Truthful lies: This form of deception is as damaging as blatant lies

It is a basic truth of the human condition that as nearly as soon as we learn how to talk, we learn how to lie and as we develop paltering can become second nature.

As long as there have been methods of mass communication -going back to the days of original societies of Greece with criers, messengers, public notices and theater – there have been people exploiting them for their own ends.

The fine line in paltering


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Though as we all find out nearly as soon as we learn the difference between truth and falsehood, is that it is all a lot more complicated than it might seem. We are told that it is best to always tell the truth.

Pleasant as this may sound, it is also bloody impossible. That is not to say that there are times when it is good to lie, simply that the inane, infantile ‘truth’ versus ‘lie’ dichotomy is horrifically simplistic.

If we were to apply this to all cases, what then is tact? It is not the absolute, blunt, factual truth, so therefore under the fund tonal. Black and white definition it must be a lie and never be used. Also, there are lies by omission, in which dishonesty stems not from what is said, but what is not said, in a deliberate attempt to give a false impression.

Though even this can have its justification, in cases in which the omitted information is either damaging or even simply superfluous. There is even a theory that what is commonly called ‘bull***t’ is its own, separate form of deception.

The basic dory being that in order to like or even deceive by omission one must first know what the truth is. ‘Bull***t’ describes a statement made with absolutely no regard to what the truth may or may not be. Now, to confuse matters even more, there is a third, some would argue fourth, distinct form of disingenuousness known as paltering or “truthful lies.”

Here we come a paltering among the leaves so green

Fans might call ‘true lies’. A contradiction in terms? No, gentle reader, merely an oxymoron. It is indeed possible to decide, or at the very least mislead, by telling the absolute truth. Particularly as a negotiation tactic. If, for example, a software developers said: “there are no plans for an upgrade” when negotiating a sale-out to a competitor when there had, in fact, been plans for an upgrade before the necessity for a sale came about, that would be a truthful lie.

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Or if a politician were to say: “there were no plans to invade Ireland” and there was a plan to invade Ireland in the present rather than the literal past tense, this would also be paltering. It would also end the career of the CEO or Politician who said any such thing and were found out, the damage to their reputation and credibility being irreparable.

While truthful lies may be a new idea to researchers and the general public, it has been a weapon in the arsenal of corporate raiders and career politicians,to sides of the same coin really, for decades. In short, truthful lies is the scientific term for what dramatists and Arnie would call ‘true lies’.

Paltering and the end of trust

The isolation of paltering as a form of deception in and of itself could go a long way in explaining the cynicism and popularity of irony in modern culture. If someone can lie by telling the truth how can anyone trust anyone?

It is little wonder that voter turnout is at an all time low and a lot of people would rather have their teeth pulled with pliers than engage in modern negotiation tactics. Orwell was right again. Newspeak does exist.




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