Background: As can be seen from some of the comments on this post, many people in the LessWrong community take an extreme stance on lying. A few days before I posted this, I was at a meetup where we played the game Resistance, and one guy announced before the game began that he had a policy of never lying even when playing games like that. It's such members of the LessWrong community that this post was written for. I'm not trying to encourage basically honest people with the normal view of white lies that they need to give up being basically honest.

Mr. Potter, you sometimes make a game of lying with truths, playing with words to conceal your meanings in plain sight. I, too, have been known to find that amusing. But if I so much as tell you what I hope we shall do this day, Mr. Potter, you will lie about it. You will lie straight out, without hesitation, without wordplay or hints, to anyone who asks about it, be they foe or closest friend. You will lie to Malfoy, to Granger, and to McGonagall. You will speak, always and without hesitation, in exactly the fashion you would speak if you knew nothing, with no concern for your honor. That also is how it must be.

- Rational!Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This post isn't about HMPOR, so I won't comment on the fictional situation the quote comes from. But in many real-world situations, it's excellent advice.

If you're a gay teenager with homophobic parents, and there's a real chance they'd throw you out on the street if they found out you were gay, you should probably lie to them about it. Even in college, if you're still financially dependent on them, I think it's okay to lie. The minute you're no longer financially dependent on them, you should absolutely come out for your sake and the sake of the world. But it's OK to lie if you need to to keep your education on-track.

Oh, maybe you could get away with just shutting up and hoping the topic doesn't come up. When asked about dating, you could try to evade while being technically truthful: "There just aren't any girls at my school I really like." "What about _____? Why don't you ask her out?" "We're just friends." That might work. But when asked directly "are you gay?" and the wrong answer could seriously screw-up your life, I wouldn't bet too much on your ability to "lie with truths," as Quirrell would say.

I start with this example because the discussions I've seen on the ethics of lying on LessWrong (and everywhere, actually) tend to focus on the extreme cases: the now-cliché "Nazis at the door" example, or even discussion of whether you'd lie with the world at stake. The "teen with homophobic parents" case, on the other hand, might have actually happened to someone you know. But even this case is extreme compared to most of the lies people tell on a regular basis.

Widely-cited statistics claim that the average person lies once per day. I recently saw a new study (that I can't find at the moment) that disputed this, and claimed most people lie rather less often than that, but it still found most people lie fairly often. These lies are mostly "white lies" to, say, spare others' feelings. Most people have no qualms about those kind of lies. So why do discussions of the ethics of lying so often focus on the extreme cases, as if those were the only ones where lying is maybe possibly morally permissible?

At LessWrong there've been discussions of several different views all described as "radical honesty." No one I know of, though, has advocated Radical Honesty as defined by psychotherapist Brad Blanton, which (among other things) demands that people share every negative thought they have about other people. (If you haven't, I recommend reading A. J. Jacobs on Blanton's movement.) While I'm glad no one here is thinks Blanton's version of radical honesty is a good idea, a strict no-lies policy can sometimes have effects that are just as disastrous.

A few years ago, for example, when I went to see the play my girlfriend had done stage crew for, and she asked what I thought of it. She wasn't satisfied with my initial noncommittal answers, so she pressed for more. Not in a "trying to start a fight" way; I just wasn't doing a good job of being evasive. I eventually gave in and explained why I thought the acting had sucked, which did not make her happy. I think incidents like that must have contributed to our breaking up shortly thereafter. The breakup was a good thing for other reasons, but I still regret not lying to her about what I thought of the play.

Yes, there are probably things I could've said in that situation that would have been not-lies and also would have avoided upsetting her. Sam Harris, in his book Lyingspends a lot of arguing against lying in that way: he takes situations where most people would be tempted to tell a white lie, and suggesting ways around it. But for that to work, you need to be good at striking the delicate balance between saying too little and saying too much, and framing hard truths diplomatically. Are people who lie because they lack that skill really less moral than people who are able to avoid lying because they have it?

Notice the signaling issue here: Sam Harris' book is a subtle brag that he has the skills to tell people the truth without too much backlash. This is especially true when Harris gives examples from his own life, like the time he told a friend "No one would ever call you 'fat,' but I think you could probably lose twenty-five pounds." and his friend went and did it rather than getting angry. Conspicuous honesty also overlaps with conspicuous outrage, the signaling move that announces (as Steven Pinker put it) "I'm so talented, wealthy, popular, or well-connected that I can afford to offend you."

If you're highly averse to lying, I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you to tell white lies more often. But I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you. About some topics, anyway. Accept that some things are none of your business, and sometimes that includes the fact that there's something which is none of your business.

Or: suppose you ask someone for something, they say "no," and you suspect their reason for saying "no" is a lie. When that happens, don't get mad or press them for the real reason. Among other things, they may be operating on the assumptions of guess culture, where your request means you strongly expected a "yes" and you might not think their real reason for saying "no" was good enough. Maybe you know you'd take an honest refusal well (even if it's "I don't want to and don't think I owe you that"), but they don't necessarily know that. And maybe you think you'd take an honest refusal well, but what if you're lying to yourself?

If it helps to be more concrete: Some men will react badly to being turned down for a date. Some women too, but probably more men, so I'll make this gendered. And also because dealing with someone who won't take "no" for an answer is a scarier experience with the asker is a man and the person saying "no" is a woman. So I sympathize with women who give made-up reasons for saying "no" to dates, to make saying "no" easier.

Is it always the wisest decision? Probably not. But sometimes, I suspect, it is. And I'd advise men to accept that women doing that is OK. Not only that, I wouldn't want to be part of a community with lots of men who didn't get things like that. That's the kind of thing I have in mind when I say to respect other people's right to lie to you.

All this needs the disclaimer that some domains should be lie-free zones. I value the truth and despise those who would corrupt intellectual discourse with lies. Or, as Eliezer once put it:

We believe that scientists should always tell the whole truth about science. It's one thing to lie in everyday life, lie to your boss, lie to the police, lie to your lover; but whoever lies in a journal article is guilty of utter heresy and will be excommunicated.

I worry this post will be dismissed as trivial. I simultaneously worry that, even with the above disclaimer, someone is going to respond, "Chris admits to thinking lying is often okay, now we can't trust anything he says!" If you're thinking of saying that, that's your problem, not mine. Most people will lie to you occasionally, and if you get upset about it you're setting yourself up for a lot of unhappiness. And refusing to trust someone who lies sometimes isn't actually very rational; all but the most prolific liars don't lie anything like half the time, so what they say is still significant evidence, most of the time. (Maybe such declarations-of-refusal-to-trust shouldn't be taken as arguments so much as threats meant to coerce more honesty than most people feel bound to give.)

On the other hand, if we ever meet in person, I hope you realize I might lie to you. Failure to realize a statement could be a white lie can create some terribly awkward situations.

Edits: Changed title, added background, clarified the section on accepting other people's right to lie to you (partly cutting and pasting from this comment).

Edit round 2: Added link to paper supporting claim that the average person lies once per day.

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There are certain lies that I tell over and over again, where I'm 99% sure lying is the morally correct answer. Stereotypical example: my patient is lying in a lake of poop, or is ringing the call bell for the third time in 15 minutes to tell me that they're thirsty or in pain or need a kleenex, and they're embarrassed and upset because they're sure I must be frustrated and mad that they're making me do so much work. "Of course I don't mind," I've said over and over again. "This doesn't bother me. I've got plenty of time. I just want you to be comfortable, that's my job." When it's 4 am and I desperately want to go on break and eat something, none of these things are true. But it's my job, and I want to want to do it, so the fact that sometimes I desperately don't want to do it is kind of moot. But the last thing a patient in the ICU needs to hear from their nurse is "yes, I'm pissed that you shat in the bed again because I was about to go on break and now I can't and I'm hungry and cranky." I keep that to myself.

...Other than that, I generally don't lie to friends, although I do lie by omission, especially when it comes to my irrational feelings of fr... (read more)

When a student asks me to write her a letter of recommendation and expresses some concern that this will be a bother for me I have said "Don't worry, that's part of my job" to signal that the request is appropriate.

Upvoted for a rare case of lying where I find myself unable to suggest a good alternative way to not lie, even for people with high verbal SAT scores.

"Don't worry about it."

Imperatives are often a nice fallback.

But is that literally as good for a patient in an ICU who really, really needs to not shut up about these things? i mean, in that situation, it would probably occur to me that the nurse might still be lying... but telling a lie like that is still a kind of permission to bother her which "Don't worry about it" isn't.

Agreed. One of the things I think is wrong with lying in general is that it can mess up the incentives for behaviours you want to see more of (i.e. a white lie to your friend, claiming to like her awful haircut, doesn't do anything to help your friend improve her future haircuts.) In my example, I'm lying with respect to my first-order desires, but telling the truth according to my second-order desires. I may first-order want a few more minutes to drink tea and socialize with the other nurses, but I don't endorse myself wanting that, and I certainly don't want to encourage my patients to not call me because they're worried I'm too busy or tired or cranky. I second-order want to encourage the behaviour where my patients call me for all the little things and 90% of the time it's annoying and stupid but 10% of the time it's super important.

If I ever had a patient with a rationalist background, maybe I could explain all of that, but maybe not even then; most people aren't at their best for following complex logic when they're loopy on drugs or having trouble breathing or whatnot. So I go for the emotional reassurance, because that gets through. Still working on different phrasings, and I don't always succeed; I was helping out another nurse with her patient who had diarrhea, putting her on the bedpan every half hour, and at one point she fell asleep and pooped in the bed while asleep and then cried with frustration the whole time I changed her, and I wasn't able to reassure her.

You can expand "Don't worry about it" to include permission to bother her. "Don't worry about it - please never give it a second thought if you need me for anything. That's what I'm here to do."

I don't think "This doesn't bother me" gets parsed literally anyway. In either case what ever you say they are pretty sure it is annoying for you, albeit they do want reassurance that it is not so annoying that you would snap "yes this is annoying!".

Well, that's a good idea right there. You could tell them: "Please don't be embarrassed, and don't hesitate to call me. You're in an ICU and it's very important that you communicate with us, even if it's just a matter of discomfort. You shouldn't assume you can tell the difference between something trivial and something serious, or something that requires immediate attention and not."


I would interpret that as a straightforward confirmation that it was in fact annoying. There would be no resulting awkwardness but it would definitely not make me more likely to speak up again.

"Taking care of you is my sacred duty. I care about you. It is important that you tell me if there is something wrong." This is true literally and in spirit.
To invoke a cheesy meme, I wish I could upvote twice, once for phrasing something that doesn't involve telling a white lie, and the second time for consciously reinforcing that patient care is a sacred duty.
I would count it as a white lie. It's literally accurate, but it implies a number of things. Some of those things are correct (you consider it important to care for the patient and be informed of any problems), but some of those things are incorrect (you are not annoyed). It isn't disqualified as a lie just because you believe that your annoyance is not important.
I don't think that the nurse is implying that he is not annoyed. Both the patient and the nurse recognise that the 'crapping the bed' situation is an annoying one, and the nurse is not denying that. The nurse is simply making it clear that his annoyance is a secondary concern, and that instead the welfare of the patient is the primary concern. The nurse genuinely believes that his own annoyance is relatively less important, and he is conveying that literally to the patient. This is actually the true situation, so I am confused about how you think he is lying, even implicitly.
If you go sufficiently upthread, you'll find that it started with a post by Swimmer963 who is a nurse and is relating her own experience. In particular, she says:
Sorry, I should clarify. I was saying that: Is precisely something that Swimmer963 could say even though she's annoyed. She doesn't have to deny that she's annoyed, or even imply it. In fact it's probably futile to try... of course she's annoyed, and the patient suspects that. That is exactly the motivation for her lie in the first place. The statement above nevertheless conveys her overall commitment to the patient's wellbeing, and encourages the patient to understand that "Obviously, my nurse is annoyed about the crap in the bed, but there are more important factors at play here." As an extra bonus, I don't think it's a lie, hence providing a response to Eliezer's implied challenge. On the contrary, her claimed standard response: Contains three lies, none of which will probably even be believed by the patient: My point is that Swimmer963's strategy probably doesn't really achieve her goals, lying or no lying, and in my original post I was suggesting a possible (honest) alternative.
If a nurse started talking to me about her "sacred duty", I certainly would not believe her.
What about if she just said: 'duty'?
That's not quite sufficient as it's the word "sacred" which does the heavy lifting. Saying it's her duty isn't particularly meaningful for a nurse -- it's her job, that's what she is paid to do. She is not doing you a favour, cleaning up shit is right there in her job description.
Would you believe them more or less than if they said they're not annoyed that you shat the bed?
That depends. Mostly on the non-verbal clues that accompany the statement, but also on what do I know about this particular nurse.
Well the classic lie in medicine is when a sibling confides in the doctor that he doesn't want to donate a kidney to his brother or sister and he's just getting tested out of family pressure. I understand that in such a situation, the doctor will normally lie and say that they ran the tests and the sibling is not a compatible donor.

Actually, regardless of the reason, they just say that "no suitable donor is available." If pressed, they say they never release potential donors' medical information to recipients, for confidentiality and to protect donors from coercion.

That's interesting . . . what happens if the potential donor asks for (and is willing to sign a release) so that his medical information can be released?
Depends. Different countries have different laws governing such. For the most part, if the hospital sees any legal liability at all, they'll do the standard CYA. Signing waivers / releases often doesn't do a whole lot, some of your rights you cannot sign away. Regarding your question, with releasing medical information, such waivers shouldn't be a problem, although the transplant scenario may be a special case. Regardless of the legalese, transplant doctors typically get to know you quite well, and more information slips out (implicitly and explicitly) than may be allowed by law (HIPAA be damned). Nullum ius sine actione, as they say. If noone complains, noone sues. Bit like driving without seatbelts.
This is an interesting situation, after all, a simple utility calculation says that the receiver's life is worth more than the donor's annoyance. Then again, we're getting close the the cases where utilitarianism fails horribly here.
Well I think most people are reasonably comfortable with the idea that every adult should have complete discretion over what -- if anything -- is done with his organs. The more interesting question is what to make of people who lie to conceal decisions in this area, especially physicians.
Yes, but what do you mean by "complete discretion"? After all, the donor was in fact willing to go through with it despite the misgivings, i.e., he valued his relationship with his family more then the annoyance of donating. And while we're on the subject of the donor's preferences, note that both seem to score higher than his sibling's life. Draw your own disturbing conclusions from that.
By that reasoning if there was some situation where he had to sell himself into slavery to save his sibling's life, similarly disturbing conclusions could be drawn from his refusal to do that. You're making an awful lot of assumptions, including the assumption that the person is a utilitarian and that their reasons for not wanting to donate don't also involve life or considerations that a wide range of people consider as important as life.
I mean that a potential donor should be able to decline for pretty much any reason, no matter how trivial or silly. I'm not sure who you are talking about here. In the hypothetical I presented, the potential donor was not willing go through with the donation. Disturbing or not, it's reality. A lot of people would not donate a kidney to save a sibling. Either because they hate their sibling and hope that he or she dies sooner rather than later; or because they are selfish and wouldn't lift a finger to save a family member; or for some other reason. Anyway, you keep trying to change the subject away from the issue of lying. Please stop it.
Well, in the example he can decline, he will simply have to deal with the consequences. In which case, what would he do if the tests came back positive? I'm pointing out flaws in the rationalization for lying.
Agree, but so what? Positive for what? What exactly is the flaw in your view? I'm not saying there is none, I'm just trying to understand your position.
Huh? We aren't discussing the sibling's decision to give or not give the kidney, we're discussing the doctor's decision, given that the sibling isn't donating the kidney, to tell the patient that the sibling is a match. Are you implying that the doctor should reveal the match, so the patient will pressure the sibling into donating?
That is what the basic utility calculation shows, yes.
Your reference to SAT scores is rather odd. I suppose there is probably some correlation, but they are really quite different skill sets.
How about adding a tiny bit of ambiguity (or evasion of the direct question) and making up for it with more effusiveness, eg, "it's not only my job but it feels really good to know that I'm helping you so I really want you to bug me about even trivial-seeming things!" All true and all she's omitting is her immediate annoyance but that is truly secondary, as she points out below about first-order vs second-order desires.

I'm not sure there's a lie happening... it seems to me that in said circumstances the meanings of the sentences are conventionally mapped, like:

"yes, I'm pissed that you shat in the bed again because I was about to go on break and now I can't and I'm hungry and cranky." -> I'm incredibly angry with you and I'm going to find out a way to kill you so you don't bother me again. (Exaggerating a bit here for effect)

"Of course I don't mind" -> of course I do mind but it is not as bad as the example above.

Sentences mean what the listener makes of them, that's why you have to speak a foreign language when talking to a foreigner who doesn't speak your language.

A similar argument occurred to me, but I think it does border on proving too much. It also depends on knowing what the listener will make of the sentence. I think that the concept of "lying" does depend largely on the idea that the explicit, plain meaning of a sentence having a privileged position, over implications, signalling, Bayesian updates caused by the statement, etc. If someone says "Well, the probability of me telling you that I am not having an affair, given that I am having an affair, is not much smaller than the probability given that I am not having an affair, so if you significantly updated your prior simply because of my denial, the blame is on your end, not mine", I don't think many people would find that a reasonable response.
I think I pinned down the distinction here. If you tell something like this: "yes, I'm pissed that you shat in the bed again because I was about to go on break and now I can't and I'm hungry and cranky.", the patient is going to form a lot of important beliefs regarding the question they're asked that are not true, more than if you say "this doesn't bother me". You have to say what ever sentence ends up misleading the patient the least about what they want to know. For the affair on the other hand, it is not so, they'd form more valid beliefs if you said that you are having an affair, than if you say you don't. The truth is such word noises, body language, intonation, and so on, that mislead the listener the least. Usually has to be approximate due to imperfect knowledge and so on.
Having an affair is discrete, while the annoyance level is continuous. There's simply no explicit, plain meaning possible for continuous variable like that, one has to deduce it from the tone of the voice, body language, etc etc etc etc. One could of course have friendly body language and tone while saying something like "yes, it is incredibly annoying" but that would merely confuse the listener.
My ex wife is in Geriatrics and I've heard a few situations from her where she, possibly appropriately, lied to patients with severe dementia by playing along with their fantasies. The most typical example would be a patient believing their dead spouse is coming that day for a visit, and asking about it every 15 minutes. I think she would usually tell the truth the first few times, but felt it was cruel to be telling someone constantly that their spouse is dead, and getting the same negative emotional reaction every time, so at that point she would start saying something like, "I heard they were stuck in traffic and can't make it today." The above feels to me like a grey area, but more rarely a resident would be totally engrossed in a fantasy, like thinking they were in a broadway play or something. In these cases, where the person will never understand/accept the truth anyway, I think playing along to keep them happy isn't a bad option.
I'm curious about how you, being a nurse, would prefer that the patient behave in situations like this? There don't seem to be great options - is there a least-bad attitude?

...I feel like a lot of that boils down to stuff out of patients' control, like "don't be confused or delirious." Assuming that my patient is totally with it and can reasonably be expected to try to behave politely, I prefer that patients tell me right away when they need something, listen to my explanation of what I'm going to do about it and when I'll be able to do it, or why I can't do anything about it, and then accept that and not keep bringing up the same complaint repeatedly unless it gets worse. I have had patients who rang the call bell every 5 minutes for hours to tell me that they were thirsty, when I'd already explained that I couldn't give them anything by mouth, or that their biggest concern was being thirsty but I was more concerned that their heart rate was 180 and I really really needed to deal with that first.

I obviously prefer it when patient's aren't embarrassed and I can joke around with them and chat about their grandkids while cleaning their poop. But emotional reactions aren't under most people's control either, so it's not a reasonable thing to ask.

Relevant recent Slate Star Codex post
Of course, there being enough nurses might make the job more consistently enjoyable so that they wouldn't have to lie to their patients as often. Same applies to doctors. Shit in itself isn't that bad. It's the shit plus hurry that kills you.
Just saying "this is part of my job and I love my job" is not good enough? I wonder if there is a better way of handling this, other than telling your best friend that you are not going to be a part of this game and risking a backlash... In a similar situation I ended up curtailing my interactions with the party I'd have to lie habitually to, which is rather suboptimal.
8Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg)
It sounds evasive and not like the natural response, and I'm not all that worried about my patients yelling "no, you're a liar!" and getting mad if I tell them I don't mind at all, and I don't have any particular reason to want to not lie in this situation.
What's good enough for alleviating discomfort so cheaply as with a few words if there's still better left? Showing you care about the people instead of some abstraction called a job usually works better for making them comfortable.

I find it takes a great deal of luminosity in order to be honest with someone. If I am in a bad mood, I might feel that its my honest opinion that they are annoying when in fact what is going on in my brain has nothing to do with their actions. I might have been able to like the play in other circumstances, but was having a bad day so flaws I might have been otherwise able to overlook were magnified in my mind. etc.

This is my main fear with radical honesty, since it seems to promote thinking that negative thoughts are true just because they are negative. The reasoning going 'I would not say this if I were being polite, but I am thinking it, therefore it is true' without realizing that your brain can make your thoughts be more negative from the truth just as easily as it can make them more positive than the truth.

In fact, saying you enjoyed something you didnt enjoy, and signalling enjoyment with appropriate facial muscles (smiling etc) can improve your mood by itself, especially if it makes the other person smile.

Many intelligent people get lots of practice pointing out flaws, and it is possible that this trains the brain into a mode where one's first thoughts on a topic will be ... (read more)

If I am honest without accuracy... if I am proud to report my results of my reasoning as they are, but my actual reasoning is sloppy... then I shouldn't congratulate myself for giving precise info, because the info was not precise; I simply removed one source of imprecision, but ignored another.

Saying "you are annoying" feels like an extremely honest thing, and I may be motivated to stop there.

However, saying "sorry, I'm in a bad mood today; I think it's likely that on a different day I would appreciate what you are trying to do, but today it doesn't work this way, and it actually annoys me" is even more honest, and possibly less harmful to the listener.

A cynical explanation is that while attempting to be extremely honest, we refuse to censor the information that might hurt the listener... but we still censor the information that would hurt us. For example, the short version of "you are annoying" contains the information that may hurt my friend, but conceals the information about my own vulnerability.

Perhaps a good heuristic could be: Don't hurt other people by your honesty, unless you are willing to hurt yourself as much (or 20 % more, to balance for your own biased perception) -- and even this only if they agreed to play by these rules. (Of course you are allowed to select your friends according to their ability and willingness to play by these rules. But sometimes you have to interact with other people, too.)


This is my main fear with radical honesty, since it seems to promote thinking that negative thoughts are true just because they are negative. The reasoning going 'I would not say this if I were being polite, but I am thinking it, therefore it is true' without realizing that your brain can make your thoughts be more negative from the truth just as easily as it can make them more positive than the truth.

My own (very limited) observation of trying to be radically honest has been that until I first say (or at least admit to myself) the reaction of annoyance, I can't become aware of what lies beyond it. If I'm angry at my wife because of something else that happened to me, I usually won't know that it's because of something else until I first express (even just to myself) that I am angry at my wife.

Until I actually tried being honest about such things, I didn't know this, and practicing such expression seemed beneficial in increasing my general awareness of thoughts and emotions in the present or near-present moment. I don't even remotely attempt to practice radical honesty even in my relationship with my wife, but we've both definitely benefited from learning to express what we fe... (read more)

This made me think; I may have some luminosity privilege that needs checking...

Wow. This comment made me happy, even with the jargon. Positive reinforcement for thinking about how your experience might be atypical and other people might have needs or disabilities you hadn't considered! If you are interested in some more things that may distinguish your experience from ChrisHallquist's, you might consider that his examples are mainly about lying in self-defense to hostile people or people who have deliberately asked questions that are costly to evade or answer honestly. Picture an Aikido expert who lives and works in a safe neighborhood getting angry at a janitor who lives in a violent slum for saying they reserve the right to throw a punch if the situation calls for it. I might think the poor janitor has the right to defend themself, but that doesn't mean I'd be very likely at all to punch someone at your dinner party.
Some of his examples were like that. The part of his post that most bothered me was "accept others' right to lie to you", and the title has now been changed to "White Lies", which I've never heard used conversationally to cover things like "no, Mom, not gay".
I have always interpreted "white lies" as "lies I approve of" rather than "small lies," because the size of a lie is clearly a subjective measurement. It looks like wiki mostly agrees.
"Lies I approve of" and "white lies" are overlapping sets, but aren't quite the same. For example, if a Nazi asks you if you're hiding any Jews (and you are), I approve of lying to them, but this isn't a white lie. On the other hand, if your horrible racist aunt asks you if she's racist, telling her that she's not would be a white lie, but not one that I approve of.
Looking at Augustine's taxonomy the terminology seems clearer, as it differentiates "lies told to please others in smooth discourse," which is what I think Alicorn would associate with 'white lies,' with "lies that harm no one and that protect someone from bodily defilement." (And note how the lies in religious teachings mirrors the discussion of lies in science!) As expected, Augustine thinks it's better to lie to the Nazi than to lie to your aunt. But again it seems the subjectivity shines through in the definition of harm, if you want to put the hidden Jew lie in Augustine's last category. Isn't the Nazi harmed when you lie to him, and he doesn't get to catch the hidden Jew?
most people WANT the nazi to be harmed.
I would argue that the Nazi isn't really harmed when you lie to him, because not having a preference satisfied is not necessarily harm.
I went back and looked at the examples again, and in each case it seemed to me that the question, plus what we know about the asker and their relation to the answerer, when combined with an expectation that the answerer will actually tell the truth, imposes a large expected cost on the person being asked. Am I missing something? I wouldn't have read "others' right to lie to you" as implying that you personally, Alicorn, must be okay with any person, even your friends and guests, lying to you when you have specifically and credibly indicated that you prefer they would not, and can handle the truth. But I can see how you might easily read it that way. Also maybe could you explain what's objectionable about that while tabooing "lie" and "right"? Somewhat tangentially, that seems like a really nice way to live in some respects. Have you written about what it's like, and when/how you started choosing exclusively truthtellers to be your friends anywhere?
I have begun to suspect that there is some kind of misreading here, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to read in an undisclaimed second-person pronoun in an article I'm reading if it's not "I claim this applies to Alicorn". Actually, in my framework, "right to lie to you" is very nearly ungrammatical. You have the ability to lie; talking about the right to do it is approximately nonsense - if someone interferes with your ability to lie, somehow, this would usually be wrong for reasons not having anything to do with your ability to lie in particular. My objection to it is that I think making statements that you believe to be false and intend your audience to believe is morally wrong barring atypical-for-people-making-utterances cases, and I don't think people are under any obligation to tolerate moral wrongs being done to them, and urging people to do this is... I'm gonna go with "sketchy".

Usually when I think of "white lies" I think of things that are not primarily intended to produce a belief about the literal content of that sentence at all - they're a totally different type of social move only loosely related to their "meaning". I'm thinking about things like this:

Alice is at a party and sees her friend Bella walk in, wearing a new dress. Bella asks Alice what she thinks of her new dress. Bella is making a bid for reassurance, not a request for information - it's too late to go home and change, she wants to hear that she looks good in this dress in order to feel more confident at the party.

Charlie passes Doris in the hallway at work. "How are you?" asks Doris. "Fine," says Charlie, who five minutes ago got a call from the doctor telling him that he has a life-threatening illness. Charlie is not fine, but doesn't want to talk about it. He wouldn't mind Doris knowing about his condition, but couldn't think fast enough of a way to politely avoid bringing up the topic except by lying. He correctly assumes that Doris won't actually update her opinion of how he is or take his response seriously anyway.

Later, Charlie is talking

... (read more)
In this comment I list some things that are not lying, which include many of your examples. I'll add now that I think anybody can waive any right they don't happen to want, including the right not to be lied to, and reiterate also that you have to intend to be believed to count as lying, and clarify that being mistaken - including sincere mistaken-ness about remembering to include a caveat necessary for factual accuracy - does not constitute a lie. If Bella has successfully communicated to Alice what she's looking for, if Charlie isn't making an attempt to cause Doris to believe he's fine, likewise with Edward - then that might well be fine. (Is it a coincidence that every single name you chose except Doris is a Twilight character?) ...then you may well have forfeited contextually relevant rights. I read Chris's post, saw an undisclaimed second-person pronoun telling me to respect others' right to lie to me, and was like: "But... I didn't do anything."
Sometimes people cause others to feel cornered or threatened, without knowing it. That doesn't make them bad people, but it would explain what might otherwise be "bad behavior" on others' parts. And if anyone finds that people seem to regularly lie to them about certain kinds of thing, they should seriously consider the hypothesis that they are misunderstanding the interaction. I know what that feels like. I've had that response to a lot of things that turned out not to be about me at all. It hurts at first. I try to read those things a second time, when I'm not feeling indignant anymore, to figure out whether it's actually about me, or things I do. I try to avoid the generic "you" and "we", and abstract pronouncements like that, for exactly that reason - I don't want to be misunderstood in that way.
Not intentional, I was just looking for common names in alphabetical order, but likely Alicorn -> Luminosity made those names more available. :)
4Said Achmiz
These are good examples. I want to add one that I've observed/experienced, somewhat related to this one: Sometimes, you're talking to a person who has some importance in your life — a relative, let us say — and they ask you a question about your life (some aspect of your life that doesn't affect them directly). You know that, if you tell them the truth, their reaction will be to lecture you, berate you, give you unwanted advice, yell at you, or otherwise engage you in an unproductive mode of interaction. You know this because this has happened before; you are quite sure that this interaction won't change your mind (because you have good reasons for living your life the way you do, as opposed to the way your interlocutor wants you to), nor will your protests or arguments change their mind (because of their irrationality). Neither is it likely that this person will respond to requests to drop the subject. So, you lie. Result: continued peaceful, pleasant conversation. What do people here think of the moral status of such lies? I am genuinely curious. I myself am somewhat torn, and I'd like opinions.
I don't think such lies are particularly wrong, but they aren't the best way to go about dealing with the situation. Not that telling them the truth is better, because it leads to them acting as you describe. I think it's best to say "I don't want to talk about that" or "That's personal", and shame them if they pry. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I'm not close to any of my relatives.
3Said Achmiz
Heh. "I don't want to talk about that" or "That's personal" don't come anywhere close to working in certain cultures (by which I mean both the unique culture specific to a family, and cultural groups such as e.g. Ashkenazi Jews — the archetypal Jewish mother who says "So, are you meeting any nice girls? What do you mean it's none of my business?? Of course it's my business! I'm your mother!" etc. etc.). Edit: What's with the downvotes all over this thread...?
If it doesn't work, I recommend ending the conversation, saying something like, "If you're not going to respect my boundaries, I'm not going to talk to you". This doesn't apply if you're financially dependent on said relative. If so, go ahead and lie as much as you need to.
1Said Achmiz
Yeah, I have heard this sort of recommendation. I... don't think I've ever actually seen anyone use it. I don't know, it could be a good one. It's a rather harsh thing to say, though, especially to, say, one's grandmother. I don't think I could do it. I guess the point is, sometimes, not lying is hard? (If you're the type to take an absolute stance against lying, your response might be along the lines of "Yes, doing the right thing is hard. That makes it no less right." I remain... unconvinced.)
I've come close to using it, and it just approaching it has been enough to get people to back down. In the long run, it teaches them not to ask you about those things, which is what you want. I can see it being rather harsh, though. I guess I have some difficulty imagining being in an interpersonal relationship in which I both feel strongly positively towards a person (enough to make me reluctant to say something like that) and at the same time having things that I have to lie about.
If someone wants to pry into your affairs and berate you about them, then you are perfectly justified in lying to avoid them getting on your case. And moreover, if they know they will get on your case if you tell them the truth, then they shouldn't even expect you to tell the truth. In this view, if they are clearly defecting on you by trying to get into your business, then you are justified in defecting on them. If they are laying a trap, and you walk into it, then you may encourage them to engage in that behavior in the future. Tit-for-tat. To be extra clear, when I support lying to people who want to pry "pry into your affairs," I am specifically referring to private information which isn't their business. I am not referring to lying to cover up wrongdoing you've committed, or in ways that will cause them tangible harm. Those situations are more complicated. By "private" information, I am talking about information which is widely considered private in which culture is relevant, and which tangibly effects mostly you, not other people. I am also following your premise that this person likely can't be reasoned with based on a persistent pattern of their behavior, or persuaded to be more accepting of your behavior. Evasion, persuasion, and avoidance are preferable if they work. Lying to people as tit-for-tat punishment seems valuable to me, but only within confines of a narrow set of situations involving people who have demonstrated a consistent pattern of being hostile or controlling, and where evasion is infeasible. My endorsement of this notion should not taken as a defense of lying in a broad range of situations.
1Said Achmiz
Indeed, this has been my exact answer in cases where such lies have been found out. Agreed entirely. Also, agreed entirely.
The thing is that the prying person likely considers the private affair to potentially involve wrongdoing. So if you were in a culture that permitted say, slavery, and considered how one treats one's slaves a private affair, you would you still be willing to apply the above reasoning.
Maybe. There are several scenarios: 1. A prying person might believe that you might be engaged in actual wrongdoing. 2. A prying person believes that you are engages in something that they think is wrong, but actually isn't wrong. 3. A prying person doesn't believe that you are doing anything wrong. They are just trying to get on your case because they are controlling or malicious. Or they think it's fun. In SaidAchmiz's example of a nosy relative, it's not at all clear that the relative believes he might be engaging in any moral infraction, unless that relative has an incredibly expansive notion of morality, as some relatives do. No, and I don't think this is accurate reading of my comment, though perhaps I allowed for confusion. In my comment, I discuss multiple conditions for ethically lying to people prying into private information: 1. That information is considered private in the relevant culture, such that the questioner knows (or should know) they are asking for information that is culturally considered private. If they know they are potentially defecting on you, then their behavior is worse. If they don't know they are defecting on you, then their apparent defection may have been a mistake on their part, in which case, you should be less enthusiastic to engage in tit-for-tat defection. 2. The "private" information does not include " lying to cover up wrongdoing you've committed, or in ways that will cause them tangible harm." Since slavery is wrongdoing, then a slaveholder is not justified in lying about treatment of slaves, even in a past culture where slavery was considered acceptable and private. Yes, some slaveholders may have believed that slavery was justifiable, and they were then justified in lying to cover up their treatment of slaves. But they were wrong, and they should have known better. To conclude, I suggest there are some circumstances where it is justified to lie in response to prying questions about private information. This p
1Said Achmiz
What if you consider the information private, but the person asking does not (and you are both aware of the other's views)? (That is, they know you think it should be private, but they disagree with you on that point.)
Good questions. If you know that the other person believes that the information isn't private, then you know that they aren't knowingly doing something which they believe is prying. So they don't have mens rea for being an asshole by their own standards. (Yes, I believe that sometimes people are assholes by their own standards, and these are exactly the sort of people who don't deserve the truth about my private matters.) If they don't know my feelings about privacy, then they are not knowingly intruding. But if they do know my views on the privacy of that information, they are knowingly asking for information that I consider private. That could be...disrespectful. If my feelings about privacy on that matter are strong, and they ask anyway, then they may have mens rea for being an asshole by my standards. Perhaps they believe that my standards are wrong and that I should not judge them as an asshole for violating them. If I thought there was legitimate disagreement about whether the information should be considered private, then I wouldn't view the other person as defecting on me, and I wouldn't feel motivated to lie to them to punish their defection. If I still felt motivated to lie, it would be for purely self-defensive reasons (for instance, I might lie to conceal health issues which don't effect anyone else). As examples, I think there are many questions between relationship partners, where the ethics of privacy vs. transparency are up for debate, e.g. "how many partners have you had in the past?", "do you still have feelings for your ex?", "have you had any same-sex partners?" On the other hand, if I thought their view of privacy was ridiculous, and they can't defend their view against mine, then I would be pretty annoyed if they still pressured me for information anyway. That sounds like a breakdown of cooperative communication, or the beginning of a fight. Lying might be an acceptable way to get out of this situation. Surely there is some point where co
You should also consider the possibility: 1a. A prying person believes that you are engages in something that is wrong, but that you mistakenly think isn't wrong. Yes, I know this is technichally a special case of 1., but it's worth considering separately since people tend to be bad at considering the possibility that they are wrong.
2Said Achmiz
I think one of the problems here is that most people just don't agree with you on that. And given this, your treatment of people who do a thing that you consider wrong, but they do not, is (in their eyes) very not-nice. The fact is, you could (especially since you're a deontologist) decide that any old thing is morally wrong. Perhaps looking at one's watch is morally wrong. Perhaps using the word "moist" is morally wrong. Perhaps wearing green socks is morally wrong. I (that is, someone interacting with you socially) just don't know. Perhaps your declarations of what is or is not morally wrong make sense to you, but to other people, they just look arbitrary. And so what it looks like is that you have decided, apparently somewhat arbitrarily, that a thing that most people do regularly is morally wrong; and now you're declaring that anyone who disagrees with you is a Bad Person, and not even straightforwardly: you're making insinuations about their character ("sketchy"). This, to observers (or at least, to me), just doesn't seem very nice or reasonable. Well, in one sense, no is under any obligation to behave decently and reasonably to their fellow humans. It sure would be nice, but if you protest that you don't have a duty to do, then sure, I won't argue. But insofar as anyone does have an "obligation" to behave decently, I think that saying you're not obligated to refrain from disparaging the character of anyone who violates one of your arbitrary, personal moral rules is, to use a term from your own comments... not welcoming. To say the least. (So, for example, if you decided that wearing green socks is morally wrong, I think I would say that you have an "obligation" to tolerate people wearing green socks around you.)
This is actually not an accusation I've had leveled at me before. Consequentialists tend to object to how rigidly I define moral rules, not which ones are on my list. I'm pretty sure this is a strawman. This is just an uncharitable misreading of me. I don't think I'll engage you in particular any further on this subject unless you produce a dramatically better understanding of my position.
8Said Achmiz
When people misunderstand or misread what I say — as happens sometimes, a couple of comments to this post being examples — my response is usually an attempt to clarify my position, correct the misreading, etc. Most of the people with whom I have engaged here on LessWrong do similarly. A response to an alleged misreading that consists of saying "That's not what I meant; I won't explain what I meant; and I won't talk to you about this anymore" is not a particularly honorable discussion tactic. If you think I have misread you — as is, of course, possible — please explain how.
This is what "slash their tires" analogy is meant to cover.
Right - I am suggesting an alternative metaphor that is slightly but materially different.
Probably. I mean, you literally wrote the book. And the sequence. Even the name... I'm sure a floodlight is of great use up on your hill, but it doesn't do much deep down here (wherever here is) in what might be fog and might be mud I can't tell because I can't see it well enough.
...what? Some kind of extended metaphor? Your meaning is totally unclear.
In the sequence Armok_GoB mentions I use light as an extended metaphor for self-knowledge.
Hmm. I haven't read your full sequence (one of these days!), so if that's the reference point then that explains my confusion. Thanks!
In that case a real honest answer might be: "I felt uncomfortable during that activity but I don't know whether it's because of the activity or because it's I generally focus to much on the negative." That gives the person you are dealing with a lot of useful information to interact with you. Sharing something deeper about yourself builds trust. If the person is well intentioned they can use the information in a way that makes the interaction for both of you better. The goal of honest communication is to give the other person useful information. Transmitting more useful information is being more honest. If you just say your loathe the activity or you say you liked it, you might be holding something back. If you have a trustworthy friendship than knowing about your emotional state is useful information for your friend. Your friend might be good at reading body language and be able to tell the difference between your fake smile and a real smile but it makes it so much harder for a friend to help you when you aren't open about what you are feeling. To me not being open about your emotions on a deep level when you are with friends or loved ones feels like defecting in a prisoner dilemma. You might get some immediate benefit but overall it's not the path of the game tree that's optimal. To the extend that there are people who can't deal with me being open about what I feel I don't want them as friends or loved ones.

A few years ago, for example, when I went to see the play my girlfriend had done stage crew for, and she asked what I thought of it. She wasn't satisfied with my initial noncommittal answers, so she pressed for more. Not in a "trying to start a fight" way; I just wasn't doing a good job of being evasive. I eventually gave in and explained why I thought the acting had sucked, which did not make her happy. I think incidents like that must have contributed to our breaking up shortly thereafter. The breakup was a good thing for other reasons, but I still regret not lying to her about what I thought of the play.

Boy, I sure wouldn't want to date a person like this (your girlfriend-at-the-time). She asked for your opinion; pressed you to actually give it, thus communicating (by any reasonable measure) that she actually wanted your opinion; and then, when you gave it honestly, was unhappy about it? That's horrible.

I don't think I'd ever willingly choose to be close to someone to whom I'd ever regret not lying in response to being asked for my opinion. The thought of living like that, living with the knowledge that honest communication is basically impossible because any time the person asks me (and presses me) about my opinion, I have to consider the possibility that what they actually want is lies — that this person prefers lies both to truths and to no comment — repulses me.

Demand by rational men for rational women exceeds supply, even taking into account that some of the women have harems. If you're one of the lucky men, or a woman, be aware of your privilege and don't criticize men who lack it.

I think the set of women you can be honest with in a relationship is much larger than the set of women who are full on CFAR style rationalists.

6Eliezer Yudkowsky
My experience is more like "real honesty, in or out of a relationship, only works with the upper echelon of CFAR style rationalists" though admittedly exposure to the naked, sharp gears of my own intellect may have more Lovecraftian results than it would in the population average.
Honest about carefully selected safe topics? Or about the weird ones?

I agree with the point in your first sentence, but I'm not sure I follow what your advice is in the second sentence.

Are you suggesting that my criticism comes from having rational women to date, whereas Chris (at the time of the anecdote) did not, and so was forced to date an irrational woman, for which I was criticising him?

Those are three wrong things, it seems to me:

  1. I don't find it to be the case that rational women occur in abundance in my dating pool;

  2. No one (presumably) forced Chris to date the young lady in question;

  3. I wasn't criticising him for his dating choices; if I was criticising anything, it was his advice that we accept such behavior in our partners / friends, and expressing the view that I, personally, would not accept such behavior.


some of the women have harems


That surprises you? Do you think rational women wouldn't want harems? Scott tells us that polyamory seems like a suboptimal way to get sex, and I assume this holds true even for women - technically. But sex is not fungible.
1Said Achmiz
Um... sure, that surprises me a bit. Also that they have the harems, even given wanting them. I don't really know what you are saying in your second paragraph. Please explain?
...What?! You're surprised that rational people who are in demand can get what they want? I may try to explain the second part later, but in my current condition I don't get your confusion.
1Said Achmiz
Depending on what "what they want" is, yeah, I might be surprised. I mean, clarify for me, what are we talking about here? "Polyamory is relatively common in rational circles, and poly relationships in said circles often/sometimes/commonly consist of (i.e., are circumscribed by) one woman who is dating several men"?
Harem is a bit misleading as it implies dominance and ease. Polyamory presumably requires work to keep the people around you and to prevent drama, and that situation doesn't seem obviously preferable.
That doesn't entitle any irrational woman to date any rational man. Men are allowed to stay single, you know.
It's better to be single than to date someone irrational.
If everyone thought like that, I'd never get a date (and neither would anyone else, of course).
Perhaps (though I'm not sure*), but even if so, that's no great loss, because getting a date isn't good in itself, it's only good if it's with someone with whom you're compatible, and rationality is critically important for that. Also, this would have the effect of making rationality a more desirable trait, and irrationality a more costly one. .*It's definitely not true for everyone, as there are relationships in which both partners are rational.

As best I can tell, "people who sometimes ask questions they might not want to hear the answer to" are a large majority of the population. "Does this dress make me look fat" is a cliche put-you-on-the-spot question for a reason.

Sometimes is an important word here. Too often, and it might be an issue, but it's not like this was a regular occurrence with her. (A big THANK YOU here to Pablo and hyporational for noticing they shouldn't be making too many assumptions based on one anecdote.)

Now, another approach is to exclusively date people who value total honesty at all times. But (1) there are other qualities I value more in a mate and (2) I suspect such openness to "total honesty at all time" tends to correlate with being social inept and overly honest even with people who don't want that, qualities I'd like to avoid.

Now, another approach is to exclusively date people who value total honesty at all times. But (1) there are other qualities I value more in a mate and (2) I suspect such openness to "total honesty at all time" tends to correlate with being social inept and overly honest even with people who don't want that, qualities I'd like to avoid.

To reiterate a point I have made several times in this post's comments:

"Valuing total honesty at all times" and "refraining from pressing someone for an honest answer when what you actually want is a lie" are two very different things.

Correspondingly, being totally honest at all times, unprompted, is not the same as being honest when specifically pressed for an honest answer.

"Does this dress make me look fat" is a cliche put-you-on-the-spot question for a reason.

I try to restrict my circle of friends to people who do not ask precisely such put-you-on-the-spot questions. That, among other policies and attitudes, makes my circle of friends small.

Or, to put it another way: people worth being friends with are rare. And those are the only people I want to be friends with.

"Does this dress make me look fat"

(BTW, I usually answer that with "you looked better in that other one", so I don't offend her but I still help her choose flattering clothes.)

You're misunderstanding the message. "Does this dress make me look fat?" is not really a question. It's a request for a compliment. If I may engage in gender generalization for a moment, men usually understand words literally. This annoys women to no end as they often prefer to communicate on the implication level and the actual words uttered don't matter much.
In a sense, yes. But less-cliche questions sometimes get used the same way, and you have to be on guard with that. (You can argue that giving the expected responses to such questions isn't technically lying, but that seems like semantic hair-splitting to me.)

Boy, I sure wouldn't want to date a person like this [...]

Depends on the details. I don't think there's anything necessarily unreasonable about the following sequence of events: A wants some information from B, and presses for it despite B's reluctance. When the truth actually comes out, A finds it upsetting. ("Do you love me?" "Yes, of course." "It sometimes doesn't seem that way. Seriously, and honestly, do you really love me?" "Well ... no, not really. I just enjoy having sex with you." "Oh, shit.")

Now, being upset because your boyfriend thinks the acting in a play wasn't much good? Yeah, that seems less reasonable. So I agree that this probably wasn't a great relationship to be in. But I really can't endorse any general claim that it's bad to press for someone's opinion when one of the possible answers would upset you.

Having the truth upset you, and being angry at a person for telling you the unpleasant truth, are two very different things.


But there are times when both are appropriate. Example: "did you strangle my puppy?" It's hardly unreasonable to expect an honest answer and then be angry at the person when the honest answer is "yes."

More generally, it is not inherently contradictory to expect total honesty and to be occasionally angry at what that honesty reveals.

In that case, you're not angry at the person for telling the truth, you're angry at them for having strangled your puppy. Similarly, in the love example, the problem isn't so much the fact that B told A the truth, the problem is that B had systematically lied to A in order to get sex before. In neither case are you actually angry at the person for telling you the truth, you're angry at them for committing a separate moral wrong. This seems different from "did you like my play", since disliking a play isn't a moral wrong by itself. In that case you really are angry at someone for telling the truth.
I personally am not so much of a saint as to only get mad at people for moral wrongs. I can absolutely see myself getting angry at a close person for not liking a book I wrote / play I directed / whatever. It still has nothing to do with truth -- I want them to be honest, I just want them to honestly like my stuff! (Of course that isn't entirely mature and fair, but people get their emotions all tied up in their artistic work).
That's exactly my point. And I conjecture that what upset Chris's girlfriend was the fact that her boyfriend wasn't impressed by her friends' acting. I could, of course, be wrong. If her problem was simply that he'd been tactless enough to tell her what she asked him to tell her, then indeed she was bring grossly unreasonable.
4Said Achmiz
If that's indeed what upset her, then she was also being unreasonable. Consider: * Chris could have been unimpressed because the acting was, in fact, bad. (Let's not get into whether art can be objectively bad, or any such thing; that's not the point of the discussion.) If so, then his reaction is information that the acting is bad. Being angry at the messenger who is conveying this information to you is unreasonable. * On the other hand, Chris could have thought the acting sucked because of differing tastes, and not any objective badness of the acting. If so, then what his girlfriend has just found out is that their tastes don't entirely align in this arena. Being angry at Chris for this revelation is, also, unreasonable. So, in either case, being angry at your boyfriend for not being impressed with your friends' acting is unreasonable. Unless, of course, you take the view (as did another poster elsewhere in the comments) that one may, and should, alter one's opinions on the basis of what one thinks will please one's close ones. I strongly reject such views.
It could be that she thought the most likely explanation for him not liking their acting was because he had unrealistic expectations or didn't watch the show with an open mind.
2Said Achmiz
Both of those suggestions confuse me. "Their acting sucked. I expected it to be good!" "Well, that was unreasonable of you! Clearly, you should have expected it to suck!" "Oh, well, in that case... yep, it sucked." ??? What on earth does that mean...?
More like: "That show was not in the top 30% of all entertainment I have ever consumed." "...How was it as amateur theater goes?" "Oh, easily top fifteen percent there." The open-mindedness criterion is a little harder to explain.
But unfortunately humans aren't very good at telling them apart. (But on the other hand some humans are worse than others and you have no obligation to date one of the former.)
In that scenario lying may be better for both in the short term, but lying about being in love with someone to trick them into sleeping with you seems pretty likely to upset them more in the long term. And there are more gentle ways to put it which could make honestly explaining that it's mostly a physical thing which would reduce the immediate negativity considerably, though the amount depends on the listener's disposition. I agree that it's not necessarily unreasonable for a truth to be upsetting, but it is somewhat unreasonable to press someone for a truthful answer (especially something important), then be upset with them specifically for being honest, especially if they have indicated discomfort giving a direct answer and tried skirting around the subject (since this hints that it's something which may be an uncomfortable truth they may want to avoid), even if it's pretty common in many circles.
For the avoidance of doubt, in that situation I agree that one shouldn't lie. I was commenting not on B's behaviour and attitude but on A's. And, also for the avoidance of doubt, if Chris's girlfriend was upset that he told her the truth rather than that he didn't like her friends' acting then she was being 100% unreasonable. (And, as I said, even if it was the latter, still pretty unreasonable. I was making a more general point.)
Human beings are complex creatures, and the decision to date a person involves weighing up the different elements that make up that complexity. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I'd say that in your current state of almost total ignorance about the physical and psychological traits of Chris's ex girlfriend, you are simply not in a position to know whether or not you'd want to date her. (Perhaps a focusing illusion--"nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it"--was involved in causing you to believe otherwise.) ETA: After reading the replies below, I realize I had misinterpreted Said's comment above as making an all-things-considered claim, when it fact the claim was supposed to be subject to a ceteris paribus clause.
It seems this objection could largely be ameliorated by the inclusion of a ceteris paribus clause. Or, given the way you phrased it, perhaps a measure of how just how many units on the Craziness/Hotness scale the behavioural pattern moves her. EDIT to remove references to mythical three headed guardians of hades.
Yeah, it seems I misunderstood the original comment.
To be fair on your reply the original comment is worded rather strongly and without care for precision. As such your reply is valid even if slightly less charitable than it could have been.
I'm pretty sure I got it wrong too.
1Said Achmiz
So, essentially, this is: "yeah, sure, my boyfriend/girlfriend has this horrible aspect of their personality, but they were otherwise a good person / the sex was great / whatever". Ok. Sure. If your criticism would be obviated by the addition of a ceteris paribus clause to my comment, then consider it added. You can say that about almost any undesirable personality trait, though. That doesn't make said trait any more desirable. Many things can be very undesirable without being hard dealbreakers (especially if discovered after you're already involved with the person). All else being equal, though, I would certainly prefer dating a person without the trait in question, than with.
Looks pretty normal to me. One incident isn't a strong indicator of personality, I think. There are situations where a significant fraction of people want to be lied to in a reassuring way, and these situations can be recognized reliably enough if one has the necessary skills to do so. There are skills that allow you to discern when people actually want your opinion and when they're just asking for reassurance. Wouldn't you rather have those?

Looks pretty normal to me.

That word always¹ sounds to me like its only point is to sneak in the connotation that what's usual must therefore also be desirable.

“Normal is a cycle on a washing machine.”

  1. Not literally.
My point is you mostly don't get to choose what's normal whether it's good or bad, so might as well consider adapting to it*. If you come up with a less disagreeable expression of usuality that fits this case, I'll make the switch. *this obviously applies only if this fits your other goals
I'm torn between upvoting this comment for the footnote and upvoting this comment for the insight. Decisions, decisions.
5Said Achmiz
A significant fraction of people do all sorts of things. That doesn't mean I want to associate with them, much less data them. Yes, I would definitely want to have those skills — and I would just as definitely want to not have to use them on someone I was dating, or otherwise close to.
Those people you're narrowing out might have other redeeming qualities that will be less available to you because of this restriction. Why is this one so horrible that they aren't even worth considering?
5Said Achmiz
Well, I didn't exactly say such people wouldn't be worth considering. (See my reply to Pablo_Stafforini.) I do think this one's pretty bad, though. (Elaboration here.) As for "but if you rule out X, then you won't get the chance to potentially get Y!", I find such arguments unconvincing, because they generalize so easily. "If you rule out serial killers as potential friends, you might miss out on some people with whom you could hold such interesting after-dinner conversation, not to mention the many other redeeming qualities that a person might have in spite of a predilection for axe murder!" Sure, maybe, but I think I can manage to find interesting friends without a history of violent crime. I don't have to settle. Likewise with abhorrent personality traits: my choice isn't "accept people who are terrible in some important way" or "be alone forever". (And even if it were, I might strongly consider option b.) There's always "find someone who isn't terrible in any important way". Such people exist, it seems to me. I don't know, maybe I'm just an optimist?
The obvious difference here is that serial killers are rare. White liars are extremely common and the kind of honesty you're preferring is rare, so you're ruling out a lot more people. (ETA: in those elaborated comments you seem more specific and reasonable than I thought.) How probable do you think it is that you're hanging out with people who are more dishonest than you think they are? Are you comfortable with your ability to discern these kinds of qualities in people? Do you acknowledge the prior?
But each of the people you're ruling out is in turn ruling out lots of people other than you and therefore is more likely to be available. In other words, honesty is a high-variance strategy.
That makes sense. The only problem it seems is recognizing the right individuals. The goth guy vs normal guy is much more obvious than the honesty guy vs pretending-to-be-honesty-guy. Everyone benefits from being seen as honest.
The kind of honesty where you're willing to owning up to disliking the play your girlfriend did stage crew for doesn't seem to me like something that many people successfully fake.
Some people seem to use honesty as an excuse for being deliberately obnoxious. Though I don't know how often what they do would count as successfully faking anything.
Well, the OP did not specify which words he used to tell his then-girlfriend that.
On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, the number of occasions where you get to display such honesty and thereby differenciate yourself from normal moderately-honest people isn't that large. Combine this with the low base-rate of extremely honest people, and they may easily end up never finding each other.
-1Said Achmiz
Whoa whoa. Who said the category of people I was referring to is as broad as white liars? I don't hang out with all that many people, and those I do hang out with, I've know for some time, so I would say: not very probable. Comfortable enough to spot honesty after knowing someone for ten years or more, yeah.
Yeah sorry about the misunderstanding, I edited the gp accordingly.
The trouble is, you have to be really good with those skills and get things right almost all of the time before they're worth much, since people weigh negatively-perceived interactions much more strongly than positively-perceived interactions in close relationships.
That actually reminded me of my parents. My dad is not allowed to say that he dislikes a dish prepared by my mom, even if asked for his opinion. Whenever I ask him if he liked one of my dishes, if I notice any hesitation I usually qualify it with "You can say no".

Wow. Yeah, see, that's exactly the kind of relationship dynamic of which the very thought horrifies me.

I, too, sometimes make similar comments to people to convey that yes, I really do want their feedback on my cooking/baking, because getting better is important to me. Empty praise is worthless to me.

Empty praise is actually useful, for absence of evidence reasons. Especially if the work you want feedback on is the type that that person should be able to effectively critique. Once you start considering empty praise to be evidence of dislike, you may also want to fake people into thinking you think they like things, because they are probably modeling you using themselves when they decide that lying is best for you. They are not truth-obsessed rationalists, so they probably prefer to think their attempt to trick you was successful. Being asked for a critique of someone's work can be uncomfortable, and thinking you've hurt their feelings is even more uncomfortable.

Ok, that's beyond my ability to keep a chain of models-within-models straight in my head. Could you elaborate?

Actually, you know what — scratch that. The more salient point, I think, is that having to strategize basic conversation to that extent is a) much too hard for my preference, and more importantly, b) something I definitely do not want to be doing with close friends and loved ones. I mean, good god. That sounds exhausting. If someone forces me to go through such knots of reasoning when I talk to them, then I just don't want to talk to them.

I wouldn't want to be in that kind of relationship long-term either. But I still have to interact with normal people too, and enjoyment is often not the goal there. Edit: also family, whose company you don't want to discard entirely because of a few flaws like playing social games like this. Sorry if I said it unclearly, but all I meant was, "make them think they tricked you."
No, empty praise is still worthless, because Said's cooking and baking not perfect, and there is with near certainty some small flaw, some awkward stylistic choice that could use improvement. Best is the gentle nitpicking of these flaws with a prepended (This is amazing, but) and with the consequent inference that the bread/food/what have you is actually already REALLY GOOD.
There is value to knowing the quality of your work apart from knowing ways to improve it. For example, "Should I personally cook something for this upcoming potluck, or should I let my spouse do it?"
The problem is that knowing how well you cook doesn't really affect who should cook past a certain basic point of competence, as far as I can tell.
0Said Achmiz
I agree with your point but I think you may have misunderstood Mestroyer's comment (totally understandable, as I found his comment difficult to parse, myself). I take from your response that you interpret Mestroyer as referring to a scenario where there's nothing in my work to criticize, and I ask for feedback and receive praise, and correctly interpret the absence of criticism as evidence for there being nothing to criticize. I don't actually think that's the scenario Mestroyer had in mind, based on his second paragraph. (Or was it? If so, then he ought to adjust his terminology, because the term "empty praise" is not appropriate in that context.)
Not if it's explicit, well-understood and is just one of the rules of how the game is played. There are LOTS of way to convey meaning besides just blurting it out.
6Said Achmiz
Mmmnope, that definitely doesn't change the horror. (I'm not sure how to take what looks to be a correction to a statement about my feelings about something. Regardless, it's misplaced.)
That was just a shorthand way of saying "I am surprised that you feel this way given that I see the world in a way that..."
1Said Achmiz
Fair enough. In that case, to clarify my response: I acknowledge that your view of things is plausible in many cases; taking said view does not change my feelings about the situations in question.
Well, let me clarify, too, then :-) I didn't really have the particular situation of pianoforte611 in mind. I am sure there are many families where the communication between spouses is ritualized, lacks meaningful content, no one can actually say what they really feel, and is a mess in general. My point was -- and I should have phrased it better -- is that, for example, a prohibition of criticizing cooking, may be a symptom of such a dysfunctional relationship, but does not necessarily have to be. Relationships tend to have many implicit rules about what means what. I can easily imagine a good, healthy, intimate relationship where you just can't tell your girlfriend "Oh, today you look terrible" in the morning even if she, in fact, does look terrible. And that doesn't sound horrible to me.
6Said Achmiz
To make this point yet again[1], there's a difference between not wanting (or outright forbidding) spontaneous criticism, to forbidding criticism that is provided when asked. In pianoforte611's example, his dad is forbidden from saying the cooking's bad even if he's asked for his opinion. Telling your girlfriend "Oh, today you look terrible", apropos of nothing, seems like a reasonable thing for said girlfriend to object to. If she asks you "How do I look today? Please be honest", and then you're not allowed to answer honestly, lest you break the Rules Of The Relationship — that seems obviously dysfunctional to me. [1] Sorry if I sound frustrated, but people seem to keep ignoring this distinction. Edit: Upon a bit more consideration, pianoforte611's example seems even more dysfunctional than at first glance. I mean, if you forbid someone from criticizing you even in response to a request for an opinion, and both parties are aware of this prohibition, what does it signify when you go ahead and ask them for their opinion anyway? It seems like a really ugly power dynamic: one person says "Well, what do you think of my cooking, honey? Hm? Be honest, now..."; all the while knowing full well that the other person can't answer honestly, lest they break The Rules; holding this over the other person; and fully expecting, correctly, that the other person will dutifully lie, while dutifully pretending that they're telling the truth — in other words, will submit to the first person's display of dominance in the relationship. Of course that could be an exaggeration in the particular case of pianoforte611's family. But I've actually seen this exact dynamic play out in real life, and it's a common enough cultural script, as offered up regularly by e.g. Hollywood.
That depends. Words are only one of many levels of communication between a couple. You should understand your girlfriend enough to know when she actually means "Please be honest" and when she doesn't even if she says the same words and their literal meaning is "be honest". Again -- it may well be a symptom of a dysfunctional relationship but it does not automatically have to be. A lot of communication is non-verbal. A lot of meaning flies across regardless of which words are being said. I feel it is a mistake to focus solely on the literal meaning of the words pronounced.
2Said Achmiz
Well, ok. I suppose if people are ok with having relationship where communication is that complicated, and it works for them, then far be it from me to speak against that. (Not being sarcastic or passive-aggressive here; I generally genuinely don't care how other people conduct their relationships so long as it doesn't affect me.) But I certainly am not interested in being with someone who would say "Please be honest", but then expect me not to be honest, but only sometimes, and then expect me to know when is which. Nooo sir, I surely am not.
People come as complete packages :-) Some things maybe deal-breakers but some things may be compensated by other advantages. Oh, and communication is complicated.
0Said Achmiz
I refer you to this comment thread and also this comment here.
I understand the sentiment, but I'd caution that the desire to be able to express yourself freely can be seen as cover for having license to say whatever you want without regard to how it effects the other person. This is bad even if you don't intend to use it that way: you should be spending some cycles thinking about how the other person will feel about what you say. I speak from experience: saying what's on my mind has at times been hurtful to people I care about and I should have censored it or redirected the impulse. Perhaps part of what you're objecting to is not that the person prefers you to lie, but that they prefer a world that can't exist to exist. If this were really what's going on, that would be a severe lapse of rationality. But that world can exist: our opinions are mutable and it's quite possible to decide to like the play. The conversation is actually about something completely different: whether you're willing and able to emphasize the positive over the negative aspects of something for her sake, which is an essential skill in any relationship. The conversation is also about asking for acknowledgement and approval for something she's worked hard on and probably partially identifies with. Please note that I'm not saying this is easy or obvious. Empathy is a difficult skill and requires training (or socialization), followed by practice and attention even for those to whom it comes easily.
8Said Achmiz
(and now, the other part of my reply to your comment, with a quite intentional difference in tone) Certainly. I'm not suggesting that you ought to just run your mouth about any opinion that pops into your head, especially without giving any thought to whether expressing that opinion would be tactful, how the other person will feel about it (especially if it's a person you care about), etc. Often the best policy is just to shut up. The problem comes when someone asks you for an opinion, and communicates that they really want it. If they then take offense at honesty, then I am strongly tempted to despise them immediately and without reservation. (Tempted, note; there may be mitigating factors; we all act unreasonably on occasion; but patterns of behavior are another thing.) One of the issues with behaving like this is: so what happens when you really do want the person's opinion? How do you communicate that? You've already taught your partner that they should lie, tell you the pleasing falsehood, rather than be honest; how do you put that on hold? "No, honey, I know that I usually prefer falsehood to truth despite my protestations to the contrary, but this time I really do want the truth! Honest!" It erodes communication and trust — and I can think of few more important things in a relationship. Behavior like this also makes your partner not trust your rationality, your honesty with yourself; I don't think I could be with a person whom I could not trust, on such a basic level, to reason honestly. I couldn't respect them. Yes. Certainly. Heck, I sometimes don't want to hear the truth, or someone's honest opinion of me. Not because I am necessarily in denial, or any such thing, but because I don't want to think about it at the moment; or any number of reasons. But you know what I don't do in that case? I don't ask them for their honest opinion! I don't do what the girlfriend in the anecdote did, which is essentially demand that someone close to her to lie to her,
One scary thought I had a while back is that this is essentially what friendship and especially love is, i.e., sabotaging one's rationality, specifically one's ability to honestly asses one's friend's/lover's usefulness as an ally as a costly way to signal one's precommitment not to defect against the friend/lover even when it would be in one's interest to do so.
On the other hand, it's just as easy to make up a story in the opposite direction: friendship and love are what we call having a true judgement of a person's fundamental virtue that is unswayed by transient, day to day circumstances.
0Said Achmiz
"Love is the inability to follow a logical argument concerning the object of one's affection." ... is a quote along those lines, from a former classmate; with which I do not actually agree. But "usefulness as an ally" does not at all fully capture a loved one's value to me, even absent any failures of rationality. (Not that you said it does, I'm just pre-empting likely replies.)
Feel free to substitute whatever you feel is appropriate for "usefulness as an ally".
The difference is that I explain it in terms of game theory.
2Said Achmiz
Possible, but utterly abhorrent. Doublespeak for "doublethink, self-deception, and lies". One can acknowledge hard work without lying about outcomes. Approval given regardless of worth is meaningless and devalues itself (because if I approve of what you made, even if it's crap, then my approval is worthless, because it does not distinguish good work from bad, good results from dreck). Perhaps, then, she should heed Paul Graham's advice to keep her identity small; and apply the Litany of Tarski to whether the thing she worked on was good. Sure, but something can be difficult, non-obvious, and undesirable. I strongly disapprove of equating empathy with deception and tacit support for irrationality and emotional manipulation. They are not the same.
That is something the people do have actual conversations about, something that is, indeed, important to consider and a good reason to adopt the practice of emphasising positive things. However, it is not the kind of conversation that SaidAchmiz was talking about unless you read it extremely uncharitably. There is a rather distinct and obvious difference between emphasizing the positive aspects of something and emphasizing something that does not exist. In fact, choosing to emphasize something to exists entails outright failing to emphasize a positive aspect of the the thing in question. Sometimes that is necessary to do, but doing so does not constitute a converstation of the type you describe. Your reply has distinct "straw man" tendencies.
You're right, I made some assumptions that probably don't apply to SaidAchmiz, and I realize my comment comes off poorly. I apologize. I was trying to refer to the situation from the OP, but found it difficult to write about without using a hypothetical "you" and I'm not entirely satisfied with the result. What I was trying to get across is that this kind of situation can be complex and that the girlfriend in the scenario can have legitimate emotional justification for behaving this way. I agree that wishing you'd lied is a bad situation to be in. I agree that the OP's story is not a very good mode of interaction even if handled the way Sam Harris would. I agree that people should be able to have explicit conversations about emphasizing positives rather than veiled ones (which I was trying to get at when I said the conversation was "actually" about that). I don't mean to imply that SaidAchmiz wants to feel completely free to say anything regardless of consequences. I'm trying to say that I have felt that tendency myself and have unintentionally taken advantage of a "we should be able to say anything to each other" policy as an excuse not to think about the effects of my speech. Hopefully this is clearer. I'm only trying to relay what I've learned from my experiences, but maybe I've failed at that.
Particularly given the replies you have prompted it is worth emphasising the 'pressed you' phrase. The combination of pressing for honest feedback and handling it poorly is a very different thing to handling honesty poorly without attempting to force 'honest' feedback be given. (Note that the information given does not lead me to conclude that the girlfriend must have been executing that pattern but hypothetical people who do so do thereby lose some measure of want-to-date-them-ness.)
It's possible that she learned that pressing for an honest opinion isn't a good idea for her.

Failure to realize a statement could be a white lie can create some terribly awkward situations.

While this is true, it is also true that knowing that a given person won't lie, that they will tell you how bad the acting in your play is, makes their praise even more valuable; because one knows that it is not a white lie.

By allowing yourself the small lies, that is what you are trading away. Whether it's worth it or not, I can't say for sure...

In theory, committing to not lying has some advantages, but in my experience, it doesn't actually work. In my experience, people who commit to not lying are less accurate and less trusted than those who don't. And I'm pretty sure the causality flows from the commitment and not from a third factor.
This runs contrary to what I would expect. Could it be that people who commit to not lying: * Do not follow up on their commitment * Proceed to twist their words so as to be dishonest without technically lying * Or is there some other reason for this?
Failure to keep the commitment is not the problem in my experience. A person who deceives by technical truths usually gets a reputation as a pathological liar; a well-deserved reputation, I would say. Self-deception is a much bigger problem for accuracy. But that hardly scratches the surface of the problems. You have a theory. Theories are great! But test it. Pay attention to people's reputations for honesty, accuracy, and trustworthiness.
This will be difficult. In my limited experience, very few if any people are intentionally dishonest with me. (I may simply be very lucky in that respect). This puts me in a fairly poor position to gauge other people's reputations for honesty. Accuracy is another matter entirely. Accuracy is a function of intelligence and of the ability to accurately observe the environment. I can easily see accuracy being entirely independent of any commitment against lying.

This reminds me of something Mark Horstman (I think) said, that people are entitled to honest answers to questions to which they are entitled an answer. He was using it in a workplace context, for example that if one's boss asks about one's sex life it's okay to lie, because she is not entitled to an answer thus she is not entitled to an honest answer. Good post.

I think an important additional concept being invoked in the above example is that the person you are lying to has social power over you. While generally abiding by a wizard's code of speaking the literal truth, I consider there to be a blanket moral exemption on lying to the government. It is not always pragmatically wise to lie to a government official, but in a moral sense the option is at your discretion.

For example, when the TSA asks you if anything in your luggage could be used as a weapon, you just lie.

Certain interactions with the government (assuming you are behaving peacefully) seem like a special case of dealing with an adversarial or exploitative agent. When an agent has social power over you, they might easily be able to harm or inconvenience you if you answer some questions truthfully, whereas it would be hard for you to harm them if you lied. Telling the truth in that case hurts you, but lying harms nobody (aside from foiling the exploitative plans of the other agent, which doesn't really count).

A more mundane example would be if a website form asks you for more personal information than it needs, and requires this information. For instance, let's say the website asks for your phone number or address when there is suspiciously no reason why they should need to call you or ship you anything. If you fill in a false phone number to be able to submit the form, then you are technically lying to them, but I think it's justified. Same thing for websites that require you to fill in a name, but where they don't actually need it (e.g. unlike financial transactions, or social networks that deal with real identities).

The website probably isn't trying to violate your rights, but it's ... (read more)

Most people are neither too dull to imagine or recall from a movie the ways to use ordinary items in their luggage as weapons, nor lying, when they say no...
2Said Achmiz
Either you have included an unintended negative, or you are saying that nothing in most people's luggage could be used as a weapon.

Or it's just that "lying" implies an attempt to deceive.

Words are meant to communicate meaning. I wouldn't consider it lying if someone communicates in a sense that properly answers the meaning of the question, even if the question is clumsily asked.

Likewise, I would consider it lying if someone uses words which are literally true, but does so in a manner meant to deceive the listener.

There's no time to explain in excruciating detail that TSA wants to hear about, say, handguns that people forget to remove from their luggage, tools such as nail guns, assorted sharp pieces, etc, but not about how you can hit someone on the head with a laptop. And that if it's here by mistake, a lot of time is saved by you telling about it and them not having to assume that you're a bad guy trying to conceal it. And within the limited number of sufficiently short sentences there's not a single one that exactly describes what is meant. Words have to be used, in lieu of telepathy, such as "weapon" meaning something that is sufficiently weapon-like and effective as a weapon to be a problem. As much as we need accessibility, there is just no practical way to accommodate for communication related disabilities in a screening line at an airport.
Eliezer would quote the relevant HPMoR scene, were he trying to be honest.
Wait, what? You're saying it''s never morally wrong to lie to the government? That the only possible flaw is ineffectiveness? Either I am misreading this, you have not considered this fully, or one of us is wrong on morality. I think there are many obvious cases in which in a moral sense, you cannot lie to the government.
0Said Achmiz
Example, please?
Let's start with basic definitions: Morality is a general rule that when followed offers a good utilitarian default. Maybe you don't agree with all of these, but if you don't agree with any of them, we differ: -- Applying for welfare benefits when you make $110K per year, certifying you make no money. Reason: You should not obtain your fellow citizens' money via fraud. -- "Officer Friendly, that man right there, the weird white guy, robbed/assaulted/(fill in unpleasant crime here) me.." Reason: It is not nice to try to get people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. -- "Yes it is my testimony that Steve Infanticider was with me all night, and not killing babies. So you shouldn't keep him in custody, your honor." Reason: Even if you dislike the criminal justice system, it seems like some respect is warranted. -- "No, SEC investigators, I, Bernie Madoff, have a totally real way of making exactly 1.5% a month, every month, in perpetuity." Reason: You shouldn't compound prior harm to your fellow humans. -- "I suffer no sudden blackouts, Department of Motor Vehicles." Reason: You should not endanger your fellow drivers. That was five off the top of my head. This is in response to SaidAchmiz, because I still think it's possible that Eliezer meant something different than I interpreted, though I don't understand it. I also think that in the U.S. you shouldn't lie on your taxes, lie to get on a jury with the purpose of nullifying, lie about bank robberies you witness, lie about your qualifications to build the bridge, lie about the materials you intend to use to build the bridge, lie about the need for construction change orders, lie about the number of hours worked... you get the picture. I understand that some disagree. I also understand that if you live in North Korea, the rules are different. But I think a blanket moral rule that lying to the government has only one flaw - you might get caught or it might not work - is a terrible moral rule. Because t
1Said Achmiz
I'm not entirely sure what "a good utilitarian default" means, but I suspect I disagree, since (I strongly suspect) I am not a utilitarian. It's not clear to me that deserving or needing your fellow citizens' money is what entitles you to their money (assuming anything does), so I don't think I entirely agree. This is one of those cases where it feels to me like I'd be doing something wrong, but trying to pin down exactly what that something is, is difficult. "not nice" is quite an understatement, so yes, I agree. Why is some respect warranted? What warrants it? I neither understand finance well enough to grasp this situation, nor do I have any idea what "compound prior harm" means, so I can't comment on this one. Agreed. It seems like the pattern so far is: lying to the government is clearly bad when it would clearly cause harm to your fellow humans. Otherwise, the situation is much more murky. And I think that's consistent with the way I interpreted Eliezer's comment, which was something to this effect: "There's nothing inherently wrong with lying to the government, per se (the way there might be with lying to a person, regardless of whether your lie harmed them directly and tangibly); however, lying to the government may well have other consequences, which are themselves bad, making the lie immoral on those grounds." That is, I don't think Eliezer was saying that if you lie to the government, that somehow automatically counterbalances any and all negative consequences of that act merely because the act qualifies, among other things, as a lie to the government. Let's see if we can't apply this principle to the rest of your examples: I would certainly never attach my name to any suggestion that I endorse lying to the IRS. This seems fine to me. Depends a whole lot on the circumstances. I can't make a blanket comment here. Such lies might very well harm people, and so are bad on those grounds. This does seem bad for rule-consequentialist reasons. Seem
This example particularly amuses me, since this is the first year in a while where I won't have to lie on my federal tax return about my marital status, and I'm really happy about that.
That's not lying. To see this try tabooing "marital status".
1Said Achmiz
No doubt! I do wonder what JRMayne would say about cases like yours, though. To me it seems obvious that you did nothing wrong in those previous years.
(nods) I think even by the government's standards, I didn't actually do anything wrong. Come to that, I'm not sure I was even lying, technically speaking, as I'm not sure if filing single-head-of-household is technically asserting that I'm unmarried in the first place. It just felt like it.
Assuming it is asserting that you're not married, it's asserting that you're not married by the Federal tax definition. You weren't, so it's not a lie.
Bernie Madoff is a stockbroker who ran a famous Ponzi scheme that came to light a few years ago, at the height of the financial crisis. Judging from the Wikipedia page, the fraud wasn't a terribly complicated one: basically, he was taking investors' money and hanging onto it rather than investing it, while fabricating (unusually consistent) paper investment returns for his clients and paying them out of pocket if they ever wanted to cash out.
0Said Achmiz
Yes, I know who Bernie Madoff is, I'm just not clear on what are the implications of the quoted statement to the government. What does it mean? How was it false? Are there legal obligations to disclose something in such a case? What are they? What are the consequences (practical, not legal) of that lie? Who is harmed by the lie? Who is harmed, on the other hand, by the actual fact which you are lying about? Etc. I just don't have anywhere near enough context for any of this.
It means that Madoff was claiming he'd invested his clients' money at an annual rate of return of... let's see... a little under 20% (Wikipedia cites 10.5 to 15) when he'd actually had it in the bank at a RoR in the low single digits. Because of that, there would have been an increasingly large gap (probably around 10% annually, compounded over the life of his fund) between the figures he'd cited to his clients and the actual money he'd have available to return to them, and if and when enough of them decided to collect, they'd have found themselves short in proportion to that gap plus whatever Madoff took out for himself (a sum in the millions). This is straightforward fraud: Madoff promised a service, deliberately failed to deliver, and pocketed compensation for it anyway. The harm done by Madoff extracting compensation is obvious (it's basically theft); the harm done by him not doing his job is a little more complicated, but also substantial once you take into account opportunity cost. I don't know the exact legal requirements.
1Said Achmiz
Ok, thanks. That makes sense. If you don't mind a bit of followup explanation: where does the lie to the government come into this? Like, clearly Madoff defrauded his clients and that's terrible, but I'm still not clear on the role of the disclosure to government institutions (or lack thereof). Is it just that the government in this case is the channel by which one disclose information about operations to one's clients, i.e. the government acting on behalf of the clients? Or is it something else...?
The SEC's basically acting as an enforcement body and a standards organization in this case. Lying to them allowed Madoff to perpetuate his fraud, and perhaps more importantly to legitimize it; he wouldn't likely have been able to manage billions of dollars if he'd been operating outside the regulatory framework. I'm not sure I'd call that intrinsically immoral, even with my deontology emulator on, but in this context I think I'd be comfortable saying that it acted to exacerbate the situation. It looks like he'd tried to stay out of their sights as much as possible, though. Judging from Wikipedia, most of the investigation here was carried out by his competitors.
-1Said Achmiz
Understood. Yes, given this explanation I think I agree that lying to the SEC was immoral in this case.
2Said Achmiz
This seems like a good heuristic to cover my "nosy relatives" example, as well as many others, and fits my moral intuitions. Good work, Mark Horstman (or whoever)!
Do you think it fits the girlfriend case in the OP? I mean, do you think you are wronging your partner if, when they press you for an assessment of their performance, you lie to spare their feelings? (I agree with you that they'd be wrong to then get upset of you respond honestly and negatively, but that's a different question.) Are you wronging your partner even if you know you are fulfilling their preferences by lying? (or does that disentitle them to an answer?)
2Said Achmiz
I do not. I think you are entitled to the truth about your partner's opinion of things that are important to you. Your partner's, note; perhaps also your close friends'; not anyone's. I would feel wronged, if I was said partner. I think that if you're in a relationship with a person who values truth, then yes, you are wronging them by withholding it to spare their feelings. If your partner is someone who does not value truth, then, I think, you are not wronging them by lying to spare their feelings. I'm not sure about this. To me, it is a moot point; since I've noted, I would never want to be with such a person. The question of whether they are entitled to the truth is not actually relevant, as they are not asking for the truth in such a situation; they are asking for something else (validation? support? I don't know).
Yes. There are also questions which interviewers are legally prohibited from asking during job interviews, which probably have good moral reasons behind them, not just legal ones. In my recent comments, I've been developing the concept of a "right to information," or "undeserving questions."
That seems right to me, though we should probably say something about what you're then allowed to say. You can't lie to your nosy (monamorous) boss and say "Great! I have sex with your partner all the time." Yet if you are sleeping with your boss' partner, maybe it's not quite right to lie. Is she entitled to an answer in that case?
I think your case is different from the OP's: means that you are already doing something much more immoral and lying is not your biggest moral issue.

I don't normally like to blather on about myself, but I feel that a bit of self-exposition might help some people with their apparent ... Fundamental Attribution Error, perhaps?

I have an extremely malleable identity in certain types of social situations, to the point that I literally come to believe whatever I need to believe in order to facilitate rapport with whomever I'm talking with.

For example, I normally have a pretty strong aversion to infidelity in relationships, but on a few occasions I've deeply connected through prolonged conversation with friends who were engaged in relationship infidelity. It is sort of a running joke among my closest friends that I can get almost anybody to open up to me and share their deepest darkest secrets, and the way I do it is that I am genuinely nonjudgemental, and the method by which I am genuinely nonjudgemental is that I have a "core" module that has my actual beliefs and then I have my surface chameleon module which is actually talking which just says whatever it needs to say to establish the connection.

All of this babbling is to convey that if you were to interrupt me in the middle of doing this and say, "moridinamael, was... (read more)

9Said Achmiz
Well, I'm not going to call you a monster or anything, but I will say that I sure would hate to find out one of my friends was the way you describe yourself. I don't think I could continue to be friends with that person, and I sure wouldn't choose to be close to a person if I knew in advance they were like this. Basically, it seems like you're saying: I am really good at self-deception, and so when I lie to you, it's not really a lie because I'm also lying to myself! And believing that lie! Which doesn't change the fact that what you're saying, in such a circumstance, isn't the truth. Your attitude seems to boil down to: "Truth? Haha! What is truth anyway, eh? If I believe any old lie I can come up with, then it becomes my truth, doesn't it? That's just as good as 'the truth'! Whatever that is!" Furthermore and separately: Once you decide to not care about whether your beliefs are true, almost any conversation I could have with you about any of your beliefs, or that is based on any of your beliefs, becomes pointless. Because I know that what you believe has no correlation with truth, and that you just don't care about whether it does. If you'll say anything to establish a rapport with me — even if you make yourself believe that thing while you're saying it — then that rapport is worthless to me; because (however much you may protest the terminology) that rapport is based on a lie. (However, all of that said, I do think your post is valuable, as it contributes a useful data point, as was your stated intention.)
I agree with everything you said on a personal level, but I think you're committing the fallacy of false generalization. You (and I) both place a very high value on truth over comfort. We feel incredibly uncomfortable -- perhaps even painfully so -- when we suspect that any of our beliefs might be false. Therefore, for us, finding out that a friend was lying to us (as well as to himself) is tantamount to experiencing a direct attack. However, not everybody in the world is like us. Other people place a very high value on comfort and positive reinforcement. When they talk to their friends, they do so not in order to Bayes-adjust their beliefs, but in order to reinforce their feeling that they are valued, needed, and cared about. Note that this does not necessarily mean that such people do not care about truth. They often do; but truth-seeking is not the reason why they engage in conversations. So, for people who value comfort in their relationships, having a friend like moridinamael would be ideal. And I can't state with any amount of certainty that their worldview is inferior to mine.
6Said Achmiz
Well, sure. That's why I phrased my comment the way I did, referencing what I like/prefer/feel. I agree with your assessment of how we (you and I, and others here on Lesswrong) compare to most other people. However, I don't entirely agree with this: I, too, like feeling that I am valued, needed, and care about; and I don't necessarily engage in conversations only for truth-seeking. I sometimes have conversations for the purposes of entertainment, or validation, or comfort. It's not like truth-seeking is my only reason for talking to another human-being, ever. But! But. One thing I never want is to be entertained by lies[1]; to be validated with lies; to be comforted by lies. As I said in another thread, truth may be brutal, but its telling need not be. There are many ways to comfort and to validate without lying. If I come to a friend for comfort, and they comfort me by lying, I would feel somewhat betrayed. How betrayed, to what extent — that would depend on the subject matter and magnitude of the lie, I suppose. [1] Obvious exceptions include storytelling, hyperbole, sarcasm, performance, and all the other scenarios wherein a person says something that they don't believe is the truth, but they correctly expect that their audience is not expecting that statement to be true, and is not going to believe it as the truth.

Well, sure. That's why I phrased my comment the way I did, referencing what I like/prefer/feel.

Yes, good point.

I sometimes have conversations for the purposes of entertainment, or validation, or comfort. ... But. One thing I never want is to be entertained by lies[1]; to be validated with lies; to be comforted by lies.

I agree, and I feel the same way. However, I believe that you and I see conversations somewhat differently from other people.

When you and I engage in conversation (unless I misunderstood your position, in which case I apologize), we tend to take most of the things that are said at face value. So, for example, if you were to ask "did you like my play ?", what you are really asking is... "did you like my play ?" And, naturally, you would feel betrayed if the answer is less than honest.

However, I've met many people who, when asking "did you like my play ?", really mean something like, "given my performance tonight, do you still consider me a a valuable friend whose company you'd enjoy ?" If you answer "no", the emotional impact can be quite devastating.

The surprising thing, though (well, it was surprising to me w... (read more)

0Said Achmiz
You make good points, and your assessment seems entirely correct. This seems accurate, yes. Strangely, I remember reading/learning/realizing this before, but I seem to have forgotten it. How curious. Perhaps it is because the mode of communication you describe is so unnatural to me. (As I am on the autism spectrum.) I am unsure how to apply all of this to the moral status of behaving the way moridinamael describes...
I have not internalized this point, either, and thus I have to continually remind myself of it during every conversation. It can be exhausting, and sometimes I fail and slip up anyway. I don't know where I am on the autism spectrum; perhaps I'm just an introvert... Yeah, it's a tough call. Personally, I think his behavior is either morally neutral, or possibly morally superior, assuming that people like ourselves are in the minority (which seems likely). That is to say, if you behaved in a way that felt naturally to you; and moridinamael behaved in a way that felt naturally to him; and both of you talked to 1000 random people; then, moridinamael would hurt fewer people than you would (and, conversely, make more people feel better). Of course, such ethics are situational. If those 1000 people were not random, but members of the hardcore rationalist community, then moridinamael would probably hurt more people than you would. On the third hand, moridinamael indicates that he can't help but behave the way he does, so that adds a whole new layer of complexity to the problem...
2Said Achmiz
Your analysis of the ethics involved is valid if you only take harm / comfort into account, but one aspect of my own morality is that I value truth intrinsically, not just for its harm/help consequences. So I don't think it's as simple as counting up how many people are hurt by our utterances.
If you value truth intrinsically, then reducing your ability to approach it would hurt you, so I think my analysis is still applicable to some extent. But you are probably right, since we are running into the issue of implicit goals. If I am a paperclip maximizer, then, from my point of view, any action that reduces the projected number of future paperclips in the world is immoral, and there's probably nothing you can do to convince me otherwise. Similarly, if you value truth as a goal in and of itself, regardless of its instrumental value; then your morality may be completely incompatible with the morality of someone who (for example) only values truth as a means to an end (i.e., achieving his other goals). I have to admit that don't know how to resolve this problem, or whether it has a resolution at all.
This observation fits my model of others. Most people are not perfectionists, over-achievers, or ravenous truth-seekers above all. Consequently, I believe that people aren't those things unless they specifically give me reasons to believe they are. And I treat them accordingly, and interpret their requests for feedback in accordance with my impression of what they are looking for. If someone wants more critical feedback from me, or more unvarnished opinions, then they can get it by (a) acting like the type of person who values those things and who can handle them, (b) asking me explicitly.
Why? Beanbag chairs can be useful, so long as you remember not to build your entire house out of them.
1Said Achmiz
I'm not entirely sure I follow your analogy. Is it: "People with personality traits you hate can be fine to have as friends, so long as not all of your friends have personality traits you hate"? If so, then I disagree.
Not being friends with people you hate is nearly a tautology. I'm saying you shouldn't hate and shun people just for prioritizing your comfort over their own integrity. If your social circle consists entirely of straight-talkers, where will you go when you need to be comforted? If a putty-person wants to associate with you, but you have a well-established reputation for shunning putty-people and a relatively homogenous social circle... well, then, they'll pretend to be a straight-talker, because blending in is what they do. Eventually the game-theory of this makes you paranoid, which means more need and less opportunity for emotional comfort, which means any remaining infiltrators get more of your social bandwidth because they're better at providing that comfort. Also, you seem to have missed the distinction between in-principle independently-verifiable fact and self-reported preference. If moridinamael told me, due to my apparent feelings on the issue rather than a legitimate misperception, that a particular gun had been loaded with only five bullets when in actuality it contained six, that would be a much more serious issue than inaccurately reporting how enjoyable some sort of entertainment media had been, even if the entertainment preference went on to influence purchasing decisions and the sixth bullet wasn't aimed at anything I cared about.
4Said Achmiz
Oh, and: To the "straight-talkers", of course. Can you find comfort only in lies?
If brutal honesty satisfied all human emotional needs the world would look very different than it does. By "comfort" here I am referring particularly to the feeling of finding someone who agrees with you closely on some essentially subjective issue, such as taste in art or the moral worth of specific individuals. It is in principle possible to find someone who holds the ideally matched set of opinions persistently, for their own reasons, but there are search costs, and such a person might have other features inconvenient or prohibitive to long-term friendship. A less-close match provides a weaker degree of the feeling. Someone you know to be, on some level, insincere, also provides a weaker degree of the feeling, but that can be outweighed by them being effectively a closer match, and the reduced costs in other areas. Is my reasoning flawed, or is this a matter of you experiencing the latter effect (suspension of disbelief) more strongly?
3Said Achmiz
It's easier (though still non-trivial) to find a set of someones, each of whom holds matching views on some subset of the relevant opinions, and who together cover most or all relevant opinions. It's not easy to find people with whom you match thusly! Finding good, true friends is not something that just happens trivially. But it's worth it. I wouldn't want to settle for less. If I'm interpreting your phrasing correctly, then... um, yes. It's a matter of that. I value truth, and honesty. If I know someone is lying to me, I'm not just going to "suspend disbelief" and pretend I don't know they're lying. Not to mention: how am I going to get around the fact that their lies and deceptions make it very difficult for me to respect them? More pretending? More self-deception? No thank you. Finally: Who said honesty has to be brutal? The truth may be, but its telling may not. And I am not comforted by lies.
2Said Achmiz
Er, what? What are you talking about? This doesn't happen. Is that something you experience in your life? People infiltrating their way into friendships with you, when they know that their personality traits are something you hate? That must suck. :( "You can't prove I hate your pie, so I might as well lie and say I like it."? No thanks. If that's how you (the hypothetical you, a person who wants to be my friend) behave, then, all else being equal, I don't want to be your friend.
It is a thing which I have seen happen to people. There are known countermeasures, which I am attempting to discuss and you are discarding as repugnant.
4Said Achmiz
Well, ok. Let's posit that this is a thing that happens. What are the countermeasures?
If you want me to boil it down to three words, "business before pleasure." Accumulate some people you can count on to cover their own specialties and communicate with you accurately and precisely, and some other people who are fun to be around. Optimize those groups separately. If someone wants to straddle the line, never let them apply leverage from one mode to the other. Never forget which mode you're currently operating in. Business gets priority in emergencies and strategic decisions, because survival, but there should be a balance overall: it's "before," not "instead of."
3Said Achmiz
Wow. That sounds like a terrible life. I thank you for the information/advice, but with respect, I am going to ignore it entirely. I will continue to have a small circle of close friends who are both fun to be around, and don't lie to me. I will continue to avoid closeness with people who lie to me; should any infiltrate my circle of friends (for reasons that I still can't imagine), I will cut them off utterly as soon as I discover their true nature.
Personally, I find people who lie aren't fun to be around.
I suspect it happens to celebrities and very rich people all the time.
I don't think being genuinely nonjudgemental is lying. If I'm having an intellectual argument it's also not lying to agree for the sake of having a good argument with the opposing side on some points. If I disagree with someone about A, B, C and D it's completely fine to assume for the sake of the discussion that A, B and C are true to convince them that D is right. If specifically asked you might say that you don't believe A, B or C but you don't have to be open about everything that you disagree with by default. That just leads to confusion and no effective intellectual exchange. Any good therapist learns that he doesn't tell his client everything that the therapist thinks but that he tells the client what's helpful for the client. A good therapist will still honestly answer direct questions about the beliefs of the therapist. I put much more trust into the people who have a strong core and are judgmental so that they can morph into whatever they need to connect on a deep level with another person. All the people who I would trust to jump from a bridge if they would tell me to jump from a bridge have that quality. My first reaction would be to ask: "Do you really think that's a great idea?" but to the extend that I know they come from a warm and pure place and are in strong empathy with me that's why I would follow them. I wouldn't extend that kind of trust to someone at a lesswrong meetup who has the reputation of always telling the truth but who sometimes says things from a judgemental state and sometimes says things from a warm place. Over the last year I developed a stronger personal identity and got more clear about what I value. On the other hand in a game of Werewolf people who could read my emotions to sometimes find out whether I'm lying can't anymore. Knowing who I am allows me to be a lot more socially flexible to do whatever I want in the game of Werewolf in a way that's not readable by the people I'm playing with.
I think I used to experience something like this when I was a teenager. I'd reflexively assume whatever identity was needed for rapport, not necessarily always with skill, and this seemed like lying only afterwards when I realized I had gone too far and would probably get caught. This was annoying because I didn't really have control over my lying. At some point in my early 20s this spontaneously stopped happening. I wonder if this simply had something to with my brain maturing and whatever represents the relevant parts of my identity solidifying. Do you think your family has anything to do with your curious cognition? In my paternal family, lying seems more like a sport than anything morally reprehensible and successful deception is considered something to be proud of. I don't agree with them but can't say I hate them either.
I also discovered I was like this as a teenager -- that I had an extremely malleable identity. I think it was related to being very empathetic -- I just accepted whichever world view the person I was speaking with came with, and I think in my case this might have been related to reading a lot growing up, so that it seemed that a large fraction of my total life experience were the different voices of the different authors that I had read. (Reading seems to require quickly assimilating the world view of whomever is first person.) I also didn't make much distinction between something that could be true and something that was true. I don't know why this was. or if it is related to the first thing. But if I thought about a fact, and it didn't feel currently jarring with anything else readily in mind, it seemed just as true as anything else and I was likely to speak it. So a few times after a conversation, I would shake my head and wonder why I had just said something so absurdly untrue, as though I had believed it. In my early twenties, I found I needed to create a fixed world view -- in fact, I felt like I was going crazy. Maybe I was, because different world views were colliding and I couldn't hold them separate when action was required (like choosing an actual job) rather than just idle conversation. That's why I gravitated towards physical materialism. I needed something fixed, a territory behind all of these crazy maps. I think that the map that I have now is pretty good, and well-integrated with the territory, but it took 3-5 years. I'm still flexible with understanding other world views. For example, I was in a workshop a few days ago where we needed to defend different views, and I received one that was marginally morally reprehensible. I was the only one in my group able to defend it. (It wasn't such a useful skill there, I think most people just assumed I had that view, which is unfortunate, but I didn't mind -- if it was important to signal correctly at thi
This is interesting, particularly in connection with your grativation towards materialism - thanks for sharing.
FWIW my parents both possess aspects of what I think of as this skill of becoming whoever I need to be to fit whomever I'm talking to. I really do think of it as a bit of a superpower and I've intentionally developed it rather than letting it fade which it probably would have done naturally. Perhaps you think of me as having curious cognition but my point in posting this was actually to express the converse -- that I see pieces of myself in everybody, that I see everybody doing this to some degree all the time, I'm just one of the rare people with the introspective awareness to see what I'm doing and guide it. Ever go out to lunch/coffee/whatever with your boss or some figurehead of power, and witness how everybody except the boss transforms into an unimpeachable paragon of bland monotonous virtue? Folks are always selectively showing only the parts of themselves that they think need to be seen in a given context, and this is a type of deception through guiding expectations.
I do this as well, but I don't "lie" (from the perspective of my core values). I empathetically accept the other person's ethics and decisions. I allow that common connection to genuinely color my tone and physical expressions, which seems to build rapport just as well as actually verbalizing agreement. When I find myself about to verbalize agreement of something I don't actually believe, I consciously pull back. The trick is being able to pull back without losing your empathetic connection. Anecdotally, I find that I can verbalize disagreement, but as long as I maintain the tone and physical signals of agreement (or 'acceptance', perhaps, but I think 'agreement' is more true) that the other person remains open.

I endorse the vast majority of the post. Lying in most of those circumstances seems like an entirely appropriate choice, particularly to people you do not respect enough to expect them to respond acceptably to truth. Telling people the truth when those people are going to screw you over is unethical (according to my intuitive morality which seems to consider 'being a dumbass" abhorrent.)

If you're highly averse to lying, I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you to tell white lies more often. But I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you.

People have the right to lie. People do not have the right to lie without consequences. I suggest people respond to being lied to in whatever way best meets their own goals and best facilitates their own wellbeing. Those adept at navigating a sea of social bullshit and deception may choose to never treat lies as defections or provide any negative consequences. Those less adept at that kind of thinking may be better served by being less tolerant of lies from those with a given degree of closeness to them.

I implore you to respect other's right to treat lies, liars, and you in whatever way ... (read more)

Does this really serve many of them better though? Combine implicit high trust in people with judgmentality and poor lie detection in an environment where everybody lies. From an outside perspective the most extreme version of this seems like a recipe for lashing out at random people and alienating them. People openly judgmental about lying actually seem like good targets for deception, because you can expect them to be worse at spotting it. Can lying averse people reliably spot the other nonliars?
Thanks! Some lies should have consequences. But I think "respect other people's right to you [about some topics]" is a really important principle. Maybe it would help to be more concrete: Some men will react badly to being turned down for a date. Some women too, but probably more men, so I'll make this gendered. And also because dealing with someone who won't take "no" for an answer is a scarier experience with the asker is a man and the person saying "no" is a woman. So I sympathize with women who give made-up reasons for saying "no" to dates, to make saying "no" easier. Is it always the wisest decision? Probably not. But sometimes, I suspect, it is. And I'd advise men to accept that women doing that is OK. Not only that, I wouldn't want to be part of a community with lots of men who didn't get things like that. That's the kind of thing I have in mind when I say to respect other people's right to lie to you. I agree with this. Though I think some degree of acceptance of white lies is the majority position, and figuring out when someone deviates from that and to what degree is tricky. Such social defaults tend to be worth going along with unless you have a pretty damn good reason not to.
You're asking too much of people, even on LessWrong. You're demanding purely consequentialist utilitarian judgment be made in the face of MULTIPLE ingrained cognitive biases, plus MULTIPLE levels of cultural conditioning. You're not going to win this one.
1Said Achmiz
You really think people's objections to Chris's post are due to the objectors being insufficiently consequentialist? Please, do explain.
Saying "some kinds of lies are actually okay" is bragging: "I am good at navigating social bullshit, so the presence of the white lies is a net benefit for me." -- Yeah, good for you. Might not work for me. I might hurt myself by trying to costly signal something I am not yet able to pay the cost of.
Claiming to have a common skill is hardly bragging unless you expect your audience to lack said skill. For me it's more like "I don't like the presence of most white lies, but I have far more important goals than this preference that require interacting with all kinds of people, so I'll suck it up." People who have the luxury of demotivating themselves by calling normal social interaction bullshit probably have pretty asocial jobs.
Oh, so not only you have the skill, all your friends have it too. How amazing! (Sorry for the agressive tone, but this is approximately how it translates to me.) I don't want to point fingers at anyone, but the mere fact that the topic of "white lies" created a debate in this community suggests that some members consider the costs non-negligible. Yep, I find work with computers much less frustrating than work with humans. (But I also find some kinds of humans much less frustrating than others. So I might enjoy working with the filtered subset, or having a possibility to filter out the most frustrating clients.) The meaning of "normal social interaction" depends on the kind of people you interact with. What's normal in one group may be weird in another. Sure, some things also correlate between the groups, and it's a good idea to improve in those. And the cost of having the interaction is often worth paying. Still, the cost is there, and if it's far from zero (for me, it is), it has to be included in the calculation.
"Sorry, but" doesn't fix open hostility. I'll rather attribute this hostility to the circumstances than to you however. For some reason this discussion prompts as horrible interpretations of people as possible when there clearly are other interpretations available. I'm out.

I worry this post will be dismissed as trivial. I simultaneously worry that, even with the above disclaimer, someone is going to respond, "Chris admits to thinking lying is often okay, now we can't trust anything he says!"

If you extract the hyperbole this is an entirely valid reasoning. An observed pattern of lies (or an outright declaration of such a pattern) does mean that people should trust everything you say somewhat less than they otherwise would. Reputation matters. Expecting people to trust your word as much when you lie to them as wh