Whoever initiated the contract probably did what (s)he was told to get best practice thinking on “on ‘IT cost optimization.’ That report included supporting documents on IT contractors, domain utilization, printer consolidation, software asset management and suggestions for reducing costs in each area.”
Whoever authorized the contract apparently had no idea that at the very least this could get politicized and spin was going to be put to the underlying situation into the position of being ridiculed. Irrespective of its other merits.
ethics, societyComments Off on “Everybody Lies” — But normalizing it is wrong
Politicians lie. Trump lies. Criminals lie. But now I’m repeating myself. The point is that lying is human and it wouldn’t be central to every single ethos since the species became social if it weren’t. The quotation, however, come out of the mouth of fictional doctor Gregory House—itself… a lie, of a sort.
Oh the Lies, they are a changin’
Maybe it’s the excess or, if not excess certainly exuberance of the the lying going on in the first quarter of the 21st-century. Maybe the sheer volume and velocity of lying going on; maybe it’s the shamelessness and hypocrisy. Something has, however, triggered attention to be especially intensely directed toward lying. Even if the lying is banal or not even there, we see it. Some of us are creating conspiracies out of phantom lying. (Or maybe it’s real lying but merely pales by comparison to what we see every single day from those in positions of trust. There’s usually a pretty reasonable core to every conspiracy theory. )
But let’s get back to lying. There can be no doubt that it is capturing our attention. Media “Pinocchios” and flagrant political/corporate liars abound. Whether that is representative of anything more than that class of people (and by class I do not mean socio-economic, only “cluster”) is unclear. Though there is certainly a lot of evidence in “exaggerated” social media posts to suggest that the problem is wider spread.
I will concede that it is entirely possible there may not be a widespread lying problem. It could be that the big lies (not just The Big Lie) are overrepresented and the vast majority do not actively create, generate, and propagate their own lies over and above what has been typical and normal through human history. In conceding this though, there is no accounting at all for the obvious gullibility and rampant willingness for people to believe the lies they are told and repeat them.
I’m sure it’s splitting hairs to prosecute them as liars and conveniently unnecessary since they are fools and maybe idiots anyway. And, in point of fact, could be liars in their own right in a much smaller arena that doesn’t grab wide attention—probably because they’re not placed appropriately for it to be seen. (I’m still going with fools and idiots. I’m a believer in Occam’s Razor.)
There are a lot of cognitive biases in play for anybody (and by “anybody”, I mean practically “everybody”) focusing on how much lying is going on. Despite the fact that it may have always been that way, we may be noticing it as a result of thinking errors like:
Confirmation bias — we see what we want to see and what supports our conclusion. More people are lying, we believe, so we notice more lying.
Base Rate fallacy — Essentially thinking the specific is the norm. We have noticed a lot of lying going on, so we jump to the conclusion that this is the broad norm: everyone is lying a lot and egregiously.
Illicit Transference — Applying the specific to the general and vice versa. Together with our base rate misunderstanding, we attribute specific (Ted Cruz) to the norm.
Frequency illusion — Once you notice something, it’s everywhere. The volume and voracity of lying from some parts is front of mind, so now we see it in everyone.
So, there are reasons in our heads. BUT, it’s not all in our heads.
Everybody lies. I lie.
Sometimes its banal, like when I say, “Doing great,” in response to the obligatory, “How’re you doing?” greeting instead of getting into my prevailing concerns or woes. Sometimes it’s significant but I weigh the lie as better than the alternative. There is absolutely no win in telling your spouse, “No, I think those pants make your ass look extra wide.” Nor is there any real point in pointing out to your child that his rendering of his recital piece made dogs howl. Just say it’s great, go for ice cream, and move on.
Some lies are obviously wrong in every respect, not least in law. Fibbing during sworn testimony is plain wrong. It is unredeemable lying. And could land you in jail. Even if you get away with it in the moment, the truth will out eventually. For those who are religious, I’ll point out that lying to God or God’s representative on earth is also a very strict no-no.
Between these extremes are shades of gray(son). It is here that theologians, philosophers, ethicists, lawyers, and so many others can wile away their days. And to what end? It is extremely unlikely that a definitive rule can or will be set. If for no other reason than the lying is contextual and other values come into play. It is almost certain that any choice on lying will end up bumping into and having a significant impact on some other (possibly moral) matter. (Is a “negligable”—in the sense of nobody being materially harmed—lie, in the service of a greater good, righteous?) This warrants a separate thought; let’s explore righteous lies just a bit.
By the transparency zeitgeist motivations and demands for personal freedom and uninhibited knowledge of everything, a national leader that makes a decision to keep something secret is hunted down politically at least and pilloried. After all (s)he knew and kept it from us, and lied about knowing it, and well, we really wanted to know because, we have freedom and agency and the right to know and… You get the idea.
If that secret saved thousands of lives, kept the economy stable, and let the country or the world get about its business was it worth it? Just because a relatively few wanted to know and felt that they should be part of the “need to know” crowd, but the vast majority didn’t need to know, wouldn’t know what to do when they found out, and knowing or not knowing made no difference to them anyway, does that make radical transparency alright? Does it make the lie less righteous?
This is territory that the vast majority of the population is ill equipped to trek. What the vast majority ought to be interested in is whether lies affect them (negatively) and what that does to their level of trust in the teller of those lies.
The real concern ought not to be on whether somebody is lying any more than on whether (s)he is speaking English, French, or Mandarin. It is something to be accepted, embraced, understood, and evaluated. That allows attention to be put on the purpose. What is the purpose and the outcome? Is the lie told to take unfair advantage? Is it to save another’s feelings? Is it for the benefit of the teller or someone else? Does it break the law? Does it do harm? If you swing that way, does it break a Covenant with your Lord?
We’re too focused on the lying and paying insufficient attention to the reasons and outcome.
None of which is to let the big orange Pinocchio off the hook for his LIFETIME of lying. It is to say that after so many years, we know it’s a lie. We (and by “we” I mean those who are followers) need to look at the end for which lying was the means. In his personal life, in his business life, in his sporting life, in his political life. In all these ways and for all these purposes the lying was for self-dealing and illegal, unfair advantage.
Enough said. Everybody lies. (Some more than others.)
For more thoughts and ideas check both other posts and my oeuvre.
Radical transparency is in demand; that much is obvious. Anti-vaxxers and the “Fredum” thugs, anti-business anti-government anti-[insert what bugs you here] and conspiracy theorists all demand greater transparency just in case (or because) somebody’s trying to pull one over on us.
Of course, none of them actually believes the information provided. So there’s that.
Transparency is the new black
I got to thinking about this again seeing Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene reveal classified information during a public committee meeting. Her unabashed reasoning was that she thought Americans should know [operational boarder information]… On another front, I’ve been seeing a lot of Sarah Kendzior’s book, They Knew (mostly as she promotes it). I believe—as I haven’t read the book—her theme is: you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you, and I have the receipts. By her reckoning, there are provable (government) conspiracies in the USA with different, complicit participants in each instance. The conclusion is apparently that (a) “they” knew a tragedy was coming and (b) it was largely to “their” gain and at “your” cost.
I’m not a fan of either. It goes without saying there will always be groups with privileged information they keep to themselves. In business, it’s called “trade secrets.” Investors hoard and use information for trading advantage and profit. In affairs of state there are countless reasons for keeping things opaque, shall we say. Military and defense activities among an alliance, such as NATO, is a good example. Justice is another.
There are good reasons for this behaviour, which is perfectly reasonable and normal. Besides, information typically requires context to be meaningful and tracts of it requires skills, training, and comprehension that eludes most of those “doing their own research.”
(Valuable) Information can resemble a Rorschach blot: (a) sure to be misunderstood; (b) revealing more about its analyst than the underlying subject; and (c) raw material to manufacture disinformation—rarely for a good purpose.
Secrecy, Conspiracy, Collusion…
Information itself and conspiring to hold it from others is not in and of itself untoward. It can be sane and sensible. We can’t all be polymaths and expert at every esoteric area of expertise. (Except, of course, Elon Musk and Donald Trump.) We don’t all have a direct say in how the government operates. We get our say periodically to elect representatives to represent us. We certainly get no say in the human resources and processes by which modern states operate any more than one-share stockholders can demand a say in corporate structure and operations. It has never happened before; it will not happen now, and; it will not happen in the future.
The division of labour, a foundational Capitalist principle, compels us for efficiency and effectiveness to leave tasks and the necessary carrying out of those tasks, including choices about information (disclosure), to nominated or designated people.
This bedrock principle upon which the Western, democratic world (and arguably every other part of the world) bases itself and its affairs is dependent on one of two things. In North America anyway, these are rapidly changing.
The first is trust the second is fear. Fear, in this context, is much to fraught to tackle here, so let’s focus on trust. In a social context this is trust in institutions and the people that populate, particularly lead them. Social trust is in tatters on its way to being shredded.
For some justifiable reasons, the populous has lost trust in the institutions of government and the representative politicians (of the other tribe). In the USA, the political tribes have fully separated and certainly the Republican party has done everything it can to actively drive mistrust of not only Democrats but government in general.
Side note: Probably because it spends much more and has accumulated better PR, “business” luxuriates in higher levels of social trust. This is bizarre when a substantive record of how and why trusting “business” has failed the masses. But, whatever.
Absent trust, credibility is an early relationship casualty so every institutional error is perceived as having ulterior motive. That leads to genuine withholding of information for good reasons. Thus the doom cycle commences and continues.
Sometimes it behooves leaders of all sorts—business, government, families—to withhold information for the broadest benefit of the whole. Using a tired philosophical saw, yelling “fire” in a crowded auditorium results in pandemonium. People—in herds—responding to information they may not understand or have the tools to effectively address, are known to panic… regularly. The crowd will stampede and many will not make it out.
(This used to be axiomatic: given today’s level of “doing my own research” rejection of authority, who knows how many would rampage—perhaps for altogether different reasons—anticipating more palatable facts to surface.) A leader may not mention the fire, using a ruse or some other oblique rationale for orderly withdrawal. More people are unharmed. Is that so bad?
Transparency on what’s more cancerous than benign: Corruption
One of those justifiable reasons for trust diminishing I mentioned earlier is the overwhelming evidence of corruption and (their tribe’s, of course) self-dealing. Withholding information, even as a syndicate, should be expected. What may also be expected but is definitely beyond the pale is self-dealing, benefitting unjustly, and harming others—those others who have given their faith to the “good faith” of those empowered. (Let’s also not restrict ourselves to politicians and governments; this applies to businesses and other organizations be they charities or labour unions or…)
We have stumbled into the area of corruption, not conspiracy or secrecy or withholding information. The legal phrasing generally contains, “…conspiracy to….” The word “to”—not “conspiracy”—is the operative one here. The conspiracy part merely refers to a group; “to” leads to a crime.
The issue is not conspiring or colluding or anything else until they become instrumental to implementing and executing a crime. At this point the rabble rousing and transparency demanding has a crisis: the choice forces many to create the artifice of crime out of whole cloth.
When bankers, oil & gassers, other industrialists and oligopolists collude to maximize movement of wealth from the masses to the few, that warrants uprising. When chemical companies conspire to influence regulation or cover-up lethal toxic impacts of their making to avoid culpability, that might warrant pitchforks. When the government and the political leaders (of their tribe) self-deal by pocketing hundreds of thousands or billions of dollars by virtue of their privilege, that warrants blowback.
Competent, employed professionals entrusted with a particular division of labour, making good-faith decisions for the greatest good based on imperfect and shifting information, probably is not. Certainly anyone or any organization holding operational information without a criminal intent has no obligation to disclose all of it just because “one shareholder” wants to see it. Even government bodies.
If there is a crime at hand, pursue the crime. Prove it. There are rules for information disclosure with provable probability of crime. (Caveat: Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s a crime. Corrollary: Just because you do like something doesn’t mean it it isn’t a crime. You know who I’m talking about.)
Incidentally, Sarah, none of this suggests or recommends NOT being vigilant about potential crimes—especially coups d’état, which are inarguably social harms… and crime. But yeah, “they” probably or maybe definitely knew! They’re there and you’re not. And Marjorie: some things don’t need to be radically transparent just because you—loosely said—think so.
My firm, Institute X, responded and provided a paper to the Canadian Government’s Consultation on Cyber Security. It’s a considered white paper that assumes government should do what it’s supposed to do (public safety and security; and support Canadian industry). We suggest that an “unreasonably” high standard for cyber security and directed support toward the Canadian cyber security industry (e.g., national security-protected procurement) will benefit Canada on multiple fronts.
UncategorizedComments Off on The unbearable lightness of being… Snowden
I read the news today (well, on the weekend, actually), oh boy. It seems that the Internet is coming under attack in the East. It made me wonder about the poster child for Internet utopianism: Mr. Snowden, in his lavish or maybe squalid Moscow apartment.
China has, of course, been a strong “administrator” of Chinese Internet for a long time now. Everyone there and here expects the regime to nose in on and strong arm service providers, search engines, portals, and users in their age-old quest to control everything about that society. But we all had such high hopes for Russia after the fall of the Wall in ’89. Democracy and capitalism would roll through the former Soviet Union like Siberia-bound train. It seemed to start pretty well, and then members of the billionaire oligarchy ended up in jail, their assets nationalized. Punk rock girls went to jail. People disappeared. The president, despite following constitutional rules slowly and steadily became an imperial government of one. Flash forward and the old bear is annexing Ukrainian sovereign territory and fomenting insurrection with some soldiers that they lent to (or “allowed” to go fight with) rebels in eastern Ukraine.
During this period, as everyone knows, Edward Velcro-hands absconded with classified secrets of the US and other governments, secured while he was a trusted contractor to the National Security Agency. Instantaneously, in the heady days of Wikileaks and Julian Assange’s 15-minutes of fame, Snowden became a hero to patriotic freedom lovers the world over, not least within the civil rights and other such communities in the US. So roundly loved and lauded was he, that he immediately fled the country first for Hong Kong and then for the loving embrace of Mother Russia. This, of course, so that he would not be tried as a thief and traitor.
The secrets about “Five Eyes” and US/other government surveillance of its own citizens showed clearly that the Western governments about whom he had discomforting information to reveal were not doing very good things–to their own citizens. To make a long story short, the whole episode and Snowden himself always speaking from Russia via video catalyzed and crystalized popular awareness of the dangers of the Internet. That is, it revealed that the Internet is not a utopian garden where there is peace, love, and understanding (except for the Nigerian scammers…), somehow removed from the rest of the world. It also showed that governments were bringing the rest of the world–all that bad stuff–to this electronic Eden.
What was revealed but did not obviously trouble those who were troubled by the trouble that Snowden found himself in was, in fact, that the world is a nasty place. The kind of ugliness that we see on television drama and in movies actually happens someplace in the murkiness of the shadows and behind closed doors. Moreover, it happens because while civil rights and protection from government encroachment on one’s privacy, to pick a popular theme in this situation, is important, national security might trump it. That is, its a judgment call: your privacy or your safety? It is arguable that we elect our governments to fall on the side of our safety when things get rough. But that is not the point here.
What Western governments were exposed as doing was in and of itself bad. But what Snowden exposed was tactical information that eliminated any kind of advantage in a bigger forum–like international affairs. In any case, the point is that although he is a wanted man, he is alive. He propagated navel gazing and pontificating about these subjects to the point that one has to wonder whether the safety issue has been sufficiently, artificially, and probably disastrously poisoned. But that’s enough back story and evangelizing.
Why I thought about Snowden this weekend is because of the laws that Tsar Putin is intending to have enacted. Specifically, Putin intends to extend the state’s right to control the Internet in Russia. The details can be found elsewhere, but the broad strokes are that any individual with a blog read by more than 2000 people will be considered a media outlet and subject to the laws governing media organizations. Portals, search engines, and other service providers online must operate specifically off of servers located in Russia which would be firewalled at the Russian border AND fully subject to the state having unfettered access to all logs and records. There’s more.
About Edward Zhivago, I wonder if he’s at all disheartened by this turn of events? It’s not like he can complain much about it. Perhaps he’s morally OK with the situation because the Russian snooping and surveillance would follow the rule of law, such as it is? Let’s admire the fact that Putin has no intent of spying on his people from the shadows: he’s fully up front about it. In any case, I prophesy that if he is as smart as alleged, he won’t be making any video appearances at SXSW castigating this unfortunately imposition on the privacy, rights, and freedoms of Russian Internet users. Or, if we do, it will only happen once.
I use “f-words” in mixed company. Well-bred professional, management, and executive types recoil in disgust. One might think that they would be inured to f-words. But they seem to hold themselves above all that.
Of course, the most troubling f-word is not the one on the tip of your tongue now. This one sounds “eff” but starts “ph.” Try saying philosophy in the company of busy career people; just be prepared for rolled eyes and that piteous expression that says you just don’t get it.
Those blank faces better “get it” soon themselves. Our privacy and maybe even democracy could depend on it. After all, not every tectonic shift is as blatant as the revelations of Edward Snowdon or as arrogantly, publicly contemptuous as the Fair Elections Act. Pay attention to the every day stuff!
Today’s transactional immediacy of business and government work is not an historical novelty. There was no time when these practical people were more inclined to think deeply about what they were doing. What may be different now is the measure of disdain for anyone who challenges business or government plans and actions more deeply than what the pervasive “value proposition” pap answers.
If we refrain from contemplations of epistemology and such, and stick to ethics and the sunnier(!) side of existential questions, philosophy is about purpose. That has to be clarifying for professionals, and is about as close as most organizations get to schwerpunkt (a typically consonant-ridden German word that means concentration point or main effort).
When I say philosophy in this company, I often mean, “What do you believe?” Not as in, “We believe the world wants a device that will allow them to…” That’s actually, “We think…” Rather, as in, “We believe that people need to remain connected to other people; we believe our purpose is to provide devices that…” Despite reading and abiding by directives such as Start With Why (Sinek, 2011), this kind of descent to expose the core assumptions of “Why” is one nobody really wants to take.
So why is that kind of philosophical pondering held in such disregard?
First, it’s hard. It requires rigorous thought, due consideration, and alternative points of view. None of which is acceptable in an environment of HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) rules or unconsidered braying of partisan vitriol.
Second, it’s still hard. It demands a sense of right and wrong. That then presumes you might stand for something, ideally something that can be argued rationally from some principles. Rampant specialization and narrow awareness does not lend itself to this capacity.
Third, it’s unnecessary. After all, whether its Mill, Burke, Rousseau, or Jefferson, there are philosophies a plenty to choose from and no need to waste time on such things now.
Fourth, well… it’s hard. Given the preference for action—any action!—to indicate ability, quality, and value, taking time to muse over that action gets indicted as regressive to say the least.
It’s true that some fundamental underpinnings of philosophy are timeless—give or take a millennium, otherwise we wouldn’t still look to Plato. But other philosophy is more set in a time and place—give or take a millennium or continent, so it needs to be refreshed from time to time.
Given the rate society is evolving in technology’s wake, we need to take a little time to continually consider whether our core values remain operative in practice. At the very least, we should give a modicum of respect and an ear to those who do it professionally, casually, or within the confines of their daily toil.
The problem with not thinking about these things and, worse, discouraging those who will, is that these things are affected by rapid innovation and change anyway.
The seemingly outrageous privacy invasions by governments is not the product of a sea change in method. It was a steady dripping of unconsidered change that allowed the method to metastasize into what it’s become: something odious. And, it all took root in so many innocuous “consumer benefits.”
The outrageous bill that is to be the Unfair Elections Act (2014) is only possible because over time we have largely become so blasé about hyper-partisan drivel and the corruption of governance by politics that many people see nothing especially egregious about the bill’s content. And so it now threatens a foundation of our society. That represents six years’ effort on the part of Canada’s New Government.
So let’s all throw around the f-word until it’s so common that everyone does it. We’ll all be better for it.
That challenges the entire notion of Twitter, a question or dark secret that ought to come out into the open: Twitter has been co-opted by the corporatists (as is everything eventually). All you Libertarian technologists take note.
In any case, isn’t this situation (i.e., a federal government minister, elected in a riding in the nation’s capital, who ought to be communicating with constituents in both official languages as appropriate for this circumstance) something that “the market” should address. And here, of course, “the market” is the electorate which can determine whether he is offside or not. Do we really need a public office to tilt at this windmill?