Most people in most cultures consider lying, the presentation of false information with the intention of deceiving, to be sinful. Lying is seen as undermining social constructs and even going against nature. In fact, our nature is to lie; we lie to ourselves and to other people every second of our lives. Moralists condemn lying and liars for going too far, for deliberately presenting false information, not merely for presenting it. The ideas of Truth and Reality are lies we tell ourselves to alleviate the pressure of the Apollonian drive for order: we perceive order in our lives when in fact none exists. Life is a series of unrelated events seen from a particular perspective. We give meaning to our lives by interpreting those events; we construct meaning. In constructing meaning, we lie, and most people do it unconsciously. Oscar Wilde and the English Aesthetes recognized that meaning lies in interpretation and responded by actively choosing their meaning — by “spinning” the events constituting their lives — rather than passively accepting it; in recognizing this, the Aesthetes achieved consciousness. The conscious man is the height of civilisation. When one achieves consciousness, one faces the responsibility of determining the meaning of one’s life; as Sartre said, man is condemned to freedom. The Aesthetes’ responded to consciousness by choosing to lie. Because the Aesthetes “lied” only after achieving consciousness, their lies contain more truth than most people’s reality.
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s characters lie to themselves and to each other, choosing active construction over passive acceptance of their realities. In Earnest, their actions result in their living “happily ever after.” Were the same lies employed in “real” life, it is doubtful that events would reconcile themselves so neatly, but life rarely resolves itself so completely. Art is not Life and Life not Art; to contend that Art is unrealistic is to judge it on the rules of Life, which do not apply. According to the Aesthetes, Art has an independent life and is not connected to the time from which it springs: Art “is not necessarily realistic in an age of realism, nor spiritual in an age of faith.” “Art never expresses anything but itself” and must be judged by its own standards. Earnest is a deliberate effort within a specific sphere of existence, and within that sphere, the outcome is logical; it is consistent: Wilde establishes conventions and works within those conventions, following all of his rules. Wilde contends that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” He believes Art “reveals to us to us in Nature’s lack of design … her unfinished condition.” Nature presents us with Life, incomplete, unordered, meaningless; Art is man’s attempt at completing nature, at constructing meaning.
Wilde says, “The final revelation is that Lying is the proper aim of Art.” The Aesthetes apply their aesthetic to life as well as art. For the Aesthetes, living is the greatest art of all, and “the person is most successful who lives life most intensely” (Brockett). Beautiful lies are more honest than plain truths. When the characters in Earnest lie to themselves, they are actively reconstructing their own realities. Because they lie consciously, they lie honestly. Another problem arises when they lie to other characters (and when one lies to other people). However, reality is a construct, a representation of phenomena and experiences. Every person constructs her own reality, so as many realities exist as people. Communication is an attempt by one person to connect with another. With an infinite number of possible realities, communication becomes difficult if not impossible. By exploring the nature of the interaction between realities, one finds that true communication is impossible, but practical experience proves that relative communication occurs. For this to occur, people’s constructed realities must overlap; a ground of common meaning must exist. People only engage one another indirectly: one’s reality encounters another’s reality. Those realities interact, not the people themselves. The people must interact indirectly because each of them relates to himself only indirectly, through the filter of his constructed reality.
Communication is possible only because of constructed reality, which is a lie. When people conceal actual events from or report false events to other people, they create a more beautiful truth. This is done to improve reality, to complete Nature. The Aesthetes dethroned Nature as the ideal which Art should seek to imitate and replaced it with Beauty. If a truth is more beautiful than a lie, then tell that truth, but if a truth is plain or incomplete or ugly, then one should create a lie, always pursuing Beauty. Creation replaces imitation as the means of reaching the ideal. Because Nature rarely offers man the most beautiful possible world, man is obliged to add Beauty to nature. The Aesthetes require as much dedication in pursuit of their ideal as Christians or Stoics do.
English Aesthetics were condemned by “polite society” because they advocated “beautiful lies” in place of plain truths. Society failed to realize that everyone finding meaning in his life consistently lies to himself and everyone who communicates with another person lies to that other person. The Aesthetes were conscious and responded to consciousness with Beauty. Everyone lies all the time, but the Aesthetes took the time to create pleasing lies. Common people are painfully stupid in their inability or unwillingness to face the inherent meaninglessness of existence. Common people live within the lie of “morality.” The Aesthetes escaped the extreme stupidity of most people. The Aesthetes escaped the morality of most people. Stupidity is full of base and vile “truths.” Oscar Wilde lied. The Aesthetes lied. Common people lie. Aesthetes lived life. Common people live a lie.
Beauty is the height to which Man strives;
Truth is found in Beauty;
The more beautiful is something, the more truthful.
Nature is full of ugliness.
The purpose of Life is the pursuit of Beauty;
It is beautiful to live life.
Natural life is full of ugliness which Man must remove;
Man is successful to the extent he disposes of the disgusting.
Art distills Beauty:
In Art, all that is ugly evaporates.
Art pursues Beauty;
Beauty is Truth;
Truth is Consciousness;
Consciousness is Sight.
Art expels Nature;
Art is Art.