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An honest liar: when it’s ok to lie

honest-liar-james-randi-01

I'm always looking for new movies and book recommendations.

So much that about 3 years ago my friend Dan and I developed an iPhone application to keep track of books, films, and band recommendations.

We needed to come up with a super original name for this app, so after weeks deliberating we agreed to call it.. ta-chan!!.. are you ready?… we called it: “BooksFilmsBands”

Although the app never took off and made us zillionaires I still use it all the time because the original premise that prompted its inception still holds true.

In about 60% of social conversations you will receive a recommendation for one of those three items. So to this day, when someone recommends a book or a movie (bands less) I pull up my iPhone and I add it to my list.
This is great cause my memory sucks and BFB has been a great aid at filling up countless of Q3 and Q4 time over the last 3 years (if you don’t know what Q time stands for you missed my last post and your life will be 3.4% less fun because of it).

So what? hold on, there is always a reason why I start my posts with seemingly random information. 1. Because that’s how my mind works and 2. Because it sets up the stage to the section of the email where I try to make a point that hopefully makes it worth reading up to here.

Thanks to BFB I remembered to watch a movie that was recommended by my father in law a while ago. A movie called “An Honest Liar” (hence the title of this email) which recounts the life and career of the renowned stage magician and scientific skeptic, James “The Amazing” Randi.

You can look up James Randi on wikipedia and will find out that he was one of the closest successors to the famous Houdini that has existed in recent history.

This movie was so timely because a couple of weeks ago I wrote and email titled “Selling: is it ok to lie?” and one of the main themes that drives this movie revolves precisely around the ethics of lying.

You see, all magicians are professional liars. They make money by making you believe something is true when it is not. What makes it ok for them to lie is that they are expected to lie, in fact, we pay them to deceive us because, if they don’t, they suck.

In “An Honest Liar”, James Randi says honest magicians will deceive you but won’t make you believe they truly have super powers like, telekenisis, levitation, or telepathy.

James Randi spent most of his life going after other magicians and gurus that claimed to have real paranormal abilities. Over the last 5 decades he has exposed countless fakes including world famous magician Uri Geller - who claimed he used his mental powers to actually affect the molecular structure of metals to bend them easily - or the self-proclaimed prophet and faith healer Peter Popoff - who made millions making people believe he could cure the sick and terminally ill by simply touching them and imploring the name of the Lord Jesus.

After watching this movie James is my hero. Mr. Randi is the most likeable and closest blend of super-hero, Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kenobi that I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard to believe he actually existed (and still exists at 87).

In my email “Selling: It’s ok to lie?” I expressed my concern regarding many widespread marketing techniques used to deceit and manipulate people into buying products and services.

In “An Honest Liar” we see several real world examples of unscrupulous magicians, marketers and businessmen using their honed powers of persuasion to lie and manipulate people out of the hard earned dollars.

What is most surprising to both James and the viewer is that, even after James systematically and scientifically exposed these evil doers, many of them quickly got back up on their feet and had no problem finding more gullible victims willing to part with their money in exchange of lies.

This begs the question: Who is at fault?... the liar for lying? or the lied to for wanting to to be lied to?

Turns out there is a rather large section of the population that chooses to believe a lie over the truth any day as long as the lie gives them... HOPE.

Hope must be very important because is what keeps millions from throwing themselves of a bridge every day. The moment you have no hope it’s game over. This is why many of us are willing to accept anything that can nourish our hope, even if it’s a lie, even if we know it is a lie.

So in the world of lying we have honest liars like Randi, unethical ones like Geller and Popoff (and many politicians), people that hate to be lied to and people that beg to be lied (to be entertained or to survive).
It seems that lying is not always bad, it really depends on the context (magic tricks, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus) and the intention (protect, entertain, give hope).

There are lies that can save lives (to the SS officer: nope, there are no jews hidden under the floor) and truths that can get people killed (yes, there are jews under the floor).

Problem is that is not always clear when is ethical to lie. Not all situations are life or death situations and we are getting closer to a time when we are going to have to teach machines to make those decisions for us and entire nations will have to come to an agreement as to when a computer will do less harm by lying than by telling the truth.

Ok, I realize I’m opening a huge can of cybernetic worms here so going to go back to “The Amazing” Randi. Like him I rather be an honest liar. Like him, I will choose to only use my new found marketing powers to influence people to buy my crap in an ethical way.

If I twist the truth it will only be for entertaining purposes and my audience will be aware of it at all times. And like Randi if I catch others abusing their powers to cause harm, I will denounce and expose them (although it’s unlikely I’ll make a career out of it like Randi did).

Peace, love and magical cookies,

Miguel

P.S. You can check out BooksFilmsBands iPhone app HERE (sorry, we never got to the Android version cause we ran out of cashola)

P.2. Lying to the SS officer is probably not the best/happiest example of when lying would be justifiable. Blame Tarantino for that very scene in Inglorious Basterds HERE.

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