In the abstract there may be some excuse for a lie. As a matter of fact, certain lies are enshrined in law and used every day. It is okay to lie to a criminal suspect, for instance. Lies are all around us as claims of “the best” and the “most effective’ swirl around advertising and advocacy of all kinds. Lies are generally permitted when national security is genuinely involved.
It is more difficult to justify or countenance lies in public and political discourse. Few of us would even try to say that lying is a good thing in the context of political speech.
If very few of us can find an excuse for lying, what is our response when our guy is caught in a lie?
Mostly, we just change the subject. We employ a mechanism that essentially says: “You say my guy is lying but your guy lies too.”
See? There is no justification made here for the lie. We merely arrange the question in such a way as to divert attention from my guy’s lies to your guy’s lies. By this mechanism, we don’t bother with some lies by pointing out other lies.
Let me propose that lying is generally both wrong and unjustifiable. Lies do not cancel one another out. Rather, each specific lie, no matter the speaker, stands alone and naked as wrong.
The ditty we learned in our youth is instructive here: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. In Walter Scott’s epic poem, the lie first told to justify an indiscretion within a love triangle, finds its way inevitably and assuredly to a fight and loss of life that could have been avoided absent the lie.
Lying is bad for us. Just so, tolerating a lie implicates us in that lie.