Critical Section


Lying

Friday,  03/28/03  10:03 PM

I'm a pretty calm person.  Which is not to say that I'm relaxed.  I am a ball of tension inside a calm exterior.  Generally the tension stays inside but a few things can cause leakage, which is when I get not so calm.  And the most usual thing which causes me to get not so calm is lying.

Lying is all about intent.  When you say something you know isn't true in order to influence others, you're lying.  If you say something which isn't true but you didn't know it wasn't true, that's not lying.  But if you try to influence others by passing off something you don't know is true as truth, you are lying.  Even if it subsequently turns out the thing was true.

The thing which really bothers me about politics and diplomacy is that they involve continuous lying.  There is a game.  Everyone is lying all the time.  They are either saying things which they know aren't true, or they are saying things they don't know are true.  Once you say something, it is up to everyone else to prove it isn't true.  If they can't prove it isn't true, then it counts as true.  What a wacko game!  Instead of everyone just telling the truth.

The war has really exacerbated my feelings about lying.  Each day I read tens of stories about the war (I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame).  I can't accept anything at face value.  Each story, each posting, even each photograph has to be analyzed; I have to ask, "is this true"?  The politicians, the military people, the reporters, and even bloggers like me are all spinning.  Everyone is riding the fine line between complete falsehood and "not true but not proveably false".  Disgusting.

There is an antidote for lying.  It is logic.  You start with some facts, and you reason from the facts to make more facts.  When you have a hypothesis you can test, you test it.  You are continuously searching for truth.  This is the essence of science, the core methodology.  It works great for things which are simple and static.  The laws of physics, the nature of chemical reactions, even the structures of life are all amenable to science.  It does not work great for things which are complex or dynamic, like the behavior of people.  This is why it is so tough to apply science to markets, or politics.

To deal with markets and politics and other realms involving the behavior of people, you have to rely on statistics.  It is easier to predict what 10M people will do than to predict what any one of them will do.  But even then you have only a prediction, no certainty.  Which opens to the door to opinion.  Reasonable people can and do disagree about things which are not scientifically proveable.  They can do so honestly - gathering as many facts as possible and reasoning logically - or they can do so dishonestly - selectively picking facts and spinning them to support a predetermined view.  That's lying, and I don't like it.

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