Monday, February 14, 2011

Role Playing and Lying

There is a lot of talk on Catholic blogs that Live Action behaved badly when it engaged in a sting operation to show how Planned Parenthood interacts with pimps. The logic makes sense. Lying is always wrong. We cannot do bad things even if we expect the end result to be good. But the conclusion seems way off. What they did does not seem wrong to most Catholics. Why is that?

My thinking is that we live in a culture that accepts undercover operations. We know when we encounter a person they might be an undercover police officer. We have made a choice to live in a society that accepts that possibility in life. Even reporters are allowed to do undercover, hidden camera stories. That is something we have all seen and have accepted. It is like a fire drill. When we sound the fire alarm it is really a lie. But we accept the lie because we know this is the best way to test whether we are prepared. We even know the fire alarm might be a drill. That kind of makes it less of a lie. We know before we start it might be for real or it might be play acting. So when it is play acting we don't feel lied to.

I wonder if we have gone there more generally. Certainly if you are buying drugs you are there. You know the dealer might be what he appears to be or might be an undercover policeman. Other areas of life might be similar. You deal with an irate customer. It might be you boss checking to see how you will react. We have that possibility in the back of our mind more often.

It is like the fire drill in that it is a test. A moral test rather than a safety test but it is a test we should pass. If we complain about the test we don't really expect ourselves to be in a state of moral readiness. But we should be ready to face the temptations this world is likely to throw at us. If we are not then we need to admit we are immoral. We should not blame the test. 

I think this might explain the complete lack of negative moral feelings about the Live Action sting. We kind of think of it as fair game. Somebody walks into your office and self-identifies as a pimp and even admits some of his sex workers are under-aged. If that does not send off any moral alarm bells then maybe we are dealing with an immoral person. Can we blame the test? We can always go there. Did they have a right to test you? You can argue both ways. But the fact is the test was failed.

I find the question interesting in that maybe we should declare that we don't want our police or our reporters or our employers to do undercover sting type operations. That might make society better. I wonder how they would ever catch some criminals. They might need to rewrite the laws to make convictions easier to get. I am not a criminal so it does not effect me much. For those who are criminals the moral universe they live in is unlikely ever to be great. But maybe if the government didn't add a bunch of dishonesty to it that would help. Maybe not. I just think when we take moral shortcuts we end up with lots of negative effects we don't ever associate with what we did.


  1. Randy, so what's your conclusion: is lying in this situation right or wrong, good or evil?

    I've read a ton of commentaries on the situation, but still don't know what to think.

  2. My feeling is it is fine. I am amazed at how many people have come in on the other side. I do think there will be an issue if you are in a trust relationship with somebody and you pull something like this. But in a case like this where you have said you suspect this is going on and you take this extra step to find out that seems OK.

    I makes me want to play a joke on our priest using role playing. Then we can find out if he calls us liars or not!