Promise me this, my child
Our new set of Radical Thinkers have just been released and to celebrate the new edition of Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life we're publishing an excerpt from this beloved collection every day.
The immorality of lying does not consist in the offence against sacrosanct truth. An appeal to truth is scarcely a prerogative of a society which dragoons its members to own up the better to hunt them down. It ill befits universal untruth to insist on particular truth, while immediately converting it into its opposite. Nevertheless, there is something repellent about a lie, and awareness of this, though inculcated by the traditional whip, yet throws light on the gaolers. Error lies in excessive honesty. A man who lies is ashamed, for each lie teaches him the degradation of a world which, forcing him to lie in order to live, promptly sings the praises of loyalty and truthfulness.2
This shame undermines the lying of more subtly organized natures. They do it badly, which alone really makes the lie a moral offence against the other. It implies his stupidity, and so serves to express contempt. Among today's adept practitioners, the lie has long since lost its honest function of misrepresenting reality. Nobody believes anybody, everyone is in the know. Lies are told only to convey to someone that one has no need either of him or his good opinion. The lie, once a liberal means of communication, has today become one of the techniques of insolence enabling each individual to spread around him the glacial atmosphere in whose shelter he can thrive.
1. Vor allem eins, mein Kind: allusion to the lines of the late romantic poet Robert Reinick (1805-52), Vor allem eins, mein Kind, sei treu und wahr,/ lass nie die Luge deinen Mund entweihen (Above all else, my child, be loyal and true/ and never let a lie profane your mouth).
2. Ob' immer Treu' und Redlichkeit: phrase from a Lied set by Mozart.