‘In Russia cannot be even one man who would not be addicted to lying,” – Fyodor Dostoevsky


Lately, I was suddenly struck by the thought that in Russia, among our educated classes, there cannot be even one man who wouldn’t be addicted to lying. This is precisely because among us even quite honest people may be lying. I am certain that in other nations, in the overwhelming majority of them, only scoundrels are lying; they are lying for the sake of material gain, that is, with directly criminal intent… I know that the Russian liar, time and again, lies without even noticing it himself, so that one may not perceive the fact that he is lying. See what happens: no sooner will a man tell a successful lie, than he will include the anecdote among the unquestioned facts of his personal life, and then he acts quite conscientiously because he fully believes it; besides, it is unnatural sometimes not to believe it…

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Still all this lying, despite its innocence, hints at some very momentous fundamental traits of ours to such an extent that here the element of universality almost begins to reveal itself. For example: first, that we Russians are primarily afraid of truth – i.e., we are not really afraid, if you please, but we always regard truth as something too weary in our intercourse, something prosaic, insufficiently poetic, too banal; and thereby, always evading truth, we, finally, made it something most extraordinary and rare in our Russian world (I am not referring to the newspaper by this name). Thus we have totally forgotten the axiom that truth is the most poetic thing in the world, especially in its pure state. More than that: it is even more fantastic than the ordinary human mind is capable of fabricating and conceiving.

In Russia, truth almost invariably assumes a fantastic character. In fact, men have finally succeeded in converting all that the human mind may lie about and belie into something more comprehensible than truth, and this prevails all over the world. For centuries truth will lie right on the table before people but they will not take it: they will chase after a fabrication precisely because they look upon it as something fantastic and utopian. Second, this is a hint at the fact that our wholesale Russian lying suggests that we are all ashamed of ourselves. Indeed, every one of us carries in him an almost innate shame of himself and of his own face; and the moment Russians find themselves in company, they hasten to appear at all cost something different from what they in reality are; everyone hastens to assume a different face.  Already Hertzen has remarked about Russians abroad that they don’t know how to behave in public; they speak in a loud manner when everybody else is silent, and they cannot utter a single word politely and naturally when it is necessary to speak… (Diary of a Writer)

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