Show me a liar, and I’ll show you something to believe in


Why do we care so much? Why do we care so much that some, if not all, of Mike Daisey’s piece from the past This American Life entitled The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which described his visit to Shenzhen and the horrid scenes of work life in the Apple factory named Foxconn was false? We, I, lie almost everyday of my life. Whether it is something so small as to get out of talking to a person I bumped into for too long, or something entirely bigger, it’s human nature. Why do we lie? Lies tell the truths people do not want to hear. They also tell truths people do want to hear. Lies can be anything we want them to be, anything we need at that moment in time. They can save us, harm us, and motivate us, among other uses. They are perfect in almost every sense of the word. Think about it.

If lies are so powerful, and so useful, why do we shun them so often? Daisey, after all, said it himself, all he wanted to do was make people care. And he lied to do it. Does that make him a terrible person? To most of society, I would think the answer is an astounding “yes”. But in reality this made people believe, realize, and understand a situation that is proven to happen around the world. Hell, Nestle admitted to legitimate slavery this past week. Not simply bad working conditions and wages, but actual, conscious decisions to employ slaves for their company. The entire concept is not a fairy tale. These things are happening today, whether he saw it or not. My point is this, Mike Daisey made a believer out of you, I and the thousands of people who heard his monologue. In the end, we all collectively care for child labor, unfair wages, sweatshops etc. We may have drifted through the rest of our young lives without having ever known this was happening (although a stretch). We do care, and we are concerned about the sweatshop culture being used by various corporations around the world. Is that such a bad thing?

This goes against most popular forms of ethical thinking today. A Kantian perspective would condemn him for using the ends to justify the means, a Social Contract perspective says he would not had to have lied in order to get his point across like the rest of the world, and a Virtuous person would never lie in the first place, or so society has decided in this day and age. Lying is seen has soemthing to be burned at the stake for in our world, but it’s such a commonplace among the world’s population. Daisey is, by almost all accounts, a terrible person, performer etc. for doing this monologue and claiming it to be up to journalistic standards. But what about an Act Utilitarian? Is it possible for him to be justified because he raised the issue to a height it has, perhaps,  not reached until this point? Some would say it is justified; I am inclined to agree with those people. All he wanted to do was make people care.

Maybe lying is an atrocity. Maybe everything he lied about is not worth it in the end. All truths could be the same size. All lies, no matter how small, could be harmful. Using small lies to build up to a larger truth could be a myth in itself. Did Mike Daisey use small lies to reveal the bigger truth? Would people be happier if this monologue was never ran or performed? Its quite possible, as there would be nothing to condemn Daisey for in the end, aside from a story about a trip to Shenzhen he may tell when he invites his friends over for a dinner party. The story could, potentially, worthless to the advancement of society. This could pose as an example of how lying does not get anyone something they want. It could show how people will not want to listen to someone who lies all the time, or on such a large scale. Yet, I still cannot get over the fact that so many people donwloaded, listened to, went to see The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and did not feel something new or different from when it was over. Lying, in my own opinion, serves a larger purpose than society gives it credit.

Featured Image: Mike Daisey Center, and Ira Glass and David Sedaris (This American Life) on either side of him.

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8 thoughts on “Show me a liar, and I’ll show you something to believe in

  1. i think you raise a lot of interesting points/perspectives that although I know is true, I have not considered before. After listening to the retraction, my first instinct was automatically to paint Daisey as the bad guy in the situation and although I still think his actions were wrong, I can see the point that you are making about the somewhat necessity of lying. “We, I, lie almost everyday of my life.” This is very true, but I don’t know if I’d necessarily say that it is okay to lie to get a point across when someone is deliberately manipulating emotions in order to get the desired reactions.

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  2. I had a lot of the same points in my blog as well. If you take a look at all of the media (especially on the internet) it is hard not to find one piece of truth out there. Everyone exaggerates to get a point across, I do it everyday too, the news does it, you said you do it (it makes things more interesting). Its too bad that Daisey’s good intentions were masked by his lack of validity.

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  3. I agree with you in many respects. Lies are usually perceived as something terrible while they can be used for very beneficial and positive purposes. Some people say that you only lie if you really care, if you would not care why bother lying, right?

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  4. That was an impressive display of ethical terms. Nice job!

    I am interested in how you depict lies as tools. They can do this, they can do that. We “use” them. So then what is a lie? I mean, at some level, a statement is a lie, but I am conscious of how it can be used to get to a greater truth? How can that be? It is like there are utterances floating around in a communication space, and me as utterer and you as listener can know something that is NOT the sum of these utterances. Not sure if I am making sense, but what I am describing is a model of truth and truthfulness which can be built apart from or outside of the sum of the actual utterances between you and me.

    That is some deep stuff and I am sure philosophers of language and others have addressed this idea, but it is fun to play with it in the context of this very real and concrete example.

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  5. You have a really great perspective on these issues, I really loved reading your blog. I think you raised some good points about the ethical implications of lying. What makes lying justified is entirely reliant on whether you follow an ideology where the end justifies the means. I agree with your interpretation of social contract, virtuous, and kantian theories. Each of these philosophies condemn those who use unjust means to achieve any end. However, with act utilitarianism the perspective is changed. I believe that act utilitarian is more of a modern perspective because things such as risk and reward can be factored in. In the case that Daisey’s story never came out as false, then awareness would spread like wildfire and Apple would almost certainly re-organize their manufacturing processes. In this case, Daisey would be entirely justified in his lie because he is increasing the utility of hundreds of thousands of workers. Unfortunately, this is not how things turned out and by using a fabricated story he was risking the integrity of his reputation, making Apple’s manufacturing process not look “that bad” and tarnishing the reputation of Ira Glass and TAL. This is the trade-off associated with his decision to present and this time around it doesn’t seem to have paid off. Lying almost always leads to greater risks but an equally great reward.

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