(The following post constitutes virtually the entirety of the updated final section of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay. If you do not consider yourself an “anti-esotericist,” or are still unfamiliar with the subject matter of religious esotericism and have not yet formed any opinions with regard to it, then I recommend that you instead read a shorter version of this post which does not discuss the subject of religious esotericism or its relevance to an “honesty culture” social strategy.)
“Principle is not limited by Precedent.”
I believe that it would actually be possible to solve the age-old problem of lying and dishonesty in human affairs if there were only a relatively small number of people who were willing to consistently adhere to a strategy based on the formation of what might be called “truth groups” (or “honesty groups,” to be more precise). I certainly make no claim that the thorough elimination of dishonesty in society would be achieved in the very near future by using this strategy; but I do believe that, in time, it would be achieved. (Incidentally, I also envision that these same “truth groups” would constitute the nuclei or beginning cores around which the moral communities that I describe elsewhere might come to form—with each of these moral communities practicing a non-esoteric religion or practical philosophy of its choice.)
I propose that members of truth groups would make four pledges, the first three being the most important to stress. First: They will never lie, either to each other or to outsiders—not even to those who have lied to them. (There would be a single exception to this blanket “never lie” rule: a kind of “self-defense” or “self-protection” exception that would apply in cases in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unreasonably threatened—for example, by being asked intrusive and impertinent questions.) Second: To the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate lying by others. Third: To the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate the condoning (or promoting, or endorsing, or enabling) by others of lying by others. Fourth: They will strive to reduce how much they lie to themselves (at least to the extent they are able to do so, given that some degree of self-deception in every person is inevitable, and one must fight a never-ending battle against it).
A particular truth group could be formed around any interest that its members shared in common, or any mission or goal that they wished to jointly pursue. Any currently-existing group or association, including a small business, a non-profit organization, or an informal club, could always choose to additionally identify as a “truth group.” Members of different truth groups wouldn’t need to have anything in common with one another except a shared desire to promote the development of a thoroughly honest society.
It is impossible to predict the exact manner in which the process would unfold, but my general expectation is that over time the various truth groups would “link up” and associate with each other more and more closely and exclusively, giving them a growing ability to “shun” individuals and organizations not associated with any recognized truth group network. Eventually, all of the truth groups would collectively come to constitute a broad and inclusive “honesty culture.” Any person who was a member of at least one truth group would ipso facto be a member of the honesty culture. But any person who was not a member of any truth group could not be regarded as a member of the honesty culture; in fact, he would be regarded as a member of the “dishonesty culture” that would be composed of all those persons who were not recognized members of the honesty culture. As it grew in size and strength, this honesty culture would progressively “secede” from the surrounding dishonesty culture and operate as independently of it as possible, continuing to focus on its own growth and on expanding its own social influence, until the honesty culture was eventually able to supplant the dishonesty culture entirely.
What would it mean for the honesty culture to “secede” from the surrounding dishonesty culture? For one thing, it would imply, whenever reasonably possible, patronizing businesses owned by members of the honesty culture before patronizing businesses owned by members of the dishonesty culture. In other words, there would be a partial boycott of economic actors that had not yet made the choice to locate themselves within the honesty culture (regardless of how honest and trustworthy any one of those particular economic actors happened to be, since, by itself, merely being honest on an individual basis is not enough to build up an honesty culture). Members of the honesty culture would also be given preferences in other ways, such as in social interactions. Whenever there was a conflict between the two, a fellow member of the honesty culture would always be given preferential treatment as compared to someone still located outside the honesty culture.
The ultimate goal would be to create a completely parallel culture—and eventually, a dominant culture—that was simply devoted to honesty; and that’s it. There would be no “angle.” Organizing the truth groups would not be used as a pretext for pursuing some other political or social agenda that its members were really interested in pursuing. As a result, members of different truth groups would be free to continue to disagree with each other over every question except the question of the importance of insisting upon honesty in society. Persons who did not want to actively associate with the members of one truth group would always be free to form another truth group; but, so long as both groups required honesty from their own members—honesty toward both those inside and those outside their own truth group, as well as those outside the entire honesty culture—each group would still recognize the validity of the other as a truth group (meaning that the members of each of the two truth groups would give preferential treatment to members of the other truth group as compared to persons located outside the honesty culture).
By this point, a question may have arisen in the minds of some readers: How can one be so sure that by “seceding,” members of truth groups would succeed in “freezing out” dishonest persons and enablers of dishonesty from mainstream society, and not just succeed in freezing themselves out of mainstream society?
There are several good reasons to believe that through the use of a progressive, incremental “shunning” or “boycotting” strategy, an honesty culture movement would not keep itself in a permanently marginalized position, but rather, would gradually become more and more dominant in society.
First, the fact that the honesty culture would take an inclusive stance toward all persons who sincerely held a single belief—namely, a belief in the importance of creating a thoroughly honest society—would prevent the honesty culture from ever being perceived as, or ever degenerating into, some sort of “weird cult” on the outskirts of social respectability. Every individual who was currently located in the dishonesty culture could for that reason always be seen as a realistic “convert” to the honesty culture as a whole (though not necessarily to any particular truth group, since the truth groups would be quite diverse in nature).
Second, the “reasonableness” standard found in the second and third rules would allow truth group members to continue interacting with and extracting benefits from the dishonesty culture to the extent that they found it excessively difficult to avoid doing so. Truth group members would not be asked to make an “all-or-nothing” decision, at least not in the early stages of the honesty culture movement when it was still in a weak position vis-à-vis the dishonesty culture; and they would never be asked to make any drastic sacrifices to advance the movement. (However, they would be reminded that the greater the sacrifices they were willing to voluntarily make, the more rapidly the honesty culture would grow.) Members of the honesty culture would always have the flexibility to decide the extent to which they felt reasonably able at any particular time and in any particular situation to withdraw from the dishonesty culture and do without the immediate benefits of interacting with it—the sort of flexibility that members of the dishonesty culture would see no reason to practice in their own dealings with members of the honesty culture. For example, when making a purchase, members of the dishonesty culture would invariably look for the best combination of price, quality, and seller reliability for the purpose of advancing their own individual, immediate self-interest; while for members of the honesty culture, price, quality, and seller reliability would certainly be taken into consideration, but the membership status of the seller would also play a role in determining their final purchasing decision. (In fact, to the extent that seller reliability was an issue, members of the dishonesty culture would actually tend to be more inclined to buy from members of the honesty culture than from members of their own.) By the failure of dishonesty culture members to discriminate against honesty culture members in their dealings, especially their economic dealings, they would be helping to build up, expand, and strengthen the honesty culture without even realizing it—but they would not be harmed by their unwitting failure to discriminate, since in the long run, they, like everyone else, would be beneficiaries of the final victory of the honesty culture.
Third, and related to what I was just saying, members of the honesty culture would not need to fear economic retaliation or reciprocal discrimination from persons located outside the honesty culture. It is impossible to imagine members of the dishonesty culture engaging in a boycott of members of the honesty culture in any way comparable to the one being engaged in by the latter, because any systematic boycott by the former would require that the dishonesty culture first take cognizance of itself as a “dishonesty culture,” and then organize itself along those lines—since there are no other lines along which the members of the dishonesty culture would be able to organize themselves if their goal was indeed to “retaliate.” And the notion of any substantial number of people organizing themselves around the “ideal” of dishonesty (accompanied by the closely related “ideal” of disloyalty) is a fundamentally incoherent and therefore inconceivable one.
Fourth, and most importantly, the strategy I am proposing actively takes advantage of the fact that groups of people who are required to be honest with each other will, on the average and in the long run, and all other things being equal, necessarily and inevitably be more overtly successful than groups of people who are not required to be honest with each other. To put it very simply: Honesty works; dishonesty does not work. It is the social benefits—including economic benefits—that flow from group honesty and trust that would more than “pay for” the costs that truth group members would incur in gradually seceding from, and increasingly foregoing the immediate benefits of interacting with, the dishonesty culture; and it is this perpetual “profitability” of the movement that would permit the honesty culture to keep growing steadily and without impediment. By means of the consistent, principled, impartial, and deliberate exclusion from the honesty culture of dishonest persons and persons who were willing to tolerate, enable, or promote dishonesty (as opposed, that is, to the exclusion or inclusion of persons merely on the basis of visceral personal antipathy or attraction), it would become possible to capture and retain the social benefits of honesty—instead of allowing those benefits to dissipate throughout the entire society in such a way that they could be enjoyed also—or rather, even more so—by the dishonest members of society. This “capturing and retaining of benefits” is what would allow the honesty culture to gradually outcompete, outgrow, and ultimately supplant the dishonesty culture—resulting in the entire society being made a thoroughly honest one.
Fifth, and finally, a “ratchet effect” would be at work in the growth of the honesty culture movement. The growth of the movement would be gradual, but it would also be inexorable. That’s because while it would always be possible, through outreach efforts, to find additional recruits for the honesty culture, it is difficult to imagine many existing truth group members ever leaving the honesty culture to rejoin the dishonesty culture. Members of the honesty culture would, on average, be more honest, trustworthy, loyal, rational, sane, and financially successful than members of the dishonesty culture. So the typical member of the honesty culture, once he had become familiar through first-hand experience with the advantages of belonging to the honesty culture, would realize that he would in no way benefit by relocating to the dishonesty culture.
In the initial stages of the movement’s development, I expect that the truth group members would tend to consist mainly of idealists, long-range planners, and strategic visionaries. They would be the persons who were able to appreciate that once the growth of the movement had reached a certain point, the logic of the strategy would make the movement’s ultimate success inevitable—regardless of how dramatically the type of society created by it would differ from anything human beings have ever seen before. They would understand that just because a certain state of affairs has never been seen by human beings, does not mean that the creation of that state of affairs is not feasible—provided there is solid logic arguing in favor of its feasibility. They would recognize that the successful creation of a fully honest society would in no way rest upon vain hopes that human nature would undergo spontaneous changes, unaccompanied by changes in people’s economic and other incentives (although the eventual success of an honesty culture would of course lead to changes in people’s habitual ways of thinking), since they would recognize that, according to the proposed strategy, the successful creation of a fully honest society would in no way depend upon large numbers of people being verbally persuaded of the merits of honesty in the abstract. These early truth group members would also be the persons who were willing to make moderate short-term sacrifices for the sake of advancing the movement, partly out of their confidence that the long-term benefits made possible by those sacrifices would far outweigh the sacrifices; but also partly due to a realization that even in the earliest stages, if a member had already been a generally honest person before joining a truth group, the immediate benefits he would obtain by associating to a greater extent than before with other honest, trustworthy, rational, and loyal persons might well exceed the amount of sacrifice he would be making, since the amount of “boycotting” or “shunning” expected of the average truth group member at any given time would always be in proportion to the size of the honesty culture at that time.
But at some point, once the honesty culture had become large enough, a great many non-members—whose notions of self-interest were not quite as “enlightened” as those of the early truth group members—would finally come to perceive that it was in their own immediate self-interest to become members of the honesty culture, regardless of how honest or dishonest they were “by nature.” Once that “tipping point” had been reached, when perceived immediate self-interest had become fully aligned with an ideal vision of society’s future—so that new members no longer perceived there to be any inconsistency between maximizing their own individual welfare and maximizing social welfare, and little if any rational foresight, or selflessness, or intellectual appreciation of the logic of the honesty culture strategy was still required of new members—the growth of the honesty culture movement would from that point on be literally unstoppable. But it would be the responsibility of the more idealistic and visionary early members of the honesty culture to see to it that, by means of ongoing outreach efforts, the movement grew just enough to reach this crucial “tipping point”—and then allow the intrinsic logic of the strategy to continue working itself out from there.
In addition to the “four rules” proposed above, I furthermore propose that there be an initial “transition period” for each truth group or truth group network during which members of truth groups would not be penalized for violating any of the “four rules.” In other words, during this initial transition period, as members were coming to learn exactly what would be expected of them as truth group members, and as they were getting into the habit of acting in accordance with those expectations, the “four rules” might be better thought of as “four aspirations.” Each truth group or truth group network would be free to decide for itself when it felt it was ready to “get more serious” by moving to the next stage, at which point penalties would be assessed for violations of the rules. (And when I speak of “penalties,” these might involve nothing more than giving the violator a dirty look or a frown, or just calling attention to the violation—if the members of a particular truth group found that this was enough to generally deter future violations. Otherwise, more severe penalties might be required.)
Of course, a particular truth group might decide to forego such a transition period altogether; but I think that would be an imprudent decision, since, especially at first, I can envision truth group members having sincere disagreements with one another about whether or not a particular type of communication in a particular type of situation ought to be regarded as indeed constituting lying or dishonesty. Ultimately, the identifying of a particular instance of “dishonesty” or “misleading communication” is something that cannot be done except by making reference to the reasonable understanding of the person or persons to whom the particular communication was made. But determining what a “reasonable” understanding is, as well as helping to ensure that a person’s understanding be “reasonable,” both require that people already know something—and also be willing to learn something—about the thinking processes of other persons, including the particular individual or individuals by whom and to whom the particular communication was made, and also the members of society in general. An initial transition period for a truth group or truth group network would help give a jump-start to that needed “learning process,” during which members would be working toward achieving a rough general consensus as to what they would or would not consider to constitute “lying,” or “dishonesty,” or “misleading communication,” in various types of situations.
During this transition period, members of traditional, esoteric religions would be welcome to join truth groups, because there would not yet be any basis for excluding them, since members of these religions—at least, the ones who would be interested in joining truth groups—do not regard themselves as promoting, condoning, endorsing, or enabling dishonesty by their being a member of their religion. But after the transition period comes to an end, I believe that anti-esotericists in the honesty culture must strenuously insist upon the position that religious esotericism constitutes one very important type of intolerable dishonesty, so that anyone who is a voluntary member of a traditional, esoteric religion must ipso facto be regarded as unreasonably promoting, condoning, endorsing, and enabling that dishonesty—and must therefore be excluded from the honesty culture—no matter how admirable the person’s character might otherwise appear to be.
For the most part, I would be content to accept the general consensus regarding what people did or did not consider to be dishonest or misleading in a particular type of situation, so long as their judgments were sincere, principled, and carefully considered; and I also believe that an honesty culture movement should strive to achieve as much unity within its ranks as it possibly could, provided it never compromised its fundamental mission by doing so. But I believe religious esotericism is the one specific form of dishonesty that is so dangerous—partly because its dishonest nature is so non-obvious to most people—that truth group members would need to recognize it as intolerable dishonesty regardless of whether a consensus, even a consensus within just the honesty culture, had yet formed around that conclusion. For that reason, I take the position that truth group members who were anti-esotericist would have to be willing to allow a schism in the honesty culture movement to the extent that members of the traditional, esoteric religions had not yet been brought around to the anti-esotericist position by the time their own truth group or truth group network made the decision to end the initial transition period and begin assessing penalties of some kind against its members.
It is an inescapable fact that at the point when penalties of any kind began to be assessed, truth group members would no longer be able to “agree to disagree” about what they believed constitutes “dishonesty” in a particular type of situation; at that point, they would need to know with certainty whether a truth group member would or would not be regarded as unreasonably promoting, condoning, endorsing, and enabling dishonesty merely by that person’s being a voluntary member of one of the traditional, esoteric religions. According to the strategy I am proposing, the honesty culture movement would not recognize any such thing as “harmless lies” (since if a particular communication was deemed to be truly “harmless,” it would not be regarded as a “lie” at all); and that means members of those traditional, esoteric religions would have to take one of three positions: 1) Religious esotericism is not in fact a type of dishonesty; 2) Religious esotericism is indeed a type of dishonesty, but their own religion is not in fact esoteric; or 3) They have no choice but to take leave of their religion, at least in its current form. But even if they refused to take leave of their religion in its current form, they would be forced to give serious consideration—probably for the first time in their lives—to the question of whether religious esotericism is intrinsically dishonest, as well as to the question of whether their own religion qualifies as “esoteric”; and the very instigating of such questioning would itself be highly valuable.
The likely result I anticipate would be a division of the “honesty culture” into two (or possibly more) rival camps or factions; and each would be vying for the support of the entire “honesty culture” in order that the schism within the movement might be ended. According to the logic of the proposed strategy, for the honesty culture movement to succeed in finally displacing and supplanting the dishonesty culture, it would require unity. As long as multiple supposed “honesty cultures” co-existed—competing with each other for the public’s support—the dishonesty culture would necessarily continue to exist, since the presence of thoroughgoing honesty in society requires that everyone in society be more or less in agreement as to what will be considered “honesty” or “dishonesty” in any given type of situation. If the recipients of a certain type of communication feel that they have been lied to or misled by it, the fact that the persons doing the communicating do not believe that they were lying to or misleading anyone when they made the communication does not make the problem disappear; in fact, it only highlights the existence of the problem, since it indicates a mental “disconnect” between the communicators and the recipients that makes it quite likely the recipients will continue to feel lied to or misled by future communications. As long as the communicators and the recipients do not agree on what constitutes “dishonesty” or “misleading communication,” the recipients can never know when they might feel misled, and so will feel forced to metaphorically (and perhaps also literally) “keep their distance” from the communicators—and the maintaining of any such mental and communicatory division in society makes it impossible to defeat the dishonesty culture. As long as multiple supposed “honesty cultures” co-exist, the dishonesty culture is in effect able to continue to operate by hiding within at least one of those supposed “honesty cultures.”
Moreover, at least one of those supposed “honesty cultures” might try to do the “retaliating” against the genuine honesty culture that the dishonesty culture would like to be doing—but is logically unable to do—on behalf of the dishonesty culture. And this would be possible because, in actual practice, the supposed “honesty culture” doing the retaliating—specifically, one of the traditional, esoteric religions—had chosen to make the chief principle (or idea, or value, or belief) around which it organized, not dishonesty, of course, but something other than honesty (such as, for example, the sanctity of a certain scripture supposedly inspired by God). It is this elevation of some principle (or idea, or value, or belief) above the value of honesty that has made it impossible to extirpate the dishonesty culture that pervades the entire world, including all of its religions. This devaluation of honesty also has the effect of maintaining arbitrary and harmful divisions between different peoples, since, in order to “define” itself and maintain its unique “identity,” each of the traditional religions has chosen to have as its most highly cherished principle or idea something different from what each of the other traditional religions has chosen to be its most highly cherished principle or idea. If each of the traditional religions had instead chosen to make honesty its primary and most highly cherished principle or idea—and in theory they all could have done that, since each of those religions claims to place a high value on honesty—then all of the world’s religions could have organized around the same chief principle or idea; with other, more variant principles or ideas being, not unimportant, of course, but of secondary importance. And it would be appropriate to make honesty in particular the single chief unifying value for all world religions and all peoples, for the very basic reason that all human beings are able to agree that they do not like to be lied to or misled. I have no objection to the existence of a multiplicity of religions (in fact, I think it’s a very good thing); but all of the members of those (non-esoteric) religions ought to think of themselves as being members of a single honesty culture—eventually, a worldwide one—that would be able to embrace and include all of those various non-esoteric religions. Honesty must be recognized as the only possible basis for true peace—peace among different religions, and among different individuals, and among different nations.
If a schism within the “honesty culture” movement did in fact occur, the members of the pro-esotericist faction would, of course, simply deny that religious esotericism is dishonest, or that their own religion is esoteric, and so argue that the anti-esotericists ought to be driven out of the movement due simply to the unreasonableness and wrongheadedness of their destructively divisive and schismatic demands. Meanwhile, the members of the anti-esotericist faction would advocate that the pro-esotericists likewise be driven out of the movement—for the simple reason that they were unreasonably promoting, condoning, endorsing, and enabling an intolerable (albeit an admittedly subtle) form of dishonesty. And the schism within the movement could not be ended—one way or the other—except as a result of various people giving serious thought to the question of whether religious esotericism is in fact a type of dishonesty, and to the question of whether the traditional religions are in fact esoteric in nature. But once the debate had been framed in that manner, anti-esotericists would win, since the dishonesty of religious esotericism has endured for as long as it has only by avoiding notice. Once the subject of religious esotericism had been seriously and critically considered and discussed for the first time ever, it would not be able to withstand close scrutiny.
In the long run, if the genuine—that is, non-esotericist or anti-esotericist—honesty culture is to succeed, the contrast between it and the dishonesty culture hidden within the pro-esotericist “honesty culture” (or “honesty cultures”) would have to be displayed as starkly as possible. Traditional, esoteric religious organizations could not be allowed to indirectly and parasitically benefit from the success of the honesty culture that would be created by anti-esotericist truth groups; and truth groups would have to avoid providing a social service to members of traditional religions that would have the effect of blurring over or masking the evils and harm that are inevitably caused by the esoteric nature of their religions. If the truth groups did provide such a social service, the result would be to enable traditional religions to keep limping along indefinitely because people for sentimental reasons were unwilling to make a total and final break with them in their current forms.
If Christian churches, say, were succeeding in their self-appointed task of providing people with communities in which they were given proper mental guidance in life and encouraged in their aspirations to become more virtuous, then it would not be necessary to form truth groups at all; if that were the case, my recommendation would simply be that everyone should join a local Christian church (or something analogous). The forming of truth groups—and, out of them, non-esoteric moral communities—would be in direct response to the failure of traditional, esoteric religion; and traditional, esoteric religion has failed because it did not consistently adhere to the unalterable moral law against lying and dishonesty. In fact, truth groups (in the Western world, anyway) would have to view Christian churches as their chief “competition” (not “enemy”)—at least until a particular Christian church agreed to reject the esoteric aspects of Christianity and move to a rational and honest scheme of religion in which encoded, deliberately ambiguous, or otherwise deceptive or misleading language would never be used in its authoritative writings. At that point, however, I would no longer think of the religion that it professed as “Christianity,” even if the church figured out a way to incorporate a great deal of Christian theological and moral teachings into its belief-system purely on philosophical or rational or intuitive grounds—and that is something to which I would personally have no objection whatsoever. In any event, I would expect that by whatever name the church chose to call itself, it would be one that made clear to the public that the members of the church had decided to make a distinction between themselves and traditional, Bible-preaching Christians.
Again, my hope is that eventually truth groups would themselves come to serve as the foundations for the new moral communities, or “churches,” of our society, and take over the responsibilities of the existing churches (to the extent, that is, that the existing churches refused to abandon the use of esoteric word-symbols and verbal figures in their authoritative writings). But until that happens, it is necessary that a line be drawn, and that people be required to make a choice to stand on one side of that line or the other—and then abide by the consequences of their decision. A member of an esoteric religion must—as an objective matter—be seen as necessarily condoning, endorsing, promoting, and enabling dishonesty, even if he is currently doing so in relative good faith. That fact should not stop opponents of religious esotericism from showing kindness toward him, or continuing to communicate with him—and this especially so in the early stages of the development of the honesty culture, as both members and non-members of the traditional religions are still getting used to these new ideas. But if one rationally reaches the conclusion that members of the traditional, esoteric religions are persons who—objectively speaking—condone dishonesty merely by their being voluntary members of those religions, then it is necessary that members of truth groups also think of them and treat them as persons who—objectively speaking—condone dishonesty by their actions. That condoning of dishonesty may well be in relative good faith at the moment due to ignorance; but as time goes on, it will become increasingly difficult for members of esoteric religions to make that claim. In any event, a refusal by members of truth groups to tolerate dishonesty or the condoning of dishonesty in any particular instance does not depend upon anyone’s lack of good faith; indeed, the (polite) insistence that others detach themselves from all religious esotericism would itself be one of the primary means by which people of good faith might be alerted to the objectively harmful nature of their actions. As the result of consistently pursuing this approach—and if, at the same time, members of esoteric religions were finally offered attractive and realistic alternatives to those religions as sources of meaning, purpose, guidance, and fellowship in their lives—I do not believe that it is unreasonable to suppose that members of those traditional, esoteric religions might eventually decide to leave them in large numbers (unless, of course, traditional religious communities decided to reject the esoteric elements of their religions while at the same time preserving the non-esoteric elements—at least in their authoritative writings).
The only thing about a program of forming anti-esotericist truth groups that could even be claimed to be “controversial” would be its opposition to all esotericism in authoritative religious writings, and to any religion and religious sect that refused to abandon those esoteric elements. A demand that all esotericism in authoritative religious writings be rejected will undoubtedly strike many people as “intolerant,” at least when they first encounter it. But over time I think more and more people will come to understand and accept that such a position is really required—like it or not—by a consistent devotion to the principle of honesty. So eventually, the only “controversy” that would remain would be whether our society, and each of us individually, will opt for Truth or the Lie. And that is exactly how the “controversy” ought to be framed.
The simple purpose of truth groups would be to win people over to a culture of honesty and away from a culture of dishonesty—by insisting that they make a choice, one way or the other. The overall strategy can be very briefly summed up as: Isolate and quarantine. Or, to use a slightly different analogy, all of the honest people in society might be thought of as representing a host body besieged by parasites; and truth groups would be the means by which the host body could gradually, but systematically, one by one, either detach the parasites from itself, or else force the parasites to stop their parasitic ways and rejoin the host body as honest and fully constructive members of the greater organism. It is important never to forget that every liar—to the extent that he is a liar—is a parasite who benefits from the honesty of others, since it is their honesty that holds society together and makes it work.
In essence, the message delivered by the truth groups to liars and apologists for lying would be something along the following lines: “We’re not trying to force you to be honest against your will; whether you are to be an honest person or not is entirely your decision—at least for the time being. But we are going to force you to choose which party you want to be a member of: the Party of the Lie, or the Party of Truth. If you choose not to join our party, we’re going to minimize our contact with you, and eventually—when we have the ability to do so—cut it off entirely. You will be left to fend for yourself in a ruthless culture of liars and lunatics and backstabbers, a culture made up solely of other people whom, like you, we have required to effectively ‘go on record’ as knowingly and deliberately rejecting honesty in society as something that is unimportant to them. Your culture of liars will get progressively smaller as time goes on, as we continue our outreach efforts and as more people find out about us. And, as it gets smaller, you can expect that the people remaining with you will, on average, keep getting more and more toxic, as fewer and fewer decent people will still be around to dilute the toxicity. Now, as this process unfolds, periodically ask yourself if lying—by yourself and by others—is still as much fun, and as funny, as it used to be, and whether the benefits you get from lying and putting up with lying are still able to offset all of the increasing unpleasantness in the same way that they used to. After all, wasn’t that the reason you embraced the Lie in the first place—the benefits? So, there’s no need for you to become defensive or hostile towards us. We won’t try to attack you for accepting dishonesty in your life. But we will let you stew in your own juices until you wise up; and in the meantime, we’re going to attend to our own affairs as free of your interference and harmful influence as possible.”
Truth groups could be designed in a variety of ways, and I would encourage them to experiment with different forms of organization—provided they adhered to the basic core rules that I described at the beginning of this post; otherwise, they could not be considered to be truth groups “in good standing” by other truth groups. As I already indicated above, truth groups would not have to be nothing but “truth groups”; I certainly do not envision that most truth groups members would do nothing but, say, discuss books about alethiology (the technical name for the philosophical study of truth). I would encourage them to pursue other common interests, and so have overlapping identities. For example, one could form a fishing club that also happened to be a truth group, or a golf league that also happened to be a truth group, and so on.
But at least some truth groups would need to focus more on engagement with outsiders for purposes of winning new recruits to the movement as a whole: partly in a (politely) “destructive,” or “negative,” or “confrontational,” or “combative” way, by relentlessly (but always politely) criticizing the weak intellectual foundations and downright absurdities of esotericist religion whenever its apologists put forth their arguments; and partly in a more “constructive” or “positive” way, by engaging in educational “outreach” geared toward encouraging outsiders to “convert” to habits of clear thought and communication, and with that, away from their habitual awestruck respect for religious mystification, meaningless “profundity,” and hopelessly obscure and inaccessible “ancient wisdom.” But pursuing this sort of “intellectual activist” approach is not what would characterize a truth group; any such combination would be based solely on the interests and temperaments of the members of a particular group. In other words, “intellectual activism” would not be required of the members of all truth groups. The sincere desire to be honest and to live in an honest society would be the only requirement.
The idea of truth groups is especially appealing because people cannot defame them—at least, not without making themselves look bad. Everyone claims to simply adore truth and honesty—in public, anyway—and, by definition, any defamation of truth groups would also have to be done in public. Moreover, for the same reason, truth groups could not be suppressed by the use of legal processes. So the only alternatives available to any opponents that the truth groups might have would be to infiltrate or subvert or harass them; but, as a practical matter, I do not see how it would be possible to counter them in any of these ways either. For one thing, they would be too numerous (since if they were not numerous, no one would take any interest in them); and it would not be possible to “make an example” of some small number of them, since, by definition, this would involve attacking them in public—which, as I have just indicated, is not a viable option. For another thing, exactly how does one “infiltrate” or “subvert” a fishing club or golf league (or whatever) that is simply made up of people who want to be honest and promote honesty, given that it has no other political or social “agenda”? I suppose that the so-called “deep state” could conceivably send out secret paid agents to join fishing clubs and golf leagues all across the country, who would then act in a highly disruptive manner to induce all of the other members to quit. But this could not realistically be expected to happen; much more likely, the group would simply expel the disruptive new member.
So “they”—whoever “they” happen to be in the mind of any particular person—are not standing between us and truth. The only thing that stands between us and the realization of a fully honest society is the possibility that individual people might individually decide that they just do not want to give up lying—at least, not badly enough to risk giving up the supposed “perks” of being dishonest in a dishonest society. But I do not think most people would make that decision—once they had been pressured to make one. I think most people would choose to be fully honest if they knew that doing so would eventually entitle them to the benefits of living in a fully honest society. To put it another way, I believe a great many people would choose to be more honest and to make greater efforts to promote honesty—but only if they knew that they would get support from others around them if they were to make that choice. Truth groups are what would provide the needed beginning support for these people.
No matter how corrupt the dominant social institutions become, people always have the option of creating little havens of honesty for themselves through the creation of truth groups. Once in existence, their power is theoretically impossible to stop; but to bring theory into realization, there must at the outset be some relatively small but still sizeable number of people who sincerely want and demand truth and honesty in their own lives—and are willing to make efforts to bring that about. The very idea of truth groups puts into dramatic relief the existential choice that all persons have to make about how important truth really is to them. With truth groups, it’s put-up or shut-up time. No more complaining about lying politicians, or lying news reporters, or lying used car salesmen, or lying whoevers. No more big talk about how you are going to take up arms and fight a revolution against the government. All you have to do is consistently not lie and not laugh off or make mental excuses for the lying of others when you encounter it. That’s it. If you’re unwilling to do even that much, then you’ve essentially forfeited any right you may have had to get upset about any other person’s lying—because that other person has apparently done nothing more than come to the same conclusion that you’ve come to: that insisting upon truthfulness and honesty in people’s communication is just too much trouble, that there are more pressing things in life to worry about, and that practicing and putting up with some dishonesty is just “how the world works.” Well, if you take pride in being such a “hard-nosed realist” about such matters, then you should stop whining and getting in a huff whenever you discover one of your fellow “hard-nosed realists” engaging in his own “hard-nosed realism” in some way that’s not to your liking. It is often (and rightly) said that “the truth will set you free,” but when push comes to shove the typical person has thus far proven to be more devoted to the maintenance of his own shabby little world of lies—to his own actual detriment—than to the great goal of attaining his own freedom along with everyone else’s. It is possible to imagine henceforth taking a very different and far more promising course.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I believe this world would be a veritable paradise if humanity—or even only some small portion of humanity—could just summon up the resolve to put all of its lying ways behind it once and for all. People could choose paradise at any time—and they could achieve paradise, step-by-step, by consistently making the choice never to lie, and never to treat lying by others—any lying—as something trivial in nature. The really crucial moral choices are actually quite simple to identify (though not necessarily easy to make, at least not at first); but, taken as a whole, people have never even begun down the road of making them. I believe that this is largely because traditional, esoteric religion has historically had the effect of making the identifying of our most crucial moral choices seem much more complicated and confusing than it needed to be. If people were able to rid themselves of that mental burden, it is likely that they would be able to see, with considerably more clarity than they now can, what those really crucial moral choices are. And, once they had clearly recognized the moral path that they would need to go down, I think it would be possible for them, by joining with other people who desired the same goal and who would be there to provide mutual encouragement and support, to actually traverse that path and arrive at the destination of a fully honest society.
But before people can be expected to provide that encouragement and support to others, they must first desire the goal for themselves. People must learn to passionately want truth and honesty more than anything else in life—regardless of what anyone else might now seem to want. They must be determined to create a new state of mind in themselves; followed by a new mode of action in the world.
 When I say “they will never lie,” what I more specifically mean is that they will never deliberately or recklessly mislead or confuse other people. By incorporating the single “self-protection” exception into this rule, the basic principle that results is: A person will never try to introduce more confusion into the world than there was when he found it—not even for a supposedly “good cause.” It is essentially a “do no harm” principle. It does not entail any affirmative obligation to tell the truth (as a person understands “the truth”), regardless of whether the person wishes to tell it—or whether other persons wish to hear it. If, in situations in which a person’s personal privacy or autonomy was not being threatened, he ever felt that he was not reasonably able to say something true, then he should say nothing at all. And if he were threatened with punishment for not lying to innocent third parties, then he must accept the punishment—however harsh it might be. (Unless—perhaps—the threatened punishment was something extreme like the person’s own death or maiming, or the death or maiming of some other individual. And even then, the harm that the deception would cause to the third party or parties, as well as whether the person expected that he would have an opportunity in the near future to retract or correct the deceptive statement, would also have to be taken into account. But such situations would be very rare. The only examples I can think of would involve hostages, P.O.W.s, and kidnap victims.) However, because of the “self-protection” exception, it would in that case be permissible for the person who was being threatened to lie to the person threatening him—for example, by promising that he would lie to innocent third parties even though he had no intention of keeping his promise, if telling this lie was necessary to avoid punishment.
It is implied in the foregoing that any lying done by a person as part of his employment duties or as part of his occupation would never fall under the “self-protection” exception. However, it would still be permissible for a member of a truth group to work for or work with persons who lied, even while on the job, or do business with persons who lied, if he was not reasonably able to avoid doing so.
Also, it should be noted that the “self-protection” exception would be applicable only in some instances in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unduly threatened. If the person asking the question—even if it were a personally embarrassing question, the honest answer to which would be incriminating—had the right to expect that he would receive an honest answer, then the person answering the question would have a moral obligation to give an honest answer. I have no desire at this point to try to determine with exactness the sorts of situations in which a person would have a “right” to expect to receive an honest answer to an admittedly personally embarrassing question. (I will do no more than offer a single example of a situation in which I think a person would probably have the right to receive an honest answer to what is potentially an embarrassing question: when one spouse asks the other, “Are you cheating on me?”) I only wish here to emphasize the point that the “self-protection” exception might apply when embarrassingly personal questions are being asked, and not that it necessarily will apply in all cases. In determining when a person had a “right” to receive an honest and non-misleading response, the most important consideration would be to make certain that everyone had more or less the same conception of the sorts of questions and demands that would be considered unreasonably violative of a person’s privacy or autonomy, so that if they did choose to ask those sorts of questions or make those sorts of demands, they would not be surprised if they received responses that they later discovered to have been misleading in nature.
 It is worth clarifying at this point that while I do not consider honesty to be the only virtue, I do consider it to be the one really crucial virtue. That is because if a person—or a society—is not honest with itself, it cannot “think straight”; and if it cannot “think straight,” it cannot know how to make decisions about how it ought to conduct itself in such a way that it will best advance its own enlightened self-interest. If everyone in a society were required to be thoroughly honest with others, then all of the other virtues could be arrived at through a process of rational persuasion, combined (in certain cases) with avoidance or exclusion of those who had not been similarly persuaded. (And so while the generally applicable criminal law would continue to be enforced under such a scheme, it would not be based upon “virtue”—at least not in the sense that I have in mind as I am using the word here.)
I believe a variety of moral communities ought to be free to arise, with the variations among them due in part to the different ways in which their respective memberships chose to define “virtue.” But this would be a desirable state of affairs only so long as all of those memberships accepted honesty as the one common virtue that every person in society would be required to accept as the non-negotiable starting point for any kind of discourse or interaction between the members of one moral community and the members of any other. The members of each of the moral communities would be free to conduct their affairs by the moral code that they had accepted for themselves and their children—and then “sink or swim” accordingly. (This relates to the goal of promoting commitment and responsibility.)
If persons found through their experience that they had in fact judged poorly when choosing a moral code for themselves—or that they had been born into a bad one—they could either try to change the beliefs held by their moral community, or they could leave and join a different one, or form a new one, depending on which of these options they thought would be the easiest for them to pursue. And bad moral codes would not, by means of deception or deliberate ambiguity, be able to receive an artificial and undeserved immunity from rational scrutiny by outsiders (as well as members). Whether good or bad, everyone else in the wider society would be able to know what the moral values of a particular moral community were, so that people would be able to associate certain moral codes and belief-systems with their practical outcomes. (Since the “self-protection” exception to the rule against lying would apply only to individuals, not groups or organizations, any moral community that chose to lie in response to inquiries about how it was conducting its affairs or what it was teaching its members could expect to receive some sort of appropriate penalty for having lied—a penalty severe enough to deter it and others from lying about such matters in the future. One conceivable penalty might be some set period of ostracism of that community by an assembly of other communities. However, I leave as open the question regarding the circumstances under which it would be permissible for a group of people to simply refuse to respond to inquiries from outsiders, assuming the group did not mislead anyone in the course of doing so.)
 Such truth groups could exist both online and in the real world; however, it seems to me that to work, online truth groups would have to require the use of real rather than anonymous identities in order to ensure accountability. In any event, I think online truth groups should at most be adjuncts to real-world truth groups, since to be consistently honest and intolerant of dishonesty often takes some courage, and so will require the real-world moral support of other people.
 Speaking for myself at least, I am content in the belief that in a society in which fully honest discourse existed (but only in a society in which fully honest discourse existed), rational and mutually agreeable solutions to our commonly shared problems would be found; so I have no desire to make an “end-run” around those solutions in advance by way of any “plotting and scheming.”
 I am here referring to the total “honesty culture”—including both the genuine, anti-esotericist honesty culture, as well as the pro-esotericist “honesty culture.” As I discuss below in the main text, there would be a real risk of (temporary) retaliation against an anti-esotericist honesty culture by a pro-esotericist “honesty culture” in the event of a “schism” between the two. (But since Christians, for example, already sometimes give preferential treatment to other Christians, including in their business dealings, one might reasonably ask who would really be “retaliating” against whom in the event of such a schism.)
 In connection with this idea, consider the following line from the 2015 movie The Big Short: “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball… What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not ‘nice.’ Or that fraud is ‘mean.’ For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once.”
 I say “many truth group members” rather than “any truth group members” because I can imagine the occasional member “selling out” by getting a highly lucrative job that required him to lie as part of his job duties, which would make it impossible for him to remain a member of any truth group. But relatively few members of the honesty culture would be presented with such opportunities, so the general “ratchet effect” would still be at work.
 However, the “learning process” would of course continue even after the initial transition period had come to an end, since this learning process is necessarily one without end: We can always be improving our knowledge of how other individuals will likely interpret, or make sense of, or react to, the communications that we make to them; and also improving our knowledge of how other individuals likely meant for us to interpret, or make sense of, or react to, the communications that they make to us. This ongoing learning process is the means by which we move toward increasingly effective communication—thus giving rise to an ever-closer or ever-tighter “meeting of minds” or “coming together of minds” or “gathering of minds” (which is, in fact, more or less what the words “communicate” and “commune” and “community” literally mean according to their etymologies).
 As a general matter, keep in mind that a person’s exclusion from an (anti-esotericist) honesty culture would never be something that the excluded person ought to “take personally”; and members of truth groups would be wise to strive never to do or say anything that might generate hatred or ill-will toward individual members of the traditional, esoteric religions—especially since, according to the proposed strategy, each and every one of these persons is to be regarded as a future convert to the (anti-esotericist) honesty culture. And so, on those occasions when members of the honesty culture did choose to interact with members of the dishonesty culture, the members of the honesty culture would be wise to be just as courteous and friendly toward members of the dishonesty culture as they would be toward members of their own culture. The members of the traditional, esoteric religions should always be thought of as competitors, not enemies. The excluding of individuals would be done solely for the reason that the logic of the honesty culture strategy demands that it be done, and not because anyone felt personal animus toward the individuals being excluded; in fact, it is quite probable that each of the members of the anti-esotericist honesty culture would personally enjoy the company of some of the persons being excluded from the anti-esotericist honesty culture more than that of some of the persons being included in it.
 Consider that the situation I am describing is actually the situation that we already have, in that each of the traditional, esoteric religions claims to be opposed to dishonesty—making each of them a supposed “honesty culture” that competes with the other supposed “honesty cultures” for members—which is what has made it possible for the “dishonesty culture” to survive by “slipping through the cracks,” so to speak. And that’s because any “honesty culture” that does not make the promotion of honesty its absolute highest priority is not a genuine honesty culture.
 I distinguish between “Bible-preaching” and “Bible-reading,” since I am not necessarily opposed to the mere reading of the Bible by a religious congregation; what I am opposed to is treating the Bible as an authoritative religious writing (rather than merely as a work of literature)—which is what the term “preaching” implies.