I’m starting to think honesty is overrated. Strike that -- I know it’s overrated. The right lie at the right time delivered in the right way can get you out of nearly any jam imaginable -- say, if Pammy calls you out of the blue, even as you were starting to forget the nightmares.
But call she did, and with that unique blend of guilt- and terror-inducing rhetoric that's haunted my dreams for decades, she hinted that she may be able to forgive my many and vaguely defined capital crimes. She then lightly suggested, pointedly prodded, outright ordered me to begin again the Wooing Process. I tried to lie my way out of it, but it came out sounding like Robert Durst on horse tranquilizers. If only I worked for the Chinese government.
See, the Chinese government knows how to lie. Our leaders and lackeys like to think they can lie, too, but the guys in Beijing got it down. I’m not talking about the dapper double talk or the glib fib; I’m talking Teflon-coated, bald-faced, sky-is-green-and-grass-is-blue confabulation -- like if I’d thought to tell Pammy I couldn’t take her to dinner because I’d accepted a job as a sous chef on a Finnish research submarine. Nobody does that better than a Chinese diplomat.
The test of truthiness
Not even Elon Musk, for example, widely acknowledged as one of the Western world’s top thinkers along with Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. You’d think a guy like that would know how to lie, but on the contrary:
Elon (working on his Magazine Cover Earnest Frown No. 5 after rubbing his cherubic cheekbones for extra camera-loving sheen): Artificial intelligences will rise up and kill us all. You must listen to me, goodly lesser folk who can’t afford my cars! I’m a billionaire technorati, so I’m much smarter than the rest of you! Take it from me and my cherubness: We’re doomed!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHGGGHHHHHH. [Cue appropriate misty-eyed expression of horror suitable for hi-def cover photography.]
Elon’s assistant, Igor (whispering quietly but urgently and squinting over the glare off Elon’s cheekbones): Sir, we’re working on self-driving cars, so AIs stand to make us more billions you can blow on SpaceX photo ops while putting lots of professional drivers out of work, thus forcing them to sign up as minimum-wage space rocket test monkeys.
Slightly inebriated but still savvy-as-all-get-out media folk: Heeeeeeeey, wait a minnit!
Elon (suddenly sweating and working those cheekbones in a desperate attempt to distract us): Well ... ummm ... what I meant was ... uhhh ... all AIs except those that drive cars, ‘cause how smart do those really need to be, right? Not a lot of variables out there on the open highway, eh? No sir, easy as cheese. My toaster could do it. In fact -- hey, have I ever shown you guys a picture of my rocket?
Now, contrast that fallacious babble with the Chinese government:
Chinese government (for years and years and with completely straight, mildly disapproving anti-Western facial expressions): We have no cyber warfare units. We have never engaged in orchestrated, government-sanctioned cyber attacks of any kind anywhere ever. Period.
[Chinese researchers publish "The Science of Military Strategy."]
Chinese government (no change in facial expression whatsoever): Except we have and we do. But not in any of the ways that you’re thinking.
Us savvy media folk: Heeeeeeeey, wait a minnit!
Chinese government (still no change in facial expression save for a small, we-don’t-care-so-kiss-our-butt smile): ...
That, my friends, is bald-faced lying: No excuses, no bumbling around for empty, butt-covering doubletalk. Spit it out, and if you get caught, look 'em in the eye and pretend you never said it no matter how many times you’ve gone on record as having said it. Stand at the podium, smile serenely, and pointedly thumb through all those international debt agreements.
Yeah, it’s wrong, dishonest, and reptilian, but it has a certain in-your-two-faced style. Maybe if I had some of that style, I wouldn’t have to buy a $200 dinner for the woman who once threw my cat out a fifth-floor window.