Monday, 30 March 2015

Lies all Lies | Part 2: Hard Lies

Hard Lies

This is another broad category of lies. A simple way of defining this is that it is a ‘a lie that harms others’. This type of lie is based on greed, envy, self-interest and hatred and so forth. I will only talk about three major sub categories of Hard lies here.

Three Key Source of Hard Lies

Lies of Greed

I keep this on top of the hard lies list. Human beings’ constant competition to improve its condition and to defeat others requires using lying as a key tool. This is often in shape of concealing information or intentionally being ambiguous to have the situation to a liar’s advantage.

The earliest lie recorded I imagine is when a tribal leader assigned a group of man to go hunting for the very small community they formed. Some greedy man then would have hidden some meat or whatever they hunted and thought of using it to attract a female partner or to sell it in secret to a hungry man for something valuable in return; or merely to just fulfil his desire to enjoy a great meal instead of the small portion awarded by the leader. 

Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1669)

I am inclined to agree with Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1669) proposition that either hunger or sex determine human action and probably the fundamental route of greed in human nature before society and notion of power comes in human psyche. Hobbes writes that,

“Specific desires and appetites arise in the human body and are experienced as discomforts or pains which must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own well-being. Everything we choose to do is strictly determined by this natural inclination to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. Human volition is nothing but the determination of the will by the strongest present desire (Leviathan I 6).’’

A contemporary example of lies of greed could be assigned to multi-national corporations dodging tax to increase their profits. Starbucks and Google come to mind. Here, as human kind progressed greed took an institutional form. Shall we call it institutional greed or collective greed? Collective greed inspires institutional lies. Lawyers and policy makers invest their expertise in defending institutional lies to fulfil institutional greed.

A big example of a lie of greed on a state or international level is Bush-Blair justifying the war on Iraq with a sexed up dossier. What motivated them? The greed of power, the greed of oil money and political legacy, all elements were at play here. So we can say civilisation often lie or nations lie to fulfil its greed which is often defined as national interest. Whereas if you compare them with each other, they have enough resources to sustain an average quality of living but they are continuously aspiring to secure their country’s wealth and justifying invading other nations to accumulate more of this.

Another historical example of a lie of greed comes in mind. Mir Jafor betrayed Bengal’s last Nawab Siraj-Ud Daula by conspiring with Lord Clive of British Raj and  securing a place in history. On 23rd June 1757 at the battle of Palashi (I don’t know why we allow distorting the name Palashi to ‘Plassey’ - just because the English masters then didn’t know how to pronounce it) Siraj Ud Daula lost the battle and later was arrested and executed by Mir Jafar. Greed of power was certainly at play here and Mir Jafar used lying as a tool to deceive Siraj Ud Daula.

Back to current times, lying in general is mastered and practiced by businessman and politicians in gross volume. For some reason ‘Machiavellian’ thought is used to represent the context of lies, deception and cover-ups. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Machiavellianism is "the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct"

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469- 1527)

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469- 1527) in his great work ‘The Prince(1532)’ stressed that ‘’The general theme of accepting that the aims of princes—such as glory and survival—can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends.’’ Lying is of course one of the main component amongst the immoral means he meant. So we can conclude that manipulation and lie for greed, as rightly observed by Hobbes is inherent in human nature and serves its state of nature (of being selfish and greedy).

Humans often lie out of hatred

Lies of Hate

Another big motivation for hard lies derives from hatred,   a strong passion human being inhabits. Humans often lie out of hatred and would lie pathetically to take revenge on their enemies or people they hate. This is closely associated with tolerance and humans not being able to live in harmony. I mean why people hate, if investigated, will resolve into discovering the mere ignorance and fear of the unknown or unfamiliarity inspired it.

African American people in the US had to go through a big phase of familiarising themselves with people of alien colour, attitude and gradually they recognised that actually Black people are also human being and its ok to tolerate them and put a break on hate. With much progression since Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’, hatred is still there as evidenced with institutional racism and cover-up events to quote the recent Ferguson incidents as an example. So who lies here? The answer is the establishment. The FBI, CIA, the Senate and the Congress where you still have people lying in front of cameras and resisting truth in the reports and analysis produced massaging and manipulating data to demonstrate desired conclusion in reports and ultimately to execute the inner hatred they have for certain kinds. White Oscar is white not only because Blacks are behind in culture but because some people at the top of the industry still feel they are of a superior race and are still not convinced and at ease with Blackness or equality. They hide this discomfort with many lies.

An interesting study could be to explore the process of hatred. Why do people hate? In Bangladesh, secular extremists and Islamic extremists both will lie to hurt each other. They will resort to bizarre irrational lies to prosecute their enemy. The Bangladeshi International War Crimes tribunal, though set up in a historically justified spirit of justice, ultimately ended up  being a circus in state sponsored lying, arranging witnesses and justifying the hanging the Islamists who are thought to have committed crimes against humanity. To ensure political gain and to use the historical sentimental issue, Sheikh Hasina organised a huge stage where lies has becomeher key component to ensure victory and to persecute the enemy she hates. 

Lies of Envy

This is lying out of envy or competition. Envy is another universal and deep seated emotion? One of the most influential modern philosophers Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) devoted a whole chapter on envy in his famous book ‘The Conquest of Happiness (1930)’. He used an example that can demonstrate how lies of envy occur. In giving an example of envy Russell says,-

“Among average respectable women envy plays an extraordinarily large part. If you are sitting in the underground and a well-dressed woman happens to walk along the car, watch the eyes of the other women. You will see that every one of then, with the possible exception of those who are better dressed, will watch the woman with malevolent glances, and will be struggling to draw inferences derogatory to her. The love of scandal is an expression of this general malevolence: any story against another woman is instantly believed, even on the flimsiest evidence.”

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

What Russell means here is that lying becomes a tool which expresses people’s envy. It will be a sexist blogpost if I now don’t add an example to show man being guilty of envy and resorting to lies. To strike a fair analysis of gender then, I would like to mention that Russell goes on to say,  

‘’Exactly the same thing, however, is to be observed among men, except that women regard all other women as their competitors, whereas men as a rule only have this feeling towards other men in the same profession.’’

Russell gives a fantastic example in the following,

‘’In the correspondence of Leibniz and Huygens there are a number of letters lamenting the supposed fact that Newton had become insane. 'Is it not sad,' they write to each other, 'that the incomparable genius of Mr Newton should have become over clouded by the loss of reason?' And these two eminent men, in one letter after another, wept crocodile tears with obvious relish. As a matter of fact, the event which they were hypocritically lamented had not taken place, though a few examples of eccentric behaviour had given rise to the rumour.’’

I have personally observed lies in our community spreading faster than any other information through our sisters, aunties telephone lines or friends WhatsApp messages, most likely derived from the acute envy of some people surrounding them who they are envious of.

Note: Have you missed first part | Soft Lies in my previous post. 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Lies all Lies | Part 1:Soft Lies

Some time ago a mentor of mine taught me a big lesson. He was always very keen on to positively influence people and how he could help his mentees develop for the better. One day, as part of his voluntary mentorship to guide a troubled boy like me, he gave me his biggest advice, as he described it, for life. He said, ‘’If you can follow this advice your life would become much easier and you will be able to avoid many obstacles and misfortune which may strike otherwise.’’
‘’What it is it brother?’’, I responded curiously. I thought it sounded like a good deal. He paused intentionally to create the momentum, and to get me pay more attention. He then said, ‘’Think of a date from when you will stop LYING altogether. Take an oath to not tell a single LIE from that day onwards.’’

He was an honourable man with a good reputation in society.  I was concerned about making a promise straight away. I really would have liked to keep a promise to him, but replied, ‘’Can I have some time to think about it?’’.

Returning home, I started thinking about many of the times I lied and many lies I hear around me every day. From politicians to doctors and businessman to lovers, who doesn't resort to lies now and then? I started reflecting on the verb 'lie' and how it affects our lives. In fact, I realised my mentor wanted to give me a very fundamental tool that would make my life harder and also happier. Besides, don’t we achieve ultimate happiness through hardship? New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that when people managed to reduce their lies in given weeks across a 10-week study, they reported significantly improved physical and mental health in those same weeks.
I did fix a deadline and I almost gave up lying completely. Have I? It is so important to confront ourselves. I do that a lot. I was telling my mum about lying the other day and I classified it into two broad categories and then further into subcategories.  Today, I will explore the first broad category ‘Soft Lies’.

Soft lies

Soft lies are the types of lies that help people or are at least not intended to hurt anyone. At times this is actually a ‘good lie’ even I would say philosophers should classify it as a ‘virtue’. For example, when you are hiding someone in your house and you are lying to the people who are chasing to kill or harm him. This even requires ‘courage’ and real liars would not lie at this time because they naturally lack courage and would give up the man for their own safety. I would like to lie like this. Actually, the absence of truth is not lie by default. My observation has categorised SOFT lies into three sub-categories.

Modest Lies

These are the everyday lies that people like you and I utter. Some people can remain technically truthful and humble but in our society (Bangladeshi), it is hard and people often have to resort to soft lies. For example, saying you have eaten when your mother-in-law cooked something that you would rather not eat.
Another example is when you want to save someone from spending money on you or giving you an expensive gift. Here you may lie by saying you have these things if you don’t want to trouble someone and save them from doing something for you.  

Lies of Ignorance

There are people who lie just for the sake of an argument and want to win. Mostly in informal conversations and arguments they would say and exaggerate things without knowing its accuracy and just to defend themselves they lie even further. Their ignorance makes them lie and they keep on defending it with more lies. Some do it on a pathetic level and some on a very innocent level. If we look for examples, we will see many friends and family who suffer from this ignorance. 
For example, one of my friends while defending Dr Zafar Iqbal’s 'greatness' claimed he is ‘world renowned scientist’. My plea to reconsider why Mr Iqbal can be regarded as a ‘world renowned’ scientist brought me an answer of Mr Iqbal being an owner of a patent and it is a big deal in this field.  

You would think Mr Iqbal is responsible for a patent that has inspired some groundbreaking scientific discovery. When people think of patents what usually comes to mind are major scientific breakthroughs such as Edison’s first electric lamp, or large corporations investing in research and development. But, in fact, most patents aren't granted for groundbreaking scientific breakthroughs but rather for inventions that make improvements to existing inventions. For example, the second or third generation of a product or a process that works in a more cost-effective or efficient manner. 
But in reality, in 2012 alone, Erickson (the company Mr Iqbal worked for) has made 1197 applications to register patents. Anyway, let us not allow Mr Zafar Iqbal to distract us from the main topic. My point is my friend’s ignorance or blind loyalty to Mr Iqbal’s fame has made him an ignorant liar.

Involuntary lies

This is when you are forced by a situation to lie. This could be to compete with a liar when you don’t have any option but to lie. A big example I can think of is a fight I got involved during my teenage years.  I was bullied one morning by a boy in the neighbourhood and in the evening I retaliated with the help of my friends and it became physical. This bully cried all the way home earning me immense fame and a ‘to be feared’ image amongst neighbourhood.
Following this, community judges sat together to resolve the conflict from escalating further on both political and patron levels. These judges were made up of the bully’s father and my father as well as other elderly members of the neighbourhood. In the trial (bichar) the bully lied, giving an untrue account of the incident and hiding completely that he insulted me that morning. I was immediately inspired by people next to me to lie and make up an even more serious story to convince the community judges.  So can I say I had to lie in response to a lie in order to uphold what is ‘right’ and the truth?
Soft lies also occur with people who suffer the sudden economic decline in society and struggle to maintain living standards. For example, a rich man suddenly having lost his wealth goes to the office using public transport, may lie to people who may ask him where his car is. He could reply it is in the garage, broken down, etc. People’s social condition and certain self-perceived standards can compel them to make soft lies.

I will talk about ‘Hard Lies’ in my next post. Stay Tuned.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Bangladeshi Muslims, Sin and the Wolf Hall

I recently watched Wolf Hall, a great historical drama series produced by the BBC on Thomas Cromwell’s (1485- 1540) life. History remembers him as a great English lawyer and statesman who served as the Chief Minister to King Henry the VIII of England from 1532 to 1540.

Can’t wait for the next season, I hope BBC will make another series to depict the life of Thomas Cromwell in full, as this series has so far focused on King Henry the VIII’s troubles with his first wife Catherine of Aragon and his mistress who later became his wife, Anne Boleyn.  The series ends (spoiler warning) with Queen Anne Boleyn being hanged at the Tower of London because of her multiple affairs with King’s associates. At times it also seemed that she was also flirting with Thomas Cromwell and the wise man somehow passed her tests.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540)

King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell
I am fascinated by British history, in particular, with the Age of Enlightenment or as some put it as the ‘Age of reason’ (1650s to 1780s). I think it is wise to start looking at the context of this age of reason which certainly was born out of England’s politics in the 15th and 16th century. I believe the events in Henry VIII’s life and Thomas Cromwell’s mastery in government played a role in shaping the mind of the 16th century thinkers like another Thomas, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who has written extensively on liberty, government and the social contract, a great philosopher of the modern time.

King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell’s life is particularly significant in British history because of the separation of state from the Church and the fall out between the King and the Pope on the matter of King Henry VIII’s divorce from with his first wife Catherine of Aragon who failed to give him a masculine child (to borrow The Godfather’s term).

Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII(1491-1547)
The drama is based on famous English author Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies which chronicle the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a humble blacksmith who became the right-hand man of the King Henry VIII. I think apart from his political skills and great ability to manipulate in power, Thomas Cromwell’s unprivileged background made him a great subject of British history. Otherwise, why is that we don’t hear of the other chief ministers of many kings who came and went in those times.  

Sense of Sin | 16th Century England and 21st Century’s Bangladeshi Muslims
One observation I made during the drama is the significance of sin in 16th century British people’s life and the constant reference of it in many dialogues between the actors. This reminded me of the psyche of many in the Bangladeshi community in Bangladesh and here in East London and the constant reference of sin they make in everyday life. Bangladeshi Muslim society is probably as religious as the people of 16th century Britain.  The sense of sin plays a big part in our life. Morality is defined and enshrined in our psyche through the idea of sin which we are taught in childhood mostly though lessons from mullahs (religious teacher) and parents who were taught by mullahs.
My favourite philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) dedicated a whole chapter to this called ‘Sense of sin’ in one of his best work ‘The Conquest of Happiness’. He argued that ‘Sin is one of the most important of the underlying psychological causes of unhappiness in adult life.’ Another interesting quote his book cites is from the 13th century philosopher and Oxford scholar Roger Bacon, who says: 'for more sins reign in these days of ours than in any past age, and sin is incompatible with wisdom.’

In our life, I observe the idea of sin is mostly concerned with the contesting the oneness of God (shirk) and the status of the messengers etc. Interestingly however, I observe that a lot of practical moral issues we are burdened with in everyday life are not necessarily prevalent substance in defining sin i.e. lying, discriminating others especially for their economic or employment status or gender, promoting hatred, envy, bullying, physical, verbal and psychological abuse, etc. This is not to say our scriptures didn’t have instructions regarding them. I am just noting the apparent highlight of the sins related to sex amongst the religious community and its obsession with it.

Comparative sin
An example of the sense of sin amongst first generation British Bangladeshi parents is that they sometimes justify forcing their son or daughter to marry cousins from Bangladesh in order to fulfil responsibility to extended family in Bangladesh and provide them with economic security and also strengthen the family bond. Interestingly they are not likely to be concerned of their son or daughter’s choice and will. Uncles and aunties of Bangladeshi community often justify this because they think they are being loyal to the wellbeing of their extended family and clan.

Now there is dilemma they face when their son/daughter have chosen their partner and would like to marry them. Especially when they are concerned about the moral police that exist in society combined of extended family, neighbours and so on. It will be interesting to establish what plays the main role in influencing their decision. Is it the very idea of being immoral or is it the society that imposes the idea of right/wrong?

In some communities, I have observed that the belief that it is ones duty to look after his or her family than to give in to individual choice, allowing your daughter to marry a man she/he chose is to give in to an idea of sin. There are further gender implications in this as it is mostly the daughters that are subjected in this moral dilemma. Moreover, the idea of love and affection between two genders prior to marriage is probably the biggest general sin to exist in our society. In fact I have observed this in Islam that the second most significant idea of sin is hugely concerned with sex after the sin of ‘shirk’ which is to associate partners with God. I wonder why that has become the second key issue in the idea of sin. Wolf Hall demonstrates Christianity’s obsession with the same issue in 16th century England.

The English Quran

One particular scene in the drama was when at a church the priest was shocked to suddenly hear some attendees rebelliously starting to recite the Bible in English. An English version of the Bible was commissioned by King Henry VIII called the Great Bible and was translated from Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament). I imagine a similar situation and shock if someone in the East London Mosque was to start reciting the Quran in English. I wonder why the exclusivity of people of certain language that earns God’s blessings by default. Will God discriminate his creations based on the languages He has blessed them with or will God hold language as a big criterion in how He will bestow his forgiving on the Day of Judgement?