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Kafka Trap

“You are a liar!”
“No, I am not.”
“That proves it.  Liars always deny they are liars!”


A book was posthumously published in 1925 by Franz Kafka titled The Trial.

In this bizarre book, Josef K., the chief cashier in a bank, is arrested by two mysterious agents one morning.  However, they refuse to tell him what crime he is accused of.  As a result, he is not thrown into prison pending his trial but allowed to carry on with his day-to-day affairs until the Committee of Affairs summons him.

His futile attempts to learn of the nature of his offense only lead only to confusion and strife.  Throughout the book, he must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information.

This book is actually an open attack on totalitarianism and the cruelty of mindless, unaccountable bureaucracies grinding down the individuals they ensnare.  In the end, two men again arrive at Josef K’s apartment, lead him outside and stab him to death (sorry for the spoiler alert).

The Kafka Trap

In The Trial, Kafka presents a totalitarian world in which a man is arrested and accused of a crime.  When he protests that he is not guilty of a crime, the state argues that his claims to innocence show he is guilty.

In today’s culture, this is an often-used tactic.

It’s a “heads I win” and “tails you lose” debate technique.

It is a verbal sleight of hand—a ham-handed attempt at rhetorical manipulation.  If you admit you’re one thing, you are, If you deny it, you still are.  Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

For example, if you claim you are not a liar, you must be because liars lie.  We see this tactic regularly being used in claims of racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. (note that it is common in -ism and -ist arguments because they have no other reasonable arguments).

Avoiding the Kafka Trap

Nearly 75 years ago, George Orwell wrote 1984, a dystopian novel about a totalitarian world of mass surveillance and iron-fisted political/cultural suppression.  The despotism was abetted in part by “Newspeak,” a clever manipulation of language that Big Brother employed to obscure the truth and make it almost impossible to think clearly about any issue opposing Big Brother.

The Kafka trap is just one example of the kind of nonsense our own culture’s thought police use to cloud our minds and confuse us.

When confronted with such nonsense, we must respond correctly.

First, do not attempt to banter with such a person.  It’s patently ridiculous that thinking you’re not whatever their claim is proves that you are.  Obviously, no one who seriously offers this confused challenge can be reasoned with.

Second, ignore whoever is making the argument.  What they desire and need is engagement.  Without it, they are lost.

Finally, if possible, turn the tables.  Point out that anyone who would attempt to make a claim such as they are must be mistaken and confused.  Consider the following conversation.

[The nonsense argument]

“You are a liar!”
“No I am not.”
“That proves it.  Liars always deny they are liars!”

[Now turn the tables]

“I knew you would say that.”

“What!  Why?”

“Because it proves you’re wrong.”


“No one says that unless they’re mistaken.  Don’t you see it?”


“That’s even more proof you’re wrong.  Sorry.”

The Bible

The Christian doesn’t need verbal ruses like this, of course, because when someone has a sound, defensible idea, he doesn’t need semantic tricks to make his case.  A straightforward appeal to the evidence is all that clear thinking requires.

Proverbs 14:12 says,

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.

Exodus 34:12  says,

Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.

And 1 Timothy 6:9 says,

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.

Being drawn into nonsense arguments is a waste of time, energy, and resources.  Conversations that lead to illogical arguments are beneath most of us.  They are not clever but only serve to reveal their intent.

            Business owners and entrepreneurs need to be aware of such devices and avoid them.  Leaning on the Gospel is a sure way to overcome them.