Stop Lying

I finally said, “Stop Lying to me! Enough lies. Is everything a lie?”

And then there was quiet. And then there were more experiences.

And then I said, “Ah, but I am also a liar.”

And then there was quiet, and some more experiences.

And then I thought to myself, “Well, aren’t we all liars then?”

I looked at my friend, and it became apparent that he was lying to me. And then at my other friend, and he was lying to himself. And then I looked at my third friend, and he told me about he lied, and at a fourth friend, who told me that he hated liars.

And then I quietly smiled and stopped talking to them.

I started a dialogue with myself.

“How do we lie? How do we deceive? Why do we do it? Is it possible to identify lies, to know an honest answer from a deceitful one, to know the real intentions of others? Is it possible to recognize when we deceive ourselves? Or perhaps I am thinking about all this the wrong way. Perhaps we are meant to lie. Perhaps lying is a necessary part of life, and instead of trying to study it, I should experience it – the beauty and ugliness of it, to embrace all of its sides…”

 

 

 

The Corrupt Mind

In The Republic, there is a passage that describes what qualities a judge should be endowed with. The conversation takes place with Socrates.

Socrates: ‘The best way for a doctor to acquire skill is to have, in addition to his knowledge of medical science, as wide and as an early acquaintance as possible with serious illness; in addition he should have experienced all kinds of disease in his own person and not be of an altogether healthy constitution. For doctors don’t use their bodies to cure other people’s bodies – if so, they cannot allow their health to be or become bad – they use their minds; and if their mental powers are or become bad their treatment can’t be good.’

‘But with a judge it’s a matter of mind controlling mind. And the mind should not be brought up from its youth to associate with wickedness, or to run a whole range of crimes in order to get first-hand experience on which to be able to judge them quickly in other people, as the doctor does with diseases of the body: on the contrary, the mind must, while it is still young, remain quite without experience of or contact with bad characters, if its condition is to be truly good and judgments just. That is why people of good character seem simple when they are young, and are easily taken in by dishonesty – because they have nothing corresponding in themselves to give them a sympathetic understanding of wickedness.’

The point that is being made here is that a mind that is not corrupt should remain so to be able to be a good judge, since early exposure to wickedness would disrupt its proper functioning and interfere with it.

When you are young, you are yet to be impressed upon by the world. Your assumptions about people are good. It is only when you get older that you see the maliciousness in others, and even in yourself.

But this innocence that Plato talks about, the good person who in their youth seems simple, is not something that is washed away by the transition from childhood to adulthood. There are many people who maintain this innocence of character despite their encounters with malice. They are either not exposed to an extreme enough event, or they are working hard to preserve their mental model of the world.

They prefer to remain where they are, trapped inside a simplistic understanding of people, for such an understanding allows them to trust, to take risks, and to form relationships. There is no good that can be gained from extreme skepticism – even if merited.

You should not distrust people, and avoid them at all costs – it is not pragmatic. You should instead understand them. And once you have acquired a sophisticated understanding of human nature, it is then time to integrate this knowledge into your belief system. To reconcile your cognitive dissonance, to accept that each individual is both virtuous and sinister. That each individual aims for the good, but is selfish and has destructive motivations.

The problem in politics can be summarized as follows: each side refuses to acknowledge their own dark sides. They frame the other side as evil, while thinking of themselves as good. And it is the same in social life. You have those who presume their own innocence indirectly when they cast aspersions on others. Social shaming induces guilt which can lead to reform, so it cannot be said that casting aspersions is altogether fruitless, but when it is done pathologically, without properly considering the situation in its entirety, without holding one’s own self culpable, without taking stock of one’s own lack of self-control and lack of virtue, then there can only be net negative consequence.

The simple, innocent youth who grows up to be an adult does not remain young, nor innocent, but in their minds, they often do. And it is this mismatch between reality (what is) and what is perceived that results in both internal tension and external hostility.

It seems like cliched advice to always look at oneself before criticizing others, but it is necessary to do so, to avoid self-deception. The person you should fear most is yourself, not others who you may or may not encounter. You are permanently attached to yourself, you cannot escape your own mind or body, and so it is important to know what you are, and what you are not.

How The Weak Link Deceives

In the game of deception, no character is more potent and deadly than the weak link. You should not only be wary of those that strut their feathers proudly, they are obvious targets and have obvious weak points. You should also be wary of are those who are quiet, disgruntled, and weak-willed. They craft a delicate facade that convinces everyone around them that they are powerless, and that they are constantly preyed upon. These Machiavellian naturals only feign weakness to fool you.

The weak link is irrational. He only acts out of selfish instinct but has convinced himself and others around him that he is not selfish – that he is in fact virtuous. Finding himself losing the power struggle, the weak link must find a chink in the armor of others, and this is often compassion. If the weak link can garner empathy from others, then he can gain in stature and political strength. He does so by appealing to principles that he neither believes in nor follows, but he knows that these principles are universally recognized. He does not have a personal philosophy, but understands which values the gullible fall for. He tries to believe in his bullshit but he fails to do so as his regular behavior does not exhibit any adherence to a philosophy of compassion. The weak link regularly spends his time pursuing selfish modes of action but he is suspiciously uncritical of his own behavior. In fact, this lack of self-awareness and personal responsibility is the reason he has become a weak link.

His master strategy is to appeal to fairness. Since it is in everyone’s best interest to play a fair game, it is difficult to reject the weak link’s call for greater fairness. And yet, even under fair conditions, the weak link refuses to play the game because he lacks competence, focus, and resolve.

The weak link is a perpetual seeker of shortcuts. By victimizing himself, by appearing to be the biggest loser of a rigged game, he garners sympathy from other big losers. You should avoid these people, do not associate with them, for if you do, they will eventually corrupt your mind. It is naive to believe that you can change people, but it is more naive to believe that you cannot be changed.

The Need to Deceive

It is not possible to understand good without knowing evil.  It is the presumption of contrasts: without the antithesis of a thing, that thing could not exist. Light cannot exist without darkness. Positive can’t exist without negative. Strong can’t exist without weak. Masculine can’t exist without feminine.

This is because things have to be measured relative to something else, if you are to classify them. Something is only dark if there is something lighter that you can contrast it to. It is not possible to recognize honesty without recognizing deception.

But there is something fundamentally nebulous and nefarious about deception. People avoid talking about it and understanding it.

“That which you most need will be found where you least want to look” – C.G Jung

But ff you ignore the existence of deception and presume that all people are basically good, then you are an easy target for deception. If you aren’t familiar with the ways in which they can deceive you, then there are more ways to deceive you. If you are incapable of recognizing malicious intent, they will be highly capable of recognizing you as a perfect victim.

If you start with the opposite premise, that people are not basically good, the world looks very different. But the paradox is that by seeing the world in this way, you are doing more good than bad. It is the presumption of innocence that destroys people and society.

Psychologist Carl Jung thought of archetypes as sub-personalities that have their own motivations, if you suppress them or refuse to acknowledge their existence, they will find a way to manifest themselves in your life against your conscious will – and could result in neurosis and psychosis. If you project weakness, cowardice, and evil onto the world and deny these sub-personalities in yourself, then you become more likely to become a victim of your unconscious.

the joker archetype lives within you. A part of you enjoys deception. After-all, deception is a lot more fun than honesty. A case in point is games. Every single game that is worth playing contains elements of deception. Whether it is sports or chess or poker or board games – without deception, the game becomes fundamentally boring.

This is what interests me most about deception. People’s lives are routinely ruined by it, and yet the absence of it creates a boring existence. Deception is the root of most of the world’s evils, and yet one has no choice but to embrace it.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the Imagination under Control

Keep the Imagination under Control; sometimes correcting, sometimes assisting it. For it is all-important for our happiness, and even sets the reason right. It can tyrannise, and is not content with looking on, but influences and even often dominates life, causing it to be happy or burdensome according to the folly to which it leads. For it makes us either contented or discontented with ourselves. Before some it continually holds up the penalties of action, and becomes the mortifying lash of these fools. To others it promises happiness and adventure with blissful delusion. It can do all this unless the most prudent self-control keeps it in subjection.

– The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Baltasar Gracian

Most people thriving within a functional economic system design a vision of an ideal reality they want for themselves. They sacrifice things of value to actualize this vision, and base their self-worth on how successful they are in doing so. Of course, it is useful to engage in this forward thinking process –  without clear goals, and the ability to scrutinize your behavior, you would never make any progress. But there is a danger to succumbing to the arbitrariness of your perception.

Your imagination of what an ideal future should look like is based on a distorted understanding of reality. Your perception of time, your abilities, the actions of others, are all inaccurate. And when you wholly identify with the vision you are seeking, you lose the capacity to deal with reality as it is, becoming a victim of your sea of self-generated illusions. Before trying to rule new kingdoms, you must learn to rule your own. Keep yourself grounded, by controlling how you react to your illusions of reality.

The Art of Deception

Vary the Mode of Action; not always the same way, so as to distract attention, especially if there be a rival. Not always from first impulse; they will soon recognise the uniformity, and by anticipating, frustrate your designs. It is easy to kill a bird on the wing that flies straight: not so one that twists. Nor always act on second thoughts: they can discern the plan the second time. The enemy is on the watch, great skill is required to circumvent him. The gamester never plays the card the opponent expects, still less that which he wants. – Baltasar Gracian

To be effective at deceiving, you must have a different trick every time. The boy who cried wolf wasn’t believed the last time he cried ‘wolf’ because the rest of the villagers were used to this exact lie. Had he tried a different tactic each time, he would have avoided disaster.

The deceiver must always be inventive. In poker, there are many ways to deceive your opponent. Bluffing is the obvious example. Players who bluff often in the same kinds of situations will be easily defended against by the astute opponent. So the bluffer must have other tricks up his sleeve. Sometimes, he should try to disguise a real hand with a bluff-like raise, to make it seem like he’s following the same pattern of behavior. Other times, he can slow play his hands, and in that way, his opponents can never predict if he has a real hand or not.

But notice that the more tricks you have the more unpredictable you are. In any game, if you can keep your opponent guessing about your next move, you will have the advantage.

In chess, there is the story of Bobby Fischer’s famous series against the Russian Boris Spassky in 1972. Fischer lost the first game, but when it was time to play the second game on a different day, he arrived very late to the event – and forfeited the game. Spassky was happy to be two games up, but he was confused about Fischer’s behavior. He wondered why his opponent would concede such an important match in this way.

Spassky was a player that won by making moves that rattled his opponents. Fischer used his own tricks against him, for the rest of the game, Spassky couldn’t get a read on Fischer – the American had the psychological edge. After losing the series, Spassky accused Fischer of cheating, but none of his claims were verified. Spassky retired from chess even though he was still young.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter – Walter White

Having more tricks not only allows you to have more options to fool your opponent, but it also makes it easier to read your opponent, and recognize when he’s deceiving you. Fischer recognized Spassky’s strategy and implemented it himself.

When the Greeks fought against the Persians in 479-480 B.C in The Battle of Thermopylae, they managed to make a stand against all odds. The Greeks had a much smaller army. Their hoplites were infantry who were physically tough and brave, and they were defending their country from invasion, so they fought to the death. They managed to heroically prevent the Persian victory.

The underdogs won the battle, but not the war. The Persians had a different trick up their sleeve, a very powerful one – gold. While the Persians didn’t have their local hoplites, they bribed Greek mercenaries to fight for them, and it worked. The Persians eventually won the war. They succeeded in creating infighting within Greece. Whenever one Greek city state was doing well, they funded its rivals that would then go to war against the successful city state. And as the dynamics of power shifted, so did the Persian political strategy. The Greeks naturally had conflict with one another, and the Persians used diplomacy as a weapon to exploit this.

This strategy has been used many times in the past, and continues to be used in modern times.Powerful nations that unexpectedly face stiff opposition from an inferior enemy resort to other methods to attain victory. When they realize that fighting honestly is too costly to their society, they create rifts between the groups they are fighting, and this way avoid bloodshed, but achieve their political goals.

The Persians defeated other enemies by inviting them to a feast, offering peace. And when their enemies obliged, the Persians got them drunk and slaughtered them. Nations that rise to power have more tricks than their opposition, they are less predictable. It is why they rose to power in the first place, and it is how they are able to maintain it.

In the first world war, the Germans were shelling the French for days. Then suddenly, they stopped. The French knew all about this. Every time the Germans had stopped before, they had stopped the shelling and mobilized their troops to invade the French territory. The French soldiers, who were in terrible condition, rose out of their dugouts and were exposed in the open field, waiting to counter the German invasion. But the Germans never came. It was a trick. The German planes took note of the French positions, where machine guns were hidden, and other soldiers took cover. The shelling continued for the rest of the day and was more effective than before.

Appearance (The Prince)

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result. The Prince, Machiavelli 

Appearance is everything. If you are a good person, but others don’t see any evidence for it externally, then they will never assume the best. People have a limited attention span, they cannot afford to spend too much energy into figuring people out – they have more pressing things to worry about. They will take shortcuts, and they will assume that ‘what you see is what you get.’

Thus, how you appear to others is very important. If you are a good person deep down, but you act petulantly and distastefully when in the company of others, no one will assume you are good. If you work very hard at your job, but act humbly and are afraid to speak up, your boss won’t assume that you are secretly a wise sage.

it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. – The Prince, Machiavelli 

A testament to this rule is thinking about the concept of acting in general. What is an actress? Isn’t she a stranger who is reciting a written text, isn’t she acting in such a way so as to evoke emotions out of her audience? Does she not adjust her tone of voice, know when to pause and know how to cry convincingly?

We take it for granted that this actress is able to suspend belief if only for a couple of hours, but think of the magnitude of her achievement. She was able to convince you that she was a real person, who had a past, and cares about having a future. Acting is the art form of deception.

And now, think about life, how many times you fail to see reality for what it is. You mistake shadow for substance because too often, you see what you want to see, and not what is there.

Armed with this knowledge, you should realize that everyone shares this cognitive shortcoming. It’s not that you are fooled by appearances – everyone is fooled by appearances. How then do become better at deciphering fact from fiction?

I believe the answer is to understand the nature of fiction. This is one of the reasons I started this blog – to understand the nature of deception.

To know what is, you must know what is not. If you are only accustomed to truth, and that your information diet consists of the most factual information you can find, then you are an easy target for the swindlers of the world.

Once you understand the nature of deception and are able to wield it, you will become better at separating truth from fiction. Like martial arts, the goal is not to hurt people, it is to know how to protect yourself and others from those that do hurt people

The other thing to do is to become more in control over your appearance. If you are more mindful about how you appear to others beforehand, you can adjust your behavior when you are with them, or even what you wear. That isn’t to say that while you are with them, you should be asking yourself ‘how am I being perceived right now?’, that only results in social awkwardness. But if you look on the floor, are afraid to make eye-contact, hesitant, have crab-like body language, and dress poorly – then you’re giving others no choice but to ignore you.

If you want to influence others, you have to give them what they want. What they want is an image, and as long as you can paint that image for them, then you can get what you want. And notice that they don’t necessarily know what they want consciously – their desires can be unconscious. So, it is not a question of investigating what they explicitly make clear to you, but finding out what they implicitly desire.

The master manipulators have this power over you, they can get you to behave in ways that you don’t want, because they know how to push your secret buttons. They know what makes you tick, and will use it against you. There are countless examples of this. One story that comes to mind is about Count Lustig, the infamous swindler, told by Greene in The 48 Laws of Power. 

In 1925, five successful dealers in the French scrap-metal business were invited to a highly confidential meeting in a luxurious hotel in Paris. They were meeting with Lustig. The business men didn’t know why they were invited, but were curious.

Lustig explained to them, after they had a few drinks that there was an urgent matter that required the utmost secrecy. He told them that the French government was going to destroy the Eiffel Tower. The business men were under the impression that Lustig was a  government director and took his words very seriously.

Lustig then told them that they were allowed to make a bid for the Eiffel Tower. He gave them some junk information, and accompanied them to an area surround the tower. There, he showed his badge, and humored his friends with stories as they walked around the area. Finally, he thanked them and said he was expecting their offers within four days.

A few days later, the offers were submitted. One man, Monsieur P was told that he won. To complete the deal, he was told he had to appear with a check worth 250,000 francs in the hotel in two days. Monsieur P was excited, he arrived at the suite with the money in hand.

While he talked to Lustig, doubts about this whole operation started to creep in. He wondered if this was a scam, and Lustig’s description of how the tower was going to be scrapped in detail was not convincing him otherwise. He was about to pull out of the deal, then suddently, he noticed a shift of tone from Lustig. The latter complained to him about his horrible financial situation – his low salary and his wife’s desire for a fur coat. Monsieur P realized that Lustig was asking for a bribe and he was relieved.

The situation made more sense to him now. This high government official just wanted his palm greased just like all the other government officials he had met. Soon after, Lustig was paid. The victim of the ruse left the hotel feeling happy only to realize that it was a scam days later, when the government denied any knowledge of what he was talking about. But he couldn’t do anything, since he would ruin his own reputation if people found out about what had happened.

Notice how in this story, it wasn’t only that appearance was important, but the important role Monsieur P’s feelings played. That is the power of the unconscious. While his greedy ambitions were getting the best of him, something about his encounter with Lustig didn’t feel quite right. Lustig didn’t fit the image he had of a government official. But when Lustig told him about his financial problems, he suddenly fit the image perfectly.

In poker, appearance is everything. You have to not only watch the behavior of other people, but you have to watch your own behavior. Since you know others are watching you, knowing how to adjust your actions in a way to fit the narrative that you want your opponents to believe is key.

If you raised the pot four times in a row, then people have the impression that you are loose – reading to play any two cards, even though you may have luckily picked up some great hands in those four rounds. Now on the fifth round, if you pick up an above average holding that you would usually play aggressively, you should tone it down because it is now highly likely that someone will assume you are definitely bluffing this time, and will put you in a tight spot if you make a raise.

The only way to counter Lustig would be to pay attention to your own behavior. When you know what you are giving away, then you can control what Lustig is perceiving. So in the story, notice that Lustig changed his tone just when the businessman was going to change his mind. Lustig sensed a change of demeanor and quickly adjusted.

If Monsieur P abruptly ended the conversation by saying he had to leave and that it was an emergency, and that they would continue this later, then he could have avoided losing his money. But by making his feelings apparent to Lustig, he gave the swindler everything he needed to make his next winning move.