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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Art of Lying Without Lying

The fact that we can lie without quite actually "lying" is pretty clear. And everybody does it to one degree or another. But as I've said: lying about eating candy, Santa Claus, or a surprise birthday party is qualitatively different from lying about things central to entering a war, maintaining household financial integrity, or cheating on your wife.

It isn't cut and dried, of course. But once I realize I'm talking to someone who will speak in a multi-level fashion (giving sound bytes their adherents can use to rile up the base while simultaneously couching phrases for plausible deniability. Pretending not to realize that their words are being widely misinterpreted . Deleting or not mentioning information critical to the opposition's position).

All of this turns a critical process (attempting to determine truth), into a game (who's smarter? Who spent more time researching? Who better understands the structure of argumentation ?)

Because I don't play that game, it is important to identify people who do. Unfortunately, almost everyone in politics plays it to one degree or another. But this is one of the reasons that people who can quote statistics to political effect don't really impress me--I know there are people on the other side of the issue who can also quote stats. If I don't have that kind of knowledge, what I'll do is try to set it up so that someone from the other side can present their position.

If I can't do that, I'll generally fall back on ad hominum evaluations. In other words, does the person making the case take the position that his political opponents are always wrong? (That Liberals of Conservatives, Democrats or Republicans are assholes). Then this person is a partisan, and absolutely cannot be trusted to represent reality clearly. If they take a more balanced, nuanced position, I MIGHT be willing to accept their interpretation of data. Might be willing to trust that they would not hold back information that would be useful in determining the truth.

Why is this so important? Partially because people often will conceal their actual arguing point. A man having an affair with a waitress at a given restaurant, trying to keep his wife from going to that restaurant, CANNOT be trusted to make an honest argument against the food. A bigot who hates black people (I'd estimate 5-10% of the population to be actual bigots) will almost never announce herself. Rather, she will attack black politicians or political agendas on other grounds--but would hardly be expected to offer a piece of information that might prove the opposite point of view. Someone who is a total Luddite who wants technological civilization to vanish cannot be trusted to make honest arguments about Global Warming. Someone who is disgusted by homosexuality cannot be trusted to make honest arguments about the economic impact of Gay Marriage.

In fact, you can wear yourself out dealing with the "presenting argument"--the surface ploy that disguises what they really feel, really want. I've run into so much of this, it seems so universal across political, gender, or economic lines that it seems obvious that we also do it to ourselves. Our internal monologues rarely deal with the real fears that actually drive us. "Fear" is shameful (especially for guys), so we mask it as anger, outrage, and so forth.

It would be impossible to count the number of times I've been discussing something, and it turned into an argument, and I suddenly realized that I was being manipulated into arguing about something that wasn't the real point at all. And if I could slow the person down and demonstrate my point, the entire false discussion collapsed, and suddenly we were having a much deeper, much realer conversation.

Has anyone else had that experience?

23 comments:

Marty S said...

Steve: I wonder if your not to some degree over simplifying the choices one sometimes have in life. Consider the following hypothetical. You are an attorney defending a man in a criminal case. You have information that would help the prosecution. Are you lying by withholding information. It seems you would be lying to the client who you promised to defend if did so.

Diogenes said...

Marty,

"You are an attorney defending a man in a criminal case. You have information that would help the prosecution. Are you lying by withholding information".

NO. Not even under Barnes' definition. A defense attorney is not required to help the prosecution prove it's case. That's on them. However, in the reverse the prosecution is bound in most cases if not all to reveal exculpatory evidence.

Lying. By omission or otherwise. Bullshit. It's how sneaky you are and how well you can pull it off while remaining under the radar while getting away with all you can. Lets not kid ourselves.

The next time you see a car commercial or one dealing with home refinancing or such the like on television, try reading the small print that usually constitutes a nice paragraph under all of the sucker crap in three-seconds or less because that's how long it usually stays on.

"It's now what you know, but what you can prove (or discount)". "Alonzo Harris", Training Day.

Dan Moran said...

Failure isn't the same as mistake.

OK, let me drop the word failure and concentrate on the word mistake. I just find the idea that all of your (meaningful) mistakes have been due to your own dishonesty really unlikely. I mean, I know you -- not as well as many, to be sure, but well enough I've admired you for over 20 years.

Have you never mistakenly trusted someone you shouldn't have?

Have you never mistakenly picked what was behind Door #1, when what you really wanted was behind Door #2?

Have you never just been wrong, due to inadequate information, or youth?

Look, take you and me out of this. My kids are honest within reasonable parameters. I can't recall my oldest daughter having told a lie since she was 9 or 10, and then it was stuff like, "Yeah, I went to bed on time last night." Daughter #2 hasn't told a lie since she was about 15, that I've caught her at, which admittedly is only 2-1/2 years, but still not bad. My 3 boys lie to me on and off, but with increasing rarity as the years pass, which is sort of the goal.

But I've sure God seen them all screw up repeatedly, through not understanding the nature of the problem that faced them. They're not lying to themselves as far as I can tell with any frequency, and as they've aged have become increasingly honest and responsible to the people around them.

I consider "mistakes" to be things were I have some volition in the matter. Perhaps it's a matter of terminology.

Maybe.

I think that people will give up almost anything to survive.

When face to face with death, yeah. When death isn't around the corner, not so much, or there wouldn't be so many grossly obese people in this country.

And Dan--you misquoted me again. I never said "proof they're getting a better deal out of it."

My apologies, you're correct. Though I hope the "again" is an exagerration, I don't think I've done that much. Misunderstood, certainly, misquote, I hope not.

I've said again and again that I will NOT take that position--I think both sides are in this together, and NEITHER side is getting a "better deal."

Well, we still disagree even when I quote you correctly -- I do think men have had a better deal of it, though as I've said, it's a lot better than it used to be, at least in the U.S. -- elsewhere in the world the equation still ranges from very unequal to women-as-chattel.

That the fact women live longer is a balancing factor to some of the other apparent advantage. You seem to be operating from a framework of "it has to be one or the other." No, Dan. It doesn't.

It doesn't have to be, but I do think it is, and certainly that for a very long time, it very much was.

Every now and again I run into someone who thinks I'm operating out of some white liberal guilt. Maybe in a very small way, but not much. Mostly I was homeless and unskilled and scared as hell when I was young, and I desperately want to see other people, and particularly my kids, not have to live with the same fear.

The fact that I'm a white male was a fair-sized chunk of why I'm no longer homeless and unskilled and scared as hell and sleeping under park benches with a knife in my hand. (Being bright and hard working is the other chunk of it -- which means that 3/4ths of what got me out of there was random chance, which is as humbling as it gets.)

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I wish I could remember the source, but I've seen an argument that lying by omission is worse than a flat lie because it makes the liar's victim feel like a collaborator.

One more marker for people who aren't arguing honestly: those who can only think of one scenario for an ambiguous situation-- frex, someone who assumes that it's always the man or always the woman who's at fault when a heterosexual relationship is going bad. I don't think it's generally conscious lying, but it's a sign of a stuck imagination.

Dan Moran said...

I admit to bias here; I think it's the guy 2/3rds of the time. There are a lot more adult women in the world than adult men, in my experience.

Steven Barnes said...

Dan, I don't think you operate out of white liberal guilt. I think you operate out of MALE liberal guilt. Without factoring death in there, I agree it looks like women get the shaft. I feel like you're saying that men's deaths don't make much difference, and we just have to agree to disagree on that.
##
Lying, or lying to myself, includes:
1) deceiving myself that I know more about a subject or situation than I have any business thinking I have.
2) Ignoring obvious signs that someone isn't communicating with me honestly because it is convenient or pleasurable to do so.
3) Believing I will change behavior patterns that have been long-standing without any evidence (this is the "I'll stop smoking tomorrow" lie smokers tell themselves to have another toke.
4) You think that if life was so important, there'd be fewer obese people?
a) ever try to tell someone being obese was unhealthy, to get a vast litany of anecdotal evidence of fat people who lived a long time? The FACT that it decreases life only helps if someone believes that fact, and believes it will apply to them. Short term pleasure often out-performs long-term pain, because the long-term result just isn't as "real" as the next ten minutes of ice cream.
b) Loss of money, or being raped, are obviously two of the very worst things that can happen. And yet the usual threat used to facilitate robbery or sexual assault is...rape. I know many women who have been raped, and none who have been directly murdered. In every case, it was fear of death that motivated their capitulation. Obviously, I don't know a single woman who chose death over rape.
##
What things will the AVERAGE person consider worse than death? Death of a child is about the only nearly universal one. Trading one's life for a close family member or spouse is heroic behavior--uncommon enough to be worthy of comment. To preserve money? Social position (death before dishonor?) Not to most people. Die for a religious ideal? The Maslowian thought on that was that a person who has satisfied the lower drives evolves to higher ones. Martyrdom is very real--but again, rare enough to be very worthy of comment, even thousands of years later.
##
If you don't think that the average human being prizes life (until that life becomes too painful to live due to disease, etc.) above almost anything...what exactly DO you think ranks higher? Again, for the average person, not phenomenal, exceptional, remarkable people. The Medal of Honor is given rarely for damned good reasons.

So again...what is it you think the average person holds more precious than life (I would give you: the life of their children) beyond that one, I'm eager to hear your thoughts. So is Maslow. So are 6000 years of yoga. They could well be wrong, but brother, you better bring it!

Nancy Lebovitz said...

In re health and obesity: Please look at the chart. If you're using the medical definition of obesity, low-end obese people live a little longer than medium and low-end "healthy" weight people. Being thing seems to be quite dangerous for women.

*****

One evidence of how much people prize life is that mock execution is considered torture, even for prisoners who have miserable lives. Apparently, offering a chance at suicide and withdrawing isn't on the list of ways to make prisoners feel worse.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

That should have been being *thin", not "thing".

Dan Moran said...

OK ... I won't address yoga, I know some basic forms (and have been doing them the last 6 months, 3 days out of 4; it's helping with the basketball, and thank you) ... but I don't know advanced yoga and it may make such assertions. I don't know and can't argue it.

I will address Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's a useful story about how things work, but it's a bad model: it's false to fact. Go back to my posts on hierarchies, a while back: this is the sort of thing I'm talking about. There are few true hierarchies in the world, and Maslow's isn't one of them, unless he means it in a very general, statistical kind of way -- a distinction I've never run across, if so.

Maslow ranks needs from physiological > safety > social > esteem > self actualization, and asserts that this is the motivational (most or even all) people take in addressing their needs.

At the level of "all people" it's provably false. Plenty of people process their needs in different orders than Maslow's pyramid. At the level of "most people" it's probably false (my opinion there) ... or no one would ever go to war. A soldier going to war for his country would seem to me a clear case of someone putting his social needs (family, country) above his personal safety needs. That's not Medal of Honor territory, but it's pretty common and it's a direct violation of Maslow's hierarchy.

There are other exceptions -- people who prioritize self-esteem over social needs, for example -- the peer group rejects you, but success at X Y or Z makes it worthwhile; almost everyone who's ever climbed out of a lobster pot knows that one.

So Maslow's a good story, and a useful (if fuzzy) model: but it's not "true" in the sense that it doesn't break down in some areas. (OK, technically, NO models are "true" by that standard, including mathematics, but in the day to day lives of humans, there's a huge screaming gap between Maslow's hierarchy and calculus.)

In particular, to address the argument as you use it: if long life was the most important thing there was to all people, then ...

... no informed person would ever go to war.

... no informed person would ever drive too fast, or drive drunk.

... no informed person would ever have unprotected sex.

... no informed person would fail to stay in good physical shape.

... no informed person would fail to practice intermittent fasting or caloric restriction.

... no informed person would smoke.

... no informed person would drink more than the one drink a night that offers provable medical benefits.

... and so on. The hypothetical person to whom Long Life is the overwhelming priority outweighing every other consideration is non-smoking, barely drinking, non-drug using, slow driving, intermittent fasting, hard exercising person who only has sex with condoms ...

... and really only has sex with someone they've been tested with whom they know to be completely reliable, since condoms break and people will go off and have sex with other people even after you've been tested with them.

Not only does that not describe everyone, it barely describes anyone. That it's less than one in a thousand I'm quite sure.

Dan Moran said...

Sure: people want to live as long as possible. But they also want a cheeseburger, and they want the cheeseburger now, while the long life is delayed gratification, somewhere far down the road.

Why do men die earlier than women?

Fighting in wars. (Undeclared wars, sometimes: that's what's killing people in South-Central and East Los Angeles. I don't think there's been a year of my adult life when more people didn't die in gang violence in Los Angeles, than died because of the Troubles in "war torn Northern Ireland." If the south & eastern portions of this city were to declare independence, maybe they could get some damn foreign aid.)

What else? Driving unsafely. Eating too much. Drinking too much. Smoking anything -- pipes, cigars, cigarettes. Using drugs.

There are two things broadly characteristic of the things that kill men early: they're choices, and they cost money.

Gangbangers have money? Yeah, more than the women around them do. It lets them buy fast cars, and guns, and drugs, and cheeseburgers.

There's a really interesting study a few years back that showed two things: women made most of the purchases in a household, spent the most money by volume ...

... and men had more personal disposable income.

Which made sense to me. Let me use myself as an example, because I know me and know my life -- and it's a pretty ordinary life, at least at the job level -- quite unlike you, in this regard.

My home life has been fairly traditional until recently when my youngest child entered kindergarten and my wife went back to work: I made the money, my wife mostly spent it. That was OK with me; I was working 70 hour weeks and didn't have time to do the grocery shopping, or clothes shopping, or whatever. But I was also at the office 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, with another 10 hours a day from home on the weekends, most weeks -- so I went out to lunch with co-workers. And dinner, frequently enough. And dinner by myself, when the 405 was backed up and I didn't have the patience or time to sit in traffic for 2 hours on my way home. And dinner at 2 in the morning after the long day in the office. (I'm at the office right now, waiting for some jobs to finish so I can do further work, and will be at the office until 3 or 4 this morning -- and that's hardly unusual across the course of my career.)

And breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the road when traveling, which has been awfully frequent. I've driven more than almost anyone I know my age who isn't a professional driver or traveling salesman -- well over 600,000 miles. I've consulted across the entire length of Los Angeles, down to San Diego, up to San Francisco, and since I'm afraid of heights, I drive if I can. (I will travel by plane if I have to, but I'll drive to San Francisco 10 times out of 10 before getting on a plane -- 400 miles.) No sweat there, shit like this is why I carry life insurance -- but all of that travel increases my likelihood of dying in my car.

Dan Moran said...
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Dan Moran said...
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Dan Moran said...

OK -- so what would my life look like if I made different choices? Because I've had stretches where I had less work than I wanted, and I've had stretches where I had large projects I could code from home ...

Well, I'd exercise more. Four or five times a week, instead of two or three (and that counts my weekend basketball as once, which, as I get older, maybe it shouldn't; I suspect basketball is doing me more harm than good, of late. Cracked ribs at the moment from a guy who put a shoulder into me.)

Exercise more and eat better. I'd weigh less. I'd drink less. (I doubt my alcohol consumption is having any meaningful impact on my expected mortality -- but I come from a long line of alcoholics, and if I started sliding down that slope, it certainly would, so there's a real risk factor there nonetheless.)

I'd drive less. I'm a good driver -- which everyone thinks they are, but I've driven 2/3rds of a million miles and I'm all in one piece: and there's still not much can do when you're coming up a hill blind on a two-lane road and some damn fool tries to pass while going uphill from the other side. The best case scenario there is you're going off the edge of a hill and hoping it's not a real steep drop ...

So there are risks associated with my life. I accept this. I chose them. I had good reasons for most of the decisions, and reasons I live with comfortably for the rest. Everyone dies eventually and I'm only trying to make 80, not 180: at 80 my youngest son will be 41 years of age. I'll be OK saying goodbye then, if it comes to that.)

But Steve -- my choices are not unusual. There's a reason why obesity is an epidemic in rich countries: because people will make choices that are bad for them, either with an expected payoff (my case, mostly) or due to raw lack of self-discipline.

Of all the things you've said that I disagree with (and it's probably only 10% or 15% of the things you've ever said on that blog, which is a remarkable number that probably says as much about me as about you -- you're the person I learned a fair amount of this stuff from in the first place) ... of all the things you've said that I disagree with, this is probably the most striking. The world is overwhelmingly composed of people who don't place Long Life above all other goals, and this is obvious to almost anyone who looks at it ... except you, and I still don't understand why.

~~~~~

OK, to wrap this up with my women-have-and-had-it-worse perspective: sure, women live longer. They haven't historically had the same opportunities to drink and smoke and eat too much, and exercise too little, and drive too much, and fight in wars. If they'd had those choices, most of them would have taken advantage of some or all of those opportunities, and the gap in life expectancy between men and women would be much smaller. (And it does in fact shrink, when women do have those opportunities.) So to make the assertion, as you do, that women's living longer is the tradeoff -- when it's a tradeoff that women never had a chance to consent to -- strikes me as awfully paternalistic. Yeah, they didn't get to pick -- but it was good for 'em. Maybe so ... but speaking just for myself, if six years it the cost of my having a life in which I was able to provide for my family, if the gap between 72 and 78 is the gap between me leading the life I have, and the life of a poor-but-healthy science fiction writer in New Mexico, with my kids going to substandard schools and everyone scrimping and saving to patch that pair of pants one more time: I'll take that trade in this life and in all possible worlds beside it.

So would an awful lot of women who never got to make that choice.

~~~~~

They could well be wrong, but brother, you better bring it!

Done my best.

~~~~~

Dan, I don't think you operate out of white liberal guilt. I think you operate out of MALE liberal guilt.

Heh. Yeah, you're probably right about that one.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Does anyone know how much of the difference in life expectancy between men and women is risky behavior by men? My impression was that a lot of it is that the diseases of old age show up later in women-- and those diseases aren't simply a matter of known lifestyle factors. Once modern medicine prevents almost all death in childbirth, women live longer than men.

Melayu Boleh said...

I think that people will give up almost anything to survive.

When face to face with death, yeah. When death isn't around the corner, not so much, or there wouldn't be so many grossly obese people in this country.




Cheers,
Melayu Boleh

Marty S said...

Nancy: You have to be careful when interpreting statistics like those in the chart you referenced. Essentially you are looking at correlations and correlations are good for making future predictions but really tell you nothing with respect to cause and effect. The chart shows greater risk of dieing earlier if you are thin, but it may be the greater risk of dieing early that drives the thinness. I've known several men from families where men had a high risk of dieing early from heart attacks who maintained a very low weight in order to reduce the risk. They all died early from heart attacks, but probably lived longer than if they didn't watch their weight.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Marty, there are a lot of confounding factors. There are people with high BMIs who are more muscular than fat. There are people through the whole weight range with eating disorders. There are people whose weight is strongly affected by illness.

My assumption is that most people aren't that far off of their easy default weight. Does this seem implausible?

Scott said...

"My assumption is that most people aren't that far off of their easy default weight. Does this seem implausible?"

Kinda. Carbohydrate restriction is an easy effective way to lose fat, caloric restriction is a hard ineffective way to lose fat. 'Default' weight for me changes pretty radically with carb load; my favorite diet foods are peanut butter, parmesan cheese, lox with sour cream, bacon, omelettes....

For the physics guys, I'll note I get fatter eating 3000 calories a day high carb and leaner eating 3000 calories a day low carb.

Marty S said...

Nancy: Assuming most people are not far off from their default weight doesn't necessarily make the conclusion thin is bad for you more believable. Say three quarters of thin people live six years long than overweight people, but one quarter live twenty years less. On average the above data would show that being overweight adds a half year to your life. Looking at summary statistics with out examining the variation within the data often results in wrong conclusions.

Steve Perry said...

Anybody mention hormones in this male v female longevity discussion yet? There is evidence to support the notion that testosterone alone knocks a couple years off the back end for men. Several reasons are offered, among which is the idea that free-radicals dance harder and faster in men -- because of the ability to make muscles harder and faster.

The benefits of muscle vis a vis the quality of life seem apparent, but having the ability to make it, which requires more effort and more oxygen, which element is corrosive and damaging to the system.

Everything is a trade-off. A glass of wine every day is supposed to offer some protection to the cardiovascular system, in both men and women -- look at all those French people with high-fat diets who don't have heart-attacks; however, if there is a strong history of breast cancer in a woman's family, that daily glass is a no-no.

Protects your heart, but feeds a cancer.

If a post-menopausal woman elects to replace her estrogen, the benefits to her bones and other systems can be great; however, the risk of certain cancers goes up.

We are all walking hormone-storms, not just adolescents coming of age, and at least partially due to this, biology is destiny ...

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