virus: Advice, and lies

Reed Konsler (
Sun, 13 Apr 1997 18:55:34 -0400 (EDT)

>From: Mark Hornberger <>
>Date: Thu, 10 Apr 1997 02:48:25 -0500

>>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.

Another way of thinking about it is that all behaviors, including speech
acts, are overdetermined. Anything you do you do because of lots of
reasons, some altruistic and some not, instead of just one. I think most
people accept that writing down "the five causes of the Civil War" is
an oversimplification (perhaps useful, don't shoot!). So, I think, is the
idea of "the one cause of my action".

Thus, it isn't a question of finding and hanging with the saints. There
aren't any...if you think you've found a group then you're in a cult and
they're taking your money...or will be shortly, you gullible fool.

[the name is K-O-N-S-L-E-R, by the way, for that check... ;-) ]

>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.'

Interesting idea. I agree. Civility is a KIND of deception. I reserve
the right to categorize deceptions and rank them in terms of personal
repulsiveness. I think civility is often acceptible, in fact to be
encouraged. But I caveat, caveat, caveat (about everything, no?)

>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.

>>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.

Wow, I don't think I have anything to add. That was almost exactly
what I was thinking.


Reed Konsler