Been thinking about the challenges of life recently, and it seems to me that mostly they boil down to two things: a certain universal problem and the universal mistake humans make in handling it.

Living in the world is often a challenge. And while some have it a lot worse than others, no one has it easy. I was looking for a common pattern in the universe’s seeming hostility to human happiness, and I think I have largely found it: time itself.

We suffer when we experience loss: loss of our friends and family, loss of our health, loss of our safety, and loss of that which brings us joy, to be sure. But we suffer equally the less tangible losses as well. Loss of access to the past, represented by the feeling of nostalgia. Loss of security and predictability, represented by anxiety and/or anger. Loss of opportunity, represented by regret. Loss of belonging and connection, represented by loneliness and isolation.

Time means change, and while time seduces us with the idea that change can be for the better and sometimes is, very often change is for the worse, for there are many more way for things to get worse than to get better, and the universe as a whole is indifferent to which happens. And every negative change as far as I can see is a type of loss. This ultimately becomes the challenge of living as a human in this world we find ourselves in: acknowledging and dealing with loss.

But then we compound the problem with our ill-chosen reaction to time and loss: the elective blindness I sometimes call fictionalism. When we don’t like the world around us, we simply choose to pretend the world is different. There is a tiny percentage of people struggling to clearly see the world as it really is, no bias and no bullshit, trying to achieve maximum clarity using logic and rationality, but the vast majority of “you humans” are buying stock in bullshit by the metric ton.

Death a bummer? No problem, we’ll pretend to know that death is not the end. Bad people getting away with murder? I’ve got your fix right here: let’s pretend that bad people get justice in the next life. Life feeling out of control, like you can’t get ahead? Let’s pretend it’s all the fault of foreigners. Feeling bad about doing alright while others can barely get by? Let’s pretend that everyone who doesn’t succeed is lazy, so that you can ignore them without the guilt!

The list is never-ending: for every problem someone has with life as a human, there are usually several patch-job fictions humanity has invented to hide each unwelcome truth from our sight.

Fictionalism at its core, whether embraced consciously or subconsciously, has this single message: if you don’t like a truth, just deny it. Pretend it away.

Republicans do it. Democrats do it. Religions do it. Cis people do it. Trans people do it. Capitalists do it. Socialists do it. White people do it. People of color do it. Nearly everybody does it; inserts a desirable lie into their minds to hide from a painful truth.

And then they all fight each other. Since each person chooses a lie about a different piece of reality, they each can see truths that the others cannot. Republicans, for example, can see the truths that the Democrats hide from, and call them on it. Meanwhile, the Democrats are seeing the truths the Republicans are hiding from and attack them for that. Each human can see truths that others deny, and so each person can legitimately criticize every other. And yet, since each person is unwilling to examine or confront their own fictions, no progress ever gets made, with anyone.

Thus we have societies where each group is justifiably trying to get each other group to admit where they are wrong, but where each group is also fundamentally unwilling to look to their own equal transgressions. And so, instead of trying to unite humanity to take on the real problem of time and loss, humanity is in a perpetual state of conflict, trying to tear the blindfolds off from one another while trying to keep their own blindfolds firmly in place.

Which, so far as I can see, has always been the state of the human race. Almost all our issues as a human race stem from our enemy: time, and our own desperate embrace of various fictions to deny it, with every problem this denial adds to the mix.

I don’t know if we can ever conquer time, but we certainly won’t while we as a race embrace fictionalism. There is a cure for fictionalism available to all of course: embrace accepting logic and reason for discovering truth instead of believing whatever fictions promise what you wish were true. The solution is not really all that complex. But does the human race at large have the capacity to choose to stop lying to themselves? At this time, I am highly doubtful. I see no force strong enough to make them, even as they die because of their embraced fictions.

Since I am of the teensy slice of human beings that don’t seek comfort by choosing self-deception, I will have to take my comfort in this: to fix a problem, you first have to identify it. Perhaps with sharing my realization that time and fictionalism are the root problems of humanity, I’ve contributed what I can.

Note: this is reprint from Facebook’s now defunct Notes feature. It was first published on July 20th, 2013. It has been edited for concision.

Introduction, Terminology, and Set-up

This article is intended as a simple and blunt look at the above three things and how they interact. It is intended to be rational, objective, and unflinchingly honest. It is not my intent to upset, anger, depress, demoralize, or sadden anyone. It is also very much not my intent to coddle, pander, or in any way soften any basic truths.

I, the author, am fat. Oh, I am not “obese”, but I would be lying (to myself and to you) if I claimed to be merely stout. Since most of this fat is in my belly, the right clothes can minimize the effect, but make no mistake, I am fat. As are so very many of us.

The final note is that while many things can attract a person to another – kindness, financial security, shared values – this article will be focusing on physical and visual attraction. This focus is not any repudiation of the potential of non-physical attraction, non-physical attraction is simply beyond the scope of what we will be examining herein.

I think that makes the necessary things clear, and we will now move on to the twin truths of beauty, as applied especially to those of us who are fat.

The Twin Truths: The First One.

There are two truths that apply to all aesthetics. We cannot pick and choose among them, both are required by logic and reason. One most people like, and the other most people deny – but they are both equally true.

The one most people like is that beauty is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What does this mean for us fat people?

It means that we aren’t ipso facto ugly, per se. That there may exist people who find us beautiful or attractive not just in spite of the aesthetics of our excess weight, but because of it. Whether a skinny person, a fat person, a short person, a tall person, a young person, an old person – none of these are attractive because they have that quality alone. What makes them attractive to another is how a person reacts to that quality.

While I have been attracted to some stout and even fat women, usually the type I find most attractive is just the opposite – lean, thin, skinny. It’s what I generally happen to find beautiful. I am not saying that, for example, obese people are ugly – because if beauty is subjective (which it is) then such a statement makes no sense. The correct statement is obese people are ugly to me. In fact, if someone is using the language correctly, even when people say “people with quality X are beautiful” or “people with quality Y are ugly” and they leave out the “to me” part, it should be understood to be there despite its omission. Unless the person is actually trying to make an incorrect statement about nonexistent universal aesthetics, that is.

So if someone tell us “curves are beautiful” they are either lying about some fake universal beauty, or what they are really trying to communicate is “curves are beautiful to me.” Assuming of course that they are being honest, and not just trying to say what someone else wants to hear.

The same thing happens when you turn that around. If someone says “fat people are ugly” they are either wrongly making a statement about an absolute sense of “ugliness”, or more likely (assuming that the speaker is rational) they are really saying “fat people are ugly to me” with actually saying those two words at the end.

If it’s OK to omit those words and say “curvy people are beautiful” then it must be equally OK to omit those words and say “fat people are ugly”. If instead the phrase “to me” is required for the second statement, then it is equally required for the first. To treat these two statements differently is to embrace dishonesty for the sake of stroking our egos, fears, or needs.

Now, just because beauty is truthfully subjective, that does not imply that if you grab a random number of people off the street, that their preferences will be all over the map. Societies tend to develop standards of beauty that many within it share. In medieval times, overweight men and women were considered fairly attractive by society as a whole, although surely there were some individuals who nevertheless went against the trend and preferred the underweight.

Nowadays, many modern cultures seem to prefer the underweight, though again there are still many who buck the trend and instead find themselves attracted to the overweight.

(Parenthetical note: some personal aspects that have nothing necessarily to do with weight are generally, almost universally found to be attractive or repulsive. Bad hygiene, for example, tend to be a near universal repellant, probably because of the evolutionary truths of what bad hygiene leads to or represents. However, even here, there remains a rare few individuals contrarily attracted to what is near universally a repellant.)

So, all utterances of personal aesthetic – attractiveness, beauty, repulsiveness, ugliness – are all as valid and as subjective as is whether one likes vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and this is as true for statements of what we are attracted to as equally as what we are not. Not a single one of us is made beautiful or ugly by our amount of weight, however high or low that is – but instead by what each person’s preferences and proclivities for other’s weight are.

And there’s nothing wrong with finding either a skinny or fat person either attractive or repellant. If I gaze upon a fat woman and am repulsed, that does not make me a bad person – and neither does it make the women lesser either. I am under no obligation to change what I find attractive – which may not even be possible. The fat woman is likewise under no obligation to change how she looks to please me or anyone else. She cannot rationally be offended by either me describing her as fat (which is factually true) or by me finding her utterly unattractive – so long as I am not trying to either be intentionally hurtful nor trying coerce her to change to suit my purposes, both of which are wrong.

Neither would it be my place to take any issue with someone else finding this fat women attractive, and acting on it. It is generally not any of our places to be dishonest about how we truly feel aesthetically, nor to have any expectation that our aesthetic feeling, whether positive or negative, should have any bearing on the choices that other people make.

Whether skinny, fat, or somewhere in between, people get to like what they like, and vice versa. To be asked to ignore or lie about it is stupid. To push one’s own preferences as an obligation onto to others to pursue is also very wrong. That’s what it means to says that beauty is subjective.

(Second parenthetical note: I was surprised to find recently some women who are certainly fat, but to whom I am very much attracted, one in particular. I don’t know how that happened, but it just goes to show you that even one’s own proclivities are probably not absolute. Also, it should be noted that another quality that many are very narrow on – age – I am not. While most people are attracted to so-called age-appropriate partners, I am attracted (and not just lustfully) to certain women of all ages from 18 to 65. My current partner is, for example, significantly older than I. (I am 45 as of writing this.) So while I tend to be pickier weight-wise, I am very all-embracing age-wise – for what it’s worth.)

The Twin Truths: The Second One.

And now to the truth that most people hate and pretend quietly (or loudly) isn’t true. You know how they say that everyone is beautiful, how everyone is special. Yeah, that can’t possibly be true.

The idea that everyone is above average is a lie. Therefore, not everyone is necessarily attractive.

We could be talking about ability, we could be taking about intelligence, we could be talking about physical prowess, we could be talking about capacity for empathy, reflexes, kindness, willpower, whatever. Half of all people would be above average – and half of all people would be below average – that is what average MEANS.

The idea that everyone is special is especially moronic. Special means “surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional; distinct” – this is just a fancier way of saying that everyone is above average.

To apply this same line of thinking to the standards of beauty is even more slippery. Even if there were some standard of beauty we were to accept AS a standard in the first place (an utterly dubious prospect), half of all people would be above average with respect to that standard, and half would be below. A standard that everyone meets is simply NOT a standard.

To say that someone is beautiful regardless of how they look or appear is to violently shred the very definition of beauty of al meaning in order to avoid the pain of having someone come up short.

“But what about the people with a beautiful soul?” a desperate person might ask, struggling to find some way of still calling another beautiful despite their appearance and how it makes them honestly feel. To them I say, are you trying to trick the person you are talking to? Are you trying to find a way to say one thing and make them hear another? Are you trying to lie to them to make them feel better?

If they have a beautiful soul in your opinion, tell them that, but do not mislead them into thinking that you find them physically attractive. That is just cruel.

If you tell someone that you find them beautiful, with no qualifiers, they will think you are telling them that you find them physically attractive – because that is in fact what you would be saying. If instead you mean to communicate to them that you find their sense of honor beautiful, or that you find their kindness beautiful, then make sure that you do not give them any other impression than that.

Being honest can often be uncomfortable. And there is always a way to be tactful and to avoid being cruel. But do NOT lie to people just to tell them what they want to hear or to avoid an uncomfortable exchange. Do not tell them one thing hoping they hear something else.

The thought that “everyone is beautiful” is therefore meaningless in two ways. One, the idea of what is beautiful changes significantly from person to person – so much that in terms of the statement “everyone is beautiful” the only sensible response is, “according to whom?”

Two, even if we have some frame of reference assigned – like overall societal standards, or perhaps “according to Fred” or whatever, beauty indicates an attractiveness of more than some level, and setting that level so low as to permit everyone to pass it renders the quality we are trying to use a distinction as simply meaningless.

What if we defined the word “warm” as anything with a temperature above absolute zero. Sure, we would be justified in calling anything warm. We could use that word on anything and pretty much be “right” – but in so doing, we would have rendered the word essentially meaningless and useless. If a Siberian night is considered warm, and so is midday in the Gobi desert, then calling something warm doesn’t really give us any useful information about the thing we are talking about, does it? I mean, we could have refrained from saying anything about it being “warm” and still know as much about it as we do now.

Likewise, if the word “beautiful” can be used to describe anyone regardless of their appearance, then what information do you convey to someone by using that word? None at all.

Think instead of beauty as a visual equivalent for how we treat “deliciousness”. Whether you are a picky eater (like me) or have a more wide ranging flavor palette, odds are that you have at some time had food that was either misprepared or that you simply did not care for. For example, I do not care for licorice, to me it is certainly not delicious.

In order for the word delicious to have any meaning, even in a subjective sense, there have to be foods that I do not find delicious as well as others that I do. The same is true of beauty – in order to have true meaning, there must be some that we find beautiful and attractive, while others not so much.

Not everyone is attractive just like not every food is delicious. And while people can rightfully disagree which ones are the delicious ones, no one disagrees with the fact that not all food is delicious.

Similarly, while people can have different standards of beauty and different types they are attracted to, no one can honestly say that they find all people attractive. So let’s stop insulting our intelligence by pretending that we can be considered attractive for just showing up. Maybe some people find us attractive, maybe others don’t. But the honest truth is we don’t get to claim beauty just because we want to.

Or to put another way, just because we want something to be true doesn’t mean it is. Instead, wanting something badly to be true usually means the opposite – that our need stems from the fact that, at our core, we do not believe it. We therefore not only lie to ourselves, but try to manipulate or coerce others to support the lie.

Let’s not do that. Let’s just face reality as it really is.

Fat and Beauty

So we have two co-equal truths: beauty (and attractiveness) is subjective; and that even when an aesthetic perspective is chosen, some people will be found attractive with regard to that perspective and others not, because not everyone is attractive or beautiful.

What does this have to do with being fat?

All people tend to be sensitive about their attractiveness, as it plays into most social interactions, not the least being friendship, companionship, and sex. In our current society, being underweight has for some time been held up as one of the standards of attractiveness. This predictably leads the overweight amongst us directly to self-esteem issues and for some, rebellion against this standard.

So fat people start out judged in today’s society as have their weight and appearance used as a measure of their unattractiveness. So when it comes to speaking of beauty, we fat people start with a major chip on our shoulder.

The objective truth is, being skinny doesn’t make someone beautiful. Neither does being fat. Because beauty is subjective, the only thing that makes us beautiful or attractive is someone else happening to have preferences for the qualities of appearance that we happen to possess.

However, since today’s society tends to embrace a sense of beauty that does not include being fat, this tends to make people hear the term “fat” as synonymous with “unattractive”. But this is not any more true than if (the spice) curry fell out of favor, would curry become synonymous with “bad tasting”? Would people be judged for still preparing and eating curry flavored meals? Not likely.

But because the word “fat” has become so associated with a lack of beauty, people go far out of their way to avoid using that word, or worse, bend over backwards to hastily convince the overweight people in their circle that they are just as attractive (to them) as anyone else – even when that may not be honestly true.

People who are fat are more than a little overweight, but we are neither fragile nor outcasts. We do not have to be treated like children. I would rather hear someone be honest with me about how attractive they do or don’t find me, than have them tie themselves in knots trying to spare my feelings – or worse, outright lying to me.

So let’s make a deal. Let’s call people who are fat, fat. Let’s be honest about whatever level of attraction or repulsion we feel when we are called upon to comment – tactfully, but truthfully and without hemming and hawing, or treating the overweight as if we can’t handle how others truly feel.

And above all, let us fat folk stop trying so hard, stop giving in to our desperation to find someone, anyone to tell us what we desperately want to hear – that we are attractive. It’s unseemly to act from such sheer panic and utter need. Let’s buy a frickin’ helmet and say, “we are what we are”. If we want to control our weight badly enough, we will. Otherwise, we’ll say “screw it” and take the lumps along the way, even if some of those include admitting that fewer people may be finding us attractive these days.

Reality is what it is. Running from it doesn’t help. Let’s face it, deal with it, and move on. We’re fat people. That may make us unattractive to more people in today’s society, although not necessarily to all – in fact, a select few may even become more attracted to us as a result. And perhaps eventually the pendulum may swing back and the overweight may once again be the standard of beauty like before.

In the meanwhile, I’ll take the truth, straight up, no chaser.

Fat and Well Being

It is common knowledge that being overweight can be a negative health factor, all anecdotal stories aside. Just like smoking, carrying extra weight brings extra risk, and generally speaking, the more extra weight, the higher the risk. (Having too little weight has its own risks as well.)

Let me be CRYSTAL clear that this topic has almost nothing to do with the previous one. I am not claiming that people who are unhealthy deserve to be thought of as unattractive, or that healthy people ought to be our standard of beauty. After all, there are plenty of anorexically thin women who’ve died from lack of eating and malnourishment who many thought were beautiful until the end. And there are also plenty of the heavier-set stout folk who may not be thought of as all that attractive, but who are quite healthy. Beauty and health frequently do not walk hand in hand – I am not here to condemn or support it.

But another burden we fat folk have to bear, utterly apart from concerns of beauty, are concerns of well-being. The fatter we are, the more likely that we will have problems. How fat to do have to be to have it be a health issue? That’s a question for a doctor, and the answer may vary somewhat depending on genetics, climate, exercise, diet, etc.

I am not going to claim that everyone with more than 15 or 20 pounds extra on them is at high risk, but I am also not going to ignore the truth that many people with even just 20 extra pounds are now quite possibly facing greater health risks. And lots of people aren’t looking at just 20 extra, but 35, 50, even 100.

Although not all fat is dangerous, the more fat you have/are, the more you should be speaking with a doctor about it. And while doing something about it is certainly your call, it would be extremely irrational and short sighted to ignore the issue just because it’s scary or difficult.

A smoker, for example, isn’t necessarily stupid for choosing to smoke, if they are truly aware of the risks and chooses the “pleasure” of smoking over avoiding the health issues that go with it. The same can be said for us fat folk. We could reduce our weight if we had to. If we don’t, it’s either because we choose not to see the truth of the tradeoff, or it’s because we choose to make the trade. Refusing to confront the truth is not something I respect, but once the truth is confronted, no one can make that choice but you.

And just like quitting smoking, changing one’s life to lose weight via diet and exercise is HARD. Some now say that certain foods can be as addictive as nicotine. So I do not want to minimize the challenge in making a change.

The only thing I insist on is facing the truth. It doesn’t matter whether or not we like the idea that being fat may very well have health costs, it’s still up to us to confront that possibility and handle it. Fat – especially a lot of it – is not good for the body. Let’s be adult and stop pretending otherwise.

Conclusion

I know even edited down, this was a lot of words, but I look around at the ever expanding people – especially Americans – and it seems to me that as the numbers of fat and obese folk go up, there is a corresponding push from these folk to both find a way of talking about beauty so as not to upset or dishearten then, and to simultaneously and steadfastly ignore the very real health risks that increase as our weight does.

I’m not into shaming anyone, and fat folk certainly should not be made victims on account of their weight – being one of them myself, I certainly can agree with that.

However, let’s not victimize ourselves. Let’s not agree tacitly to have all of us put on blinders. Let’s not pretend that fat is beautiful just because we’re fat and we demand to have people want us – because that’s not how it works. Either folks will be attracted to us or they won’t, but our anxiety over the situation won’t help that happen. Fat isn’t beautiful. It isn’t ugly. Fat is just fat.

It often is unhealthy though – and that’s something that each of us fat folk should face and deal with – whether than means to work with professionals like doctors and trainers to alter our weight, or whether that means we sadly shrug and say “oh well” and go back to the cake and cookies. (My approach, so far.)

Let’s frickin’ face reality, whatever the truth is, and simply deal. I’m fat. I may not be fat always, but right now, I am. I do not find my fat self attractive. Nor do I find other fat folk in general attractive – nor do I have to. But if some waify slip of a thing tells me that my bulk (such as it is) is a major turn on for her, I won’t be contradicting her – I’ll be too busy kissing her.

In the meanwhile, I suggest we all just face facts, and accept things for how they really are. Doing anything else cannot work out well.

Note: this is reprint from Facebook’s now defunct Notes feature. It was first published on November 11th, 2018

So, as many of you are aware I’ve been ruminating on the concept of thankfulness and gratitude. Thankfulness is one of those concepts that tend to get automatically praised and embraced without any critical reflection on whether it merits that – so let’s examine it.

I’m going to bring forward two items that will inform our examinations: The impersonal nature of the world, and the goal of accuracy.

Item one: the world is impersonal. We have no reason to think that there is an agency or force behind what happens in the world that cares about what happens to us. The world is little more than a machine that we find ourselves in; it may be a quantum mechanical machine instead of a clockwork one, but it is nevertheless not playing favorites and does what it does with precisely zero regard for our druthers or our well-being. It is neither hostile nor friendly, it just is.

Item two: we want to see the world as accurately as possible. Although this is normally assumed, I am explicating the idea that our overriding goal is to better know and understand the world around us as it is, so that we have more options and are better prepared. Understanding optics gives us glasses, to correct imperfect sight, understanding biology gives us medicine to cure much of what ails us, and so on. Refusing to see a negative truth such as a dangerous wild animal in our path doesn’t stop it from eating us, quite the opposite.

One more thing: the gratitude I’ll be discussing in this essay is not the gratitude we feel towards each other, which I already understand. It’s instead the gratitude we are told we ought to feel when we catch a lucky break or avoid calamity. It’s what we are told we are supposed to feel when things go well, or at least don’t go badly. That we should be grateful, for example, that we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, unlike many in the world who don’t. And that we should embrace the so-called “attitude of gratitude”. (Personally, I enjoy embracing the attitude of catitude instead, grin. Meow.)

Let’s construct an example. We apply for a new job that we really want. After going through several rounds, there are just three of the initial applicants left, us and two others. Then the final decision comes down: we did not get the job. So we feel understandably bummed, not just for losing out, but in the knowledge we are going to have to start the laborious cycle all over again with a new attempt at a new job elsewhere.

“But,” says the positivity believer, “think of all that is still going RIGHT in your life! You have no major medical issues! You still have your old job and can pay the bills! You have so much possibility for joy in your life! And today is such a wonderful sunny day! How can we feel bad in the light of all that? Embrace an attitude of gratitude and you will reside in joy even when things seem to go awry! You have so much to be thankful for!”

But do we? Does gratitude in this context make sense? Is it a rational choice here?

That depends on what you mean by “gratitude”. See, “gratitude” is one of those slippery words that can be all things to everyone. To some, it means always appreciating what the Christian Creator of the Universe has given you. To others, it means choosing to see everything through rose-colored glasses. To yet others, it means being accurately aware of all the good things in life that we may take for granted – while turning a mostly blind eye to the reverse.

And that is the fundamental problem with gratitude and thankfulness – everyone uncritically stuffs into that concept their entire chosen worldview – a kind of positivity narcissism, in fact. But what happens to the concept when we explicitly unpack it and remove those extraneous elements?

Item one: the world is impersonal. We therefore owe no debt of gratitude to any cosmic force or deity for any lucky break we catch (nor do we need to bitch them out for our misfortunes.) The world isn’t on our side, nor is it against us, it just is. This amputates from the concept of gratitude all improper feeling of personal gratitude for what’s working in our lives to any fictional anthropomorphic universal force or entity.

Item two: we want to see the world as accurately as possible. This means that we do want to appreciate all that is going right with our lives, but we don’t want to elevate it over simultaneously appreciating all that could be better and isn’t. In other words, we aren’t trying to “spin” our perceptions; we’re not trying to talk ourselves into a less accurate view of the world. We will not, for example, praise and laud not experiencing certain misfortunes without given the same attention to detail and value for all the misfortunes we are experiencing. And vice versa; we won’t wax rhapsodic over all that could be going wrong but isn’t, without giving the same due to all that could be going right but isn’t! Instead, we want to see the world as it really is, and value it accordingly!

So, given these items, there is only one definition left for the slippery concept of gratitude and thankfulness: unbiased appreciation.

Appreciation of the truth of our current reality, both positive and negative. Appreciation of all that we have and all that we lack.

And having defanged thankfulness so, we are left with one of two conclusions:

Either thankfulness is merely a reminder to us not to forget to count the good with the bad – a reminder that seeing the world accurately requires seeing all sides, not just the negative.

OR, thankfulness is a covert and insidious way to try to get us to focus disproportionately on the presence of good in our life – an attempt to get us to put on rose-colored glasses and see the world incorrectly on purpose. I hope it is obvious how irrational this is.

So, how do you use the concept of thankfulness? To embrace your relationship with your chosen deity? To cherry-pick your perceptions of the world in order to see it as better than it really is?

Or just to see the world accurately, good and bad? And if the latter, then why use a word that has such an upbeat connotation instead of a more accurately neutral one like “appreciation”? Or maybe that accurate understanding of the world is not really what you are going for, hmm?

I always embrace reason. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. So I will always try to embrace an accurate and unbiased appreciation of reality over the slanted “thankfulness” every day. I hope you do too.

Perhaps, at least with regard to the impersonal universe, it’s time for the concept of “gratitude” to go.

Note: this was originally published under Facebook Notes, but as FB has discontinued everyone’s Notes, it has been rehomed here.

As online culture continues to develop, I become aware of neologisms that appear. I had heard of “sealioning” before in passing, and knew it had something to do with scurrilous and nasty debate tactics.

Then, when I questioned the veracity of a post from Bill Gilman, a fellow thinker and Facebook friend of mine, he replied, “Don’t sealion me Benn, you’re a better person than that (I think…?)

Now, if you know me, you know I take enormous pain to engage in discourse honestly and with great sincerity, so I thought I better figure out exactly what he was accusing me of! So I went looking for a precise definition.

Dr. Pete Akers, a scientist at Géosciences de l’Environnement, Grenoble, explains sealioning as “people who troll online by pretending to ask sincere questions, but just keep feigning ignorance and repeating ‘polite’ follow ups until someone gets fed up. That way, they can cast their opponents as attacking them and being unreasonable.

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has published a collection of essays entitled Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online. In the essay “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions,” Amy Johnson writes, “Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning—often about basic information, information on easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points—with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences.

So, all in all, it appears that sealioning is a dishonest rhetorical strategy that consists of feigning aggressive cluelessness as a sincere desire to understand.

So, how in the world could a friend imagine I would engage in such a practice?

Well, perhaps he didn’t know me as well as I thought. Maybe he didn’t understand that I take both rational discourse and epistemological ethics very seriously. Perhaps, despite my openness on the topic, he was unaware how committed I truly am to reason and rational thinking, to the point I don’t engage in any elective inconsistent thinking. Maybe he thought my focus was on trying to win arguments, when all I really ever want to do is pursue truth, no matter where it may be found.

If so, I hope he knows me better now.

It’s true that I do sometimes ask questions that may seem overly basic, but I do that sincerely for one of two good reasons. Firstly, because sometimes so-called “common knowledge” positions hide ignorance or ill-defined ideas. For example, it would be pointless to engage in productive rational conversation about “god” without first getting the specific definition my discourse partner is using for that word. Secondly, by taking the conversation down to the basics, hidden or implicit mistakes in rational thinking can be more easily uncovered, rather than wading into it only to find out later that my interlocutor began with an unstated logical fallacy. Failing to address either problem is no good for finding truth.

Another possibility is perhaps Bill meant something different by sealioning. I have seen some others falsely accused of sealioning when their questions were sincere, just because their accusers felt upset that their dogma was being critically examined.

Picture a flat earther, shall we say. (Bill is no flat earther, this is just an example.) Ask them to defend their assertion and they may well accuse you of being a sealion, unwilling to accept their position. But a sealion isn’t merely someone who disagrees with you, its someone who asks insincere questions.

People who can’t easily justify their claims and positions might get upset when someone comes along who asks for the reasoning behind their thinking. I can easily imagine flat-earthers, antivaxxers, climate change deniers, and a host of others (not to mention the religious) who might feel quite beleaguered when leaving their enclave of like-minded folks and being suddenly faced with some difficult questions.

But asking difficult questions sincerely doesn’t make anyone a sealion. And neither does asking why people believe what they believe.

The only other reason I can imagine for being falsely accused of being a sealion is worse. Just as a true sealion is insincerely playing word tricks to harass or attack, someone falsely claiming that someone is sealioning them could be well aware that they cannot back up what they have said, and is hoping that throwing the epithet of sealion at their questioner might make their questioner go away or at least prevent themselves from looking foolish for being unable or unwilling to defend their positions.

Especially when you have a community bound by dogma that is not to be challenged, asking questions can be interpreted as an attack on the community itself, not just on its dogma. Witness how people mistakenly accuse those who dislike Islam as racists – when Islam is not a race, but a set of beliefs.

Especially in these days, when it seems that most people refuse to acknowledge evidence, facts, and objective reality, questioning incorrect dogma results in a very strong, thoughtless, and kneejerk reaction from the culture that embraces the dogma.

I find faith detestable – and no wonder when most dogma rests on mere articles of faith. When one questions such a basic thing, the believer may react with disbelief that anyone could not agree with them – and then accusations of sealioning would come next, as if to imply that the article of faith is obviously true and anyone who questions it can’t possibly be sincere.

This is my greatest concern with the concept of sealioning – that people will simply use this handy accusation to excuse themselves from ever having to justify bad thinking and incorrect conclusions – an ultimate shield against ever having to think critically or admit when one is wrong.

I suppose this is my attempt to educate people what true sealioning is: an insincere tactic to troll people you never had an intention of having an honest conversation with.

And for what it’s worth, if I respect you enough to have a real conversation with you, I will never engage in this practice.

So do me a favor, and don’t throw this particular accusation in my face just because you don’t like being asked why you believe what you believe. Otherwise, you will not keep my respect for long.

Thank you.

We now accept that raw and uninterpreted perception is an underived truth, one which does not need to be justified or proven. If I see the color green, whether something in my field of view is actually green or even if I’m just hallucinating, I can still accurately state I am perceiving green – even if I don’t know why it is happening, even if no one else is.

We have a pile of raw perceptions, what do we do with it?

We try to “make sense” of this mass of information – by looking for patterns.

Now we have to take a small step back, in order to take a GIANT leap forward: we need to talk a little about patterns.

Check out the following sentences:

  • Eree’t sitttina dpomsssfr aie nnee retmr, aemaothdr etmnh ose et.
  • Ir oimtn attsfroee nrs setnmmern ehreapid, hese eat omte’a tdste.
  • Hrn mdsa eeas’e tentteimi setatntee itr, doftr opehrmso snmra ee.
  • Hent ttnerfemm si dsdohmnia noees srti’a, etesr apmeereo ttr tea.
  • Reo enne eoea’i eed et mrmes, hadhtttie trstpmes srtimntna rfoas.

Total gibberish, right? This is an analogy for what uninterpreted sense data is like – sure, it’s data, but it doesn’t mean anything to us.

Imagine for a moment that you don’t know how to read or write at all, that you didn’t know the alphabet, nothing. Then the following sentence would be as much gibberish as the five above:

  • Sometimes there are patterns to find, and sometimes there aren’t.

Here’s the thing: all six sentences (the first five and the one directly above) use exactly the same specific letters and have the same exact number of words, each word with the same number of letters. The only difference is the way the letters and the words are ordered.

That sixth sentence is as unintelligible to an illiterate person as the first five were to you – an illiterate person cannot see a difference among any of the six sentences, and they certainly would be at a total loss to say them aloud, let alone glean any iota of understanding.

But once we’ve have learned the code, the way to find the pattern, we can easily not only read the sixth one out loud, but understand perfectly what message it is trying to convey!

Learning patterns is the key to understanding that what might seem like random noisy data may actually hide meaning and truth – we just first have to learn how to decrypt it.

So how do we do that? How do we find meaningful patterns in our raw perceptions?

That, my friends, is the meat of the matter, which is next.

Knowledge is like a house, you can’t have a roof without walls to hold it up, and you can’t have walls without a foundation. Our knowledge of one thing almost always comes as a result of knowing other stuff, forming a great chain. We couldn’t know about quantum physics until we knew of the atom, and we didn’t find the atom until we discovered radiation, and so on, all the way back to the discovery of fire and beyond.

So this paradigm-mapping journey must begin with the question: Where do these chains of knowledge start? What truths do we have that are not derived from other truths? What are our first, our primary truths?

And that turns out to be an easy question to answer – perhaps the only easy question we will find on this odyssey. The answer is perception.

I’m not getting ahead of myself and saying that our interpretations of our perceptions are the origin, quite the opposite. Our raw perceptions are the only foundational truths we have – all else is deduced from them.

And “perceptions” cover a lot more than you might think: sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, sure, but also heat, pain, balance, and emotion.

Oh, you thought emotion was a different thing? Consider our emotions: happiness, fear, anger, sadness, just to name a few. How do you know if you’re angry?

You feel it. Right? Well, anything you can feel must be a perception, even if it is an “internal” one.

So there we are. The foundational truths of any person must be their raw perceptions – that’s the starting point. What those perceptions mean to us is where things get very tricky, but we start with raw perception  – the five senses, plus other senses we have that for some reason don’t get included in the so-called five, and emotion.  Everything we ever experience or ever could is where we begin.

Because the only underived truth is perception.

Or is it?

Been a while, but I am back to start a whole new journey. This time it’s less about discovering something new than understanding better what I already know. (Although some might say the latter is often the path to wisdom.)

Recently I made this post on Facebook:

“I need your help, friends of mine. I am thinking of writing up my “Map of Convictions” or MoC, if you will – a chart of the foundations of my personal paradigm. (Perhaps it would be cool if by the time one graduated high school one had thought and indeed enumerated them.)

For me stuff like, pragmatism, reason, where I think values come from, my stance of free will and where moral duty originates from, and so on.

One would imagine that by reading someone’s MoC one would find where they stood on all the big questions in life.

So what sort of things should I remember to include in my MoC? What “deep” questions should I have my answers for? Like, where does Benn stand on the whole X thing?

Please give me LOTS of ideas, I want this to a pretty complete inventory of my fundamental principles.

Thanks!”

So that’s my current journey, and what I will be writing about: what do I think, and why exactly do I think it? It will hopefully become a mapping of my paradigm, including my convictions, primaries, deductions, working understandings, and so on. My goal is that in reading this, others can clearly see and understand exactly why I embrace the thoughts that I do.

Along the way, if you have questions or thoughts on what I write, or want me to address something that I haven’t yet, you can either write me at benn@4eFix.com or simply leave a comment under either the blog posts or the Facebook ones. Your input, and especially questions, fuel my journey!

So, let’s begin building this great (or not-so-great, grin) Map. Here we go!

I don’t know about you, but I’m a pen person. I love a good pen, one that glides over the page and lays down ink smoothly, that feels “right” in my hand. I don’t have a lot of quality pens, and they can be hard to find, so I try not to lose them.

Imagine this: I am at a coffeehouse, with a great pen, taking notes on my next Stumbling Forward ideas. I hang out for an hour or so, then go to pay the check. When I come back, my pen is not on the table!

So, now I’m pissed. I head home, and when I get there I complain to my partner, telling her how someone stole my pen! When I sense doubt from her, I add “It’s true, I left my pen on the table, and when I came back from paying the bill, it was gone!”

The thing is, people like to throw words around, big and small, without really thinking about them too much, none more so than the word “truth”. So it can be very important to know exactly what we mean when we use that word – and what the consequences are thereof.

When most people say something is true, they mean that it is real. That it isn’t an opinion, they are claiming to be stating fact. “There is a table over there” is a statement about the real world, and what you will find in it. But here’s the kicker: how do you know? Or to put it another way, your “truths” are only as dependable as the methods by which you gathered them. And since NO gathering method is absolutely free from flaw or error, no fact or conclusion that any of us can ever reach can be one hundred percent trusted. None.

We can all agree that the question of “is there a table over there” has a true answer – either there is or there isn’t. We all believe that – because to believe otherwise is to believe that reality doesn’t exist, which contradicts itself. And we can pursue whether the table really is there, in our hallway, as deeply as we like. We can even take steps to becoming ever surer, looking at it, smelling the varnish, asking others to confirm what we are sensing. We can become 98% sure, or 99% sure, or 99.9% sure, or even 99.99999% sure.

But we can never become 100% sure – not rationally, not when we know things like stage magicians, dreams, human error, and mental glitches exist. Not when we know that we as humans have an overwhelming tendency to draw conclusions first and think things through second, if at all.

Did someone really steal my pen at the coffeehouse? Maybe. Maybe not. Did it roll off the table onto the floor? Perhaps. Did one of the baristas take it, thinking that they left it? Maybe. Did I return to the wrong table? Could be. Will I actually find it in my knapsack in a day or two, because I stuck it back in my bag without realizing, before I got up? Quite possibly.

You can never know the truth about anything – not with absolute certainty – which most people strongly imply by “truth”, and others directly state. Truth is reality – and reality truth – at least the way most people use that word. But we are very fallible beings. Our senses are far from perfect, and can give us information we misinterpret – like a mirage in the desert where there is no water, or a seemingly empty box where the magician is hiding the bunny behind a mirror. And we are also imperfect in our ability to reason and draw conclusions – anyone who has ever forgotten in math to carry the “1” knows what I mean!

This is why I am convinced that most people use the word “truth” incorrectly – because if they are speaking about the way reality actually is, they can never rationally express complete and absolute confidence in any understanding of truth, so-defined.

I do not use that word that way. If I say something is “true”, I am only really saying that it is known true, but not that it actually is. If I say, “It’s true, my pen was swiped at the coffeehouse”, I am not saying that it actually happened that way, I am saying that I have concluded that it happened that way – although it may not have!

The only rational way to discuss the truth is to discuss what we can reasonably claim to know. Therefore, an argument over a disagreement about the truth of something is not an argument about whether it is actually true or not. No, the argument is really about whether the claim of calling it true is justified – or whether the reverse claim of calling it false is, or neither.

Rationally speaking, we can never know reality directly, we can only perceive it. So any conversation we have about our disagreements of what reality contains can never be about what it really contains, only about what (and how) we can justify the claim of knowing that. (Like “truth”, you can correctly claim to know something now, even if later that claim turns out to be incorrect. Like “truth”, knowing isn’t about reality, it is about our understanding of reality, which evolves and changes.)

Thus, anytime anyone claims “X” as true (or being “the truth”), the most that claim can rationally support is that we can at this time know “X” is true – because of various reasons. But in the same breath, now we have to admit we are only discussing whether “X” is justifiably known to be true, not if it’s actually true. Therefore we can always change our minds when new evidence or thinking (or both) challenge a “known truth” – because a known truth is a product of our efforts, and never absolute, like “the truth”.

And this applies to every domain of discussion and “truth” – science, politics, religion, philosophy, business – even what I had for dinner last night. (Or at least what I can remember!)

Truth – that is, known truth – is not absolute. It’s our current best guess given the information we have, our ability to correctly process that information, and the time and energy we have to allocate to those endeavors. We would all be in much better shape if we simply eliminate the idea we can ever have actual objective truth, and instead focus on what’s actually possible – a shifting, hopefully ever-improving collection of non-absolute known truths, which represent nothing more or less than our current set of working knowledge.

Recently I was watching a TV show centered around four female friends and their, um, “entanglements”. One of them, Savi, had just had an unplanned one-night stand with someone who was not her husband, and hadn’t yet shared that with her girlfriends. She is tormented by guilt. Another, April, has taken to idolizing her dead husband – until she finds out that not only did he have another woman in his life, but he had a son with her.

This sends April into continuing fits of rage. In one scene she complains angrily to Savi (not yet knowing Savi’s secret) that cheaters are the lowest of the low, asking what kind of person betrays someone that they claimed to love? April continues to excoriate and condemn her husband, not knowing how every vitriolic barb she lobs lands straight in Savi’s heart, until Savi interrupts her, quietly saying “I cheated on my husband last night.” April is stunned for a moment, then angrily shouts at her, “I didn’t want to know that – you should never have told me that!”

And that was when I knew that April was a vampire.

You see, in the above scene, April is basically saying that Savi as her friend has an obligation to be there for her, and that by admitting what she (Savi) had done, April lost that support structure. But what’s really kind of nasty is that April is only interested in herself in that moment, and zero percent interested in her supposed friend’s torment.

No, April would rather Savi keep it to herself, even though April’s words were cutting her to ribbons. April somehow thinks it Savi’s duty to ignore her own well-being for April’s. And that is the essence of the vampire: they expect you to put their needs ahead of your own – and feel entitled to it. Period.

Vampires are everywhere, people who have an agenda for you that is not to your benefit, but is definitely to theirs. Users. Pushers. Life-force consumers. Vampires.

Here are a few examples:

  • A guy sees two gays kissing in the park. He tells them that they should be ashamed of being perverted in public – but look under the surface and it’s clear that he’d really like them to stop because seeing it disturbs him. And why shouldn’t the actions of those around him be limited by what he can handle?
  • A woman, hearing you criticize the country, tells you if you don’t love it, you should leave it. Why? Because those are the only two options she wants you to choose from – conveniently ignoring the “work for change” third option – because the change you want she doesn’t! What a peach!
  • A fellow who considers himself generally morally superior tries to convince you that lying is wrong, never right, and that you should always tell the truth, regardless of circumstances. Why? Because it’s a cornerstone of his belief system and apparently it’s more important for you to support his beliefs than act towards your own well-being, should there ever be a conflict. Nice guy.
  • A religious leader tells his followers that women shouldn’t be bread-winners, that they ought to be subject to their husbands and stay at home to do their “natural” work there. He says that it isn’t natural for women to behave like men, compete with men, wear pants, and generally be all independent-like. Again, scratch the surface and one can see that what the “moral leader” really wants is male dominance over women – because that’s what he likes and is comfortable with – and his “theories” are just a smokescreen to try to get it.
  • A used car salesman is telling you how the car he is trying to sell you is the perfect match for your wallet and your needs. Of course, he doesn’t tell you that the transmission is about shot, or that there’s a crack in the engine block, because he’s not really thinking about what’a good for you, but about what’s good for him – like getting you to part with your money!

All these people have one thing in common. They all want the people around them to modify their behavior without regard to what their targets might want or what might actually be good for them. And they push this agenda not honestly – because who would be persuaded by a campaign of “Stop gays from making out in public because it sickens me” – but by using tricks, coercion, and any other thing they can to prevent people from figuring out for themselves what’s in their own rational self-interest.

To be clear, this is not about a demagogue stirring up a mob to go after those they don’t like – which is horrible, but not vampiric. A vampire is someone who attempts (through coercion, misdirection, or deceit) to make someone ignore their own best interest to instead wind up doing what the vampire wanted.

Vampires:

  • Want to secretly use you, not work with you,
  • Want the outcome that favors their agenda, no real consideration of your purposes,
  • Don’t want you to know that you are being used, as that would get in the way,
  • And definitely  doesn’t have your true best interests or actual well-being at heart.

Vampires are sneaky reprehensible predators, often wolves in sheep’s clothing. They feel so entitled to your obedience that they may not even be aware that they are trying to use you. These aren’t necessarily clever people – although some are – these are extremely self-centered life-suckers that don’t always get why your first instinct isn’t to accede to their wishes.

Some try to steamroll over your ability to choose your own self-interest with force of personality and coercion. Others seek to bamboozle and manipulate you into thinking that the choice they want you to make is in your best interests when it’s really not. Still others use deceit so that you don’t really understand what your options are in the first place. All of them though share a common perspective – your place in life is to serve them, and whatever they need to do to get you to do that, they will. After all, they deserve it, right?

Wrong. They’re just vampires, and like the mythical kind, a little metaphorical sunlight can send them scurrying back into the shadows. But watch out for them, because they are everywhere.

[Note: this post is WAY too long, but this is what it took to cover the topic, and the subject matter is so much of a whole cloth that splitting it into separate posts seemed an injustice to the material. So please bear with me, and know that this article’s length will NOT be a trend.]

We have outlined why sometimes dishonesty is justified in this post and in this one. And we have defined what we mean by “honesty” in the last post. Now all that’s left is to make the case that when not an absolute necessity, being honest (i.e., non-deceptive) is still the rational choice 99% of the time.

Many people take it as an article of faith it is a black and white truth that honesty is good and dishonesty is bad, period, no exceptions. If you had to lie to protect yourself, they might say you had to do one small bad thing to stop a bigger bad thing – but they would still identify your lying, even to protect yourself, as a “bad” thing – just an unfortunately necessary “bad” thing.

Well, we have already demolished that line of thinking. If dishonesty is necessary to protect one’s wellbeing or to avoid an injustice, then it is justified and not at all immoral. But this is where people get scared. If some dishonesty isn’t bad, if the honesty rule isn’t black and white and absolute, than why wouldn’t everyone just lie their ass off all the time? How could we trust anyone ever, if dishonesty is ever not condemned?

It’s actually a good question, and deserves to be answered. Why is it so vital that everyone be honest almost all the time, if occasionally dishonesty is justified? I could take the easy way out and say “that’s just what I believe”, but that doesn’t mean a damn to anyone else who doesn’t happen to feel the same way. So that won’t be my approach. Instead, I will be asking this question: “Why is it to your benefit to be non-deceptive (i.e., honest) as much as humanly possible?” There are many clear and compelling reasons, some obvious, some subtle, that break down into three rough categories: the cost of success (at deception), the odds of failure, and the cost of failure.

I.    Reasons to be honest: the costs of successful deception.

What do I mean by “the cost of success”? Well, even if you are dishonest and get away with it, there is still a cost, as everything we do has consequences. Here’s one: when you deceive someone you unavoidably damage your relationship with them, even if they never discover your dishonesty. Why? Well, for one, if your deception is about a part of you – like being an atheist, as in a previous example – you are limiting the ability for someone else to get to know the real you, and if the “you” they are getting to know is not the real you, how can you trust them when they say that they like you, or believe in you, and so on? They don’t know you, because you didn’t let them. And beyond even that, when you are able to successfully deceive someone, the power dynamic in the relationship shifts a little each time, even if they are not aware of it. A deceiver may begin to see his successfully deceived targets as less and less worthy of respect or equality. It often works that way.

Another cost of success is mental – many people who lie and deceive suffer silently under a heavy if hidden cloud of anxiety, anguish, and fear – which can haunt the deceiver longer and cause more distress (ironically) the longer the deception successfully continues, to the point that some who deceive actually register profound relief upon the deception finally coming to light!

Similarly but different, especially for those that value truth and accurate information, the cognitive dissonance produced by telling and living a lie can be profoundly unpleasant and annoying, like an itch you can never scratch. Over time this can even cause personality changes as the mind continually rejects the deceptions one is selling, requiring the deceiver to push even harder, an unpleasant feedback loop.

Finally, there is the opportunity cost of a successful deception. The urge to deceive often comes from a painful situation one is trying to avoid. Not all the time, but sometimes that painful situation is necessary to find a greater resolution and a release from the pain. An alcoholic, for example, by successfully deceiving others into thinking that they do not have a problem, will most likely continue to suffer their disease and its effects. However, simply and honestly confronting the problem head on can, in some cases, allow one to make a long term improvement by being forced to deal directly with the root issue. Of course, some root issues aren’t within our power to deal with – if the Nazi soldier asks you if you are hiding Anne Frank and you are, that is not the time to take on Fascism single handedly by saying “Yes, and you can’t have her!”

Reasons to be honest: the costs of successful deception.

  1. Damage: Dishonesty damages relationships.
  2. Side-Effects: Deception may cause the deceiver anxiety, anguish, fear, even cognitive dissonance and personality changes.
  3. No Improvement: Hiding the truth may prevent confronting it for change for the better.


II.    
Reasons to be honest: the chance of failure.

The above three reasons assume that one will succeed at deception – but is it that easy to succeed at it? Is it trivial to deceive someone? No – not at all – and this is why:

First, a single lie or deception has three ways in which it can fail. It can fail because the deceiver simply fails to deceive their target; or because the deceiver initially succeeds, but over time makes mistakes that add up; or perhaps the deceiver makes no mistakes, but the truth gets ultimately revealed by an external source.

Successfully deceiving another person, especially when the stakes are high with someone who really knows you, is tough. People are human lie-detectors, some better than others. We can sense when something is “off” – though we don’t know it, we’re picking up on body language and the myriad of possible changes in the person who is trying to deceive us. Maybe their vocal cadence changes, maybe they start sweating or acting nervous, maybe the pitch of their voice rises, or their attitude doesn’t seem to fit their words. The brain is wired to try to sort truth from falsehood, so when one attempts a deception, unless one is a psychopath, it is very hard not to give any signs. Especially to people who know them and have a better baseline. On the other hand, some people are really good as quickly sizing up even people they have never met – you never know.

Even if the initial deception somehow gets by, then comes the “maintenance” phase. Because you don’t just have to support the deception in the moment, but from that point on, for the rest of your life, until or unless you come clean or it blows up. So when you tell a friend that you can’t hang out with him because you are going away for the weekend, and few weeks later he asks you about your weekend trip, your lie will not be fresh in your mind, leading to “Weekend trip? What do you mean? Oh, that weekend trip” awkwardness – and if your friend is paying attention at all, he just got enough of a hint to bug him until you get busted. Maintaining the deception long term is extremely hard.

And even if you do everything successfully – you sell the initial deception well enough and then you remember to support it well, there’s a very good chance you’ll still get busted. Reality has this way of catching up with those that tend to deny it – whether what ultimately busts you winds up being a receipt someone finds, or two people unexpectedly crossing paths and conversing, or something else, odds are that there is evidence and/or people who know the truth (or at least enough that could expose it), a time bomb waiting to go off.

To make matters even worse, the need to protect the deception frequently causes the deceiver to have to create another lie to support the first, and then another lie to support that one. Pretty soon the whole thing snowballs and collapses of its own weight.

Is it possible to get away with deception? Certainly. Is it likely, especially long-term? Very much not.

Reasons to be honest: the chance of failure.

  1. Ineptitude: Most people cannot deceive well and instead give themselves away.
  2. Ongoing Mistakes: Most people can’t maintain a deception long term, let alone several.
  3. External Factors: Reality tends to eventually and actively contradict a deception.
  4. Snowball Effect: Risks are multiplied by needing more and more deceptions to prevent discovery.


III.    
Reasons to be honest: the price of failure.

And now we get to the really big downside of dishonesty and deception – what happens when it all blows up – because it almost always does. There are actually a lot of different ways in which our deceptions can come home to bite us on the ass hard – and most of them are non-exclusive, meaning that there are several layers and depths to the many bad results when a deception goes wrong.

The most obvious one is the direct fallout. Yelling, crying, nastiness, and other immediate consequences like being fired, dumped, assaulted, arrested (depending), and so on. You might ask aren’t these the same consequences you would have faced by being honest to begin with? Actually, as bad as the consequences of being honest might be, the fallout is usually far worse when the truth is preceded by acts of deception. Where speaking honestly of a problem with another may lead to finding a solution, a revealed deception usually offers no such options. So if you want any chance at some forgiveness, understanding, or amelioration, you are much more likely to lose that when one’s deceptions implode. Direct fallout is the really big one, but there are also a bunch other terrible consequences one faces with a failed deception.

One of those awful things is knowing that through your deception, you have caused others, probably loved ones, to feel deeply hurt, wounded, and betrayed. You have visited upon them deep pain, much deeper than simply telling them the truth would have been. So unless you like giving pain to those you are close to, you may want to stick to the truth.

There’s also some more intellectual and tactical costs to a failed deception. Have you ever heard of Kant’s Moral Imperative (KMI)? Briefly stated, it says: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” In other words, we shouldn’t steal, because if everyone stole the world would not function.

Well, we generally want people to be honest with us, as much as humanly possible. According to KMI, that requires that we ourselves act that way in return. So if you want people choosing not to deceive you (unless it’s absolutely necessary to avoid harm or injustice), then you have to apply those same standards when you choose to be honest or dishonest.

The backhand part of KMI also works in reverse – if you employ the tools of deception too freely, you have no grounds to complain of feeling wronged when others do the same to you. So if you want the high ground, if you want your anger and feelings of being wronged to be rationally justified when someone is caught deceiving you, then you must avoid deceiving others whenever possible – that’s the other side of KMI.

In addition, there’s the cost to your reputation, both negative and positive. Obviously, the negative side is that as people begin to know you for being dishonest, you will be ostracized or worse by the society, culture, and social group you partake of. Even if the shunning isn’t to your face, you’ll know that few like you and no one trusts you – you will be an outsider and you will deserve it, so you won’t even have righteous indignation on your side.

Not to mention that once you become known as dishonest and as a deceiver, your next deceptions have very, very little chance of working now that no one is trusting you anyways. Even if no other reason above has convinced you, this one should make even crafty, soulless manipulators pause: There is no point in telling a lie if it’s not going to be believed. And the best, easiest way to get people to believe you is to have a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness. The only clear way to get that, is to be honest and trustworthy. So from a purely tactical point of view, the rarer your deceptions are, the more likely they are to be effective! Lying or deceiving when it’s not absolutely necessary risks wasting a good and limited resource – your reputation. So don’t.

The last reason to avoid dishonesty is a bit more subtle – failed deceptions can sometimes reveal more than being honest would have. This may not be obvious, but consider: a failed deception not only reveals the truth you tried to hide, but also how important it was to you that it not come out – which may well be a deeper truth than the one you tried to protect. And just like lies can snowball, once truth starts coming out, that can snowball too, revealing far more than just the one truth you didn’t want known. After all, once you start pulling on that thread, who knows where it will end?

Reasons to be honest: the price of failure.

  1. Fallout: The immediate brutal consequences of an imploded deception.
  2. KMI: If you want honesty, you have to give honesty.
  3. Reverse KMI: If you are easily dishonest, you have no grounds to complain if you are deceived.
  4. Negative Reputation: People shun and freeze you out – or worse.
  5. Lost Trustworthiness: Your ability to deceive when necessary has been virtually lost.
  6. Extra Vulnerability: A failed deception may reveal much more than you had been trying to hide.

IV.    Conclusion.

So there you have it, thirteen strong reasons to be honest whenever humanly possible. Will the above thirteen reasons be enough to never lie? Certainly not. As demonstrated throughout the past several posts, some deception is required to avoid harm or injustice, even with all the above risks and the many costs. But because it is so risky and costly, the only time it makes sense to deceive is when the true danger is that much greater.

Again, if I was an atheist in Georgia in 1956, you bet your sweet ass I would pretend to be a christian. The cost for not doing so would be too enormous, justifying the risks and costs. But I am damn sure that I wouldn’t take those risks for anything less important, anything trivial.

And I hope, after reading this, neither will you.

Even without some made-up faith-based reason to be honest, based purely on rational self-interest, it should now be obvious that honesty is (almost always) the best policy.