Monday, March 29, 2010

Lying Revisited.

Now, where was I? I believe I was talking about the one example that is at the very heart of the film's troubles (note: the picture doesn't have anything to do with the scene I am talking about, it's just to remind you about the film). Now, during the time Mark and Anna were together, he told her a story about his father... a thief.

As audience members we were privy to seeing the story played out before our eyes. Mark's father is seen breaking into someones house. Unfortunately for him, that person was home. So here is the confusing part. The man answers the door as Mark's father attempts to pry it open with a crowbar. The man asks, "What are you doing?" Mark's father asks the owner what he is doing home? Mark's father explains that the robbery would have gone smoothly if the owner had been at work like he should have been. The owner informs him he will have the police here soon to arrest him. Mark's father informs him that the police would do no good because the owner does not know his name. The owner asks him his name and Mark's father responds, "Richard Bellison." He then waits with the homeowner for the police to arrive.

Now ignoring the idea that in this society people freely give away information and the first time Richard tried to spend the money he might blurt out that it had been stolen, if he was in the process of robbery couldn't he have been honest by telling the homeowner that he didn't want to share his name so that he couldn't be identified? Could he not have run away?

And this is the problem with all truth weapons, spells, science experiments, conditions, the easiest way to not lie and not incriminate yourself is to say nothing. This is a strategy I use when confronted with the police. I know you have to tell the truth, and I know an lie of omission is to tell a story and leave something out. But you can't lie if you don't talk. But, if the idea is that we are compelled in this society to not only be truthful but to always answer when questioned and even to volunteer information never asked about, how could anyone be a thief?

I've lost my train of thought, but the what I want people to take away from this is not a negative review of this film. It is actually really interesting, funny, and thought provoking. And I actually believe there was an idea behind it; but perhaps due to focus groups asking it to be more funny, time constraints, budget, or just the impossibility of imagining a world without lies, there are problems with the film.

So, my goal in writing this was to get people to consider the idea not only of a society that cannot lie, but of a society which has evolved without lies. Imagine for yourself how the world would be different and how history would change. What would be normal for people? People in the film lacked compassion, lacked tact, lacked pity. Is that how you imagine a society without lies?

Take a moment to appreciate the wonders and terrors that lying has given us. And imagine that honesty might not always be the best policy.

Your obedient,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A World Where No One Lies But Can Still Act Dishonestly?

So, The Invention of Lying is a 2009 film directed by, starring, and written by Ricky Gervais (also written in part by Matthew Robinson). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film, the idea is that society is exactly the same as it is now (with a few exceptions), except that nobody can lie. Not that it is bad or wrong or societally unacceptable to lie, they physically cannot do it. Which is an interesting concept and actually makes for an enjoyable and thought provoking movie experience. But perhaps you can already see where I am going to go with this.

The idea is sound except the execution is not as thought out as one would hope. First of all, I maintain we could not achieve a society like ours or rather society would not evolve this way if we were incapable of lying. Our society is based on false compliments and social graces. White lies meant to endear ourselves to each other. I could not even imagine what a society without lies would evolve into. Why would we even have laws if we were all being honest about we truly wanted? Why not just kill and steal and when asked why we would say because we wanted it and we are bigger and stronger? Perhaps there are things I am not considering (perhaps definitely) but the point I am making is that society would be radically different from what is presented in the film.

But, this is an abstract idea. The concrete idea presented in the movie that would not allow society to function is the unnatural connection between truth and act. Let me explain. In the film Mark Bellison (Gervais) is attempting to woo Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) and she rebuffs him. The plot revolves around Mark's new found ability to lie. He "lies" to her in order to get more dates; never lying about what he does, or his feelings, or saying anything about himself that isn't true. He simply states that she has made an error in her assessment of him and that she should give him another chance. The implication is that she has not made an error and that logically all communications should be severed.

Herein lies the problem. The society cannot lie, or more specifically cannot say something untrue. But, in this society truth is a tangible thing. It is true that Anna is beautiful and that Mark is portly and has a flat nose. It is also true that beautiful people should only breed with other beautiful people to make more beautiful people. So not only is truth tangible, people may only act according to that truth. It is only through Mark's "lie" that Anna is still able to see him. Then, because of that lie, she falls in love with him because of his intelligence, his sense of humor, his compassion, and his kindness (It also helps that her handsome male suitor Brad, played by Rob Lowe, is a real asshole).

That's the problem though, in this society the "truth" is that only attractive people are worth anything. Things like kindness, compassion, humor, and intelligence are not valued and so a leader like Winston Churchill would never rise to inspire a people in times of war. He would be too ugly. Yet, somehow history evolved much like it does in our world. In fact it almost seems like society only recently cannot lie.

This was my major problem with the film. It played out more like a society that woke up one morning and suddenly could not lie. Not only could it not lie, but it volunteered more information than was even requested. People still acted the way they normally act but suddenly had to tell everyone around them the truth. for example there is a scene in a restaurant where Mark and Anna are on a date. As the waiter brings Anna her drink he informs her, without being prompted, that he has tasted the drink and even tells her from where he took the sip. Now in a society without lies, one would wonder why someone would do something like that? If he knew that he might be asked or even volunteer the information, why would he risk being fired over sipping someones drink?

My friend had an explanation. He said that if the society truly could not lie that they would become so jaded from hearing the truth all the time and no one would care anymore. In fact, they would expect bluntness and inappropriate revelations (like when Anna informed Mark that she had been masturbating before their date because she didn't think their night's activities would end in sex). But that still does not answer how in a society without lies one would still attempt to commit a "dishonest" act. I have an example but this entry has run long. I will finish this up soon in a separate entry.

Your obedient,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

In the spirit of Ada Lovelace Day, my first blog post will be in celebration of women in technology.

Ada Lovelace is the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron. As a child she was often ill but was adept at science and mathematics. Her skills in writing and mathematics impressed Charles Babbage whom she worked and corresponded with on numerous occasions. In 1842, while translating Luigi Menabrea's article on Babbage's proposed Analytical Engine, Ada appended a set of her own notes. Among these notes was a complete algorithm for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli Numbers using the engine. For this achievement, Ada Lovelace is usually credited as the world's first computer programmer.

The extent of her contributions cannot be accurately guessed due to Babbage's tendency to not acknowledge other peoples' contributions to his work. But she was definitely one of the few people to understand Babbage's ideas so well that she could write a program that could be read and understood by a machine.

So what does this mean and why should we celebrate? Think how things might be different without Ada Lovelace's contributions. What things use computer programs? Cars, cell phones, digital cameras, GPS, MP3 players, XBOX 360, the Internet. I am not saying these things would be gone, but how might they be different? How might the timeline of computer technology be altered without one woman's contributions? Think about that while you use these devices today.

If you want to celebrate, think about Ada Lovelace and find out about more women in technology. Find out about women in engineering, in aeronautics, in politics, in science, in space travel, in the military, in every field imaginable both in history and in the future.

And remember that a woman's place is every place.

Your obedient,