A comment on a previous post deserves to be displayed up front:
“You have a way with words, but remember by and large, English is a tool for hiding the truth”
I thank the poster for his or her kind words about my way with them (the return url takes me to a very new, blank-profile member of an automotive discussion group, no further), but the thing I want to feature here follows the “but.” Sometimes I wish I could forget the fact, but yes indeed, language, the medium that enables us to tell the truth, necessarily also enables us to lie, no question about it—except for the question of degree. I’m not so sure about that “by and large,” if it means most of the time.
Experience tells me something more like 50/50, and my optimistic disposition makes me act as though truth has at least a slight edge. Socrates was right to say truth has the ultimate rhetorical advantage, but he was only right in general, in the abstract, not in every particular situation. It’s as natural to dodge and parry verbally as it is to wear camouflage when someone is hunting you. We don’t expect fawns to say “Here I am, wolf–come ‘n get it.” I’m convinced that most of the time, those who use language to camouflage their real intentions do it because they think or feel they have to. Some people—some lawyers, for example—do end up lying for a living. Even so, I would bet that most don’t enter law school with that intention.
At any rate, I always raise this issue in class. The techniques of persuasion can be used for good or evil, so it’s important for teachers to show our awareness of the dark side while we try as well to stand forth as models of integrity and intellectual humility. Someone I can’t recall once wrote that lecturing on academic humility is beneath our dignity; I think that person quite mistaken. But it’s tricky. Push leads to pushback.
The most engaging competition among young college students might well be the cynicism contest. Sadly, nobody wins that one, except maybe those who opt out of it. Let’s at least try to keep the integrity option visibly on offer.