Bradley M. Kuhn

The Art of Community Deception

Bradley M. Kuhn at

I realized last night that I'm always at a disadvantage in Open Source and Free Software politics for one simple reason: I refuse to lie. The best politicians out there are stone-cold liars: they can weave a tale with beauty and grace. They lie so well, that they believe their own lies, and then they almost aren't really lies at all.

When I was a child, like most children, I tried lying a few times to cover up a mistake. Of course, adults can always tell when children are lying (since kids are so bad at it), but children don't know that. I remember from the age of six or seven years old that I was convinced lying, as a social manipulation, didn't actually work. I really believed that everyone knew when everyone else was lying.

This became a kid logic phenomenon for me: it was not until I was in my teens that I realized lying was a skill that one could practice and perfect. By that point, I was a decade behind everyone else in practice. (I don't think I even tried to tell a lie between the ages of seven and seventeen.) So, my belief became reality: everyone can tell when I'm lying!

Now, to be abundantly clear, I am talking about boldface lies: stating something as a fact that one knows to be certainly untrue. I admit that I am capable of lies of omission, and of the garden-variety, (mostly) benign deception: artfully avoiding specific topics and questions.

But, I just don't have the boldfaced lie in my political arsenal. I haughtily consider myself a better person because of it, but it'd be a lie of omission if I didn't admit I'm at a constant political disadvantage because of it.

BTW, I suspect I can anticipate the next question from people who know me well: "But aren't you a good poker player?" you might ask. "Doesn't that require lying (i.e., bluffing)?" you'll say.

The fact about bluffing in poker is that it's nothing like telling a lie. Bluffing is more akin to walking down the street in a dangerous neighborhood with a gait that communicates you have no fear when in fact you're terrified. While the betting in poker has its own language, it's entirely non-verbal. You don't have say out loud: "I have a hand that beats yours, you should fold."

Occasionally, when playing poker against a rank amateur they'll call a bluff and ask "how could you bet there?" The answer is simple of course, "I bet because I thought you would fold". In essence, betting with a worse hand is unrelated to a representation of your own holding in poker, but is instead related to the perceived weakness your opponent feels about their own holding.

Indeed, for years, I refused to use the word "bluff" when talking about poker. The idea of bluffing, in the common parlance, is not something I conceptualized as an action I was taking. This was a self-deception strategy to exude that confidence walking down the dangerous street. I'd say in my head: "This bet is the right play", and think that same thought whether I was betting the "nuts" (the best possible hand) or two napkins (a hand that will certainly lose).

Anyway, I didn't mean to turn that into a rant about poker, my point on that was merely to say that bluffing in poker isn't lying, so it's unrelated to my primary point about being unable to lie.

I wonder sometimes whether others think in detail about when they lie and why. In my experience, when I do catch people in lies, it's usually a lie made flippantly to cover embarrassment. I suspect that's a statistical bias based on those lies being the most poorly conceived and executed. The whoppers that good politicians tell are surely carefully constructed and calculated (and thus less discoverable), so I only find them when I know facts (that they don't realize I know) which contradict the lie. The latter happens rarely.

While I err on the side of frank truth spoken to everyone, I realize the value in the social convention of withholding frankness to spare people's feelings. But, calculated lies designed to manipulate harm society. I suspect that most people don't think much about how often people in power are telling such lies, and why. Indeed, I feel quite alone just thinking about the issue. I'm thus curious and would appreciate comments: has anyone reading this ever thought this deeply about this question?

James h jackson jr, Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠), mcnalu, Jason Self and 3 others likes this.

James h jackson jr, Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠), Douglas Perkins, Douglas Perkins shared this.

Show all 9 replies
For psychopaths, life is a poker game. "This is the right play." Like that pickup-"artist" girl-choking asshole.

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) at 2014-11-22T06:45:10Z

X11R5 likes this.

I'm also terrible at lying. And I still get surprised every time some big lie gets caught. "How did they ever think they would get away with that?"

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) at 2014-11-22T06:47:24Z

My wife thinks everybody lies all the time, especially in business.

"Don't trust that, he's lying."
"That's ridiculous, why would he do that? It doesn't even make any rational sense for him to lie about that. There's no benefit, and it would kill his credibility if he got caught."
"Anyway, he's lying."

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) at 2014-11-22T06:49:34Z

It has probably served her well. My naivite has served me well, too.

Claes Wallin (韋嘉誠) at 2014-11-22T07:22:04Z