Sunday, May 12, 2013

It's not what you do...



From Benghazi to Lance Armstrong

Are we as Americans a dishonest culture?  In sports, academics, politics, and business, from Lance Armstrong to Bernie Madoff, we are continually confronted with examples of dishonesty.

Someone recently pointed towards Japan as an example of how stringent gun laws, to the point of a practical ban, reduce crime.  Yet that analysis falls apart when you look at non-gun crime, which in Japan is also virtually non-existent.  Leave your purse or wallet on a Japanese train and chances are very high that whoever finds it will return it to you, most likely personally.  Try that in New York, Philadelphia, or Washington DC.

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

Dan Ariely teaches behavioral economics at Duke University and recently published a book on the subject and observes:

We lie. We cheat. We bend the rules. We break the rules. And sometimes, as we’ve seen in Greece, it all adds up. But, remarkably, this doesn’t stop us from thinking we’re wonderful, honest people. We’ve become very good at justifying our dishonest behaviors so that, at the end of the day, we feel good about who we are. This tendency is only getting worse, and, as innocent as it may seem, the consequences are becoming more apparent and more serious.  

 He also found that:

Three days after publication of my new book , The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, I was able to find electronic copies on a few websites that specialize in illegal content. These were high quality versions of the book, including the images of the cover, the references, and—my favorite part—the copyright notice. 


"the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true"

Stephen Colbert is usually credited with if not inventing, popularizing the term, but it is nothing new. Orwell used the term doublethink to describe the same concept:

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. 

 So what do you think?

Are we more dishonest? Less?  About the same? 

It certainly seems that we are more tolerant of it,  especially when it's our team that's getting away with it.  Mark Sanford's recent election post-scandal seems to illustrate the fact that we are willing to either overlook or at least rationalize dishonesty... if not for ourselves then at least for the team.

More importantly, are we dishonest with ourselves?



No comments: