The Demolition of Honest Communication

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“The Death of Honesty” by William Damon published by the Hover Institute in 2012 addresses issues related to dishonest that threatens democracy. Damon agrees that in some situations honesty has lost its importance especially in the society and is likely to cause downfall citing some examples in the political, law, journalism, and business situations. He says “But to recognize that honesty is not an absolute standard demanded for every life circumstance” (Damon par 4).The contemporary society seems to condone dishonesty especially in learning institutions where cheating is rampant especially in exams. The essay portrays use of rhetorical situation that refers to the situation where the audience understanding can be changed via messages and may contain four elements namely the audience, the speech, speaker, and occasion. Damon uses various rhetorical techniques that include logos, pathos, and ethos to address the issue of dishonest and convince his audience.

The writer uses logos as a rhetoric device to pass his message on honesty and deterioration of the virtue in the society. Logos refers to logical argument that is used to persuade the audience through reasoning.  Use of logic by Damon can be traced at the beginning of the essay especially the title that reads “The Demolition of Honesty”.  The writer sheds some sense of scare to the audience who believe in honesty as a virtue. The reader is interested to know how honesty is being demolished and the individuals demolishing it. To emphasize the meaning of the title of the work Damon uses the politician characters “it would be naive (or cynical) for anyone in today’s world to act shocked whenever a politician tries to hide the real truth from the public” (Damon, paragraph 2). He goes ahead to argue that honesty is never demanded in every aspect of life thus in some cases, people live to achieve some life objectives. Thus honest seems to be losing its relevance in the society and some institutions such as schools, governments, and societies. His logical reasoning is also clear when he argues that lying may be justifiable in some cases to avoid greater harm such as in politics (Par 2-4). However, he still takes his stance that no civilization can endure dishonest communication without disintegrating thus the society expects everybody must act with honest intentions.  He gives references to some honest characters such as the Bible’s Old Testament and George Washington acts of honesty (par 6). The media and the society have Romantized lying and created a misguided wisdom for self-fulfilling. Such action can lead to destruction of democracy and ruin economies.

Damon also uses Pathos, which is defined as the quality of work that persuades the audience by stirring their emotions of pity, sorrow, or sympathy. Pathos is technique convinces people with arguments drawn through an emotional response. Use of pathos is evident through the writer’s use of the Holocaust example to capture the emotions of the audience by rekindling painful past memories. The mass murder raised questions on morality of human beings and their act of solidarity to wipe an entire race (Alexander 4). The traumatic event has a great impact on the audience who are likely o agree that dishonesty is a vice that needs to be shunned in the society. The troopers were mis-informed that persecuting the families of the Jews was an act of courage “misinforming storm troopers about the whereabouts of a hidden Jewish family during the fascist occupation of Europe was an honorable and courageous deception” (Damon par 1). The author laments that people do not consider honesty as a virtue when selecting the schools to take their children. Therefore, there is a need to mind about the future of the society, which depends on the development of the character of the young generation. From his argument, a reader can feel his pain and share his concern for the modern society, which has failed to acknowledge moral values. Damon argues that human relations depend on their ability to tell the truth since honesty is important in the society. He describes his experience of deceptions by leading public officials especially politicians especially in debate as noted by (Clementson 247). He also raises a question on who is responsible for the increased dishonesty in the public domain. Therefore, the members of the public have to find ways of breaking the cycle of dishonesty in the community.

The other device the writer uses is ethos that refers to the ethical appeal that works to convince the audience by using author’s credibility. In the work, Damon uses many sources to reinforce his appeal as well as credibility for the arguments. He cites sources, which convinces the audience that he has conducted credible research obtaining relevant statistics and facts. One of the articles he uses is George Orwell’s research that argues that politicians do not tell the truth consistently since their speech is aimed at misrepresenting, softening the stand of supporters, and hiding painful truths (Newsinger 5). According to Orwell as quoted by Damon, the work of the political language is to make lies sound as truths “I have observed so many deceptions on the part of leading public officials that I can no long keep track of them” (24). In addition, Damon utilizes wider research for establishing that honesty is vital in the human society and has been celebrated for many years in human history. One example given is that of Romans who regarded their goddess, Veritas as the mother of virtue. In another case, Damon references a dishonest education system in Atlanta “In 2011, a widely-reported cheating scandal erupted in school systems in and around Atlanta, Georgia. State investigators found a pattern of “organized and systemic misconduct” dating back for over ten years” (para. 16). Therefore, the author uses the findings in this report as evidence to show that dishonesty exist in the educational system. He also cites the CBS News that reported that teachers cheat in which 21 cases were proven to have occurred (Sunday Review). Use of logic makes the work appear more credible and believable to the reader.

Damon in his essay has raised concerns about the increased levels of dishonesty in the modern generation. He uses rhetorical devices such as logs, pathos, and ethos as explained in this essay. The information the media and politicians are selling does not meet the right standards of integrity. When will people speak only verifiable truth? Is there any hope for the future? These are some of questions, which one needs to ask after reading the essay. The work of Damon is an excellent piece to teach individuals, society, and institutions on matters related to integrity. The society has changed a lot and some people find it difficult to tell the truth and maintain a virtuous lifestyle.

Works Cited

Alexander, Jeffrey C. "Culture trauma, morality and solidarity: The social construction of ‘Holocaust’and other mass murders." Thesis Eleven

132.1 (2016): 3-16.

Clementson, David E. "Why do we think politicians are so evasive? Insight from theories of equivocation and deception, with a content analysis of US presidential debates, 1996-2012." Journal of Language and Social Psychology 35.3 (2016): 247-267.

Damon, William “the Death of Honesty”, in Endangered Virtues, an online volume edited by Peter Berkowitz. 2011.

Newsinger, John. Hope lies in the proles: George Orwell and the Left. Pluto Press, 2018.

Sunday Review. Are they Learning? The New York Times. July 16, 2011.

August 21, 2023



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