Grant Wahl’s Death: Why Lying Is So Harmful

Grant Wahl.jpgGrant Wall (1973-2022)

This morning I was moved by reading Dr. Celine Grounder’s brief New York Times opinion piece about the death of her young husband and all the cruelty it has elicited and the ignorance it has revealed. I highly recommend reading the tribute to her deceased husband.

While Dr. Grounder rightfully focuses on the extraordinary ignorance that connects covid vaccination to every death—there is no connection between the two whatsoever, Wahl died of a ruptured aeorta—I would also like to consider those who are NOT ignorant of the truth about the extraordinary efficacy of covid vaccines, but who nonetheless LIE about the issue for personal gain. (Yes, Fox News has a very strict covid vaccination and testing policy. Lying for profit is ubiquitous.)

In my long teaching career, I told students many times that lying—despite being common and seemingly innocuous—was a serious moral failing and the cause of incalculable suffering. It often has, as Dr. Grounder writes, terrible and cruel consequences.

The issue came up in ethics classes when students would ask about the existence of universal moral principles. The point was that if none existed then morality must be (personally or culturally) relative. In search of such universal principles, students would often quickly suggest something like killing infants, even though infanticide is found in many cultures, or to other forms of murder even though capital punishment, human sacrifice, and war, have been justified by many cultures.

While the exact number of universal imperatives is disputed—a typical claim is that there are at least 7 universal moral imperatives—truth-telling is generally recommended by cultures. In other words, as far as I know, most cultures have a prescription against lying.

And the reason is straightforward. Without the assumption of truth-telling, communication is pointless. If I ask you what time it is and you say 5 pm even though it’s noon, there was no point in asking the question. If I ask you how to get to Los Angeles and you tell me to fly to Boston and then head north for 100 miles, there wasn’t much point in asking the question.

Now, these lies are small potatoes compared to the Big Lie about the stolen 2020 election or to the lies of Alex Jones about the children murdered in Newtown CN. or the over 30,000 lies Trump told in just a few years, or the thousands of lies told by Limbaugh, Hannity, Carlson, Bannon, Stone, Conway, Huckabee Sanders, Santos, and all the rest, but it does reveal how central truth-telling is to a functioning society.

There is such a temptation to lie because it’s often in one’s self-interest but it is also so collectively damaging. (One of the basic issues of ethics–self-interest vs morality.) Truth-telling is often hard but society can’t fully flourish without it; the damage it causes is incalculable.

FInally, I’m so sorry for Dr. Grounder’s loss and the cruelty and ignorance she has had to endure but I thank her for her courageous and thoughtful essay.

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3 thoughts on “Grant Wahl’s Death: Why Lying Is So Harmful

  1. The Covid Conspiracy is abominable, and yet, today, I read a brief post on a respected university’s blog: Why Trust Science? It is a blog I have followed since 2013, or so. Lying is a national pass time, apres You-know-who and company, yet, even before that dark crevice of history, a sometimes-respected President said: everybody lies. He was being honest, not bad for a Rhodes Scholar, but when rank-has-privilege, that is no excuse. Lying is a bit like morality and ethics now: it is situational. Or so liars believe. Here ‘s the thing:, there is no moralometer, a term coined by another blogger I read. There ought not be a need for one, but if immorality were a punishable crime, in all cases, it might be another story. Those advocating a distrust of science worry me. Not for me, mind you, I have mostly done my time. I only hope I did some good, some when, along the way.

  2. I tell the truth as a matter of self-preservation. I hold to the Eastern notion that sin damages the sinner. When you tell a lie, you must set aside a walled-off portion of your brain that believes the lie and maintains a version of reality in which the lie is true. Tell enough lies and your mind becomes a honeycomb of wall-off cells. You can’t think clearly fighting your way through all those walls.

    I especially like Merlin’s statement in the classic move “Excalibur”: “When a man lies, he murders a part of the world.”

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