Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trust Me, I’m Lying, By Ryan Holiday: 11 Reasons I’m Doing This Blog

Author’s Note: This post has two parts. Part one is thoughtful and slightly depressing. Part two is less thoughtful and goofy. Read either one at your leisure.

Part One: The Main Reason

I don’t know anything. That is the main reason I am doing this blog.

My goal is to read one book per week for the next 52 weeks and write a blog about it. I think this one-year challenge is the best way to broaden the scope of my knowledge, share that knowledge with friends, and create a little friendly challenge for myself. Trust Me, I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday’s take on the twisted world of blogs, was the book that showed me I do not know as much as I think. Not knowing enough is a problem I really need to address.

In my freshman year of college, we were all required to take a course called “Western Traditions.” The class reviewed the great philosophers starting in ancient Greece moving through to the Renaissance period. The point was for us to understand early Western thought on a basic level before diving into whatever subjects we chose to study in more detail. Frankly, I remember very little about each of the so-called classics we studied, but I have always come back to one particular piece from that course, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I am a visual learner, and I remember vividly my professor drawing out the setting of the beginning of the story on the blackboard in our classroom:

“And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.”

Plato explains what humans see as truth is not actually “Truth with a capital T” (as our professor would always say)--it’s just someone else’s projection of truth through an unreliable medium. The real truth, the one that is important to philosophers and intellectuals, is not readily visible and can only be found through extensive exploration.

This idea, that what we humans think is true might actually be false, blew me away. At the time I was a naive 18-year-old, and it never occurred to me that things I thought of as real could be fake. The thought was unsettling to say the least.

In the years following, I continued to take things in the world around me at face value more often than not. But occasionally I would come back to that story of The Cave. When I did, I would apply it more literally to the two media that define the view of “truth” in the modern world: television and the internet. Here were two examples of where notions of truth were not just being metaphorically screened in front of us, but were being physically screened for everyone to see. These channels for thought were so powerful and so prevalent that if the ideas they were espousing were actually false, it could be extremely harmful to any viewer’s freedom of thought.

Reading Trust Me, I’m Lying has brought this train of thought full circle for me. Holiday, who has served as a marketing advisor to public figures like Dov Charney and Tucker Max, explains how the economics of blogs make bloggers easy targets for manipulation. Most blogs rely exclusively on metrics like page-views and ad clicks to determine how much revenue they get from sponsors. More views and clicks equal more ads, so for-profit blogs will almost always choose content that will get a high number of views over content that is high quality. This often leads blogs to publish stories of questionable factuality. 

Holiday describes how he would often use phony names and email accounts to send bloggers fake news stories designed to gain more publicity for his clients. Bloggers are so starved for “click bait” content, he says, that they would usually accept his “tips” as fact and publish related stories without verifying any sources. Holiday says he would take advantage of this sloppy reporting by “trading up the chain”, feeding outrageous ideas to low-level blogs knowing the stories would, for the sake of clicks, eventually get picked up by more elite news agencies. Oftentimes these stories would show his clients in a negative light, but since guys like Charney and Max thrived on being reviled, this bad press was actually good press. These tactics are one of the reasons Holiday is the marketing superstar he is today.

While the first part of TMIL is all fun and games, Book Two, called “The Monster Attacks,” is much darker. Holiday shows how the moral ambiguity of these blogs (which include The Huffington Post, Gawker, Buzzfeed, Jezebel, and Business Insider among many others) will often (surprise!) do more harm than good. By the end of the book, Holiday becomes very cynical about major blogs, and even the internet as a whole, as a means of human communication.

I do not agree with Holiday that internet communication is a total waste of space. But I have realized anything passing for “daily news” on the internet could be utterly fabricated. As Holiday points out, this is a tough pill to swallow. Holiday writes, “Suppressing one’s instinct to interpret and speculate, until the totality of evidence arrives, is a skill that detectives and doctors train for years to develop. This is not something us regular humans are good at; in fact, we’re wired to do the opposite.” When we see a report on a celebrity scandal or hot-button political issue, our instinct is not to contemplate but to react. We will not take time to analyze what is truth and what is embellishment. Instead, we will laugh, cry, or kerfuffle, and we will accept what’s written as fact.

Of course, this blind acceptance is not a major problem if, as Holiday says, “they (the bloggers) hadn’t meant anything they wrote. It had all been a game.” I realized accepting the collective thought of the blogosphere as even remotely accurate could warp my entire perception of reality. That is why I have to do this blog. I need to turn off the spigot of modern media flow into my brain and turn on the spigots of literature and thoughtful commentary. Only then can I find the Truth with a capital “T” my professor always discussed.

Part Two: 10 Other Reasons

Okay, so Part One was a little heavy. If you have gotten this far (thanks Mom), I’ll try to reward you with a little humor and lightheartedness. So, here are ten other reasons I’m doing this blog:

  1. I’ve always wanted to do a blog. Aside from wanting to be a professional golfer, a professional football player, and a professional baseball player, the main career dream I have in my young adult life is to be a writer. Maybe the best way to be a writer today is to start a blog. Big problem: before now, I had nothing interesting to write about. While the one-book-per-week idea is not earth shattering, it is the best I have for right now. How’s that for a sales pitch?
  2. I want to improve my writing. I found my fire for writing while I was in college, and while I lost a little of it in my first couple of years after school, my most recent job has rekindled that fire into a roaring blaze. I have brainstormed a few different ways to improve, and I figured that writing articles for the whole world to see would be the best way to get better. Hopefully this is the worst post I ever write for this blog.
  3. I want to read more. When I tell myself this, I always think of Brian Regan’s standup routine, where he says, “you never hear anybody bad-mouth reading.” Also, my parents often ask me, “what are you reading right now?” in a concerned, parental tone. Now I don’t have to answer that question; I can just tell them to read my blog.
  4. Routine is key. I don’t have my bowel movements timed out or anything, but lately I have become more interested in routines. I knew I wanted to read more, but I knew I would not do it unless I had a schedule. That’s how I came up with the “one book per week” idea.
  5. Stakes are a good thing. Nothing motivates me like a set of stakes, and no set of stakes motivates me like the possibility of total social embarrassment. And that’s what will happen if I fail to follow through on the promise of this blog. That’s why I turned the “one book per week” idea into a blog. Also, I need stakes if I am going to prioritize this blog, which has my full-time job, sports, food, family, and friends as competition for my time.
  6. What are other people reading? It’s a good question for friendly conversation, but it is something that is rarely discussed any more. I want to know what other people are reading. What did you read that rocks? What did you read that sucks? What should I read next? Send me suggestions by commenting on this post or emailing me at, and I’ll add your book to my to-do list (probably). By the way, this question is one reason I will keep these blog posts reasonably clean: I want to hear what everybody is reading. That includes my 13-year-old cousin, who reads more than anybody I know (which is like 18 people, but still).
  7. Tackling tough topics. This blog is where I can write honestly on topics I care about. Is time travel possible? Is going gluten free the way to be? Does high school poison you against reading? I will discuss these hard-hitting questions, and more, in future posts.
  8. Becoming a Jack of All Trades. Tim Ferriss did an awesome podcast back in July about why being a "Jack of All Trades" is way cooler than being a specialized insect. Or, in the words of James Altucher: “winners focus, losers diversify.”
  9. Connecting with New People. One of my big things since moving to Sarasota has been meeting new people (and meeting girls). I am hoping this blog will be a way for me to connect with even more new people (although very few of them are likely to be girls).
  10. Filter the Flow of Info. I kind of already said this one, but I needed a 10th reason. Although this is technically an 11th reason. Either way, I want to cut my flow. I already refuse to have a TV, and I am thinking about cutting out my internet service. And I live in south Florida, away from the din of large cities. If I get a bunch of cats, I can be a 25-year-old male version of a cat lady who doesn’t have TV or internet. Pretty cool right?

I hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope enjoy following me on my journey of one book per week for the next year. Thanks! Later.


  1. I'm following along. This book looks VERY interesting to me, John.

    I do agree that blogging does help hone your writing -- it's helped me, and now taking a serious grammar class with my son is REALLY making me think about my writing.

    As for page views, monetizing, etc..., I have found that my true EVERGREEN content are pieces that I have put the most thought into that are relevant for my audience and searchable by Google. I'm blessed to make money doing what I love, but I am also thankful I don't have to RELY on my blogging income, or I think I might have done some things differently. Does that make sense?

    Might I recommend He is a wonderful blogger and I loved his book, Platform. I've also heard him speak and was very inspired.

    Keep blogging!

  2. I love that you are doing this. I am following with interest. I also loved the shout out. I'm sending your link to the rest of the family so they can see what you are up to. I just finished "All the light we cannot see" - it was an excellent book! Good Luck!

  3. As you start your journey, let me impart relate an allegory reflecting the wisdom gained from sixty years of observation and exploration of my own.

    Once, a hunter returned through the forest and came upon a dead tree just struck by lightning and having fallen across the game trail. It was aflame, and it was the first time the hunter or anyone in his clan had ever seen fire. He was awestruck by this phenomenon, walking around it over and over again to be certain he fully comprehended it. When he returned to the nomadic encampment of the rest of the clan, he explained this remarkable new thing. It was as flowers, brightly colored in reds, oranges and yeloows, with even some greens. The hues changed constantly and were partly transparent like water, constantly shifting like flowers in a field upon which a brisk wind blows. The creature exhaled great bellows of whitish gray smoke, as from the nostrils of a bison in the winter, and the exhalations rose ever skyward in a increasingly bluish haze. Beneath the beast where it crouched on the log was a gray/black excretion that was dusty, and as you approached it, you could feel the warming as if your face were exposed to the sun in summer. Where it sat on the log were bright yeloow blobs nearly too bright to look at, like the noonday sun overhead. He parried many questions from his listeners, giving ever greater detail with the aspects of this new thing burned so vividly into his memory, and that night, as they retired to their rough mats and furs, they knew that this new creature was a heady combination of sun, flowers, animal and cloud and that it made a crackling noise never before heard elsewhere.

    The listeners had many words of such great descriptive quality that they felt they knew this new thing. But, no matter the words, the reality is infinitely different. No description would replace actual experience of fire. Over my life, I have come to view words as those of the hunter in the allegory. Often, the words are honest and well-intended. But, the pride and excitement of the person imparting the information sometimes blinds them to the inadequacy of their presentation and diminishes the greater value of personal experience. A person in a dry forest who understood merely that you could invite such a creature by striking a match might strike that match, only to see the forest go up in flames and the death of his entire clan. This is the siren call of books and writings in media. They typically impart a torrent of words that give a false sense of understanding and a false feeling of command of your surroundings. Be careful about your mission/objective, for it might be more difficult to achieve than you imagine given the resources at hand.

  4. The idea that one does not understand reality hardly is new. There are many religions that seemingly look at the world as “The Matrix” – an apparent reality that masks actual reality. Buddhists and their Samsara and Coptic Christianity are well-known religious orders that take the view that we live in an illusion. Post-modernists, on the other hand, will tell you that there is no reality. Such philosophy teaches that each of us sees through the lens of personal experience, and the advent of so many lenses means that there is no objective reality. They would say that, like Heisenberg, if one can define precisely and electron’s position, one cannot determine its speed, and such uncertainty infects the entire universe. Accordingly, for a post-modernist, the exercise is not in trying to undertstand a specific reality, but rather than in seeking to view the world through someone else’s equally valid lens so as to understand the other’s “reality.” In a phrase, any reality is interpretive.

    These are oversimplifications, but nonetheless, you might bear them in mind. I personally reject the post-modernist view of the world, but tend to embrace the Buddhist view. But, even there, the Buddhists would tell you that you can affect your own role in the dream by obtaining enlightenment but that it is essentially hopeless to try to shape the dreams of others. You may find that your journey becomes inward and not outward.

  5. John - Nice profile picture, which I believe I took. Oh yea, that's my hat. I could not get through TMIL.

    Recently read:
    "When the Garden was Eden" -- About the NY Knick teams of the late 60's/early 70's
    "Mud, Sweat and Tears" -- Bear Grylls auto bio
    "Walk Across America" parts 1 & 2
    "Pistol" (I think was the name) -- About the life of Pete Maravich

    Would like Unknowns comment in a Cliff Notes version.

  6. John - Stay hungry and remember; If Clarkson scores call me, if Union scores don't call me