04 April, 2016

The Truth

If you're a reader, chances are you can think of at least two or three transformational, unforgettable novels you've read at some point in your life... which nobody else has ever heard of. They may be lesser known works by authors who latter attained a level of celebrity (The Grid, by Philip Kerr,  is one such for me); they may be by relative nobodies.
James L Halperin published something in 1996 called The Truth Machine. Free, 100% legal (no lie!) download here. I remember thinking the premise looked interesting: suppose somebody invented at 100% reliable lie detector, something that (eventually) would become as ubiquitous in the novel's world as cellphones are in ours. Posit that it's utterly foolproof.

What would the world look like?

Halperin's writing is pedestrian at best (though he acknowledges this right away using a novel excuse: it's actually an "Intel 22gCP' computer crafting the prose). But the concepts...the possibilities...

I've never forgotten the book. And if you ask me in which fictional world I'd most like to live, I'd...

...well, I'd lie. I'd lie and say the Callahan's Place world of Spider Robinson (a series only slightly better known, more's the pity: it SHOULD be as popular as Harry Potter). The reason I'd lie is simple: nobody would have any frame of reference for the truth. The Truth Machine has only sold 300,000 copies since it was published twenty years ago.

I wish I could live in a world where lying was obsolete.

I don't lie well: I never have. It's because I am (usually) too in touch with my emotions and those emotions (usually) run too close to the surface. That's also why I'm not very comfortable with the idea of taking drugs to alter my mental state...reality is for people who lack the strength of mind to handle drugs, and that's me.
I've never played poker, for the same reason I don't drive: I'd crash and burn in short order, so what's the point? I'm telling you, I can't lie convincingly with a gun to my head. I'm only capable of sustaining a lie if I can convince myself it's the truth, and sometimes that can take weeks. Or I can lie by omission, but even then if you're paying close attention you can tell something is being held back.

The inability to lie puts me at a huge social disadvantage in a world where lying lubricates most interactions, even the ones in which you are penalized for fudging the truth. Hands up, all none of you whose resumes have always described their exact positions and achievements, free of all flattering language. If your sweetheart asks you if she looks fat in that, and she does, do you tell her so? (Eva's learned over time that I'm not the best person to ask that of, because I rarely notice and never care. "Do I look fat in this?" "Only about as fat as you always do, I guess...wait, was that the wrong answer?")

A majority of people can't go ten minutes without lying three times. NINETY PERCENT of people on dating websites lie in their profiles. There's something more than a little off-putting in that almost everybody will still lie even in a situation where they know the truth will eventually out.

Like virtually everyone, I went through a compulsive lying stage as a toddler and then again as a teenager. I was told (it took a while to sink in) that if I lied about something I had done or not done, the penalty for lying would be much worse than the penalty for whatever it was I was lying about. But when the consequences of lying are even scarier than the already scary consequences of telling the truth, you search for a third option in which you avoid reality altogether. That's a recipe for a life lived in neutral.

People say that the innocent 'white' lies shouldn't be called lies at all. That's like suggesting that breaking a window isn't really a crime: create an environment in which the little lies go unnoticed and bigger lies are sure to follow.
Nobody likes being lied to. I especially dislike having to play along with known lies from people who will punish you for drawing attention to their own deceit.  I demand honesty in my relationships, foremost the relationship I have with myself, and I reciprocate to the best of my ability.

I do wish others had the same standard. Until we have a Truth Machine, it would make life a lot more bearable.

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