honesty of a different nature

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I've found myself drawn inexorably into the discussion on and around Jonathon Delacour's blog on the topic of weblogs and "truth." The thread started with Jonathon's post "Alibis and consistent lies," and travelled from blog to blog to blog. Jonathon ties the threads together nicely in his follow-up entries, particularly today's "Art's emotional charge" (in which he "outs" my lengthy comment to a previous post). He caps it off with the artful "Ceci n'est pas une blogue."

Then today, Jill Walker wrote about a novel she'd just read:
Yes, it can be read as a very thinly disguised account of the author's relationship to the professor, but its factual accuracy (or lack of such) is irrelevant because the honesty here is of an altogether different nature. It is in the emotions portrayed: merciless love that shoves aside all normality, all sense, all expectations as to how we (women? mothers? people?) are supposed to behave. The extremity of it is terrifying and recognisable. I see it in myself and in my friends (calm, married women turn thirty and explode), though we pull back before we lose ourselves, only glimpsing the destructive potential of such obsession. The debate about this book has been symmetrically opposite to some of the recent complaints about truthfulness and blogs. The novel that is too close to reality is ridiculed and condemned. The blogger, on the other hand, is expected to adhere strictly to what actually happened.

I'm envious of the neatness with which she sums up what I more clumsily tried to say in my comment on Jonathon's blog: "[I]ts factual accuracy (or lack of such) is irrelevant because the honesty here is of an altogether different nature." Yes!

And like Jill, I have to wonder why it is that so many are so eager to hold blogging to a vastly different (and oh-so-literal) standard of honesty.

Where, really, do we begin to draw the line about what is honest and what is not? Is it a matter of degree? (For example, if I write that Gerald called here at 1:30pm, when in fact I know it was probably more like 1:25pm, is that dishonest?) Do lies of omission count? (For example, if one "blogging pioneer" fails to tell the world that she's started a relationship with another "blogging pioneer," is that dishonest?)

My husband has a long history of creating multiple personas in virtual communities (mailing lists, generally), specifically for the purpose of engaging himself in (often heated) debate over topics he feels are important. When we first "met" online, he was being attacked by a number of participants on a FidoNet echo for this practice (he wasn't "caught"--he simply asked the group what they'd think if he'd been doing it) because of its dishonesty. At the time, I was surprised by the uproar--it really hadn't occurred to me to take people's online personas as absolute representations of their real-world selves.

There was a time in my life when I had a friend whom I trusted completely. But I didn't believe everything he told me. I always sensed that the factual details of the things he was telling me were "off"--that he wasn't exactly what he presented himself to be. But I still would have trusted him with my life. I didn't need to know the "truth" about the details of his life to know the "truth" about the depth of his friendship and commitment.

Similarly, I don't need to know the "truth" about Ikuko to know the "truth" about Jonathon.

3 TrackBacks

Liz has a nice followup to my post about kinds of honesty in which she neatly collects links to the discussion - I've been shockingly lax about that, I just read things and was appalled and didn't actually link to... Read More

Truth in blogging from Timbu :: Musings on April 21, 2003 12:04 PM

Lately, I have been interested in the subject of the ethics of blogging specifically whether it is ethical to edit material after submission, how self revealing one must be, whether it is ethical to have an online persona, etc.. The Read More

AnonyMice? from Invisible Adjunct on April 21, 2003 11:13 PM

Via Matthew Yglesias (who now has comments, along with a new photo), Amitai Etzioni decrees that "anonymity is anti-Communitarian." Anonymity, Etzioni writes, "makes for much poorer conversations, meager relationships and impoverished communities. Peop... Read More


...and perhaps there is no truth about Ikuko or Jonathon worth knowing, but in the art and in the quality of the craftsmanship another truth is found: a truth about our world or a truth about oneself.

(Again sorry for how long this is. I'm too tired to edit for length.)

There's a truth to be known about Jonathon, and in fact many.

One thing common to all people is that self-deception is intimately related to other-than-self-deception.

There is a continuum of "lies", from honest mistakes, to gaming, to huge whopping-arse BS stories. We all do all of these to varying degrees.

I didn't read Jill's blog entry, but I do know that there is NOT an "emotional Truth" that is separate from other forms of Truth. Blogging, as a genre, is purported to be about self-revelation and self-discovery and self-disclosure and all that mumbo-jumbo... Never WAS all that, really, but that's what has been offered as the "uniqueness" of this form of writing SO many times.

Regarding another "Ceci n'est pas un blog" http://www.cloggie.org/wissewords/ it was pointed out over at Shell's place that just the mere choice of topics reveals a lot. Perhaps more than young Martin intended, like the tagline "This is not a weblog. Nu-uh. This is just a place for me to jot down some random thoughts and reactions to the news so I don't have to yell at the television or radio, or mutter to myself whilst reading the news." But it seems obvious? that it takes a pretty fancy piece of mental-footwork to say that what is obviously a blog is not-a-blog, just by declaring it so.

And now, under the guise of literature, it's supposedly okay to tell total BS and make it appear to be auto-biography...? Different story, when the hyperbole is so exaggerated (like THT), that there isn't a WHOLE lotta question that there's gonna be a wild mixture of fact and fiction.

Presenting fiction as fact IS dishonest, no matter how You try to justify it.

In Your examples above, Liz, 5 minutes doesn't matter. It's not a *material* discrepancy. With regard to Gerald, I hate to say... But I've said before that NO WRITING even CAN be an absolute representation of a person, so I agree with that part. That does NOT mean I believe Gerald is GENERALLY dishonest, but that people have different tolerances for HOW MUCH, and in WHAT DIRECTION, and in WHAT AREAS it's okay to "stretch the truth". I dunno You very well Liz, but I sense that if Gerald stretched the truth much in the area of sexual fidelity You'd be pretty vehement about that. (Know some people that this wouldn't even BOTHER them a bit, so mebbe this wouldn't bother You a-TALL.)

In Your example of lying by omission, it's quite a bit harder to tell. Hard to infer the reasons WHY it might be preferable to keep the matter private. Rather than view ANY of these things as a question of "good" and "evil", I tend to view these kinds-a things as being better-motivated and less-better-motivated.

If it's STRICTLY motivated by some fancy self-justification..

..Well, throughout history people have tended to view such as being hypocritical and an undesirable trait if consistently repeated... And yet We all self-justify our actions, either awarely and consciously or via the subliminal conscious...!!

But when it comes to relationships, these things being so uncertain and, unfortunately, so quickly-ended that I could understand the reticence to even /contemplate/ STARTING one, let alone /blogging/ about one in PUBLIC...!!!

There was one time when I didn't have such reticence, m'self, and it is perhaps merciful that the archives are not available...! Especially as I was in a platonic marriage at the time (and am legally separated, but technically still married at present). It was a horrifically gory soap-opera, complicated by a third party that had no personal knowledge of either one of Us, but an deep infatuation nonetheless.

There's such-a thing as being TOO honest, and mebbe I went too far (or not far enough) in this post. I made a strong effort not to lie but, at the same time, this ain't even CLOSE to the absolute Truth about me, 'cause there is no such animal to be found in any words, same as with any other person.

Hopefully this post is "close enuf fer gummint work", as they say...:-D

jt wrote:
[I didn�t read Jill�s blog entry, but I do know that there is NOT an �emotional Truth� that is separate from other forms of Truth.]
However, there is, IMHO, a difference between Intellectually Knowing something and Emotionally Knowing something. My friend and his wife Intellectually Knew there was a chance, as a Reservist, that he might be called up. He planned for it, collecting all of the necessary paperwork for her to be able to keep the house and bills going should he be deployed. Emotionally they were all but devistated when the call actually came through.

This dichotomy is common, I think, especially in some of the larger issues\changes in life. The impending death of a loved one can be intellectually understood as inevitable, but the actual event is still likely to be devistating. (Or, talk to any high school senior who has spent the last few years eagerly anticipating their graduation and is now looking down the barrel of the reality of it all.)

When you afix the word Truth to this I think it does change things. Truth is understood to be a Universal. There is no black and white to Truth. Truth is a binary operation, it's either there or it isn't. If it's shaded at all, it's no longer the Truth.

Sin of ommission, in my book, denotes a lack of Truth as well. I used to push this idea pretty hard when I was teaching elementary school kids about Media Literacy. I'd show them commercials and disect the ads with the kids. When I would point out the fact that some aspects of the commercial were either exaggerating the products or were leaving out some important facts about them the kids were generally pretty angry. (I'd say it's a given that such omissions are always [:motivated by some fancy self-justification..] I've found that if a kid thinks you're lying to them, it's usually a good gauge to go by.

jt wrote:
[it takes a pretty fancy piece of mental-footwork to say that what is obviously a blog is not-a-blog, just by declaring it so.]

When I began blogging it was unencombered by the Blogging Thought Police Process. I didn't know there were supposed Defined Practices for Blogging -- if there are any. (And, if so, IMHO, people are taking it WAY too seriously.)

I blog to write. That few, if any, people actually read it, who cares. I'm not writing for an audience. I'm writing, as a friend says, "To get it out me." The Stories I Tell are Truth as I see and remember them.

News articles are always referenced to the best of my abilities. I do this because of my own academic past (reference, reference, reference) and because I do want anyone who happens to read my blogs to be able to read and decide for themselves. Are all the articles Truth? I don't know. That, in part, is also why I reference.

When I was an elementary school librarian I started teaching kids about this new thing called the Internet and how to do research on it. Most of the kids were willing to be very trusting of the Internet, largely because it was New, Neat and a wealth of easy information. So, along with the standard "Whitehouse.gov", "Si.gov" (smithsonian) and "britannica.com" I would throw in a few pages on research on the Loch Ness Monster, Area 54 and something along the lines of a headline from The Weekly World News. In true Librarian form I wasn't trying to tell them Truth from Fiction but I was trying to tell them to Question Resources, Decide for Yourself and Cite your Resources.

Granted, my blog doesn't have an academic side to it. It's not being read by students or by colleagues to toss around ideas and, as a result, I think I'm freer to be far more politically charged. However, I still don't see why one's blogspace isn't anything other than what they want and create it to be and what they're comfortable with. Liz presents an interesting picture of her life, factoring in all sorts of aspects. That she reveals some things and not others is simply her decision. With the Voyeuristic aspects inherient in blogging and the variety of potential audiences who may be reading her blog I'm not surprised.

jt wrote:
[There�s such-a thing as being TOO honest]
I'm not sure about this at all. There may be comments that you surpress because you're honest response would only lead to greater and unnecessary stress and tension. Timing is, after all, an important part of any relationship.

In the case of feeling/being "too honest" I'd want to know the reasons for your "Truth"ful statements and the way in which those "Truth"s were delivered. Motivation and Delivery can be used to twist the Truth in other ways that benefit the Sender far more than the Receiver.

I'm with fivecats -- no need to impose yet more rules on what weblogging should or should not be. (And I've ranted about this before, and before, and before.. but I'm too lazy to go dig up the other links.)

All media should be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism. I think that discerning readers are generally able to figure out who has an authentic voice and who doesn't (of course there are always some who are pathological enough to pass). But, an authentic voice with an honest approach in a personal website doesn't have to equate to someone who's scrupulously honest about any declarative statement (e.g., "I had dinner at 8" as opposed to "7:45") or even about the broad parameters of a story ("I was walking down the street thinking.." vs. "I was standing in the shower thinking..." I mean.. who cares?)

At the bottom of my journal site (in which I tell stories and relate happenings about day-to-day life for friends and family -- a distinctly different kind of site from my weblog) I state:

"Disclaimer: Truthfulness: Well, what is truth after all? Sometimes I'll recreate conversations, and I might not get them verbatim. And I subscribe to Catherine's point of view: "What I say on Monday might not be true on Tuesday. That's the nature of being human. Please appreciate this." Opinions expressed herein are (often) mine and do not reflect the views of any organization of which I may be a part."

Occasionally, I enhance (for entertainment's sake) conversations between my husband and myself that I'm relaying. (He gets to read and comment on each journal entry before it goes up, for reasons that would be another post.) Even more frequently, I will deliberately obfuscate things in order to preserve my own or another person's privacy. So, I might say "had dinner with some friends the other night" instead of naming the specific night or location. I am very vague as to travel plans for safety reasons. I speak in only the vaguest generalities about work. I make choices about emphasis that do not accurately reflect the emphasis I place on things in 'real life' and so forth. I consider all of this writer's perogative and believe that biographers (and autobiographers) may do similar things. Weblogs and journals are not -necessarily- documentaries (and even documentaries have biases). As with just about anything of interest, things are a lot more complicated than the black/white, truth/lie brigade would have one believe.

A quick follow up:

The demons must have been swarming around me as I wrote the comments on wanting to know the motivations for being "too truthful". Last night our son decided to start his 17th Birthday Celebrations a few hours early by announcing that he was (and I quote) "The Only Beacon of Truth In This House!"

The Truths that followed were, of course, centered on him and the injustices that can only orbit around an angst-ridden teenager whose life is apparently lacking when compared with those around him. Lacking was any pretense of objectivity or other people's thoughts, feelings or experiences.

His motivations? Far from enlightenment.

His delivery? Let's just say even the five cats left the room to get away from the noise... :-)




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on April 20, 2003 8:27 PM.

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