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By Luc Loranhe (2006)
Why cheating and lying are important elements of personal freedom, and a necessity for the superior moral value of peace
I have lived for more than 50 years. I am not old, but I am old enough. Old enough to compare, and to make a judgment.
For the lives of most people, progress over the last few decades has not led to an improvement. Yes, there has been technological advancement, and people use more, and more sophisticated, electronic tools.
But I do not think that today's generation of, for example, 20 to 30 year-olds is happier than the generation of 20 to 30 year-olds 20 or 30 years ago.
Many people claim that people today are not happier because they are more controlled than people were 20 or 30 years ago, and they blame the progress of digital information technology for this negative development.
While it is true that being controlled can be counterproductive for the pursue of happiness (especially sexual happiness), controlling a society does not necessarily interfere with personal freedom. It's the same as with strong government.
The question is: which conduct does strong government interfere with? What is restricted through digital control by information technology?
Both, strong government and control by digital surveillance equipment, can make large contributions to the safety of people in a society, and for most people, a safe society is a prerequisite to enjoy one's personal freedom.
People assume that strong government and control by digital surveillance technology interfere with their freedom to not conform to out-dated ethical rules. And they are right to the extent to which they refer to current practices.
But a strong government, dedicated to personal freedom, could easily keep out of people's private lives, and digital surveillance technology could just as well be focused only on providing safety from violence, while respecting people's privacy.
For the interference people fear from either strong government or the use of digital surveillance equipment is not one of government or technology, but one of out-dated ethical rules.
The most stringent out-dated moral rules concern sexual conduct. We are not supposed to have parallel sexual relationships, whether we are just in a sexual friendship or whether we are married. We are also not supposed to have had too many sexual contacts, as this would put into doubt our sincerity. We are supposed to always be honest towards our partner or spouse.
When we are youngsters, we are also not supposed to lie to our parents about what we do in our free time. And we are not supposed to lie to our employers about how sick we are when we don't show up for work.
But first, personal freedom, of course, is precisely the right to not do what we are supposed to do, or, even more to the point, to do what we are not supposed to do.
And second, that what we are not supposed to do, lying and cheating, are essential aspects in human communication and the maintenance of a humane society.
If we were always to speak the truth, we would have no friends. Much more violence would be the result if people were always to speak out what they think. Quite possibly, if we were to always speak the truth, we would never find love, but only generate hate. If we were to speak our mind, other people would be totally turned off, and offended for ever; thus, we keep the bad thoughts about other people to us, while saying the nice things in order to foster friendships.
Our parents want us to be honest because they feel the need to guide us into adult life, and our partners in love relationships want us to be honest because they have a natural interest to discover our true deposition. Governments want us to be honest because it makes their job of ruling us easier, and the police and judges demand our honesty so they can solve criminal cases.
Nobody teaches us to lie. It's a communication skill we discover all by ourselves and thankfully, we do. Because peace is a much more important moral value than the imperative not to lie, and without our capability to lie (to say "nice to meet you" when we think "why did I come across this asshole"), peace could not be maintained.
Under "cheating" we understand two different things: cheating in love relationships (to secretly have other emotional or sexual contacts), and cheating as lying in order to achieve a material advantage.
Cheating in love relationships has a similar role as does lying. It allows us to maintain emotional balance in a world that is in constant flux.
Sexual love relationships, the more romantic the better, are the most valuable thing we can experience in life. Love and romance last for some time, but they never last forever, unless we die before they fade. In a romantic love relationship, we are carried by a wave of positive and optimistic feelings, which naturally, we project into the future. This is why we like to say not just "I love you" but "I love you forever". Even if it won't last forever, and even as we know this, the idea of everlasting love gives us great joy.
The feeling of romantic love, especially romantic sexual love, is an emotional value independent from the person it is directed to at a certain time. It doesn't depend on horoscopes (as they believe in Hindu and Buddhist countries), nor on hocus-pocus. We love because it feels great to love, and not because the recipient would be worthy of it. But we can always try to direct our emotions at a worthy partner. This is why we need to experiment.
It is important that our self-cognition extends to our emotional apparatus.
Romantic love, extending into a sexual relationship, is the most valuable experience not only for women, but also for men. Conventional wisdom, on the other hand, is that men have shorter attention spans. This is why, allegedly, women are more faithful, and men more adventurous.
But there is a twist to this assessment. In my opinion, women are not more inclined to indeed favor prolonged, and, if possible, lifelong love relationships because this would be their non-alterable nature.
Rather, women emphasize lasting relationships because of a mixture of the following down-to-earth reasons:
1. Women age faster, especially after having given birth. Thus, their sexual market value declines quicker than that of men. They tend to hang on emotionally to one partner because their chances of finding a replacement with a sexual market value equal to that which their first partner initially had are slim.
2. Women are much more likely to experience an economic decline when a love relationship breaks, especially when the love relationship was formal (a marriage), and when there are children.
3. Women are much more likely to be under social pressure to remain in an existing love relationship, rather than to switch.
But all three conditions are not absolute. They depend on both, our technologies and our will (or cognition).
Medical technologies can both prevent many visible signs of aging (Botox), or revert them (cosmetic surgery). And women do not have to bear children and give birth.
Social security nets can limit the economic impact of pregnancies on women. We ought to treat pregnancies, child birth, and child rearing as the responsibilities of societies, not individual women. No social safety net is needed for men.
We can easily do away with laws and ethics that discriminate against women who get out of faded love relationships.
We may debate to what extend changing the above-listed parameters will have an impact on women. But there is no doubt that changing them in the direction I have indicated will set more women free to seek more love relationships, and to end love relationships once they have faded.
You cannot clap with one hand. For this reason, I have always held that female sexual liberation is in the interest of men just as it is in the interest of women.
Not every relationship we enter is suited to become a long-term love relationship, even if that is what we seek. And sometimes, it can be pleasurable to have a sexual relationship, even if we doubt right from the beginning that it has the potential to become long-term. And sometimes, it is pleasurable to have a secret love and sexual relationship, even though we also are in a committed relationship. This is the same for men and women.
Sometimes, it is the correct attitude not to burden a partner with letting him or her know of an additional relationship. While those who have secret sexual relationships may feel that they are even beneficial to a principal relationship because they release pressure, a partner who learns of such an additional relationship may view it totally out of proportion.
And sometimes, if our partner knows of our additional sexual relationships, this can have a positive, not a negative impact (see my article "In praise of faithfulness").
Now, these are all facts of life, well recognized in their psychological complexity, that contradict the ethical imperative that we never lie and never cheat.
But it's not life that is wrong, but the ethics that demand that we never lie and cheat.
By contrast, a modern ethic should focus on the knowledge that optimal sexual experience (and this is sexual experience in love relationships, not the consumerism of commercial sex) are the most important value in anybody's life, and that (just as peace requires lying) we cannot pursue optimal sexual experience without privacy and secrecy (or, to say it blatantly: not without cheating).
Therefore, just as a modern ethics better does not teach brainless honesty, it also better educates people that sexual "cheating" is not a catastrophe but a workable compromise, or, just as lying, another form of civilized politeness.
To prosecute sexual infidelity, or to make faithfulness a standard of a person's suitability for public office, are indications of an ethics based on religious lunacy rather than a scientific understanding of human nature, or, for that matter, of self-cognition.
As for the second kind of cheating, the one that concerns dishonest transactions: if there is a material loss, then it is a case of fraud, and laws are in place everywhere in the world that sufficiently deal with it.
Once we realize and accept that lying and cheating, in many cases, are valuable human behaviors that smooth human communication and interaction, and that they are supportive of the superior moral concern that our societies are non-violent, and that furthermore, a certain degree of lying and cheating often is instrumental for us to be in valuable romantic love relationships, it follows that strong government and digital control technology ought to keep out entirely of this domain.
Strong government and digital information technology are important tools to prevent crime, and to maintain peace and security. There is no role for either in restricting the personal freedom to lie and to cheat.
Jean-Paul Sartre famously stated that "you can always make something out of what you are made into". The human modes of production shape our minds (part of the superstructure). But they don't shape it in every detail, and we do have leeway to modify our societies (which also are part of the superstructure) in accordance with the results of our cognitive processes.
We cannot revert the human mode of production back into a phase when digital information technology did not exist. It has entered our world forever, and exerts its influence on the superstructure.
But it is within the realm of our freedom to decide in favor of strong government (dedicated to personal freedom) over weak government, and not to use digital information technology to rigorously enforce outdated ethics that are erroneously biased against lying and cheating, especially in our personal relationships.
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Copyright Luc Loranhe