Full Title: The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, by Ralph Keyes (1st edition, St. Martin’s Press, 312 pages: 16 chapters; organised in 3 parts including a Notes, an Acknowledgements and an Index section) October 7, 2004, Hardcover
Author: Ralph Keyes is an American author and lecturer, born in 1945. He has written sixteen books including the bestselling ‘Is There Life After High School?’, which opened on Broadway as a musical in 1982 and is still produced all over the world. His 1995 book, ‘The Courage to Write’, is a must-read for aspiring authors. Keyes’s topics range from popular culture such as risk-taking, time pressure, loneliness, honesty, to human height. He is the 2002 recipient of the prestigious McKinsey Award for Best Article of the Year for an article co-authored for the Harvard Business Review.
After graduating from Antioch College in 1967, Keyes did graduate work at the London School of Economics and Political Science. From 1968 to 1970 he worked as an assistant to Bill Moyers, then the publisher of Long Island’s Newsday. From 19760 to 1980 he was a Fellow of the Center for Studies of the Person in La Jolla, California, before resorting to freelance writing and speaking in the Philadelphia area. Keyes now lives with his wife Muriel in Yellow Springs, Ohio where he continues to write books, give lectures, and serve as a trustee of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop.
I. HONESTY’S DECLINE
1) Beyond Honesty
A Whole Lotta Lyin’ / Whatever Happened to Honesty? / Post-Truthfulness / Euphemasia / Ledger Book Morality
2) A Brief History of Lying
The Liar’s Edge / Early Ethics /The Insider’s Guide to Honesty / Lie Regulation / Civil Society
3) The Honesty Connection
Community / Situational Dishonesty / Ethical Memories / Impression Management
4) Whistler’s Druthers
Myth America / The Reinvented Self / Roots?
5) Great Pretenders
Petty Fibbery / A Matter of Degrees / Imposeurs / Fields of Unfulfilled Dreams / Behind the Mask
6) Why Lie?
Insecurity / Recreation / Duping Delight / Adventure / Taking Charge
7) Sex, Lies, and Sex Roles
Sex Studies / Telling it Crooked / Erotic Deception / Relationships
II. ENABLING DISHONESTY
8) Mentors and Role Models
Therapists / Lawyers / Politicians / Entertainers
9) It’s Academic
On Campus / Larger Truths / Po Mo Profs / Heirs of Protagoras / Applied Postmodernism
10) Narrative Truths, and Lies
Narrative Truths / New Journalists / Driven Narratives / Creative Journalism / Ripple Effects
11) Masked Media
Hollywood Ethics / From Beaver to Baghdad / Narratives, Storylines, and Dramatic Arcs
12) Peter Pan Morality
Origins / Looking-Glass Ethics / “I Was There” / The Boomer Code
Techno-Aided Deception / No One Knows You’re a Dog / The Tangled Web / Enhanced Reality
III. CONSEQUENCES AND CONCLUSIONS
14) The Suspicious Society
Truth Bias to Lie Bias / Just Checking / Pinocchio’s Revenge / Wired Up / Lies and Consequences / Credibility Gaps
15) The Price of Prevarication
No Respect / Lieaholism / Craving Truth
16) The Case for Honesty
The Post-Ethics Honesty / The Well-Intentioned Liar / Honest Parenting / The Social Value of Honesty / Positive Trends / Honesty Redux
Why this one?
The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life attempts to define and explain the recent distinction between truths, lies and statements that although not true in the strict sense of the word, they would not qualify as lies. In Keyes words: “Euphemisms abound. We’re “economical with the truth,” we “sweeten it,” or tell “the truth improved.”
This is post-truth. In the post-truth era, borders between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction are blurred. “Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit”. The increasing wish to improve “the narrative of one’s personal life” is personally, socially and professionally motivated while it is faced with little moral penalty.
A wide range of influential professionals like entertainers, politicians, academics, and lawyers, display or are assumed to possess a flexible code of ethics. As a result we do not trust anyone. “Post-truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness. It erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization.”
Keyes criticizes the present day attitude that has made lying more acceptable, and he points to a variety of contributing factors in society, from postmodernism’s denial of a literal truth to the ease of making unverified statements online. He distinguishes degrees of lying that are socially acceptable as well as the people they are addressed to. In particular, all societies have had liars amongst them. However, he points out that the more closely-knit the community, the greater the differentiation, and possibly acceptability, of lying to an insider as opposed to lying to an outsider. Furthermore, he states the fact that telling the truth was considered a social virtue: an individual was as good as his words. Individuals were empowered and, in turn, whole societies were endowed through the integrity of their members. “The little boy who cried wolf, after all, eventually came to a point at which he needed others to believe him.”
Keyes’ book is both relevant and well-timed. We are currently faced with wide range of real-life or online statements that stretch the boundaries between fact and fiction. We have grown accustomed to search for wild stories, favouring them with our understanding and appreciation, even more dissemination through our own media as well as through our own social and professional networks. We face straightforward factual statements with disbelief. We take flops for granted. We are being trained to expect twisted remarks and consider dishonesty a professional attribute. Honesty becomes the news.
In conclusion, part one of The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life provides a brief history of lying explores the reasons behind the decline in ethics. Part two focuses on how modern culture inadvertently promotes lying by downplaying ethical issues and placing more emphasis on personal, professional, and national myth making. The result is the increase in influential and high-profile liars such as journalists, politicians, and corporate executives. Part three of the book, examines the significances of a culture that tolerates lying as wrongful behaviour with little or no consequences for the deceiver. Most importantly and disturbingly he references the rise in suspicion throughout the given social culture.