Is true love dependent on lies?

Susan talks with Canadian philosopher, author, and essayist Clancy Martin about his latest book, “Love and Lies”, and how the two are intertwined

Is true love dependent on lies?

"In bed - the kiss" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893

“And, after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but the truth in masquerade” - Lord Byron, Don Juan

Everyone does it. Whether small white ones, big selfish ones, or harmless half truths we all tell lies. Even when we don’t mean to we can twist the truth to suit our own end or narrative. A slight misremembering and we can become the hero of whatever story we’re telling, so why wouldn’t we?

Well a lot of people will say that lying is just plain wrong. It doesn’t matter what your intentions were, any obscuring of the truth should be strongly discouraged. These are usually the people who will tell you that lies beget lies and what started as one small fib ends up as a tangled spider web of dishonesty.

Against this is the assertion that lies are the grease in society’s wheels. Think of how many fights have been avoided thanks to the simple lies, “I agree” or “that’s fine”. Children, almost by necessity, are raised on a strong diet of fabrications: carrots help you see in the dark, too much TV will turn your eyes square, and spot went to live on a farm. Healthy doses of dishonesty immunise us against the greater lies that wait in the real world and allow us to avoid backlogs of honesty with quick and simple half truths.

But what about lying to the people we love and are in love with? Should these relationships not be sacrosanct and devoid of deceit? Not according to Canadian philosopher and writer Clancy Martin.

A professor of philosophy and business ethics Clancy has extensive experience studying the idea of truth and its role in the world. This academic background is the basis for the first part of his recent book, Love and Lies; and Why You Can't Have One Without the Other. Primarily a study of honesty and deceit in erotic relationships Clancy sets the scene with an exploration of the various ideas on truth from great minds like Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.

After establishing the distinction between objective and subjective truths, essentially the sun sets in the west versus ‘I love you’, and the various arguments for and against lying Clancy delves into the main course: the role of lying and honesty in erotic relationships.

Speaking with Talking Books’ host Susan Cahill, Clancy sets his cards on the table early by asserting that “there are many, many morally legitimate reasons to lie.” For Clancy dishonesty and morality are not only compatible, but one often requires the other.

The clear evidence for this is in how much easier it can be to speak the truth to strangers. We have little or no fear of losing them or causing harm. No, honesty is hardest with those we love the most. And so, according to Clancy, lying can often be the best thing to do in a relationship. This can even extend to cheating.

We are all liable to make mistakes; a forgotten task, a misplaced treasure. We often cover these up with lies, especially when the truth hurts. So is lying not the moral thing to do? For Clancy this rational can be extended to cheating, but only in certain cases.

If a woman has a one-night stand with no strings attached Clancy would argue that “she actually has a moral obligation to keep that a secret, as long as it doesn’t endanger the relationship”. If that one-night develops into something more though then what? Though there is now far more at risk according to Clancy, “now I would argue that compassion, that care requires truthfulness”.

So what is the truth about lying? Can it be a force for good? Is it the glue that holds relationships together? Susan talks with Clancy about this and more.

In the second part of the show Susan takes a look at Robert Merle’s popular historical-fiction series, Fortunes of France, with the translator T. Jefferson Kline. Why are these books so popular in France? And why has it taken so long to translate them into English?

This week’s music to read to,

Billie Holliday’s Come Rain or Come Shine opens and closes part one with Earthly Heaven by Rachel Grimes closing the show.