Deceit and Deception

All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things (Robert Southey Quotes).

Deceit and deception guide many of our social actions. Do we tell the truth about something and pay the consequences or do we avoid it and create an  alternative story i.e. a lie? How many times are we confronted with this dilemma even on a daily basis? If the lie is a justification of our deceitful actions can we also steal, even murder with justification? If we find someone who is willing to stand up and tell the truth we have him/her ‘dealt with’ (especially in the developing world although not unknown in ‘civilised’ society). Trouble with lying is that one story usually leads another because we hadn’t thought of everything. Then another, and so on. Are we then wholly satisfied if we feel this web of lies is working? Some of us may not even realise that we are caught up in a web, concocting new lies at every turn.

Take the case of the man in our local village in Tanzania who was a known liar and thief. He might have justified the theft of a chicken from his neighbour’s yard because of his hunger and she had plenty anyway. He might have so perfected the art of justifying his actions (through well-practiced lies) that he became a bold and forthright thief. Unfortunately, the theft of the chicken was from a woman neighbour who is held in some esteem in the village, raising her own children and grandchildren on what she earns. The thief was caught by a posse of angry villagers who beat him to death (not an uncommon practice here in Tanzania, unfortunately).

Here we have a simple person who lived a life of deceit. What is the difference between him and the Tanzanian Ministry officials who, it was alleged recently, accepted bribes originating from Chinese entrepreneurs? They were then required to facilitate the poachers to hunt (see here for reference) for more tusks. They expedited this deceit by bribing local game wardens and police who then become disposable pawns in their game. There is no difference between these two incidents except that the Ministry officials have the ways and means of staying out of jail. And like the simple thief, they have become well-practiced in story-telling. They lied and cajoled their way into high office, eyes only on the target and with little or no moral reflection. Perhaps they have courted deceit for so long they have lost sight of their original moral compass – to serve the community. Here I bring in the moral perspective – the crown of thorns we must all sometimes wear.

In 60 Posts I reflected on the moral dimension. In Compassion – who needs it? I drew attention to the moral understanding we share with the other higher primates and in Free will I suggest that

We have evolved as a species with the ability to exercise free will according to our conscience. When we practice ethically correct behaviour we actively maintain the balance between self-interest and moral propriety. In underdeveloped countries the balance easily tips in favour of self-interest due to the history of poverty and lack of resources.

By using the excuse of poverty and lack of resources do those in the third world justify their greed? Another similar justification is lack of appropriate education. I’ve heard it often here. “When we were young we were taught moral behaviours.”

And in another example

We can choose to do the right thing and bring a lost wallet to it’s rightful owner, including its contents or we can take the money and throw away the wallet (see here for reference).

Can we justify taking the wallet by saying that we are hungry, that we can pay some debts, that s/he didn’t need the money anyway, that some of us didn’t benefit from a moral education? These justifications all serve the same purpose – to cover moral indiscretion. The bottom line is that we are doing the wrong thing and that when we reflect on it, we know it is bad. The lie keeps us safe from being discovered, at least for the time being. How many times as kids do we do something wrong and come up with something like -”let’s say we were doing this and then this happened”, shifting the blame elsewhere. More soon.


About johnderonde

UK-based charity worker in Tanzania
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