Liars, damned liars, and statisticians.

I Find Karma (
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 12:26:37 -0700

In his post "Bill a goddamn liar?"

I thought Byars was referring to Clinton

but he was actually talking about Gates...

> > Bill Gates set the record straight during an interview
> > with the Seattle Times over the weekend, saying the decision
> > was made to use browser technology in the company's flagship
> > software products during an executive retreat on April 5, 1994.
> > Netscape Communications was incorporated two days later, on
> > April 7. That's right: just two days later, Marc Andreesen and
> > his compatriots from the University of Illinois founded
> > Netscape and went on to change the Internet forever.

Bzzt! Old bits, we already knew this on August 7 (eleven days ago, Tim)

It's not a lie, IMHO. J. Allard did write the memo "Windows: The Next
Killer Application on the Internet" in January 1994, and Bill Gates and
20 employees did have a daylong retreat at the Shumway Mansion in
Kirkland on April 6, 1994, in which there was general agreement that the
Windows operating system should have built-in access to the Internet.
Read the New York Times article at the URL above.

And no, I am not defending the company because I work for them. I only
work for them for 10 more days; my opinion is my own.

And no, I am not defending Bill Gates because I am going to his house
tonight. I am defending him in this case because he's right.

It's not a lie, Tim. When you call it a lie, you downplay what it means
to lie. Not surprisingly, this is a topic at the forefront of my brain
right now because of Bill Clinton's little speech last night:

To quote Clinton:

> As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my
> relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally
> accurate, I did not volunteer information.
> Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not
> appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in
> judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and
> completely responsible.
> But I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did
> I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other
> unlawful action.
> I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a
> false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply
> regret that.

His public comments gave a false impression?! A FALSE IMPRESSION??
That is such the type of abuse of language Chomsky talks about -- using
words to spin doctor and misrepresent what happened. Sad truth is,
Clinton was caught in a cul-de-sac; he had no other option BUT to
confess. Unfortunately, his confession was irritatingly devoid of
details, apologies, or contrition. Ron asked us "Any messages from FoRK
to pass along to Bill?" in his post

and I wish I had a message, but I don't. I guess it comes down to my
fundamental belief that people do not change without something
profoundly shocking happening to them. That only in light of some
"epiphany" experience are people capable of exacting fundamental change
in the way they behave and in the way they treat other people.

What happened with the whole Clinton thing? What happened was this.
Then as now, Bill Clinton looked into the camera, looked us right in the
eye, and lied to us. He did it so well, most people either didn't
know he was lying or didn't care he was lying.

This was not a false impression. This was not merely misleading. This
was knowingly telling us a nontruth in the hopes that no one would know.
But let's be honest here, lying is not new to politicians. George "Read
My Lips, Know New Taxes" Bush lied to us. Ronald "I have no
recollection of that" Reagan lied to us. Jimmy "I have lusted in my
heart" Carter lied to us. Richard Nixon... Nixon was probably more
honest than most. Lyndon Johnson and John Kenndedy lied to us. And so on.

Fine, politicians lie. When you think about it, politicians cannot NOT
lie. We demand they lie, because we lie too. The United States is a
nation of liars. We lied when we wrote that all people were created
equal; we lie when we tell children about Santa Claus and the Easter
Bunny; etc etc etc.

Fine, we all lie. We lie to each other and we lie to ourselves.
We mislead, we misrepresent, we give false impressions, we give half
truths, we use statistics to back up whatever opinion we hold dear.

Around the beginning of the month, I started to wonder, like Michael
Wolff, "How many fairly grievous lies had I told? How many moral lapses
had I committed? How many ethical breaches had I fallen into?"

And so, I took off the mask ever-so-briefly, and instead of playing the
professional wrestling persona I have on FoRK, I genuinely spoke the way
I was feeling in my "Ode to Losing Virginity" post:

I was sick and tired of lying to myself about what I felt I was capable
of, and about what I was planning to do. For in many aspects of my
life, I found myself to be a chronic, recidivist, extravagant liar. I
would lie to find out information about people and situations by giving
the impression I knew more than I do. I would also lie to make myself
or my work seem more important than it actually was. It worked so well,
I would lie to myself about what I did and did not actually know.

Then my epiphany came, and I realized how little I actually knew, and I
spewed a whole bunch of garbage about type A's and type B's and type C's
as the cover for my real, life-changing epiphany: I finally admitted to
myself how much there was that I did not -- that I could not -- know.

I think Mike Masnick caught the essence of this message in

that, once you've been 86'd from the Garden of Eden, you can pursue
knowledge like crazy and still never be sated.

Masnick wrote:
> One thing I have noticed is a strange tendency for most people I
> know (myself included) to assume everyone around them is a hell of a
> lot smarter and clearer on where they are in life than they are. It's
> completely natural to assume that everyone else knows their purpose,
> and their strengths and weaknesses because people seem to express
> themselves in a way that doesn't make their anxieties clear.

So my point is, I gazed deeply into my own mortality and my own patterns
for living and loving and learning, and I finally realized that I did
not care about everyone else being a lot smarter and clearer on where
they are in life.

What I found that frightened me is that I suddenly felt very vulnerable,
and very stupid, and that my best laid plans were not going to be
feasible. It was time to reassess my hopes and my dreams and my plans
and my abilities, and come up with a realistic plan for my own life.

> I always assume that everyone around me, or anyone who has made some
> sort of decision has perfect info when they did so, and
> therefore *must* be right.
> ...
> And, for what it's worth, I've done the same towards Adam. I've never
> met Adam. We've emailed back and forth a few times off of FoRK, but I
> barely know him. Yet, in my mind, for some reason I see Adam as this
> great PhD student from CalTech who "knows his shit"(TM). I still can't
> see through that classification, either.

My main problem was, I think, that I let people believe about me
whatever they wanted to believe. In any given one-to-one relationship,
then, I could play a role customized to that particular person,
depending on what their wants and needs were, and depending on what my
own wants and needs were.

If I needed you to think I "know my shit," in order for me to help myself
(or, conversely, for me to help you), then I would keep you believing it
whether or not it actually was the case. What is FoRK but a place in
which we can all chime in "knowing our shit" whenever we have something
to contribute that will make us look better in the eyes of our peers?
In FoRK as in real life, it is a game where the goal is to make people
know that you are not a person with whom to mess, and that you are often
a person to consult in times of crisis or information deficit.

For example, Byars had an excellent point

when he told us the soundtrack to Pi

was an excellent techno/drum&bass/trance album, and we know not to mess
with him. He is seen as an expert, and we get some information to help
us cut through the ever-increasing data smog. Then later on, I cut on
him for posting "Bill a goddamn liar?" when it's possible (and in fact
probable) that in this case, he's not. I am seen as an expert, and we
get some more information. Then someone else corrects something I
wrote. And so on, and so on.

So my first instinct when confronted with my "epiphany" was to make
sense of it, by attempting to classify people I knew into A's, B's, and
C's. The A's are the people who weren't lying; they really do know
their stuff. The B's are the people who live the lie (either
intentionally or perhaps subconsciously); they give the impression they
know their stuff even though they really don't.

And the C's? The C's are the people who don't know their stuff, but
aren't going to let that stop them: they are not going to be happy until
they know their stuff, whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, as
long as it takes them to that promised land.

And given an infinite amount of resources (time, access to information,
etc), I am sure that any C could eventually become an A. But at what
point does one do a reassessment and cut one's losses if necessary?

For example -- hypothetically, mind you -- if I know the work I did on a
particular project is not as perfect as I had expected it to be, do I
have a responsibility to tell people that? Or do I give them the
impression it is spectacular work, knowing full well that 97% of the
people won't bother to check (and the other 3% who actually do bother to
check won't tell me to my face what's wrong with it... :)?

My epiphany -- my "loss of virginity" -- was that I would rather tell
people when I know my work is not good, no matter what the consequences
of that. They may think me stupid, they may think me a fool, but at
least they know I know what I do not know.

Deception is exhausting, and I'm tired of it. I can almost empathize
with President Clinton on this. There's really no one to talk with
about it -- you just have to puzzle it out on your own. It's expensive
and frightening to be honest with yourself, but I believe it's really
the only way a person can have the "epiphany" that leads to true change.

But that's a cold, dark abyss to stare into -- to realize why people
treat you (and react to you) the way they do, and to have the courage to
be jarred into changing yourself. It is the scariest thing in the world
to be cognizant of one's limitations. Not the psyche-out style of
limitations ("there is no try; there is only do"), but the limitations
of the brain, the heart, the soul.

As for me... will I stop lying completely? Doubtful. I doubt anyone is
completely devoid of dishonesty in some aspect of their lives. But I
feel like I've gotten a grip on The Big Lie (I believe most people have
at least one big lie in their lives that they refuse to address, and
this big lie may be apparent to no one except the owner), and I feel
like I can make some true progress.

My teenage cousin gave birth to her baby daughter yesterday. My outed
friend is still coming to grips with the way people now treat him. I
just found out about two couples I know pretty well (one in their 30s
after 10something years of marriage, one in their 50s after 30something
years of marriage) who just filed for divorce. Another friend in the
month of August had his first sex and his first drugs (rock and roll,
we're still working on :). Life *does* go on.


If Bill Clinton is in Martha's Vineyard with Hillary and Chelsea for 2
weeks, and Al Gore is vacationing with his family in Hawaii, then who
the heck is running the country right now?