Friday, June 19, 2009

On honesty and interpersonal relations

So, a friend of mine has embarked on a project that involves a lot of dating, and on her most recent outing the man told her this:

I said, "So, Colombia, are you full of shit or what?" After a long pause, he looked me straight in the eye and said (seriously), "I've lied to women, but I've never lied to a lady."

Does this sort of line actually work? Because my immediate thought on reading this was, "Wow, hope he never decides you're the wrong kind."

Honest people are not honest because they think you deserve it; they're honest because it hurts not to be.

But, of course, we don't usually want to be around those people. Lying is an essential social skill. People who are very bad at deceiving others tend to cause awkwardness and don't get invited to many parties.* The unvarnished truth of human existence is that we are agents competing for scarce resources and our interests never align perfectly with those of other people. Lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters — to say nothing of friends or acquaintances or strangers you meet socially — all are engaged in a tug-of-war over who does the chores, who gets Dad's approval, who gets the girl, who's the center of attention at the party. Social life is a war for priority in the eyes of other people. Lies are the lubricant which allows us to pretend otherwise.

To genuinely forego participation in this game takes unusual will, perversity, obliviousness, narcissism, or some combination of these.

(As for me, I basically play the game, however ineptly, and I think this is what is turning me into a misanthrope.)

*Note that the converse is clearly not true: people who are socially awkward are not necessarily more honest. I think my friend's skepticism at her date's smoothness betrays a false belief that if he were more awkward, then he would be more trustworthy. Actually, I knew her ex; he was pretty awkward and he wasn't trustworthy at all. Most often, people are socially awkward simply because they lack the skill to be otherwise. P. Graham has interesting things to say about this, although I would add that Graham is being both too self-congratulatory and too optimistic: being socially deft does not require the sacrifice of one's intelligence; and as far as I can tell, success in the adult world seems to be most positively correlated with being integrated into the social networks of power, not with objective achievement in some discipline.


  1. Sometimes I wonder if I'm getting too good at the game. It ain't easy being a pimp.

  2. Ah, who are we kidding. You know we're both big softies.

  3. I recently decided to stop playing the game as much as possible. It raises a whole host of other difficulties. It's interesting, though... so far I'm not lacking for party invites, but (apparently like you?) I am reluctant to accept most of them.

    Or to put it another way: now that my priority is something other than winning that game, to hear people talk about the game (their strategies, success, failures, others' playing style) is wearisome and uninteresting. Unfortunately, it seems like most people (that I know, anyway) have little interest in discussing anything else.

    Perhaps it's just another path to misanthropy, still to early for me to tell.

    [And, in case it's not yet obvious, I am thoroughly enjoying your blog]