Soli Deo Gloria

The Repercussions of Lying

I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and it has been quite a thought-provoking and dense read. He provides a very idiosyncratic but yet quite refreshing view on life, so I’ll be providing my scattered thoughts as to what I think of some of the rules. It won’t be in any order for the rules that I’ll talk about, and my thoughts will be all over the place, but here we go.

As a disclaimer, he takes a lot of Bible verses out of context, and in many ways, he draws moralistic principles out of the Bible without its main message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. For this post, I’ll dig into his 8th rule – “Tell the Truth, at least don’t lie.”

Lies are an intriguing part of the human experience. All of us have at least told one lie before. Lies twist reality, conjuring conceited emotions in the receivers of the lie, with the motivation to elevate the one telling the lie. Through Peterson’s rediscovery of the long-lost axiom that humans are inherently evil and selfish, it makes sense for us to lie, as we are able to have some sort of temporary gain. Through lying, we can paint a better (but albeit false) picture of ourselves. To glorify self and to make us think that we are better than we really are. In the short term, lies might seem to provide a survival advantage. However in the long term, lies will lead us to our own demise. Lies will accumulate to the point that you can’t explain it away, where eventually it will get to a point of having no more space under the carpet to shove the lies you currently have under it. In this way, it is very easy for lies to add on top of one another. There is this multiplying effect, a positive feedback loop that is embedded in lying in which we see a “white lie” morphing into that which is disastrous.

“Lies corrupt the world. Worse, that is their intent. First, a little lie; then several little lies to prop it up. After that, distorted thinking to avoid the shame that those lies produce then a few more lies to cover up the consequences of the distorted thinking. Then, most terribly, the transformation of those now necessary lies through practice into automatised, specialised, structural, neurologically instantiated “unconscious” belief and action. Then the sickening of experience itself as action predicated on falsehood fails to produce the results intended. If you don’t believe in brick walls, you will still be injured when you run headlong into one. Then you will curse reality itself for producing the wall.”

jordan peterson,12 Rules for Life, p. 229

His choice of words is quite interesting though, where we see the phrase “at least don’t lie”. The negation of truth is not necessarily its opposite (known in literature as litotes). For example, let’s compare the phrases “not bad” with “good”. Being “good” actually tells you a lot more than “not bad”. If I say conversationally that I am “not bad”, that implies two possibilities – that I could be “good”, or just “okay”. This begs the question with his phrasing – is there a middle ground between telling the truth or telling lie? Is there a spectrum from what is being totally true or half lying? We hear the phrases “white lie” and “half-truths” thrown around occasionally. Is there a grey area in which half a truth, and also half a lie is formed, and its effects would be innocuous?

There is the cliched idea that people lie to ‘protect those they love’, and we always see it in movies where the recipient of the lie is a child. Can it be a loving thing to lie? Do we sell a softer utopia, but yet an ever so false reality of life, or do we give them the harsh truth, where its implications may be too difficult for a child? This brings forth the idea of the red pill and blue pill in the classic movie “The Matrix”- do we live an ignorant life that is a lie or face the biting coldness of reality? These are all very intriguing things to consider.

However, if everyone in the world told the truth, life would be a lot less complicated. If we tell the truth, then we wouldn’t need to explain away our past decisions, as well as remember all of our past decisions plus the lies that we have heaped above it so that we can sidestep our past. If we stopped lying tragedies would not occur, and vengeance for tragedy would too not occur.

“Truth builds edifices that can stand a thousand years. Truth feeds and clothes the poor, and makes nations wealthy and safe. Truth reduces the terrible complexity of a man to the simplicity of his word, so that he can become a partner, rather than an enemy. Truth makes the past truly past, and makes the best use of the future’s possibilities. Truth is the ultimate, inexhaustible natural resource. It’s the light in the darkness. See the truth. Tell the truth.”

Jordan peterson, 12 rules for life, p.230


Maiden Voyage Through Scripture


August 2020


  1. The positive feedback of loop of lying is very insightful, thanks for sharing Bryan!

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