Lies, Damn Lies, and Chinese “Lies That Bind”

From Frog in a Wall blog:

Recently Susan D. Blum’s charming and thoughtful Lies that Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006) took up the challenge left by Smith and Hsu to study the rules, expectations and beliefs regarding lying and honesty not only in China but everywhere. Blum and Hsu both explain anthropological theory through breezy stories of everyday life (and both talk about their daughters), but Blum’s starting point is Michel Foucault’s post-modern assumption that every society has its own “regime of truth.” This is akin to Richard Rorty’s provocative statement that truth is “what your contemporaries let you get away with.” (Rorty quickly adds that serious people care not only about producing agreement but also about justifying their methods for producing agreement.) [2]

Blum catalogues the reasons we lie: profit, comfort, flattery, clever management, spin, polite convention, tactful greasing of squeaky social wheels, and sometimes just for the fun of it. Plagiarism is a lie about authorship, but Blum elsewhere adds that the “value of cross-cultural and historic examples is that they point out the constructed nature of our familiar expectations.” That doesn’t mean we should abandon them, but we might hesitate to call plagiarism “sinful” for our values “are certainly not universal.” [3]

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