Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why Lying Works

Once again I had a comment expressing fear of being caught lying. I don't know how to tell you that there is nothing to fear, but let me tell you why lying works.

First, there is a social barrier to catching you. It is embarrassing to catch someone in a lie. It is almost impossible to call someone a liar outright. When people do, it's a shock to everyone within hearing. Even if you are caught, most times the person who caught you will participate in a cover story. You might not get the thing, whatever it was you needed, but you also won't face retribution for the lie.

This is contrary to our sense of justice. We believe that if we break the rules we will be punished if we are caught. That simply is not the case. Power and social constraint are much more powerful ideas than justice. You must apply the right paradigm to your circumstances if you want to understand what is happening. Justice is the wrong paradigm. The power of social regulation, over the other person, not you, is the right paradigm.

Second, and perhaps even more important, it takes work to reveal a lie, and most people are simply too lazy. I worked on a school paper while I was in college, and one day an advertisement came in for placement in the paper that denied that the Holocaust occurred. My editor wanted to run the ad, on the basis of free speech. I opposed, but said if he was going to run the ad he should at least allow me to investigate the source and the citations in the ad and run my resulting story next to it. He agreed and I set to work. The first thing I did was look up all the citations. There were quotes of Elie Wiesel said to have been printed in the NY Times, so I looked up the dates offered. The NY Times is archived in just about every university library, so it was easy. There was nothing. Elie wasn't there. I went through every page of the issues cited, even the classified ads and the coupon supplement. Nothing. I looked for books mentioned and could find no reference to them anywhere. As far as I could tell, they didn't exist. So I called the advertiser.

I told him I was having a little trouble with fact checking, and asked if he could send me clippings from the papers and copies of the books. He laughed and said that in the many years he had been publishing this ad, no one had ever asked him to prove his citations. I told him that without proof of his claims, his ad appears to be a libel to Jews, and he quietly withdrew his request to publish it.

This is an example of the method used for evil. It is as powerful when used for good, the good of your survival. The plain and simple truth is that fact checking requires effort, and most people won't put that effort out.

10 Comments:

At 1:12 AM, Blogger noel said...

it was quite a long time since your last post :-)

Noel

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger sirbarrett said...

Ah yes, the lie. Good for you for questioning the source of this ad! It is not nice to have to suspect everyone a liar, but if lies can decieve even as white lies (which in this case they obviously weren't) they can do a lot of damage when used for political or personal exploits. I sometimes wonder if people even know they are lying, or are just too lazy to question whether they are absolutely right about something. We all have a confirmation bias when it comes to what we want to believe. There is nothing wrong with finding out more even if a person isn't lying. It makes their claims more verifiable when they are true!

 
At 12:36 AM, Blogger Fido said...

This blog is very interesting. I'm not yet on my own but life ahead seems to be one of debt and barely scraping by to maintain living. This site has made me think that someday I might not be able to maintain a house. They're expensive and you can easily fall into debt for your entire life. Then everything you do, and earn goes to paying off your debt. Nothing is yours. That's something that sounds worse than not having a home at all.

Something I haven't seen in your blog was mention of friends, family, and relationships. It's important to be social to stay mentally happy, and I want to know how you can maintain that when you are ostracised from society? Do you need to lie to your friends to keep them? Can you even have friends from the rest of society or do you have to congregate with people in your situation? Is a long lasting friendship or relationship even possible when you are always on the move? And does family factor into this, or have they blacklisted you?

 
At 10:05 PM, Anonymous teiso said...

I just found this site and read what you have to say, and I just want to say, I think it's great.

I'm not homeless, and I may never be, but for a while I've been aware that there is actually more than a small possibility of homelessness in my future, and to be honest, I've been terrified. There's always been that fear there.

So I'm glad I've found this site. For two reasons: First, that if it ever comes to me living on the streets, I have some of your wisdom here available for me to draw upon. The other reason is that I can put a part of my fear to rest. I don't have to be so afraid of that future. Because if it does come to that, I know that not only will I be able to survive, I will be able to survive well.

So even if I never become homeless, you've still done me a service, because the prospect is no longer so terrifying, and I don't have to live with that fear.

Thank you.

A question, though, are there things about being a homeless woman that needs to be taken into account that is different to being a homeless man, that you know of? If there is, a blog about that would be good.

 
At 11:11 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

How would I know what is different for women than for men? I'm stuck with the world as it interacts with me. I imagine there are differences, but identifying them is more than tricky.

I was once in San Francisco playing chess with a number of chess hustlers and having a fine time only to find out later that my wife was being sexually harassed while I played. She didn't tell me, and I was too involved in my games to notice. What to me seemed like a fantastic time, was for her one long endurance battle with the insanity of others.

We see from a single point perspective.

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger Cinamingrl said...

This post was so interesting, I never thought about it that much. And yah you are right, people act so astonished when one points out another's lies. Once I called a woman a liar, and someone else said that I "can't call her a liar", but that I can "say that she lied"!! And then that it isn't a lie, in that she saw things from a different point of view than I did. And so what she saw was not a lie to her, but just how she saw the thing that she lied about.

 
At 9:26 PM, Blogger hippie said...

To the person who wrote that the homeless contribute noting in return - All I can say is that the best "contribution" one can offer in this this economy is not to deprive another desperate job seeker of a job. Live simple, work less, have more freedom to do what I want with my time is how I enjoy lovely southern California.

July 30, 2010

 
At 5:01 PM, Blogger firezdog said...

I don't think lying is ever justified, even for the sake of the good -- and if I ever have lied or if I do lie, I think I've done or am doing something wrong.

 
At 8:22 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Okay, well enjoy the moral requirement with all of its consequences and dangers. I believe that it is important to value the truth for oneself. When you extend that value to giving power to others over you, well, I can think of no characterization that is flattering for that value.

It is simply foolish. It's dangerous. It's wrong. It is wrong to intentionally allow other people to hurt you when no other value is at stake. Period. You're just wrong.

There are an incredible number of thought experiments taught in philosophy courses all over the world that prove that lying is not wrong in all situations. I'm not breaking any new ground here. If you don't lie about being homeless, people are going to hurt you. I don't want people to hurt you. Please lie.

 
At 8:49 PM, Anonymous hippie said...

A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.

 

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