We all lie. It’s a fact of life. We use white lies to mask painful truths, make others feel comfortable and protect our fragile egos. We might say we prefer nasty truths to nice lies but even that’s a lie: how many fat people like being told they’re fat? Lying is normal. And it’s OK. It’s completely different from knowing you’re doing something wrong and doing it anyway.
“Lying is bad!” Say all parents to their children, followed by something like: “Santa doesn’t bring presents to liars.” Ah yes, parenting 101. Using the most popular fiction in history (after the virgin birth) to inspire not truth, but fear, through hypocrisy, not honesty.
Kids are born excruciatingly honest. They don’t need to learn not to lie, they need to learn how and when to lie. Who hasn’t lived through the shame of moments such as, “Mummy, that ugly old lady has a beard,” booming from your toddler in an inescapable checkout queue?
Artifice or art?
As adults we know there are some true things we shouldn’t say and some false things we should. We learn how to paint over our own ugly truths with more than words: make-up, hair dye, Botox, corsets, stacked heels and depilation. We see Facebook full of filtered selfies, learn about the fickle frame of justice, the flattering fibs of fashion and grow to love the flamboyant fictions of movies, books, songs and TV.
Truth and lies are learned social behaviours. A far better measure of integrity is our understanding of right and wrong. Scruples. Telling a lie to save someone’s feelings from a pointless painful truth is right. Telling a lie to hurt, inspire hatred or gain personally at the expense of another’s happiness is wrong. Somewhere in the middle lie most of us.
I say most. Some people take dishonesty to a whole new realm; consciously manipulating others through destructive deceit with nothing in their sights but their own purpose. Their lies are blackened with hot, sweaty guilt that set their pants on fire. Why pants? To remind them that they’re being arseholes. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Hot pants and dirty business
UK Limited Liability law protects honest business owners from personal loss in the event of dissolution. It also means dishonest directors with Limited Liability can’t be sued for losses and debts incurred by their businesses.
The Law was passed in 1855. While the entrepreneurial advantages to the scrupulous business owner were obvious, so too was the potential for abuse by arseholes. Contemporary lawyer and legal writer, Edward William Cox, said:” … he who shares the profits of an enterprise ought also to be subject to its losses; that there is a moral obligation, which it is the duty of the laws of a civilised nation to enforce, to pay debts, perform contracts and make reparation for wrongs. Limited liability is founded on the opposite principle and permits a man to avail himself of acts if advantageous to him, and not to be responsible for them if they should be disadvantageous; to speculate for profits without being liable for losses; to make contracts, incur debts, and commit wrongs, the law depriving the creditor, the contractor, and the injured of a remedy against the property or person of the wrongdoer, beyond the limit, however small, at which it may please him to determine his own liability.”
And it burns, burns, burns …
Abuse of this law is called ‘phoenixing’ – something I experienced personally in 2009. I bought a shower I never received from Dial Group International. I tried to serve them with a court summons but the business had been dissolved with zero liability. The same directors formed another, almost identical business within days (probably with assets stripped from the original) but I could do nothing to approach them.
The debt they owed me had died with the dissolved business. The new business that arose from its ashes was owned by the same people. Trading standards knew it was the same people, indeed, they knew this wasn’t their first phoenix enterprise. Yet there was nothing I could do. They were protected and I was not.
This business has since been featured on BBC’s Watchdog along with many others. It is obvious, when faced with a camera crew, that the arseholes behind them know what they’re doing is wrong. Because they look as guilty as a puppy caught shitting on a new rug.
These are the burning bottomed people who get permanently struck off Santa’s list.
On September 9th 2014, a briefing was submitted to Parliament. It details what is and what is not considered phoenix fraud and looks at changes to the Small Business and Employment Bill currently being proposed. The purpose of these changes is to make fraud more difficult. Unfortunately, it’s also very clear in this document why the unscrupulous get away with what they do: the rules around the phoenix process are far too easy to manipulate, making it possible to bring fraudulent activities within the law by a gnat’s whisker. Changes to business law have been suggested before and have come to nothing, so let’s hope this time, something is actually done.
The Fraud Advisory Panel works to bring these arseholes to justice, as detailed in this 2012 report. Some businesses do, honestly, hit hard times and dissolve. But if you think you’ve been ripped a new one by a phoenix scammer, report it to Action Fraud.
If you are involved in such a scam, shame on you. Think for a second about what you’re doing. Your grubby theft masquerading as business is wrecking lives, causing honest people bankruptcy and perhaps even breaking up marriages through financial stress. Plenty of people earn great money without causing such damage. Become one of those instead.
The difference between truth and fact
Facts happen. Our actions are facts.
The things we say and think are individual truths; the product of our interpretation of facts. And the words we use to express our reasons are subjective. They are open to perception, translation and miscarriages of context.
Facts don’t change.
If you rip someone off, you can try to paint over the ‘why’ with self-aggrandising legalese. It won’t change the fact that you ripped someone off or that it’s wrong.
I love Maya Angelou but I don’t agree with this quote of hers: “People will forget what you said and did but they will never forget the way you made them feel.”
We are creatures of mnemonic narrative, for whom stories stick in our minds more than isolated moments. It is why we all think we have a novel in us, why we identify with favourite movies or use fictitious characters to illustrate a factual point. It’s also why we always remember how people make us feel, and we always remember why.
Because an arsehole is still an arsehole, whichever way you paint it.