Why We Lie

is a proposition that is intriguing to me. I’m going to look closely at it and try to come up with some answers.

[This post was inspired by my WordPress friend’s post The Shape of Discord.]

I didn't catch these. they were a gift from others who had gotten lost in the wilderness. I helped them find their way out.
A nice string of cutthroats

To begin, understand that I take an evolutionary and Freudian position on human nature and behavior.


of lying can be substantial. Some are:

  1. To gain an advantage
  2. To get something (profit)
  3. To protect myself or others
  4. To feel better
  5. To bolster self-esteem
  6. To impress someone
  7. To avoid negative consequences
  8. To avoid humiliation
  9. To avoid conflict
  10. To be nice
  11. To distract or displace
  12. To deflect blame
  13. To hurt someone

Those thirteen motivations can be put into categories: pro-social and anti-social; self-serving and other-serving. However, it’s complicated because some of the reasons can serve both the self and the other. Furthermore, it could be argued that all the motivations are pro-social. Because to serve the self is not mutually exclusive to serving another. Moreover, to serving the best interests of the group (= One’s tribe).


of lying are many, wide ranging, and common. Most involve deception. Some are:

  1. Language / words
  2. Clothes
  3. Fashion
  4. Body image
  5. Possessions
  6. Habitat
  7. Habits
  8. Consumption

The mechanisms and methods all serve a reason, or reasons. Those listed above. In a nutshell – lying serves the preservation of self and others. Albeit at, sometimes, a cost to another or others. Paradoxically, sometimes to a cost to one’s self.


can be great. Some are:

  1. Loss of freedom (jail / prison)
  2. Loss of life (execution)
  3. Loss of money (means of support)
  4. Loss of job (means of support)
  5. Loss of shelter (means of safety)
  6. Loss of respect (humiliation)
  7. Loss of love (self respect)


is not necessarily the opposite of a lie. It depends on who decides. In other words – on the context and nuance of the story being told. In who’s service is the tale being told?

This post has now fizzled out. zzz …

“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” J. Cash (Not true.)

“Even the president of the United States has to stand naked.” B. Dylan (True, but; not the artist’s real name.)

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” B. Clinton (True? Not True? It depends.)

The author of this piece. 2006. True then. Not true now. 2023



15 thoughts on “Why We Lie

  1. Right on Mark, we are all self-serving creatures. Even virtue ethics is a blatant bald-faced lie because no matter how much one wants to spin the meaning of virtue in an attempt to take the moral high ground it always circles back towards the “black hole” that is self.

    Some of my favorite quotes from Robert Pirsig (ZMM):

    “What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism,” Kitto comments, “is not a sense of duty as we understand it — duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself.”

    ”Phaedrus is fascinated too by the description of the motive of ‘duty toward self’ which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskirt word dharma, sometimes described as the “one” of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the “virtue” of the ancient Greeks be identical?”

    Pisig called this ego “that homunculus who sits behind these eyeballs passing judgement on the world.” In my latest book, I take it one step further by calling that homunculus the Schwarzschildian me, borrowed from Karl Schwarzschild the author of the Schwarzschild Radius of course. A black hole is a great metaphor for the locus of consciousness because that locus draws everything unto itself which essentially stabilizes the system, just like a giant black hole stabilizes a galaxy.

    Party on……

    1. I read ZMM around 1990, I think. I did carry it in house in my bookstore (2001-2).~
      “Can the dharma of the Hindus and the “virtue” of the ancient Greeks be identical?” probably not identical, but close enough?

  2. We lie because we perceive an advantage to it. Even some animals practice forms of deception. Markings that make them look bigger, scarier, or poisonous. Squirrels and some birds pretend to bury nuts to throw off observers who might steal them. I’ve come to the conclusion that deceit is a byproduct of intelligence. I suspect any intelligence can lie. So, if AI ever becomes truly intelligent, watch out!

  3. Here’s a quote from my book “The Immortal Principle: A Reference Point” page 199:

    ” as human beings, we are all hardcore, hopeless, helpless addicts. The only thing that distinguishes one addict from another is how each addict expresses the power of reasoning in our primary experience, what dependencies we create for ourselves and whether those dependencies enhance our well-being.”

    Is that Freudian, I think so?

  4. hmmm. “hardcore, hopeless, helpless addicts” – that’s pretty grim. To make the unconscious conscious is what Freud was about. And that implies that there are some “dependencies” that we might be able to change, if we become aware of them. Some, of course, we can’t – our basic needs.~
    There’s a subtle difference. That good old Serenity Prayer thing.~
    Lying? We all do it. Albeit to different degrees and different outcomes.

  5. “To make the unconscious conscious is what Freud was about.”

    Making the conscious mind aware that we are all hardcore, hopeless, helpless addicts then is definitely Freudian.

    When I first wrote my thesis on addiction I had my brother-in-law (poor guy) review it and he commented that he could accept my theory if it was an analogy. I pointed out that it’s not an analogy but a “fact of the matter” (poor guy).

    Party on……

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