What Strengthens and Weakens Our Integrity – Part I: Why Small Choices Count

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 5, 2013 · 82 comments

in A Man's Life, On Virtue


Integrity. It’s a quality every man worth his salt aspires to. It encompasses many of the best and most admirable traits in a man: honesty, uprightness, trustworthiness, fairness, loyalty, and the courage to keep one’s word and one’s promises, regardless of the consequences. The word integrity derives from the Latin for “wholeness” and it denotes a man who has successfully integrated all good virtues – who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

It’s not too difficult to discuss this quality in a general way and offer advice on maintaining one’s integrity of the “just do it” variety. But a quick glance at the never-ending news headlines trumpeting the latest scandal and tale of corruption shows that that’s not always the most effective approach. While the foundation of integrity is having a firm moral code of right and wrong, it can also be enormously helpful, even crucial, to understand the psychological and environmental factors that can tempt us to stray from that code. What’s at the root of our decision to sometimes compromise our principles? What kinds of things lead us to be less honest and what kinds of things help us to be more upright? What are some practical ways we can check our temptations to be immoral or unethical? How can we strengthen not only our own integrity, but the integrity of society as well?

In this four-part series on integrity, we will use the research of Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics, and others in order to answer these vital questions.

Why Do We Compromise Our Integrity?

Every day we are faced with little decisions that reflect on our integrity. What’s okay to call a business expense or put on the company charge card? Is it really so bad to stretch the truth a little on your resume in order to land your dream job? Is it wrong to do a little casual flirting when your girlfriend isn’t around? If you’ve missed a lot of class, can you tell your professor a family member died? Is it bad to call in sick to work (or to the social/family function you’re dreading) when you’re hungover? Is it okay to pirate movies or use ad block when surfing the web?

For a long time it was thought that people made such decisions by employing a rational cost/benefit analysis. When tempted to engage in an unethical behavior, they would weigh the chances of getting caught and the resulting punishment against the possible reward, and then act accordingly.

However, experiments by Dr. Ariely and others have shown that far from being a deliberate, rational choice, dishonesty often results from psychological and environmental factors that people typically aren’t even aware of.

Ariely discovered this truth by constructing an experiment where participants (consisting of college students) sat in a classroom-like setting and were given 20 mathematical matrices to solve. They were tasked with solving as many matrices as they could within 5 minutes and given 50 cents for each one they got correct. Once the 5 minutes were up, the participants would take their worksheets to the experimenter, who counted up the correct answers and paid out the appropriate amount of money. In this control condition, participants correctly solved an average of 4 matrices.

Ariely then introduced a condition that allowed for cheating. Once the participants were finished, they checked their own answers, shredded their worksheets at the back of the room, and self-reported how many matrices they had correctly solved to the experimenter at the front, who then paid them accordingly. Once the possibility of cheating was introduced, participants claimed to solve 6 matrices on average – two more than the control group. Ariely found that given the chance, lots of people cheatedbut just by a little bit.

To test the idea that people were making a cost/benefit analysis when deciding whether or not to cheat, Ariely introduced a new condition that made it clear that there was no chance of being caught: after checking their own answers and shredding their worksheets, participants retrieved their payout not from the experimenter, but by grabbing it out of a communal bowl of cash with no one watching. Yet contrary to expectations, removing the possibility of being caught did not increase the rate of cheating at all. So then Ariely tried upping the amount of money the participants could earn for each correctly solved matrix; if cheating was indeed a rational choice based on financial incentive, then the rate of cheating should have risen as the reward did. But boosting the possible payout had no such effect. In fact, when the reward was at its highest — $10 for each correct answer the participant had only to claim he had gotten – cheating went down. Why? “It was harder for them to cheat and still feel good about their own sense of integrity,” Ariely explains. “At $10 a matrix, we’re not talking about cheating on the level of, say, taking a pencil from the office. It’s more akin to taking several boxes of pens, a stapler, and a ream of printer paper, which is much more difficult to ignore or rationalize.”

This, Ariely, had discovered, went to the root of people’s true motivations for cheating. Rather than decisions to be dishonest only being made on the basis of risk vs. reward, they’re also greatly influenced by the degree to which they’ll affect our ability to still see ourselves in a positive light. Ariely explains these two opposing drives:

“On one hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. We want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel good about ourselves (psychologists call this ego motivation). On the other hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money as possible (this is the standard financial motivation). Clearly these two motivations are in conflict. How can we secure the benefits of cheating and at the same time still view ourselves as honest, wonderful people?

This is where our amazing cognitive flexibility comes into play. Thanks to this human skill, as long as we cheat by only a little bit, we can benefit from cheating, and still view ourselves as marvelous human beings. This balancing act is the process of rationalization, and it is the basis of what we’ll call the ‘fudge factor theory.’”

The “fudge factor theory” explains how we decide where to draw the line between “okay,” and “not okay,” between decisions that make us feel guilty and those we find a way to confidently justify. The more we’re able to rationalize our decisions as morally acceptable, the wider this fudge factor margin becomes. And most of us are highly adept at it: Everyone else is doing it. This just levels the playing field. They’re such a huge company that this won’t affect them at all. They don’t pay me enough anyway. He owes me this. She cheated on me once too. If I don’t, my future will be ruined.

Where you draw the line and how wide you allow your fudge factor margin to become is influenced by a variety of external and internal conditions, the most important one being this: simply taking a first, however small, dishonest step. Other conditions can increase or decrease your likelihood of taking that initial step, and we’ll discuss them in the subsequent parts of this series. But since whether or not you make that first dishonest decision very often constitutes the crux of the matter, let us begin there.

The First Cut Is the Deepest: Sliding Down the Pyramid of Choice

Have you ever watched as the gross corruption of a once admired public figure was revealed and wondered how he ever fell so far from grace?

Dimes to donuts he didn’t wake up one day and decide to pocket a million dollars that wasn’t his. Instead, his journey to the dark side almost assuredly began with a seemingly small decision, something that seemed fairly inconsequential at the time, like fudging just a number or two on one of his accounts. But once the toes of his foot were in the door of dishonesty, his crimes very slowly got bigger and bigger.

In Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson illustrate the way in which a single decision can greatly alter the path we take and the strength of our integrity. They use the example of two college students who find themselves struggling on an exam that will determine whether or not they get into graduate school. They are “identical in terms of attitudes, abilities, and psychological health,” and are “reasonably honest and have the same middling attitude towards cheating.” Both students are presented with the chance to see another student’s answers and both struggle with the temptation. But one decides to cheat and the other does not. “Each gain something important, but at a cost; one gives up integrity for a good grade, the other gives up a good grade to preserve his integrity.”

What will each student think and tell himself as he reflects on his decision? As we explained in our series on personal responsibility, when you make a mistake or a choice that’s out of line with your values, a gap opens up between your actual behavior and your self-image as a good, honest, competent person. Because of this gap, you experience cognitive dissonance – a kind of mental anxiety or discomfort. Since humans don’t like this feeling of discomfort, our brains quickly work to bridge the divide between how we acted and our positive self-image by explaining away the behavior as really not so bad after all.

Thus the student who decided to cheat will soothe his conscience by telling himself things like, “I did know the answer, I just couldn’t think of it at the time,” or “Most of the other students cheated too,” or “The test wasn’t fair in the first place – the professor never said that subject was going to be covered.” He’ll find ways to frame his decision as no big deal.

The student who didn’t cheat, while he won’t experience the same kind of cognitive dissonance as his peer, will still wonder if he made the right choice, especially if he doesn’t get a good grade on the exam. Feeling uncertain about a decision can cause some dissonance too, so this student will also seek to buttress the confidence he feels in his choice by reflecting on the wrongness of cheating and how good it feels to have a clear conscience.


As each student reflects on and justifies his choice, his attitude about cheating and his self-perception will subtly change. The student who cheated will loosen his stance about when cheating is okay, and feel that there’s nothing wrong with being the kind of person who does it a little for a good reason; his ability to rationalize dishonest choices will go up and so will his fudge factor margin. The student who maintained his integrity will feel more strongly than before that cheating is never acceptable, and his ability to rationalize dishonesty will go down, along with his personal fudge factor margin as well. To further decrease the ambiguity and increase the certainty each student feels about their divergent decisions, they will then each make more choices in line with these new stances.

While the two students began in a very similar, morally ambiguous place, they have journeyed down what Tavris and Aronson call “The Pyramid of Choice” and arrived at opposite corners of the base. A single decision is all it took to put them on very different paths. As we can see, taking just one dishonest step can begin “a process of entrapment—action, justification, further action—that increases our intensity and commitment, and may end up taking us far from our original intentions and principles.”

Eh, What the Hell?

Rather than being two steadily widening lines, the paths that diverge from a single choice sometimes take a course that looks more like this:


What’s going on with that sharply diverging line on the left? It represents the moment where a person who makes a series of dishonest decisions reaches the “what-the-hell” point.

It’s easiest to understand the so-called what-the-hell effect if you’ve ever been on a strict diet. Let’s say you’re eating low carb and you’ve been doing really well with it for a couple weeks. But now you’re out to dinner with a friend and the waitress has placed a basket of warm, fragrant bread right in front of you. You keep fighting off the temptation, and stick with your steak and broccoli…but damn those rolls look good. You finally decide to have just one, which leads to another and then another. When your friend decides to have dessert and invites you to order one too, instead of getting over your slight lapse and regaining your fortitude, you think, “Eh, what the hell, I’ve already ruined my diet anyway. I’ll start fresh tomorrow.” Your enjoy your pie and then have a bowl of ice cream when you get home as well in order to make the most of your “ruined” day before starting over in the morning.

In his studies, Ariely found that the what-the-hell effect rears its head not only in decisions about diet, but in choices concerning our integrity as well.

In an experiment he conducted, participants were shown 200 squares, one after the other, on a computer screen. Their task was to pick which side of the square had more dots. If they chose the left side, they earned a half cent; if they chose the right side, they got 5 cents. The payout wasn’t contingent on the answer being correct, so that the participant was sometimes faced with either choosing the answer they knew to be correct but which gave them a lower payout, or choosing the one with the higher reward even though it was wrong.

What Ariely found is that participants who just cheated here and there at the start of the experiment would eventually reach an “honesty threshold,” the point where they would think: “What the hell, as long as I’m a cheater, I might as well get the most out of it.” They would then begin cheating at nearly every opportunity. The first decision to cheat led to another, until their fudge factor margin stretched from a sliver into a yawning chasm, and concerns about integrity fell right off the cliff.


Once you commit one dishonest act, your moral standards loosen, your self-perception as an honest person gets a little hazier, your ability to rationalize goes up, and your fudge factor margin increases. Where you draw the line between ethical and unethical, honest and dishonest, moves outward. From his research, Ariely has found that committing a dishonest act in one area of your life not only leads to more dishonesty in that one area, but ends up corrupting other areas of your life as well. “A single act of dishonesty,” he argues, “can change a person’s behavior from that point onward.”

What this means is that if you want to maintain your integrity, the best thing you can do is to never take that first dishonest step. No matter how small and inconsequential a choice may seem at the time, it may start you down a path that tarnishes your moral compass, leads you to commit more serious misdeeds, and causes you to compromise your fundamental principles.

Ariely argues that not only is preventing ourselves from taking a first dishonest step so crucial, so is curbing small infractions in society as well. While he admits that it’s tempting to dismiss first-time mistakes as no big deal, his research has shown that we “should not excuse, overlook, or forgive small crimes, because doing so can make matters worse.” Instead, by cutting down “on the number of seemingly innocuous singular acts of dishonesty…society might become more honest and less corrupt over time.” This need not involve more regulations or zero-tolerance policies, which Ariely doesn’t think are effective, but rather instituting more subtle checks to personal and public integrity, some of which we’ll discuss in the next parts in this series.

Obviously, not everyone who makes one bad choice ends up morally depraved and utterly crooked. Many of us are able to make a single mistake, or even several, but then get back on track again. This is because various conditions not only make it more or less likely that we’ll make that first dishonest decision, but also increase or decrease our chances of turning ourselves around once we start down an unethical road.

One of those conditions – the distance we feel between our actions and their consequences – is where we will turn later this week.



The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson


{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lindsay August 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm

This theory could be true, as it is tested well.

But could it not also be the case that if one is prone to commit a small, dishonest act from time to time they may be inclined to make a number of good choices to put them ‘back in the black’, so to speak?

So rather than descending into a dishonest life, without any integrity, one could rationalise their occasional black mark by doing as many things possible to make up for it.

One thing is for sure none of us are perfect.

2 Jack L August 5, 2013 at 7:50 pm

great piece, looking forward to the next part in the series!

3 Daniel Brewster August 5, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Your conscience speaks up when the gap begins. It gives up when the gap is too wide to hear.

4 Jeff August 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Regarding the “Eh, What the Hell?” section: I don’t understand the implications of Ariely’s study. What is morally wrong about answering a question incorrectly? I don’t see why choosing the 5-cent answer every single time would constitute a loss of integrity. If the correctness of the answer plays no role whatsoever, then that study is essentially asking this question: Do you want half a cent or do you want five cents? I, for one, would always want the latter, and I don’t think my integrity will suffer because I deliberately answered a question incorrectly.

5 John August 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

This is excellent.

6 anderson frigo August 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I would like to thank you for this text, it was amazing reading it. Where i live we unfortunately we face huge problems with corruption, not only the government, but also the people (who complain of the government they choose). The daily little cheating here many times are considered something to be proud of, the cheater is the “smart guy”, but as we know this society wont prevail.

7 Alex Smith August 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Honesty makes you more of a man even though it’s hard to live like it. But just as with any aspect of manliness, it’s a virtue one should pursue. Men with true integrity inspire people. Even in fiction when you read about an honest, open men (like Eddard Stark from famous “Game of Thrones” TV-show or “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series) you have a lot more respect for them than for anyone else.

8 Scott Lurker August 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

I hold a degree in philosophy, and ethics was one of my primary focuses of my course work. Aristotle presented the idea, which is very similar to the point of this article, that excellence, and its inverse, are not actions but habits. A person who steals will be more likely to do so again, and the person who resists the temptation to do so will be more likely to resist it again as well. We call this approach to ethics “virtue ethics.” Our notion of integrity falls very much in line with his ideas. If you’d like to know more, here is an article about it from one of the very best sources:

9 croneykal August 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Excellent article! I have read some of Ariely’s research as well and agree that it is very illuminating. I am not wholly convinced by the principle of integrity though.

First of all, integrity strikes me as an all-or-nothing value. If I have done just one deed that besmirches my character, can I still or ever again be considered a person of integrity? If not, then truly can any of us claim to possess this value? How is this reconciled?

Next, what is the utility of possessing integrity? If one values more than personal satisfaction and identity, is it still practical? Flexibility and open-mindedness are buzzwords today, but really they strike me as euphemisms for being able to accept/ tolerate trade-offs that may clash with personal values. Is this compatible with integrity? After all, integrity to me means a consistency in values.

I am not fully convinced that I am making sense, but probably that is but a reflection of how muddled my own thoughts are regarding this issue. I look forward to reading the continuation to this series, and others’ comments in this space.

10 Matt August 5, 2013 at 9:22 pm

What an amazing article. I needed this. It is as if it was written directly for me. Excellent work. Thank you.

11 Mark Shepardson August 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Thank you for this quality writing! I am excited for part 2 as these multi-part writings are my favorite.

A question I have always wondered is what can you do to help a person (or your self) that is so far off the track. Do you lead by example or try to give them a push or my both, if so how?

Also, integrity is a constant struggle to stay on the path both internally and externally. It is easy to appear to have integrity but much harder to feel that you have it….perhaps you will discuss this in future parts.

12 J August 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

” Is it okay to pirate movies or use ad block when surfing the web?” Am I the only one thoroughly confused by the concept of ad blocking as lacking in integrity?

13 Luke August 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Great article. So true, it’s those minute decisions that steer our “ship” one degree off due North, then we realize down the road we’re nowhere near where our destination was.
“If a man loses his wealth, he’s lost nothing. If he loses his health, he’s lost something. If he loses his integrity, he’s lost everything.”

14 Doug August 5, 2013 at 10:43 pm

It wasn’t an entirely new concept to read about, but certainly a very interesting one, and one that could most definitely provoke some serious internal debate. I’m looking very forward to the remaining parts of this series.

15 Doug August 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm

J — I agree, I was somewhat confused, by that reference.

Also, what is the fine line between being an upstanding, morally worthy individual, and someone who is able to “make a living” in the real world? I mean, don’t get me wrong, an upstanding person can certainly live in this world and be successful, but at the same time, wouldn’t he/she be taken advantage of almost all the time?

16 Brett McKay August 5, 2013 at 10:49 pm


Ah, I was hoping someone would ask! Websites (like this one) cost a ton of money to run — thousands and thousands of dollars in bandwidth alone. And they rely on ad revenue to cover these costs. Ad revenue doesn’t come from people clicking on the ads, but simply from people visiting the site and seeing the ads. Every time someone visits a website, they use that site’s bandwidth — they cost the site money. If they are using ad block, then they use the site’s bandwidth and cost the site money while refusing to cover that cost. People have a whole lot of justifications for why they think it’s okay to use ad block, but in my mind it is essentially stealing.

The best analogy I can offer is if someone used their own money to build a road and continued to use their money to maintain that road, and they set up a toll to cover their investment. You like to use the road because it’s enjoyable and convenient, but you always blow through the toll without paying. You use the road and you cause wear and tear on the road, but you do not think you should contribute to keeping it going. Such a driver is lacking in integrity. If you do not want to pay the toll for whatever reason, then don’t use the road!

17 CyberClaw August 5, 2013 at 10:53 pm

J, ads are in sites for a reason. Adblocking is “wrong” because Websites thrive thanks to advertisements. They give you the goods, and in return, they sprinkle ad banners here and there, which will give them revenue if you click (or sometimes just watch the ad, but usually it’s per-click). That’s why they are “free”.
By using adblocking software, you are using the free site, without paying the toll of being subject to their advertisement (which like I said is their revenue stream).
You could argue that you’d never click those ads anyway, which would be the rationalization of the “wrong deed”.

18 Jake August 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm

“Sir, how many matrices did you solve?”

“One thousand.”

19 Bill August 6, 2013 at 1:17 am

This type of article is one of the reasons I absolutely love this site. If only more men read this, who knows what the world would become. It is only integrity, in a lot of cases, that one has to cling to, and to strengthen it would be the same as feeding yourself quality protein rich foods rather than deep-fried donut carbohydrates that burn off quickly. While you may not get the same satisfaction out of the protein, you won’t completely crash later as with the donut.

20 Brian August 6, 2013 at 1:36 am

Amazing article. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few years now, but you’ve actually put it into words.

21 anon August 6, 2013 at 1:53 am

This is a nice article but it takes an idealistic perspective. A lot of life is about doing what it takes to survive, and that includes stealing and cheating and lying. If our ancestors weren’t as conniving and deceptive as they were, then we wouldn’t be alive today; evolution would have weeded us out. So it’s obviously built into our genes.

The article suggests that one should avoid falling down a slippery slope. I disagree. There is nothing wrong with a harmless lie here and there. Lies and deceptions are just words. It’s not until they start affecting other people’s lives that they start to matter. If your lies and deceptions are harming other people, then you should feel bad about yourself. Sometimes the “right thing to do” is to lie. So I’m not sure how practical your article is, although it does make me feel sh*tty about myself :(

22 Kammes August 6, 2013 at 4:02 am

I am really glad habits were brought up in regards to factors that influences our behavior. I think our convictins of right and wrong do not have as much weight on our behaviors as our habits do. I think that if we want to keep our integrity intact, we should try to better understand our behavior patterns. Then we can better brace for the impact of temptations that have us stray from our ethics- or avoid the environments that we know will hold them. I think success with keeping to one’s ethics comes mostly with having a clear sense of our standards and what maintains our positive self image. This WITH a reflectiveness to ask ourselves how we could improve our behavior after a trial of ethics/morals, could help.

23 Kapmd August 6, 2013 at 4:24 am

One thorough gentleman, teaching us the difference between honesty and integrity gave a very lucid definition of the latter : ” INTEGRITY MEANS BEING HONEST EVEN WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING” !!

24 Will August 6, 2013 at 4:28 am

Excellent Article Brett! Besides being very practical they’re also very well written. Keep up the good work! Thanks

25 Matt August 6, 2013 at 4:43 am

Jeff- I think that the implications of the study was to point out that there are people who, when given the chance to cheat, or shall we say lie, will do so if they know that they will not get caught. It sounds like you may fall into that category, therefore you lack integrity. Point is, if you lie in the small things you most likely will lie when the stakes are much higher..

26 Hunter August 6, 2013 at 5:58 am

I don’t normally comment, but this was a really great article that hit close to home because lately it’s what I’ve tried to talk to a few close friends about when making moral decisions. In “24″ Jack Bauer has an excellent quote relating to this, which is mentioned in the first episode of the series: “You can look the other way once, and it’s no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time, and pretty soon that’s all you’re doing; compromising, because that’s the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren’t, they weren’t bad guys, they were just like you and me. Except they compromised… once.”

27 Philip KS August 6, 2013 at 6:12 am

I think that in the matrices experiment I think that saving face could be just as important a reason for students cheating than the financial gain. This means that if a lot of us feel underperforming and inferior, we will over calculate how well others are likely to perform, and so exaggerate our own performance to compensate. If for example some of the students in the matrices experiment worried that their performance was poor, and wanted to be seen as succeeding in the challenge, perhaps they took more of the 50 cents from the bowl than they were allowed. However once the money was increased they reverted back to the truth because stealing a large amount of money was more worrying than loss of face. Therefore I think that the (often misinformed) desire to feel equal with the people around us is an important reason why integrity slips. Fact: most luxury cars are bought on credit.

28 Herbert West August 6, 2013 at 6:20 am

That is a slippery slope argumentation if I ever read one.

In the ideal world of fantasy this site represents, you may not have to “compromise your integrity”, but in reality, you are forced to interact with people, and from time to time, you may need to relax your standards to get along and ahead.

Integrity, like everything else in life, is not a binary variable of “have/not have”, its a sliding scale. Lying a bit does not turn you into mega-hitler overnight, nor does being a stubborn bastard get you anywhere.

Someone mentioned Eddard Stark as a positive role model. In case you have not noticed, his refusal to bend even an inch led to a war that decimated Westeros, led to the slaughter of his house, his men, the burning of his castle, and the loss of overlordship of the north. He is a cautionary tale about breaking instead of bending, not an example to be followed.

29 Marco August 6, 2013 at 6:29 am

It has become more of a distinct challenge to be a man of virtue, through and through, exponentially, as the world has become more corrupt and distrustful. Every corner of life has been affected by the breakdown in morality and personal values. I also think there might exist a ‘geographical’ component for the prevalence of integrity. This being stated, its near to impossible to find the man who can claim full and complete integrity.

30 Richard August 6, 2013 at 7:37 am

Interesting how this was published the same day Major League Baseball handed down suspensions to players found using performance-enhancing drugs…

31 Christopher Neve August 6, 2013 at 7:40 am

Very interesting point of view concerning Ad Block. Never heard of that before but it does seem legit, so… Do you recommend seeing those ads to the end then, or are the first five seconds (on Youtube for instance) “enough” ?

32 Liam August 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

Thanks for that insight Brett, I didn’t know that sites generated income when people just saw an advert. I thought it was only when people clicked on the link. I’m certainly going to switch mine off now.

Also in the past I used to download a lot of things with torrents. I had reached the what the hell point and just went for it but at some stage I told myself “look this is wrong” and haven’t done it since. I have also taken the vow to buy all of the books that I downloading when I have the money.

I think this article is pretty spot on. Looking forward to the others.

33 Harper August 6, 2013 at 8:16 am

Maybe A-Rod should read this article… HAHAHAHA

34 Broc August 6, 2013 at 8:41 am

Thank you for such an intriguing article. I look forward to the rest of the series.

I am wondering, though, in regards to the cost/benefit analysis testing. Was it made clear to the groups that they would only be tested one time? Even increasing returns on self-corrected, self-paid answers could be checked by simply testing again followed by outside checking.

35 David Y August 6, 2013 at 8:46 am

Brett & Kate. Excellent article.

In the past well I have cheated(in small ways), I ended up feeling empty and a bit dirty. So now I try to avoid it as much as possible for the imperfect man that I am. I still slip on occasion.

Perhaps I miss out on some things that could be gained by being a little dishonest once in a while. Life is full of tradeoffs, and this is one that I am willing to make.

36 Shawn G August 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

Integrity is something I’ve always valued, but has become even more important to me as I’ve gone through Faithwalking (www.faithwalking.us). Through Faithwalking I’ve come to see a lot of what was discussed in this article. They define integrity as “Doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, in the manner it was intended to be done.” When you don’t follow through, you’re supposed to admit your fault and recommit to doing it. That’s what it means to have true integrity and it why I’ve come to value it so immensely.

37 nightfly August 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

This is a very familiar concept to a reader of the Gospels: he who is faithful in small matters can be trusted with great ones; he who is untrustworthy in small things will also be untrustworthy in great things.

Nobody’s perfect, but you might as well try it and see.

38 Chris August 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

I haven’t read the article yet, but damn that’s a badass beard that guy has!

39 Kaizen August 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

It would be nice if someone would write ad-block software that still registers the ad view without actually displaying it to the user. The website keeps up its add revenue and the user is spared the obnoxious banners.

40 Kaizen August 6, 2013 at 9:32 am

I wrestle with the ad-block issue as well. What are your thoughts on DVR (or even old-school VHS) capabilities that allow the viewer to fast forward through or skip commercials?

41 jtm August 6, 2013 at 9:39 am

My father put it to me best,”It takes years to build your integrity but only a second to tear it down.”
And as for adblocking software, the biggest trouble with the internet isn’t the ads “sprinkled here and there” it’s when ad software links to every other word on a page. If the ads weren’t so in your face, I’d be willing to turn it off. That’s why I like AOM. You advertise but don’t slap me with them like a cold side of halibut.

42 Jerrod August 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

Proverbs 28:6
“Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.” I believe that is in line with what is being said here.

43 m.t. August 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

Ah, but for a piece of bread… And what of outside influences forcing those small indiscretions in the first place? If a man knew he would always have good nourishment, would he ever take that loaf of bread? From there, he might see the world is set by the haves and have-nots; subjugation is abuse, too.

44 Yvette August 6, 2013 at 10:58 am

This is a very interesting article. I totally agree with the, “Eh, what the hell” theory. However, I would be interested in more research into the person who makes the honest choice and grows more honest and perhaps less tolerant of others mistakes as a result of their choice. Could it lead to a path of self-righteousness? Someone with a “holier than thou” attitude?

45 Paul T August 6, 2013 at 11:08 am

There is an episode of Friends about stealing from hotels that deals with almost exactly this issue:


46 Kevin August 6, 2013 at 11:33 am

Great article. The only thing I’d add is that people are absolutely watching what you do, even when you think they aren’t.

47 Bern August 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

I played with partly deconstructing the article by pulling 142 terms I picked as “interesting” then sorted them into columns labeled Good, Bad, and Ambiguous. Some examples of Good: adept, admired, clear, competent, confidence, and fair; Bad: being caught, cheating, corrupting, crimes, crooked, and dark side; Ambiguous: acceptable, act, affect, alter, attitudes, and behavior. I did this to check my impression that integrity is primarily being considered to be an issue of morality a “moral integrity”.

With this sorting of terms there were 73 moral terms and 70 non-moral terms. Obviously these numbers could easily be very different if all the words and ideas brought up were included in the count or different words are sorted differently so what’s my point?

First, nice vocabulary! Lots of cool evocative ideas which were enjoyable to read and consider.

Next, so great a potpourri of terms and ideas while fun and interesting doesn’t necessarily leave clarity in their wake.

My thought is considering integrity from a view independent of morality. Mixing integrity with morality for me clouds the task of getting clear about what is integrity, if I don’t start from the premise that I already know.

Your first two paragraphs speak of integrity as a “quality” aspired to (clearly a psychological trait). Having a relationship to wholeness and being rooted in morality. This trinity of psychology, wholeness, and morality while covering a lot of ground leaves me without a strong place to stand with respects to considering the idea integrity. Granted this is part one and my cloudiness may lift as the article continues.

48 Carter B August 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Great article, very interesting! One note though – in the matrix-solving experiment, you mention that the average number of solved matrices reported went up from 4 to 6, and then use this as evidence that “lots of people cheated – but just by a little bit”. While I’m sure that the numbers of the study do bear that out, an “average” can’t prove that by itself, because that increase could just as easily be the result of a few people cheating by a lot, so the average is not a very useful statistic there.

49 Jason August 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I’m a non-apologetic ad-block user. When someone publishes a free, open website, they have in no way created an obligation on my part to take in every pixel and run every piece of code that they choose to publish. That’s similar to saying that it’s unethical to not watch or to mute commercials on TV. Would you say that it’s unethical to go to the bathroom during a commercial break on TV?

In addition, the ad networks that are targeted by ad-block software are sophisticated personal data mining operations. If you think the NSA knows a lot about you, imagine what an ad network that has ads on 50% of the sites you visit regularly knows! A website proprietor who includes these ad networks on his or her site is trading the READERS personal information for cash. I am in no way obligated, by virtue of accessing the site, to participate in this transaction.

I’m happy to see advertising images a website wants to put on their page. I’m a lot less happy to wait another 15 seconds to view the page because the ad network’s code is slow to load, slow to execute, and is busy compiling a dossier on me that would make Edgar Hoover blush. In some instances, like on mobile devices, this is actively costing me money – more money than the proprietor gets for the ad view!

Okay, my rant is over. I love the site, and thought this article was insightful.

50 Matt August 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I find your support of adblocking software faulty. There are three ways to analyze the morality of a given act: object, intention, and circumstances. Another way of looking at it is answering the questions what?, why?, and how? If an action is wrong on any of these levels, it is wrong, period. Firstly, objectively speaking, is it wrong for a person to block an ad? Is it wrong to not look at an ad? The answer of course is no, there is nothing wrong with not looking at an ad. Second, the question must be asked, what is the person’s intention of blocking an ad? If the intention is that they don’t’ want to see ads (not they the are intentionally trying to deprive you of income), then there is nothing morally wrong with blocking an ad. Whether that is someone watching TV and flipping channels, or whether that is someone using an ad blocker there is nothing inherently wrong with not wanting to see ads. The third question is a matter of circumstances, which is where you (Brett and Kate) have an issue with adblockers. How does one block ads? One uses a program to block ads that in turn takes away potential income for your livelihood. Is it morally wrong for someone to deprive another person, especially a stranger, of potential income because I, the reader, find it inconvenient or unpleasant? I would have to say the answer would be no. In no other business transaction am I considered morally at fault for depriving someone of potential income when I am not purchasing something from them when they are providing something for me for free. You might consider me a bit of a jerk for doing so but that is different from being morally at fault. The argument you offered in defense of your site is the toll road analogy. The toll road analogy is not accurate due to the fact that a toll road is not free and one cannot go on the road for free. Usually there is a gate, a guardhouse, a person manning the road letting you know that the road is not free, and you have a chance to avoid the toll road altogether by being informed before you get on the road that you will be required to pay for using the road. If you violate a toll road in most states you get a ticket for it. Your site is a free road. If the site was a paid content site, the argument would be in your favor. As a free site you assume a cost of doing business. The cost of doing business is that people are not nor should they be required to support someone else’s website by having to look at ads. The cost of doing business for TV stations is that people are not and should not be forced to watch commercials. All that being said, I will remove my adblocker on your site not due to your arguments but because I like what the two of you write. Through your writings I have been entertained, inspired, and challenged. I feel I have gotten to know the two of you and would consider you to be good friends. And due to that, I could not and I would not want to deprive a friend of potential income. If I were to analyze myself in such an instance, I would have to say I would be morally at fault to deprive you of income. Keep up the great writing. God bless.

51 Jonathan August 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm

My one gripe with this article has to do with the matrices test. I have no data to back this up, but my suspicion is that the test is inaccurate because it cannot account for the possibility that the test takers curb their cheating based on the knowledge that they are being tested. If say, I were to take that same test, my “integrity gauge” will be affected by the foreknowledge that my results will be reviewed. So, in order to keep my integrity relative to the scientists creating the test, I might conceal my true level of cheating.

52 Doc August 6, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Guess I have no integrity. I go out of my way to not buy things that are advertised. Take a look at ads. Most of them are things that are unnecessary or bad for you. Sit down and take count one night while watching TV. Mostly drugs and fear and bad food and blah blah blah. If having integrity is necessitated by me reading ads I just won’t visit the website.

53 Robert M August 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Ok, here’s a confession. Last week I went to Wal-Mart, and, as I was leaving, I noticed on my receipt that my cashier had mistakenly charged me for an avocado instead of the romaine lettuce I had actually purchased. The result was that I was undercharged by almost a dollar. I stood there outside of the store for a minute thinking about whether or not I should go back in to the service desk and pay the difference. Then I thought about how long that might take, and then about how I wouldn’t want to get the cashier in trouble and I’d be doing her a favor by just letting it go. The dollar was the last thing on my mind (I think). Then I thought about all of the good things I’ve done for Wal-Mart that, taken together, must be worth more than a dollar. I often put stray carts back into their places and pick up items that have been left on the floor or in inappropriate places, e.g., cheese in the underwear, by more careless shopper. I decided not to return to pay the difference. What was the responsible and reasonable thing to do?

54 Johnathon Giarmo August 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm

This was an excellent post. Quite honestly, it was exactly what I needed to hear today. It’s a great reminder of old advice that we too often forget. As I reading I couldn’t help but think of what C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity,

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

I have known this for some time, but I saw it in a new light as I read your post today. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

55 Brett McKay August 6, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Great comments everyone. I do not think Ariely’s research offers all the answers to the nature of integrity, but I did hope it would be a good jumping off point to get people thinking and foster some good discussion, so I am glad to see that happening.

I think there is both personal and societal utility to integrity. On the personal side, you get the satisfaction of a clear conscience, it helps you make judgements and be decisive, and it gives you the satisfaction of knowing that what you get you truly earned. Could someone like Lance Armstrong truly enjoy his victories knowing he had cheated? Maybe (he seems like a expert in rationalization), but was the resulting fall out worth it? But integrity is perhaps even more important for its effect on society. Think of the 2008 banking crisis. Numerous individuals who lacked integrity caused hardship for millions. Integrity fosters trust, without which, a culture must rely on onerous laws and regulations, nothing gets done, and people cannot fully flourish.

I say watching just the first 5 seconds of a Youtube ad is a-okay. The video creator gets paid the same whether or not you watch the whole thing.

That’s an interesting question. TV ads differ from website ads in that 1) you have already paid something for cable service, and 2) when you watch the show, your watching doesn’t cost the show creator/network money. (As soon as you land on a website, you cost them money). Also, here’s an argument on the subject from Ars Technica:
“Invariably someone always pops into a discussion like this and brings up some analogy with television advertising, radio, or somesuch. It is not in any way the same; advertisers in those mediums are paying for potential to reach audiences, and not for results. They have complex models which tell them if X number are watching, Y will likely see the ad (and it even varies by ad position, show type, etc!). But they really have no true idea who sees what ad, and that’s why it’s a medium based on potential and not provable results. On the Internet everything is 100% trackable and is billed and sold as such. Comparing a website to TiVo is comparing apples to asparagus.”

But I don’t know — we always justify those things we want to continue to do ourselves, so these may be false rationalizations. I can form an argument about ad block on websites because I am very familiar with how they work and generate income. I am not familiar with how television works, and I would be very open to an argument from a someone who works in that industry on why skipping ads negatively affects them and would certainly be open to changing my mind.

A very good point. I don’t know if there is research on the subject but Aronson and Elliot do mention just that — that the person going down the integrity side of the pyramid can end up being priggish and smug or holier than thou. It’s like when a fat person loses weight and then becomes highly intolerant of other fat people — “I lost weight, so what’s wrong with you!?” The risk of becoming priggish is probably less dangerous than that of becoming morally corrupt, but it is still something to watch for.

Well argued, intelligent, and convincing. You gave me plenty of food for thought this afternoon (so distracting from work however!) I do still maintain my stance that using ad block can be immoral even if it not based on obligation. Take a visit to a coffee shop, for example. I can go in, and use their wi-fi and air conditioning (which costs money), and not buy anything while I am there. I am not obligated to buy anything. But if I employ Kant’s categorical imperative to my actions, I know that if everyone acted likewise the coffee shop would cease to exist. Because I like the coffee shop and I use the coffee shop and want it to continue, I make sure to buy something whenever I go in. If I say I support the business, I feel it a matter of integrity to put my money where my mouth is, and not use their resources and hope that others make up for my lack. I don’t don’t want there to be a gap between my belief and my actions. So, basically a similar conclusion as to what you offered at the end of your comment!

I think the most important thing about integrity is realizing how strong our capacity to rationalize is (more on this next time) and taking the time to truly self-analyze one’s motivations and intent, just as you have. Two people may come to different conclusions, but if they arrived at those conclusions honestly and thoughtfully that’s a win for them and for society.

56 anon August 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm

i am inclined to believe this theory because while in college before entering a major bout of procrastination i would always tell myself “i will do worse.”. i had major problems with procrastination until the day i told myself “i will do worse, but not today.”. i don’t agree with everything in this article but i do feel that the attitude towards the mistake is what makes a person likely to repeat or stop.

57 Brian Arkton August 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm

When I was younger, I used to go to this center after school for different sorts of activities(and sometimes during the weekend as well). They had a small cafeteria area where they’d sell snacks to the kids, and sometimes they’d leave it un-attended, usually expecting the person to put the money in before taking the snack.

I used to do that till one day, I made an attempt at doing something wrong. I paid for the item, took the item, and before I left, I took the money back out from the box. I did this for almost a week.

Then one day I just decided it was wrong and stopped doing it. Ever since, there has never been even an inkling of the thought of stealing anything. I didn’t just stop the misdeed, I totally erased such an action from my mind.

When we concentrate only on the small steps, we fail to realize just how far down these stairs go.

This is a great article that I enjoyed reading.

58 Adam August 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm

the thing with the ads though is a lot of sites have ads that pop up in one or more windows. they have ads with multiple videos playing in the background that you have to go find and click off and some even turn back on after 20 seconds. you then have sites so ad riddled they slow the entire site down and of course ads that bombard your computer with spyware and cookies. never mind the fact TV has ads, youtube has ads, billboards and stores and a whole host of other kinds of ads.

the point is we are bombarded with ads and ad blocking is a form of “I’ve had enough guys chill out with these things”.

if ads on a site were simply a couple of things that were easy to look at but not intrusive I’d have no beef with them but theyve morphed into a life of their own that can actually harm your computer and slow down your use of the site you are on.

it just seems ads have taken the lets be as annoying as we possibly can approach to getting attention.

i do agree with the first step is the worst. had i not done that first lie i likely wouldnt have started a very large downward spiral.

i remember it when i was i think 13 or so i was playing basketball at church. the ball went out of bounds. the two teams argued whos ball it was and they asked me. why they asked me was because i was famous for telling it how i saw it. telling the truth even if it hurt my team. that time i lied for my team. i dont know why i did but i did. from that moment i justified cheating here, stealing there, a lie here and lie there. also from that moment on one kid knew i told that lie cause he saw me watch the play accurately. they never asked me again. i feel like i keep trying to get back to my original younger reputation but that clearly isnt happening.

i do hope this series addresses lies that fall into the category of “does this dress make me look fat?” those kinds of lies. where telling the truth will unleash a ****storm of chaos. i mean imagining telling the wife yes that dress makes you look fat. just imagine doing it. i cant fathom a good outcome to speaking the truth there.

there is also of course the lie of what about the homeless man that steals a loaf of bread? how guilty is he? sure he stole….but is he guilty of any real crime other than wanting to eat?

so i look forward and hope that this series addresses the many odd plotholes of the “never lie ever” philosophy which is nice but not always practical.

that said i will say my parents seemed to have practiced that philosophy quite well even so far as to correcting cashiers that undercharge them or give them back to much change. that said im not sure my dad has ever said that dress makes you look fat or theyd find fault in the starving man stealing a loaf of bread so ill be curious to hear what you say on that hopefully.

59 Tim August 6, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Thanks for the interesting article. I like the biblical perspective whereby one is able to ‘repent’ and start again. ie agree with God that you have failed and decide to turn things around. Thus the moral slide is halted (provided one is sincere of course!).

60 Daniel August 6, 2013 at 9:52 pm


I absolutely want to help you and your website and I would not dream of denying you revenue or even costing you money. You have provided me with countless ideas and inspirations for becoming a better man.
That said, I do not like being tracked, targeted, and advertised at. I find the entire advertising culture to be disgusting and I fear that it is principally responsible for the rampant consumerism that has consumed our society.

Given how much valuable content that you have provided me with over the years, I would be happy to compensate you in some other way, such as with a donate button or through your Art of Manliness merchandise. Please let me know if this is equitable, because I do not want to deprive you of your livelihood now that you have brought this to my attention.

61 Riley Padron August 6, 2013 at 10:04 pm

A wonderful article; I myself have unfortunately used the “death-in-the-family” to explain my absence in school to a very sympathetic teacher. I absolutely regret the decision now and I look forward to reading the rest of this series on integrity.
Also, Dan Ariely has multiple fascinating TED talks that I suggest everyone watch. He performs multiple sociological experiments that give, for the most part, comforting views of humanity.

62 Wordyallen August 7, 2013 at 1:10 am

I’d be willing to pay the ad revenue directly to you. Unfortunately some sites have unobtrusive and deceptive ads. I’ve turned off the ad blocker on your site. I wish more bloggers would have some kind of note that allows donation or at least that they have scrutinized their ads and it meets their standards. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

63 P.M.Lawrence August 7, 2013 at 4:43 am

Honour and integrity relate to keeping your own obligations. But nobody can wish those on you, so there is no loss of honour or integrity when somebody blocks advertisements who never promised to let them through to begin with. That’s even though all the consequences to the site might be harmful, because this isn’t a consequentialist system of ethics. (But it would be wrong to block them if you had promised to let them through, even if blocking them somehow never caused harm – for instance, as I’m in Australia, most advertisements here have no chance of getting business from me anyway.)

Contrariwise, someone who argues for honour and integrity on the basis of their benefits for society has lost the plot by going consequentialist, just as much as someone who starts fudging. That is, a person like that doesn’t really value honour and integrity in the right way anyway, and so can end up acting otherwise when consequentialist reasoning suggests it – because he has bought into consequentialism, not into honour and integrity. And that’s a slippery slope that operates even when the consequences line up with honour and integrity, because the wrong thing is being reinforced.

64 Lakshmipathi.G August 7, 2013 at 7:55 am

>will still wonder if he made the right choice, especially if he doesn’t get a good grade on the exam

True :) thanks, Excellent read :D waiting for part-2

65 LP August 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

I’m slightly confused. Just because cheating does not increase as payoffs increase, doesn’t prove that the fudge factor theory is correct. An alternative explanation is that people are afraid that cheating with larger payoffs (boxes of stuff) is more thoroughly checked than smaller payoffs. Even in the proposed design where the forms are torn up, the really good matrix solvers could think that they will be asked to do more of these to prove they are able to do that many.

There seems to be a big leap in what the experimental data show, and the following very causal story, especially in the conclusion bit (the student thinks this, the student feels this, your fudge factor increases). Not buying.

66 Rekon August 7, 2013 at 10:45 am

A well-written piece. Thought provoking, but ultimately frustrating. On the surface it makes a ton of sense. But let’s replace “integrity” with “culturally normative behavior” and see how that starts to change how we view the value of small decisions.

Normative behavior can actually be damaging, based on false evidence, benign, etc…just because it’s normative doesn’t give it any superlative value.

When we start to see the conflict between the forces at play here (1) one’s own sense of integrity (2) cultural norms (3) sub-cultural norms (4) economic reward systems etc…, one starts to see that sometimes the “right” thing to do is interrupt integrity.

For pop-culture references just see the treatment of whistle-blowers in recent years. The choice for integrity is not a straightforward one, as many would see those figures as violating integrity, while others see them upholding it.

67 CompletelySolo August 7, 2013 at 11:03 am

So, this was all very interesting and noble, but honestly, it’s perpetuating a false idea: the idea that some actions are inherently good, right, or proper, and some are inherently evil, wrong, or improper.

Humanity invented the concept of ethics and morality. It’s an evolutionary social structure that serves as a means of behavioral regulation. We all have morality, every one of us. We have our own ideas of what is right or wrong, but no two of us have the same ideas. In the interest of a smooth running society, we have adopted certain frequently held values into what we generally consider “Good” culturally, sometimes even legally.

The problem here, is you’re taking something that not everyone is going to see as inherently “Good” — honesty — and assigning absolute moral value to it. Why should I be honest to someone who has not earned my honesty? What is the harm in a “white lie?” There are people who think those things are absolute. There are those that don’t.

Those that don’t, actually, have it right, because morality and ethics are not something that have absolute values. *We made them up.* You can’t tell me that a person willing to lie, cheat, steal, and sacrifice their entire lives for a cause that they see as far more important than honesty — if they even value honesty at all — has less “integrity” than someone who refuses to compromise those principles. Some people even take pride in being a competent cheat. Their opinions are no less valid than ours.

Or, in the pop-culture wisdom of Captain Jack Sparrow:

“Me, I’m dishonest, and you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. Honestly, it’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, ’cause you can never predict if they’re going to do something incredibly stupid.”

68 Henry August 7, 2013 at 11:51 am

What I found most interesting about this essay and the volume of comments is the near absence of reference to the Lord. I suppose it is common to academic ventures to avoid what can be deemed religion, so as to be considered respectable. And yet the fallacy of a moral argument without the acknowledgment of a moral law-giver (the one who is the authority upon which is moral law is based) delivers us to smart-sounding discussions that are in essence pure fantasy: “How would we walk if there were no gravity?” or “If a tree falls in the forest…”

To have a discussion on morals without the context of the moral authority means we presuppose that man can be his own authority. Looking at life from the perspective of no higher authority is like closing one eye and losing depth perception. One can still see objects, but much of the context is lost. Someone remarked that Integrity is being honest when no one can see. That remark is meaningless in light of the presence of the Lord who sees all.

Some remarked that one must compromise integrity to be successful in the world. By what definition of success? From a biblical perspective, one reaps what he sows, and what can we expect to be the spiritual rewards for cheating?

One of the most sensible comments spoke of the effectiveness of repentance. The arguments surrounding the pyramid totally ignore what the Bible teaches. Interesting that the author speaks of a “what-the-hell” moment. The Bible refers to that as the moment the Lord turns us over to the desires of our hearts. One commenter remarked that true integrity is impossible. The Bible says all have sinned and fallen short. With all respect to the authors, the Bible does a better job of explaining human behavior than telling people “You better be good or you’ll fall down that slippery slope.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was booed at Harvard when speaking of the downfall of Russia, saying the cause was that “we had forgotten God”. Do we do anyone a true service when we try to explain human behavior outside the context of the Lord?

69 Paul smith August 7, 2013 at 12:42 pm

“People don’t sell their souls to the devil, they nickel and dime them away.” Ayn Rand

70 Steve S August 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Great series subject and article, however, I want to further explore the question on ad blockers. I do use POPUP blockers, but not ad-blockers per se (is there an ad blocker that’s not a popup blocker?)

Another angle: Ad rates are based on TRAFFIC, documented unique visitors… so, even though I am consuming bandwidth and resources on the site’s host server, I am providing the site owner with valuable TRAFFIC…. numbers that enable the site owner to earn more from each ad. Just as TV advertisers know that some people will user DVRs to buzz past ads or will go to the restroom or kitchen during commercials, WEB advertisers also know that viewers will ignore, not click and/or block ads (especially the more invasive, noisy and belligerent ones!). Ad revenues for both are based on documented and perceived audience size (reach).
Love the site… I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. Also, I signed up for the email notices on new content. I can read the email without viewing popup ads at all (one ad banner displayed on my email– and with which I have no problem). I presume the site owners offer the email notification as an enticement to return habitually to the site in order to drive up their traffic/reach (and ultimately ad rates & total revenue).

Again, enjoy the site content and have shared with friends/relatives… but, though I understand the arguments of each side, I’m still bothered by the assertion that ad blockers are “stealing,” I’m giving of my limited/scarce/valuable time –which I wouldn’t give without good content— and contributing to traffic numbers and duration time on the traffic. I just don’t want a lot of popups and pop-unders tangling up my PC. There are some media sites I will NOT go to, simply because they constantly attack me with obnoxious ads and popups ever-evolving to circumvent ad-blockers. The measures and counter-measures are a constantly escalating “arms” race.

71 Dave Tindell August 7, 2013 at 1:02 pm

The posters who say that “white lies” are acceptable are akin to those who say littering is okay, but stealing is not. “Everyone does it” is no excuse, as my father told me. It also is a false argument to say that man sets ethical and moral standards, so therefore if an individual man or group wants to change or ignore them, that’s his/their choice. The atheist would argue that moral standards are absolute; without them society collapses. Yet he does not accept any higher authority as the source for morality. He is attributing absolute values to something which he says is not at all subject to absolute authority. It is a hard thing for a man to walk the straight and narrow path, to take the high road when so many around him seem to be doing just fine, or better than him, without taking that high road. Yet where would we be if everyone felt that lying is okay, that morality is what you decide it is at any given time depending on the circumstances, that it’s okay because everybody does it. When anything goes, everything eventually will go.

72 Heath August 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I do agree that this is a well versed theory, but it needs to be tested with other priorities other than just financial gain. even though that is the most sought after thing there are still other motives that can cause, what i like to call, “integrity bumps”. But nonetheless this is still a very interesting sight into the human though pattern. Impressive, definitely will continue reading.

73 Kratoklastes August 7, 2013 at 11:16 pm

@Johnathon Giarmo (#54)… odd that you mention C.S. Lewis – the article brought Lewis to mind for me too, but in a different context: his Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 entitled “The Inner Ring”.

The relevant snippet is pure gold:

“And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.”

It’s about being drawn, by the desire to be part of the ‘Inner Ring’, toward ‘scoundrelism’ one tiny step at a time, until you are so thoroughly compromised that you think dinner with Blair, Cheney and Kissinger would be terrific.

The CS Lewis Society has the entire text of “The Inner Ring” – it is a must-read.

That said: I personally think that many of the Cheneys and Kissingers (and Blair, and almost all politicians) are actually hard-wired megalomaniacal sociopaths – they do not need to be drawn in step by step: they stand ready as young men, to give their entire being over to any machinery that will grant them power.

74 Brett McKay August 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm


I understand your concern about ads and that’s very thoughtful of you to want to contribute in some other way. I had a donate button on the site awhile back, but only 1 person donated in a year, so I ended up taking it down. I do think the idea of those who use ad block buying something from our store is a very considerate gesture, although you are certainly not obligated to do so.

@Steve S.
I think my saying that ad block is equivalent to stealing was too strong, and other commenters have helped bring me to a more nuanced view of the issue. You add another good counterpoint with your comments about increasing traffic.

We turn down, by the way, all pop up and pop under ads, so your pop up blocker actually won’t affect us. We try to run the site with a “do unto others” philosophy and I hate pop ups on other sites, so I don’t allow them here. Same thing with other intrusive ads. We try to keep things pretty low key with the ads, even though that means turning down lots of additional revenue.

Hope you continue to enjoy the site and thanks for your feedback.

75 Kitchen'r Jon August 9, 2013 at 10:44 am

This is the type of article that makes me believe in the potential for the internet to be good. Thank you so much! I began by thinking of all the unethical things people do around me and then slowly became more introspective and less judgmental. I began thinking about the ways it’s easy for me to make little decisions and how hard it can be to overcome them later. It’s great to be forced to be reflective every once in a while and strive to be a better person.

76 NYCCat August 11, 2013 at 11:33 pm

I think there are those among us who are just basically overall lacking in integrity but are deceptive about it and those of us who basically have integrity but not perfectly so.

I don’t believe that people just one day make a decision to do something dishonest and go down a pyramid because that’s a purely behavioralistic way of looking at things and doesn’t speak to the issue of a person’s character.

There are people who actually set out to cheat and deceive. They didn’t just impulsively decide to cheat one day and then slide down the slippery slope.

77 Rick Shelton August 13, 2013 at 9:51 am

I’ve said, for quite a while now, that people are not rational, they are rationalizing. The ability to rationalize gets a workout when you start down the path of ‘cheating’ and the more you use that ability the stronger it gets and the wider the ‘acceptable bahavior’ horizon becomes.

78 Will Malven August 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

Excellent article. While nothing is new here, the slippery-slope of morality has long been discussed, it does provide us with a nice encapsulated look at how we behave or misbehave and why.

It also shows us how, should we so choose, to redirect our behavior to become individuals of integrity . . . “Practice makes perfect,” “act your way into right-thinking,” “we learn by doing,” etc.

What I find fascinating is the gradation of integrity and or sensitivity to integrity in the comments. We have the full Monty from the clueless “if nobody cares, what’s the problem,” to “one wrong move will ruin your whole life.”

Clearly as with all questions of morality. there is a sliding scale into which all humans fit. Some hold to their sense of right and wrong rigidly some loosely. Some have a broad definition of right and acceptable, others hold very narrow, constricted views.

I guess as long as you are not a clinical sociopath and are happy with where you find yourself, then you have “integrity.”

79 Connie September 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm

It’s a slow fade. People never crumble in a day. The journey from your mind to your hand is shorter than you’re thinking.
Song lyrics… so very true! Once you start down that slope it gets easier to keep going that direction and harder and harder to turn around and climb out.

80 Cedrick Johnson September 17, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Great article and well explained. Integrity means so much in life and can determine results.

81 jigglebilly September 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Integrity does not fit within reality. It is a construct of the mind. No where in reality is there only two options, right and wrong. So that’s problem number one: Integrity does not align with reality and is thus a thought distortion.

Number two: The notion of integrity demands that self-worth be tied to decisions. This is a big no-no. Now decisions will be based on another mental construct, self-worth and self-made rules that define it, as opposed to, once again, reality.

This tying of self-worth, and the polarization of decisions into good and bad will at some point cause suffering on the individual, suffering not reflective of reality.

This is dangerous, because now the individual is using their own mind to cause suffering on themselves.

Look at this pyramid. We define reality by something we created. Wtf?

Here’s reality (or as close as we can get): Decisions have negative consequences. Base decisions on the potential REAL consequences; NOT on consequences you create in your mind, and follow through with self-imposed suffering (insanity).

It is true that habits are built in the brain, they must be built over time. But making decisions that negatively affect the individual, even when they have the presence of mind to know it will have a negative impact, is insane, is called a “bad” habit. Self-imposed suffering is not a born-in trait. It is the anti-reality, the ego.

Do you see? The depth of negativity we experience in our minds and lives is due to our using suffering as a tool in thinking. It creates dissonance, a splitting of the mind, the worship and perpetuation of the victim we cause in ourselves.

To heal, to remedy a mind not reflective of reality, poisoned by suffering-causing mental constructs, is self-compassion. Compassion is the anti-ego. Compassion does not always feel good, because like reality, it is not there to serve you, or itself (like the ego). It is there to bring you closer to reality, which just so happens to be awesome.

82 Urban Music Teacher October 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm

“Teachers like you never get tenure.”. “Do you think I got this position by opening my mouth before I got tenure?”. “You should have known better than to out-perform your administrators. They hate that.”. And my all-time favorite “You think you’re going to put me back to work like I did 20 years ago? I fired the last 7 music teachers in a row and I’ll have YOU outta here by January”

There’s a price to pay for NOT compromising your principles too. And it’s often characterized as negative/rigid. NOT the kind of example we want to set for the kids. Surely John Dewey is
positively spinning in his grave. I sometimes wonder if he would survive today?

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