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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: Dave Karimi

There’s a difference between telling the truth and truth-telling. I know the difference. People who accuse me of lying don’t know the difference. It’s the difference between “telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God,” and telling only part of the truth that serves you.

I’ve known this simple difference my entire life. It has served me very well – especially the time I peed on my toy rack in the closet back in the 2nd grade. I’ll discuss how it got me out of hot water (no pun intended) later, if you’re curious.

Peeing on things was a source of great amusement for me as a child. At the time I had no name for them, but now I call them “pee and runs,” because I would never “pee and tell.” Why? Because it’s the cardinal rule of pee etiquette: once the deed is done, the pee is no longer yours. If fire hydrants and dogs are popping up in your head, I urge you to purge them. This has nothing to do with marking my territory and everything to do with my endeavor to maximize my utility. If, in the process, my values are lost, then there is nothing I can do. And by that I mean there is nothing I want to do. I’m sorry. This is how it is.

It’s no wonder I majored in the philosophy of ethics when I came to UC Davis. The common joke about philosophy majors is they live in cardboard boxes after graduation. There’s some truth to that, sadly, but above all, philosophy allows us to discuss pressing ethical issues within a fair and academic context. What if everyone lied all the time? What if everyone told the truth all time?

The possible implications of these questions floated around in my head as a child, and when I entered college, I wanted to get to the bottom of them. That’s what philosophers do: They debate issues that seem meaningless to the general public. Please bear with me for a moment while I illustrate this point. What if a lie could benefit you more than it hurts you? And what if that lie is so beneficial that you must tell it?

Imagine it’s World War II. You’re hiding your beloved Jewish neighbors in the attic. The Gestapo comes to your door. They demand to know if you’ve hidden any Jews. Do you tell the truth? Of course not. Intuition tells us telling the truth here would be absolutely ridiculous. So then why do we worry so much about the “sin” of lying? Can there be a benefit to “truth-telling?” Only specifying a part of the truth that can, ultimately, benefit everyone involved? A response such as “there are no Jews here” is not a lie, per se. There are no Jews here in my immediate presence…but if I take you upstairs into my attic, there we will find Jews. That’s the difference.

This logic saved me from getting a few good lashings (or slipper attacks) courtesy of my immigrant parental units. I simply told my mummy that no such thing ever happened. I didn’t “pee on my toy rack” – I tried to pee in the corner of the closet, and unfortunately, I had a little unforeseen spillage. Of course, I omitted the last part, but that’s the point. Besides, the toy rack seemed to enjoy all the warm, yellow glory. I don’t know why I just personified my toy rack, but you have to realize I was really attached to that toy rack. It was a repository for all my toys, and it had little nubs in the four corners that allowed me to add extra blue racks. It was amazing, even in spite of the fact that my Batman action figure perpetually smelled like week-old urine.

DAVE KARIMI is sure you’ve peed on inanimate objects, too. Share your list at dkarimi@ucdavis.edu.

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