It has been fun to speculate for the last three posts about the near future, when reliable, unobtrusive lie detectors will be everywhere in our society. However, the sad truth is that most people do not care about the truth.
Throw whatever technology you want into the mix, and we’re still human beings, with most of us bearing emotional wounds whose reopening we want to prevent at all costs.
Often the truth is exactly what will hurt the most. Just yesterday, I read a woman’s account on Quora of how her mother refused to believe her when she said her stepfather was abusing her. One imagines that the mother knew the truth, but refused to face it and all the guilt it would entail. Would she be willing to interrogate her husband with the help of a lie detector? Many women would not, just as many people refuse to see a doctor when there are signs of cancer.
For many people, the truth would upend their worldview and they are afraid of the consequences. Many have attempted to convince me to return to God by arguing, “But if there’s no God, then there’s no such thing as right and wrong!” Arguing from consequences is precisely backwards, but it does a great job of keeping unwanted information away.
Yet imagine the benefits of knowing whether people are lying to you.
The financial benefits are trivial and obvious. You would know whether your boss really is planning to promote you, or whether you should seek a job elsewhere. You would know whether the car salesman really was giving you his best offer.
More interesting are the intangible benefits, for those who could handle them. One of my pastors confided to me that his beliefs were actually more liberal than what he preached from the pulpit, but he could not let on because he knew his congregation would be upset. I respected this man, and had I known his true convictions a decade earlier, I might have been forced to confront my own questions sooner, with huge, earlier gains to my ultimate psychological and spiritual well-being.
Or what parent hasn’t hesitated to discipline their child because they’re not sure whether their child’s excuse-story is true? Or worse, what child has not been punished unjustly because their parent would not believe their story? Imagine the psychological benefits to children whose parents raise them with unerring justice and confidence!
But children, parents, church-goers and employees are human beings, which means that a sizable number of them would rather nurse their wounds or attend to their short-term emotions than face the truth. I don’t say this to condemn anyone. It’s just reality.
Those who are wounded tend to perpetuate their wounds in the next generation. The pattern of abused children marrying abusive spouses is familiar to us all. So is the pattern of the over-disciplined boy becoming an angry, controlling father.
So here’s what might happen to society over the next few hundred years. Those who are strong enough to seek and face the truth will rise to the top economically, politically and in terms of emotional well-being. Basing their lives on reality, they will surely have innumerable advantages in all these areas. But those who are unable or unwilling to know who’s lying to them will sink to the bottom. Their lives will center on myths that get them nowhere, or wounds that cannot be cured by denying them. They will be more concerned with their short-term emotional maintenance than with aligning themselves with truths that, however painful, will be to their benefit in the long run.
In H.G. Wells’ book, The Time Machine, the human race of the future has split in two. The Eloi are a docile, apathetic race who live above ground enjoying a life of leisure but without any intellectual curiosity. The Morlocks lead industrious lives underground. In a scene I read decades ago but will never forget, a siren sounds and a door in a large building opens. The Eloi proceed dully toward the door and, after a certain number of them have entered, the siren stops and the door shuts. The reader learns that the quota of Eloi who walked into the building will become food for the Morlocks.
Let’s hope we are not heading for such a future, where those who are in command of the truth are able to manipulate a wounded, truth-apathetic lower class to do their bidding.
P.S. – Does anyone know the producers of Black Mirror? I think this would make an excellent episode.