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,

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