Re: virus: Advice, and lies

Mark Hornberger (
Thu, 10 Apr 1997 02:48:25 -0500

At 11:01 AM 4/7/97 +0100, you wrote:
>>From: Mark Hornberger <>
>>Date: Sat, 05 Apr 1997 18:14:37 -0600
>>At 09:31 PM 4/4/97 -0500, Reed wrote:
>>>This revelation strikes me as particularly true, today:
>>>1) The most useful piece of advice you can ever give anyone is:
>>> "Don't listen to me, I'm trying to manipulate you to my advantage."
>>Ah, but most useful to whom? And if I'm trying to tell you that your house
>>is on fire, and you refuse to listen out of a belief that I'm just trying
>>to get mine... well, I hope your insurance was current. Of course, if I
>>was an insurance salesman... but then I would have had to warn you before
>>the fact, but if I already knew it was going up in flames, I wouldn't want
>>to insure you anyway... but don't listen to me; I'm trying to manipulate
>>you to my advantage. I'm just unclear on what my advantage would be. Care
>>to clarify?
>Hmm. Perhaps I was speaking specifically of the relationship between teacher
>and student, or master and apprentice...situations with which I am familiar.
>But you bring up an excellent point, there is a continious tension between
>enfranchized and the disenfranchized in any situation. If you have power you
>can imagine giving it to everyone (for instance, teaching them how to think
>critically) and creating a new, and more complex baseline of further
>devolpment...bootstrapping up another non-zero sum "level".
>But do you trust the bastards? Should they trust you? The basis of honest
>communication is being blunt about honest motives on everyone's part...
>at the same time you have to be tactful. I was floating a basis statement...
>that the first thing you need to learn is to be suspicious.

I concede that I do agree with you, to a point. I'm quite the cynic, and a
misanthrope to boot. While it is pleasant to meet one of those eternally
trusting, optimistic people, sometimes I have to wonder what planet they're
from. I do keep in mind that everyone has an angle, but I try to temper
this with the fact that some people's 'angles' are purely charitable or
altruisic. An incongruity, I know, but life is a perpetual delimma, anyway.

But there are some basic rules of thumb that fall nicely into your package
while being more common-sensical than cynical, (IMHO) such as, "Don't ask
an insurance salesman if you need insurance." and the like. Those are the
freebies, but things do get a bit subtle after that. How do you evaluate
your average conversation; how you decide how honest the person you're
talking to is being with you? What we call 'civility' is basically lying,
by a more puritanical outlook - but acquiring this civility is a
hard-fought process that we call 'growing up.'

Children say the damndest (spelling?) things, precisely because they
haven't learned to lie yet about what they're thinking to protect someone
else's feelings. Part of our job as parents, ironically, is to train them
to lie (in this sense), but at the same time develop in them the virtue of
honesty. We try this balancing act for years, and then wonder why they
don't respect us when they realize what the game is.

>>>2) The most deceitful lie is:
>>> "Do as I say, not as I do."
>Learn form people by observing their behavior. We are designed to
>do this as children but as soon as we learn language we discover a
>vastly more efficient realm of learning. Each of us, for a long
>time, must rely on our teachers to feed us information...and if we
>are lucky they are interested in our well-being and are somewhat
>reflective. But it seems, more often than not, as if people ignore their
>own perceptions...they believe what they hear, and read, before
>what they see and think. Perhaps, as Tad has been suggesting, this
>might in a concievable world (perhaps the planet TeTa?) be
>acceptable. In this world, however, it is dangerous.
>I know a smoker who tells his childern not to smoke, but will
>not, himself, quit. Think of how the combination of his advice
>and behavior creates an ambivalent message. In what way is this
>related to the liar's paradox? Is his advice "good", "true" or
>"right"? Your answer depends more on your standards of
>evaluation than the system, but that doesn't mean the situation
>is "completely relative" or that "reality doesn't exist"

I agree that we evaluate people more on what they do than what they say,
but I think it's important to evaluate the message itself, without so much
regard to the person giving it. Saying that you or I should stop smoking
is good advice, period - that the person giving out the advice continues to
smoke in no way diminishes the accuracy or validity of his advice. This
problem is called the ad hominem fallacy - "He's a damned hypocrite! Why
the hell should I listen to HIM??" We always impart too much
responsibility to the speaker, and not enough to the listener. The speaker
is who he is, and we have no control over that. But the message is being
imparted to us, and it is up to us to listen, comprehend as best we can,
and assimilate the information or wisdom that we can find within. The
father in your above scenario IS a hypocrite, but this has absolutely no
bearing on the validity of his advice to his children. It may affect the
quality of the transmission, but if they are mature and intelligent,
they'll try and meet him halfway, and take his advice on its own merits,
not his.

take care-