultural nation, had been from the beginning, so there was no point in discussing the business further. 
Well, we certainly had immigrants from many countries, especially after WW2.  But care was taken that these ‘New Australians’ did not have a radically different culture. It was not the sort of multiculturalism that has mosques springing up and bastard imams calling women not in a burqa ‘Uncovered meat.’  Telling us that we were already a multicultural nation was a lie.

The politicians no longer bother telling us that Australia has always been a multicultural nation, now there is the lie that we are the most successful multicultural nation in the world, totally ignoring the very big problems that are getting worse and worse.

Is it ever good to mislead people like this?

I saw a blog post once, something about the 'myths' concerning a certain human function. I was in a dilemma there, as what she termed 'myths' were not so at all. But I very much agreed with  her aims.  So I did not challenge that author. 
Should I have done in the interests of honesty?  I do not know.

I am interested in comments about this issue – not comments arguing the facts of climate change, nor the merits of Asianisation or Multiculturalism, but whether people believe that it is all right to tell lies in the cause of the truth – or in what they believe the truth to be.

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