In my take on the classic fable of the Boy who Cried “Wolf” a young boy thinks he sees a menacing wolf and cries out to the townspeople, “Wolf!” The townspeople come to examine the danger and find no wolf, they presume he is mistaken. Soon thereafter the boy, sensing another menacing wolf, cries out again, “Wolf!” The townspeople again investigate and again find nothing, perhaps now they think the boy is doing it for attention. This continues on a few more times until finally, the townspeople no longer respond to the boy's cry of “Wolf,” because they believe they will again find out it is a false alarm.(They no longer even care why the boy is doing it, they no longer give it any thought at all.) One day a real wolf comes along and the boy cries “Wolf!” to no avail. The boy gets eaten by the wolf. The moral of the story is “if you are a consistent liar, (or wrong,) you should not be surprised when people don't believe you. (This is markedly different than Aesop's version where the boy is tricking the townspeople because he is bored. My version introduces error and belief into consideration.)
So what is really happening here? What is the boy's intention? To make people aware there is a dangerous wolf and to be rescued from that danger. (Presumably.) However, we must only presume this, we can't actually know it because we have only the boy's word to go on. We must accept the boy's social engineering because there is no experiential wolf to be found. At first, the townspeople are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In time, with repeated false alarms, the boys' intention begins to be seen as manipulation rather than persuasion. This is the product of reduced transparency, (we don't know what the actual intention is, because there is nary a wolf to be found, which would be the best experience of the intention) and increased force, (the repetition.) Finally, they completely ignore the boy who cries “wolf,” to his peril. The townspeople had the power to change the outcome and didn't, by doing nothing. The boy had the power to change the outcome and couldn't, even though he tried. There are two different interpretations of the boy's “crying wolf” paradigm. For the boy, for some reason unknown to us, his intention keeps demonstrating a false result to the townspeople. For the townspeople, this results in the boy's intention being considered false. The boy has changed the results of his intention and his conditions are no longer being satisfied.
What if the boy wasn't crying “wolf” but instead “terrorist?” How many times could the boy cry out without showing any results before the people stopped coming to his rescue? Is this scenario any different? In both cases the intentions have come up false until action has taken place. In other words, due to so many false alarms, the wolf needs to eat the boy in order for us to believe him. On the other hand, the terrorist needs to terrorize if we keep getting false positives. Otherwise, we simply stop believing in the intention. Action speak louder than ideas unless the action is an idea. “Crying wolf” is only an action if the idea is understood and accepted. Once it is not, it has become something else. Not knowing the prior intention of the boy is a detriment because we are unable to evaluate it, however it is irrelevant because the intention in action has proven it false. We, as observers outside of the engineer of the intention, can only interpret it as we do. It should be expected that false positives would yield false responses.
Simply put, we thought the wolf wasn't real. It turns out the wolf was real, we know this because we can go experience the boys' torn up, half-eaten corpse. In this way, it was the wolf that made the boys' intentions a reality, it is the wolf who cried, “boy!” However, this couldn't have happened without the demonstration of the intention, the rejection of the intentions meaning and finally the bloody proof. This makes the boy's death causally self referential. The boy had the “cry wolf” paradigm, used it, falsely, repeatedly, until it lost any meaning. Then when he needed it, it wouldn't work anymore and he was killed. If you didn't know the story, if you were a Detective showing up on the scene, you could assume that he was killed by a wolf and leave it at that. Once you were informed by the townspeople of how they didn't bother helping him because of all the false alarms, who would you blame for the boys death, beyond the wolf? I'm guessing the boy. After all it was his engineering that programmed the townspeople not to respond, or rather, to respond a certain way.
In our fable, the wolf is the causation of the boy's intention. Regardless of whether or not there is a wolf present, that the boy is lying or otherwise wrong, or whatever might be motivating the boy to cry “wolf,” the response is to the idea of a wolf, any wolf. For the sake of argument let's assume there never was a wolf and the boy was doing it for personal reasons. What those reasons might be is still irrelevant. In this case it would be likely that we all would consider the boy more responsible than if there was a wolf present every time he cried for help and it just scurried away before anyone else could see it. What is being demonstrated here is the difference between Prior Intention and Intention in Action. Prior intention is just as easily a mystery as not. We (and the townspeople) only get to see the boy's intention in action. We know not his motivations and as philosophical readers of this story we can investigate no further. The townspeople can, but either they didn't or it's not part of my story, because we don't know about any such investigations.
In reality, our modern life mimics this problem exactly, all the time. Somebody asks us to “think this about that” and we have to make a decision based on whatever we have at our disposal to help us decide. Perhaps we believe the intention and concur, perhaps we don't and hinder, either way, it only matters if something is being done. Acting is a question of doing and action is intention becoming real. We cannot say action is the only thing that matters because ideas direct actions, but action is what makes any intention matter. However, if we do not act, there is also the opportunity for the world to prove the intention worthy. This is achieved when the Prior Intention is exposed. In the case of the boy who cried “wolf,” the prior intention appears to have been to have help fending off a very real wolf. (I say 'appears to be' because the boy still could have been lying every time subsequent to the last.)
If the Prior Intention and the Intention in Action are the same, or shall we say, appear the same, we shall accept this as reasonable proof of any stated engineering being honestly depicted. However, as demonstrated by our ignorance of the motivations of the boy who cried “wolf,” honesty doesn't matter as much as results. So it seems that being honest with yourself in terms of your own personal intentionality may be what someday saves your life, but it's much more likely that the only thing that matters is how your intentions are perceived. (In other words, it doesn't matter if you're intention was a lie or the truth, by design or accident, the only thing that matters to intentions are belief.)
So what we have here are two rules: If an intention is unbelievable, it is irrelevant unless based upon fact. If an intention is based on a falsehood, it has to be believed to become real. The intention of the boy crying “wolf” is the responsibility of the boy, but the power of his intention is the domain of the townspeople. The townspeople must decide:
1.Do I believe this intention is truly stated?
2.Is there experiential proof of the intention?
3.Do I desire to believe the intention?
4.How should I respond?
The first question is one of validity. You might not be able to answer it, ever, with any degree of certainty. If we are considering the boy who cried “wolf,” the question becomes, “Is this boy crying “wolf” because there is wolf?” This is a question of motivation or the causation of the intention. Short of having proof you can never actually know the answer. What you can do is investigate to the best of your ability. This is where you start looking to answer the second question. In the case of the boy who cried “wolf” the townspeople could certainly have done more investigation than we know of from the story. One could pull aside the boy and interview him thoroughly, one could search the area for the wolf or signs of him, etc. Finding no proof, all anyone can do is judge the situation. We might be able to do so from a place of some relevant knowledge or we might just have to go with our “gut feeling.” If we have proof, there is no decision to make. (Although sometimes some people decide to believe things despite proof to the contrary.) There are countless associations at our disposal for this decision. (Perhaps we know the boy, know he's a liar, or know he's honest. Perhaps we can see the fear in his eyes and that convinces us. Perhaps we hate his Father and don't even want to believe the boy out of some bias. Perhaps we are the mayor of the town and want our constituents to feel safe, so we belittle the boys fears, etc...) All of these things come down to our desire to believe. It is not a case of simply believing the intention, if it were, this question was answered by number one. The third question is really a matter of “believing that I desire to believe.” All this means is, “Do I want to believe the intention?” The third question is really a matter of “believing that I desire to believe.” All this means is, “Do I want to believe the intention?” (You might term this decision a determination of “plausibility,” but the same things that move you toward this intention are the ideas you accept as reasons that you should or should not find such belief reasonable.) Once you have answered that, you should be much closer to answering the final question, “what am I gonna do about this?” This final question is the most important because, as we know, it was we do that matters, not what we think about what we do. What we do about any particular intention is much more effectual than what we think about it.
So we can either act or not act based on our desire to either accept or deny the things that the world throws our way, be they wolves or weapons of mass destruction. We can also believe or not believe intentions based on our desire to find them either true or false, regardless of whether or not we know anything about our decision making process. Either way, our desire to think something is the only thing we need to make it so. If the reality of any particular intention is unknown, it has absolutely nothing to do with our decision making process. A great deal of our mental abilities are used to decide our intentional stance toward ideas that have no basis in reality. It doesn't seem to matter to us that we don't know what we're talking about. We'll make up an answer anyway.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Anti-Social Engineering the Hyper-Manipulated Self
The Wolf who cried "Boy!"