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Everybody Lies

    First, let me say I'm aware that I make things up for a living, so writing about lying is a little hypocritical. But I don't pretend that what I say is real, and that's the difference. Everyone in our society is bombarded with lies all day, every day. We're used to it. Sometimes we even enjoy it. When analysts dig into why people believe lies, they find all sorts of explanations. Confirmation bias means we like things that reinforce what we already believe, so we accept lies that help with that. Many like leaders or organizations that tell them what to think, so they don't have to reason things out for themselves. If that leader lies, at least he's tough. If the organization runs to propaganda, at least it's working for "our" benefit. Another big reason we believe lies is fear . If we don't think we can cope with X, we like it when someone promises that X won't happen, even if we know in our hearts that it isn't true. Conversely,

I Too Lie for a Living

    Novelists are liars. As one of my contemporaries likes to say, "We make shit up." The bad part of lying is why you do it. For writers, it's about entertaining readers. Fiction in a story is harmless in most cases, though I get frustrated with historical novelists who twist facts to suit their story. They don't care if readers (who aren't generally historical experts) conclude that so-and-so wasn't really the villain the history books portray but was actually kind of a pussycat.  Outside of books, lies take on a more treacherous role. We grew up bombarded daily with commercial advertising, and while some of us learned to think through the hype, others buy products they have no need for because they succumb to the tricks liars play. When I taught high school, I asked students to dissect ads looking for two things: what the specific goal is and how the ad makes its appeal. Often advertisers trigger a person's insecurities so they'll buy a product. (Be

It's Not What You Think, It's How You Present It

I was a debater back in the day. Our high school team was very successful, thanks in large part to a coach who knew argumentation and demanded we learn to do it correctly. I went on to college debate and more coaches who taught me how logical argument must go. In its most basic form a point of debate should: 1. State your position clearly 2. Explain your position 3. Support your position with evidence 4. Restate your position in a brief, easily remembered form That's why Facebook makes me crazy. Today's social media allows for arguments so weak they'd be laughable if our society weren't in peril because of them. These arguments are tossed into the public forum from the highest levels of our government down to the lowest levels of education, people who can't even spell the word argue . Not only are pathetically weak arguments presented, but when someone responds, that weak argument usually descends into name calling and insults. Here are a few examples o

An Argument for Better Arguing

"But can't you see how wrong you are?" Centuries ago, when I was in high school, I took up argumentation. I joined the debate team because my sister had done well there, and because the coach cornered me in the hallway and asked me to. I loved it. Research, constructing cases, looking for weaknesses in the arguments of others, and organizing information so I could get at it easily. It might not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly mine. I ended up ranked in the state and got a scholarship to college. Debating in college was even more fun. The competition was tough, but we traveled to places I'd only read about and formed a close-knit group that loved to--you guessed it--argue. Play with language. One-up each other. Argue some more. Debate is formal argument , and it doesn't bear much resemblance to the real-life version. One can try tossing out lies and false evidence, but the other team is likely to call her on it. [Great example: we

You Know What They Say about Opinions

Here's the G-rated version: "Opinions are like noses. Everybody has one." America is a country that has long valued the right of each individual to have an opinion, and that's good. The problem comes when opinions are all a person has. Here's my take on the subject. *A person's opinions should be based on evidence, and that evidence must be real. It's difficult--sometimes really difficult--to look at the evidence, read or listen across a range of information, and make a conscious decision as to what you think about a subject. It's often easier to take the word of someone you think is smart or knowledgeable or well-read on the topic. The problem is that his/her opinion might be just as misinformed or slanted as anyone else's. If all it took to be right is brains or education, there wouldn't be so much disagreement in the highest levels of government. As a debater in high school and college, I learned that it's essential to look at both sid