Lying in debate

One cannot lie in a debate. Or, to put it the other way, one cannot debate with a liar. This elementary fact (or “principle,” sounds nicer) seems not to have been put at the disposal of students in any college or post-graduate setting in the time since I (arguably) grew up. True, one might argue that Biden or Trump is a liar, but this will be meaningless in a forum where everyone is lying. At most, one may distinguish the smaller from the bigger lies, and “bullshit” (as Harry G. Frankfort defines it) from the more obvious forms of deceit.

This, to my mind, is what honesty has been replaced by, in journalism and all the other occupations where the impartiality of truthfulness was once prized. “Fairness” has become the new standard. If a statement undercuts both sides, it may be presented as “fair,” though of course it will not be. But the advantage, to the lazy falsifier, is that an apparent balance requires little effort, and no knowledge of the subject. For the knowledgeable exhibit bias, after all. They are, like Aristotle, “masters of those who know.” They are imbalanced; they take sides. Only the ignorant escape special pleading for the truth.

I have noticed this phenomenon (universal lying) more clearly as I try to keep up with current events. We cannot defeat “Communists” and “Leftists” (and “Islamists” and dispensers of “smelly little orthodoxies” of many other kinds), because they make up facts to benefit themselves. But more, the universality of lying creates a background against which any truth must vie. Our leading sceptics deny that we can even distinguish a truthful pattern. This makes them systematically dishonest.

Perhaps I exaggerate — one of the more innocent forms of lying? Perhaps, even today, it is possible to speak the truth. This could be done with much effort, and real courage, like Hercules shifting the Augean pile; a necessarily heroic act. For the human mind was usefully endowed with a mysterious ability to detect reality: a “nose for the news,” as it were.

It can tell when the mephitic smell has lifted.