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Mmmm, Pedantry

July 24th, 2009 · 8 Comments

Quick obnoxious quibble with this:

Before I put forth new thoughts, let me clarify that while I do think it is deceptive to clean an always messy living room before a first date — that it is “apt to give a false impression of reality” — I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing so, especially because by general consensus there is no expectation of transparency in that situation.

This just seems like it’s got to be a definitional error. At minimum, to call some behavior deceptive would seem to require either that (1) the person performing it intends that others be deceived, or (2) that the behavior either does or under ordinary circumstances would cause someone to form false beliefs. If, in fact, there’s a general consensus that people will typically tidy up before bringing a first date back—or before having guests over generally—then it seems wrong to expect anyone to form a false belief about the usual state of the apartment, and therefore wrong to ascribe to anyone who tidies up the intention of causing such false beliefs to form.

Tags: Language and Literature



8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Jul 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I can think of only one reason for this post. It’s Friday night and you don’t feel like straightening the apartment yet.

  • 2 sidereal // Jul 24, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I think you’re leaving out the fact that the human mind isn’t rational. It does, I submit, create a false inclination of belief in the visitor’s mind that the apartment ‘tends’ to be more clean that it really is, even if the visiting mind knows that people always clean up before guests, because the power of the direct sensory input to create an impression overrides rational caveats.

  • 3 Elizabeth // Jul 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Totally agree. “Deceptive” implies wrong. Similarly, he also mentioned make-up as deceptive, which is silly when we live in a culture in which most women wear make-up and most men know that they do.

  • 4 sidereal // Jul 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    It’s also interesting, I think, to distinguish what’s being communicated when one, say, wears makeup when going out with someone new vs going out with someone who’s seen one without makeup.

    I the first case, the makeup-wearer could (and probably intends to) create the impression that she has a certain level of beauty Y which does not obtain without makeup (I’m going to completely avoid any argument here about whether makeup actually makes one beautiful etc, etc. For the sake of the discussion, just assume it’s true and universal).

    If the impression created is ‘she has a degree of beauty Y when wearing makeup’, there’s no deception. If it’s ‘she has a degree of beauty Y (unqualified)’ then it is deceptive. And the degree of deception might vary depending on how often she wears makeup (this now relates more to the apartment cleaning analogy. If you clean it daily, it’s not deceptive to clean it. If never, it is). Who controls that distinction? The woman can rightly say ‘I never signaled that I have beauty X without makeup’, while the recipient might (relating to the rationality issue I referred to earlier) suggest that that impression was created anyway, and the makeup wearer both knew that and relied upon it.

    On the other hand, if you know someone well, then it’s impossible to imply that you have beauty level Y without makeup, because the other party already knows you without makeup. But that doesn’t necessarily dissuade use of makeup (when going out), because creating beauty level Y is enjoyable, even if both parties know it isn’t intrinsic.

  • 5 Julian Sanchez // Jul 24, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Not sure “deceptive” necessarily implies “wrong.” I can think of plenty of examples of deception most people regard as benign (“white lies”) and quite a few that essentially nobody does (surprise parties, bluffing in poker, red herrings in fiction, leading the murderer-at-the-door astray).

  • 6 Elizabeth // Jul 24, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Julian – you’re right. I was thinking not that the act of deceiving is always wrong, but that the word implied a wrong use of deceiving, but given your examples, I don’t think it doesn.I take back what I said about deceptive implies wrong.

    sidereal – does that mean if I always wear make-up, I’m being deceptive? Or if you haven’t seen me in make-up, then I’m being deceptive? Given that a wide majority of women wear make-up (and probably a wider majority of women on first dates wear it), a man should not assume that that’s what a woman also looks like when she first gets up in the morning.

    William Saletan mentioned in passing in an article about blond anchorwomen that they were being deceptive in dyeing hair. I think the same principle holds. ENough people do it so that one is always aware that a given hair color is not one’s natural color, so it’s not deceptive.

  • 7 Kevin // Jul 26, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    If I don’t do a little cleaning before a first date with someone I’m interested in, it might create the false impression that I’m not interested enough them to pick up the place to make them feel comfortable in my living room.

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