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Reblogged:Lying to Criminals

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From tech businessman Jacques Mattheij comes a life lesson about honesty, which includes the bonus of an example of the impossibility of applying moral principles in the absence of context. Mattheij describes an episode from his youth, when the growing evidence of his technological ability attracted the attention of a shady relative:

... I could easily see is that this would be a beginning, and a bad beginning too. You can bet that someone somewhere will lose because of crap like this. (Fortunately, now the EU has made odometer fraud illegal). You can also bet that once you've done this thing and accepted the payment that you're on the hook. You are now a criminal (or at least, you should be) and that means you're susceptible to blackmail. The next request might not be so easy to refuse and could be a lot worse in nature. So I wasn't really tempted, and I always felt that "but someone else will do it if I don't" was a lousy excuse.

If you're reading this as a technical person: there will always be technically clueless people who will attempt to use you and your skills as tools to commit some crime. Be sure of two things: the first is that if the game is ever up they'll do everything they can to let you hold the bag on it and that once you're in you won't be getting out that easily.
The young man's thinking reminds me of both (1) Ayn Rand's case against lying, as related by Leonard Peikoff in "My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand" and (2) the proper way to apply principles.

Is it always wrong to lie, as, for example, Mattheij did when he told his relative he couldn't do what he was asked? Or might there be cases in which telling the truth would actually be wrong? Ayn Rand once summarized the virtue of honesty as follows:
Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud -- that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee -- that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling -- that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others.
When a criminal, through the initiation of force (or the threat thereof) places you in a position in which your statement of a fact only makes him better able to make you act against your better judgment, you are in a situation in which telling him a lie is a perfectly moral (or, in some situations, the only) thing you can do in self-defense. This is not "stooping to his level" (as an intrinsicist might say), because you aren't trying to obtain anything by fraud. Nor is it an example of subjectivism, because one is actually doing this in order to continue acting (or once again be able to act) in accordance with one's best judgment. Neither inflexible commandments nor the fiction that reality is infinitely malleable can provide any useful guidance on the matter of how to live one's life.

-- CAV

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