Re: Liars, damned liars, and statisticians.

Mike Masnick (
Tue, 25 Aug 1998 23:18:11 -0700

Dammit, so I'm still behind on FoRK (getting closer, though) and when you
go and post a response to me under a *different* subject... why, that just
screws with my already sleep-deprived fuzzy brain...

At 12:26 PM 8/18/98 -0700, I Find Karma wrote:
<snip to the important stuff>

>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.

Yup. That's the way it goes. There are a number of reasons for this. One
that I find particularly interesting is the fact that everyone has this
binary concept of truth/lie. I know the idea of "little white lies" and
"half-truths" usually gets knocked around, but I believe much more strongly
in a the gradient system. Or, hell, let's add another perspective to it,
and say the "relative" system of truth-to-lie. What seems true to one
person (from their vantage point) may seem very false to someone else.
There is definitely a relative aspect to it all...

>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?"

My answer is that what's the bother in counting? The important part is
that you learn from it (and that education can be in many forms, including
discovering that it wasn't really a moral lapse). I make *plenty* of moral
lapses. The trick is to be aware of what you're doing, store the info, and
make sure you've added it to your resource of experiences that help you
make a new decision each time one comes into place.

Does this make you a better decision maker? Not necessarily. Every
decision (for the most part) presents new circumstances and factors to deal
with. Any one (and especially a combination of them) can throw of previous
experiences in making the decision, but they're still useful.

As horrible as it sounds, I've found that my final decision when presented
with these situations almost alway is based on *one* single factor. I can
weigh the pros and cons all I want, but there'll always be one deciding
factor that says "go this way" or "go that way" or (occasionally) "screw
it, and go some random way".

>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.

Once again, I still don't see how wrong this is. I am a *huge* fan of
cognitive dissonance (despite the fact my sister is basing her thesis on
disproving it...). You do what you do for a reason. When you make a
decision, you do it based on whatever info you have - and therefore it's
the right decision. Even lying. Then take the consequences and grow with
it. Any decision I make, for the most part (there are *always* a few
exceptions) I can justify in some way or another, even if the end results
are bad - and maybe I should have chosen differently. I have a reason for
making my decision, even if it's lame.

>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.

And, as a brilliant, if slightly doped out, English professor of mine used
to say: "And, so?", which is quite different than "So what?".

>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.

If that's what you want to do. Just be aware that plans never seem to work
out - for just about anyone. Some people find them helpful. I don't. I
have a general direction, but I'm willing to admit that things change
(including myself) and there's every reason in the world to expect to
change paths, directions, visions, lifestyles... anything really. I just
try to keep doing whatever I need to stay a happy person, and to realize
that means thinking about both the short and long term - and the lives of
others around me who I care about.

What's funny, is that I've had people describe me as "driven" or "very
focused on what he wants". I think this is funny. Basically, I've figured
out ways to keep myself (for the most part) happy and that seems to confuse

>> 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.

As I said before, there's nothing wrong with this. That's how most people
live life. It's called being human. Reacting to other people's needs...

>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.

I don't know shit, and in my mind, that's clear as anything. Everytime I
talk/post/write with people, I assume, naturally, that everyone sees right
through what I'm saying. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Who
cares? I don't care what you say either. I still think you know your
shit. There are plenty of things that you know much better than I, and for
me that's "your shit" (hrmm... now we're stretching it a bit). I can
always learn from folks who know stuff better than me, and so I will learn
from you - whether or not you like it, dammit.

>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.

A decision that you've made (and not a bad one). Once again, I think this
becomes a case-by-case basis on which you'll need to decide on the factors
of that case.

>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.

If you say so. However, I'm always confused when someone says that the
person they've been must change because they're not the "real" person.
Everything you think and do is what makes you "really" you. Changes are
fine, but if you try to change just be aware that you are changing the real
you, and not just moving away from some "fake".

>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.

And, as I said, I will still think of you as the person based on all of my
experiences with you: both before and after any "change" you make.

Ah well... so that's my say. As per usual, it seems to border more on
pointless that pointful, but consider it my free association response to
your post.