Unique encounters, and mendacity

I treasure encountering new people.

It’s a strange thing, I like feeling like I am discovering a new world, and when conversing with a stranger, I get this feeling. Every encounter with a new person, if we are receptive, can be as superficial or deep as we make it. For example, I met a delightful lady in her late 80s the other day, at a bookstore cafe.

So there I was, on Sunday afternoon sitting at the bar in Joseph Beth’s cafe, buried in my laptop and a couple of books I bought (William Gibson’s Spook Country, and a dystopian tale called the Second After).

Out of boredom I decide to chat up the barista, but our conversation is somewhat flat. Superficial.
At some point an older lady, with a delightfully frumpy looking hat, a few seats down, comments on something I said. So I turn and we find ourselves in a very deep two hour long conversation, first on the art of cooking, and then books, and then on to other things. Her home town in Pennsylvania, the decay of industry, our observations about younger generations and older generations.

The randomness of our connecting was part of the delight. Here we were, separated by 3 generations, and able to find a meaningful connection and relate to each other. To talk about apples in fields, solar power (she worked in the field of alternative energy decades ago), about cooking, how so few young people take the time out to ask questions about cooking, about the utter importance of the nuances, in marinating, in how you use fruit juice to baste fish or meat, I shared my chai recipe, she shared other matters. We discussed the economy, and change itself.

When we encounter a new person we can, if we choose, explore an entire world which is their experience, as they express it. Honesty, or being able to risk opening ourselves up, entails some vulnerability.

It is a sign of intelligence.

Mendacity, on the other hand, is often a sign of stupidity. Not always, but often. Usually a sort of subtle stupidity masked by cleverness.

Why? It shows a deficiency in the intellect. I will explain this shortly.

This manifests when you are dishonest in trying to get something from someone in a way that causes them to lack, this colors their experiences of the world, and in subtle ways conditions their future lives. This is to be noted, in particular, in friendships and romantic relationships.

In the long term this can cause a sort of feedback that adversely affects you and them.

Now, if lack empathy then the suffering, however small, of someone else is not likely to be of concern. However realizing that your causing suffering to someone else might be a cause of longer term effects that may return to affect you, this is a mark of intelligence and foresight.

Mendacity is often stupid because what it achieves, tactically, in the short term is nothing compared to what could be achieved strategically in the long term by other courses.

It is true that dishonestly may have long term advantages, and may even prevent greater harm. Therefore these matters need to be considered, “what will be the effects of this action, this word?”

I think it was Sidi Ahmed al-Zayruq, one of the sufi sages of Morocco, who said that a sign of a man’s intellect is that he weighs what he says always, before speaking. And that there is on men an obligation to obtain knowledge of the affairs before speaking and action.

Awareness, of yourself, and of others, is necessary if you want to act in a way that brings as much benefit as possible and avoids loss. Good is what benefits, evil is what harms, there is no moral weight to good or evil, rather both are practical and existential matters. Mendacity is frequently evil because it causes harm, and the harm it causes in breaching trust can have ramifications beyond one’s immediate realization.


8 Comment

  1. I’ve been trying to explain this concept to people for entirely too long. Strangers are amazing worlds to explore, to learn from. I think I may have actually said, word for word, some of the sentences you’ve written in here… which is kinda odd.

    But, really, Gibson? GYAH.

    As a side note, even though this is the tackiest of tacky, I saw that you like the occasional unusual tattoo and I just posted my celebratory one-year anniversary tattoo history+picture post. You might like the design. Might not. But there you go.

  2. I think often that people are afraid to open up to a stranger, it’s like we carry armor around us constantly. The tragic thing is that as often as people want to be untouched by the worlds of others, they so long for others to open up their own worlds.

    Curiosity and intelligence are linked, and may be the same thing, I think. If we are curious, and have the courage to open ourselves to another’s world, and curious enough to try to pry open their world, sometimes what we find may surprise us. Make our day, perhaps make their day too.

  3. As for Gibson, many people regard him as a hack sci fi writer.. but there’s more to him.
    The guy has a way of description. Of fleshing out worlds and details in the lives of ordinary people, and showing the extraordinary in their worlds. And he has a way of showing how the human lives on beneath the weight of a disquieting technological menace.

    Gibson’s the type of stuff I read in the bathroom. Perhaps I’m weird, but I like the stuff.

  4. […] Kamal S. – “Unique Encounters, and Mendacity” […]

  5. The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.
    Blaise Pascal

  6. What I have against Gibson is his accessibility. It’s almost rude to the reader to do what he does when he writes. But then, I’ve been reading Blake, and he’s even worse… but still enjoyable.

    I like learning from people. “You never know what it is that you don’t know” is a phrase I try to live by. People are easy to get to open up, if you catch them from the right angle. Learning things about each other, expanding world view… you’ve accomplished something that day.

  7. “Golly gee wiz, kinda snobby maybe?”

    Seriously, something can be said for both accessibility and non accessibility.

    I see what you mean though.

    Gibson is not high literary art. But he does have a gift of descriptive story telling that I find enjoyable. Gibson is like an accessible Philip K. Dick, he’s not without his virtues.

    Gibson’s not fluff, but he’s not Dostovesky either. He has a gift for showing ordinary people in extra ordinary situations against a backdrop of technological coercion, which appeals to the techie-cyberpunk bone in me..

    An analogy: sometimes I like Washington journal, sometimes I like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, sometimes I despise TV, period. There’s a time for something serious, a time for fluff.

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