Are you calling me a liar?

January 30, 2009

So many times have I heard that phrase asked.  So many bruised egos looking to assert themselves in a world that does not look too kindly upon incorrectness.

So many false dichotomies surrounding the perpetration of untruth.  Or rather, exercise of the same few false dichotomies.

Some people don’t take too kindly to the proposal that something they have said is incorrect.  They view it as a matter of honor.  If one thing they’ve said is incorrect, then anything they’ve said could be incorrect, and they are not to be taken seriously anymore.  They can’t stand the idea of not being taken seriously, so they will defend – often to the death – their claim that they are right.

Other people take the matter a tad more personally.  They believe that anyone who spreads mistruths must be considered a liar, and that if they are wrong about something, then they have been spreading mistruths and therefore must be considered a liar.  These are the ones you really have to watch out for, because they will stake entire debates on their honor.  They will never allow themselves the opportunity to be thought of as even possibly wrong for fear of being branded A Liar.

I can’t speak for all cases when making a guess as to where this philosophy comes from, but for many individuals I am sure it stems from the Holy Bible.  A passage – which nearly every Christian takes to heart – warns that “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone”.  Many Christians interpret this to mean that anyone who tells a lie will go directly to Hades, no questions asked.  So if you imply to one of them that they may be telling a lie, you may as well be saying “go to hell”.

The problem with this isn’t in their interpretation of the Bible – or even their interpretation of the term “liar” – but the false dichotomy, as mentioned above.  Many of these people believe the following solution to be true:

if (information)=false

then (information)=lie

therefore (source)=liar.

The problem with this solution is that it removes one of the major factors: accident.  By misinterpretation or misinformation, it is extremely easy for someone to accidentally spread something that is not true.  If I am arguing with you and I suggest that something you have said was wrong, I am generally going to assume that the reason you are giving me this information is because you don’t know that it is incorrect.  Otherwise, what point would there be for me to argue with you?

The bottom line: No, I am not calling you a liar.  Nor am I saying that the person you heard it from, whom you probably respect a great deal, is a liar.  All I am trying to say to you is that you – or whoever started spreading the information – made a mistake and needs to look at it again.  If someone actually stands up and admits to spreading misinformation on purpose, then maybe I’ll talk about liars.

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