Voice of Sanity – January 2014
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Editor: Joyce Bates
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P. O. Box 5552
Greenville, SC 29606-5552
The Voice of Sanity
THE NEWSLETTER OF THE UPSTATE S.C. SECULAR HUMANISTS
Visit our web-site for current issues at:
Second Saturday Brunch, January 11th, 10:00AM to 12:00 noon, at Denny’s restaurant, 2521 Wade Hampton Blvd.
The Sunday meeting and discussion is from 11:00AM to 1:00PM every Sunday; location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville
The Free-Thought group meets every other Thursday (January 2nd, 16th and 30th), The January 2nd gathering will be at 7:00PM at Bailey’s; 2409 Laurens Road; Greenville. Please look for Piedmont Humanists on Facebook or Meet-up for location and time of Free-Thought gatherings on January 16th and 30th.
LIES, DAMN LIES, AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR
During the course of an impromptu conversation, a neighbor of mine told me she was worried about her young daughter. Her concern was that the six-year-old claimed that her first grade teacher said she didn’t have to go to bed on a school night until 11:00 o’clock. The woman concluded our confidence with: “But she lied to me” implying there was something terribly wrong.
Well, of course, she lied. That’s what we do. That’s what sets us apart from the lower animals. Young children tell lies such as the one above because they haven’t developed the mental resources to judge whether the lie will be believed. Another example in this category is the one where the child whose mouth is smeared with chocolate denies eating the candy bar. Parents out there everywhere can no doubt add their favorites to these brief examples.
Nevertheless we are all taught at a very early age that lying is a bad thing and good people simply don’t do it. Research shows that we lie on average one or two times during the course of an ordinary day. We lie in one-fifth of all conversations lasting more than ten minutes. College students will lie in one out of two conversations with their mothers. (No news there.) These lies are not the kind where one says, “I’m fine, thank you” even though suffering from a nasty headache. They are construed to deliberately mislead the receiver. We all are more likely to say, “Traffic was heavy” than to say, “I overslept” if we are late to work.
Some lies are so common we recognize them the minute they hit our ears. Most people have learned to interpret the remark “I’ll call you” when leaving an encounter with the opposite sex at a gathering. They know they’ll probably never hear from that person again. In fact, little white lies (intended not to offend) occur about thirty percent of the time when couples are dating. Among married couples statistics show that spouses lie only about ten percent of the time, but the caveat here is that the lies can be whoppers if there is a serious betrayal of trust.
There are differences between the ways men and women lie, as well. Women are more likely to stretch the truth to protect someone’s feelings, but they are better at detecting lies. Men have a tendency to lie about themselves, but don’t learn to read the lies of others very well. Despite these comparisons, it seems that even those expected to be skilled at detection, are not, regardless of gender. In a recent experiment, police officers were asked who out of a group they were interviewing was telling the truth. The people in this group were all actors. Half were instructed to lie and half were instructed to tell the truth. The police officers showed a random score at detecting which was which.
Mammals and birds are known to use deception to protect themselves and their young from predation but humans have expanded deception to protect themselves from all kinds of social consequences. Those consequences may be as insignificant as lying to oil certain social amenities or as desperate as lying to save one’s self from being convicted of murder.
Many psychologists think that lying has its roots in our ability to assume the perspective of someone else. In other words, we have the ability to gauge what another person might be thinking. As a result we shape our statements according to what that person (or persons) is likely to believe. This leaves us in a precarious position as to our gullibility. As receivers of lies, we then have to sort out what is actually true and what is not. For if we believe another’s lies, as we often do, we become the owners of a great deal of misinformation that we, too, believe. Psychologists call this self-deception.
Since lying is so pervasive in human societies, it is not a stretch to assume it occurs in scientific investigation, as well. We strive to be as thorough and impersonal about our investigation of nature as possible, even up to and including the analysis of our own minds. Ironically we still have the disadvantage of possessing minds configured by forces of evolution in such a way as to enable us to dismiss the outcome of our investigations if we don’t like them. That is why scientific research is so dependent on skepticism and disagreement among its members. Without it we would never reach usable information about our world and ourselves.
There are different kinds of lies. A few of the more common ones are described with examples below:
Fabrication: A statement submitted as truth, but not verified. “The dog ate my homework.” And at one time: “The earth is the center of the universe.”
Lying by omission (or half-truth): A true statement but omitting the necessary information. “I went to the store” (and stopped off to see my other girlfriend on the way back). “I went to the store” (and bought a pair of shoes that will break our budget).
White lie: A lie told to avoid offending someone. “You’ve changed your hairstyle. It looks great.” “You don’t look that old.”
Emergency lie: A lie told to avoid harm to a third party. Saying, “He went that way” while pointing in the opposite direction.
Bluffing: Pretending capability that does not exist. “I have a gun in my pocket.” Also in poker where a player makes a big wager hoping his opponents will believe he has a winning hand and cause them to fold.
Bullshit: Used to make the receiver believe that the liar knows far more than he does and can make probable predictions. The liar has limited knowledge of the subject, but uses big words and complex sentences to give the impression of expertise.
Dissembly: Not actually lying but presenting one/s self as something other than what is true. A bigamist presents himself differently to each of his wives.
Economy with the truth: A euphemism for lying. Social media uses this at times when it releases only parts of the truth that will fit with a certain personal agenda. It’s the same as lying by omission but used for large numbers or people.
Noble lie: A lie that would cause social discord if the truth were known. It is often told to maintain public order and safety.
Puffery or promotional lies: Exaggerated and nonsensical claims in advertising. “Engineered to move the human spirit”, “Reach out and touch someone”, “I lost thirty pounds in thirty days.”
If we are encouraged to tell the truth as much as possible, why do we lie so habitually? The question is still not fully answered. All we know is that somewhere in our evolution lying paid off enough for most of us to get to the next generation. At the same time, being truthful gradually became more important as people relied on each other in order to maintain survival as a group. Apparently lying can either result in a destructive breach of trust or it can make relationships between people a lot easier. It depends on the individuals and the situations. JB
Ref: Why We Lie; David Livingstone Smith; 2004; St. Martin’s Press
A CLOSE LOOK AT NON-SECTARIAN PRAYER
The Supreme Court case of Greece vs. Galloway is another example of much litigation regarding the use of prayer at government meetings in the US. In this case, the lawyer for the town of Greece, NY tried to defend largely Christian prayer at openings of town council meetings, but the lawyer of two plaintiffs (one an atheist) at some point argued such prayers are OK as long as they are “non- sectarian”.
Marci A. Hamilton presents an argument of her own below. She is one of the leading church/state scholars in the US and holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cordozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. Read on:
A typical definition of “non-sectarian” is “not affiliated with or limited to a specific religious denomination. Therefore, for a prayer to be truly non-sectarian, it would not be related to a specific religious tradition or set of beliefs. The town, and amazingly the atheist’s attorney, bent themselves into pretzels trying to explain how the monotheistic prayers in Greece, NY, are actually “non-sectarian.”
Laycock (the lawyer for the two women) suggested that somehow invoking “The Almighty” would be permissible, because, he suggested, that would be nonsectarian. Justice Scalia, plainly angling for prayer by government throughout the argument, then prompted an offensive exchange on whether “devil worshippers” worship the “Almighty.” His very use of “devil worshipper” shows the intellectual incoherency of his position.
Instead of reformulating Scalia’s question to make it less offensive, Laycock jumped right in by trying to shoehorn Luciferians or Satanists into Christian language. Ultimately, Scalia’s question was a soft ball. He chose an anti-Christian faith that is monotheistic. He left to the side the Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, and the atheist Respondent right in front of him. The exchange itself shows how hopeless it is to craft in today’s society a concept of “non-sectarian” that shoehorns Christian observances into any legitimate meaning of “non-sectarian.”
The exchange left out all of the non-monotheists, whether they are Buddhist, Hindu, polytheists, or atheists. Before anyone starts arguing that such prayers could cover the vast majority of Americans, so it’s all good, I would point out that there are roughly 10 million Hindus and Buddhists in America, when you take them together, and a growing segment of atheists. Those are not small numbers, and such a sizable portion of American society should not be routinely excluded and marginalized by unnecessary government-backed prayer. And, even in little, isolated Greece, NY, these growing sets of believers are present, as the Respondents in this case prove.
There may have been a time, before mass immigration from all over the world, when it was not incoherent to talk about “non-sectarian” prayer as being monotheistic prayer (assuming that you set aside all of the Native American believers who predated the Europeans). The religious make-up of most of the country, once again, discounting the Native Americans, was Christian or Jewish. Those days are long gone, and never were the halcyon days of the unified prayer advocated by the Alliance Defending Freedom representing the town*, as Massachusetts Puritans killed Quakers and Baptists for their beliefs, Pennsylvania Quakers forbade non-Quakers from holding office, and early American governments and people treated the Indians as non-citizens who had no rights. Government-sponsored prayer even then was an exercise of hegemony, and it is geometrically more offensive now.
It is not that prayer must be solely a private, secret activity. Believers have the first Amendment right to express their religious beliefs in the public square, and they regularly do. Turn on the television, read the newspaper, and boot up your computer. The question in the case is, instead, whether certain believers can co-opt the government to carry their message to the American people. The correct answer is that they may not, because the government must be meaningfully neutral as among all religions, and no religion at all.
*The town in this case refers to Greece, NY.
THE NUMBER 666 REVISITED
The Beast – Movie of the Beast
666 – The number of the Beast
667 – Guy Across the Street From the Beast
668 – Neighbor of the Beast
660 – Approximate number of the Beast
DCLXVI – Roman numeral of the Beast
666.0000 – Number of the High Precision Beast
0.666666 – Number of the Millibeast
/ 666 – Beast Common Denominator
666 * (-1)^(1/2) – Imaginary number of the Beast
1010011010 – Binary of the Beast
6, uh… what was that number again? – Number of the Blonde Beast
1-666 – Area code of the Beast
0666 – English area code of the Beast
00666 – Zip code of the Beast
1-900-666-0666: Live Beasts! One-on-one pacts! Call Now! Only
$6.66/minute. Over 18 only please.
$665.95 – Retail price of the Beast
$699.25 – Price of the Beast plus 5% state sales tax
$769.95 – Price of the Beast with all accessories and replacement soul
$656.66 – Wal-Mart price of the Beast
$646.66 – Next week’s Wal-Mart price of the Beast
Phillips 666 – Gasoline of the Beast
Route 666 – Way of the Beast
666 F – Oven temperature for roast Beast
666k – Retirement plan of the Beast