The Fiddler: Is honesty the best policy?

Consider the impact of this on that most honourable species known as politicians.  Any genetically modified person standing for office would have to admit to all the bad things he has done in the past if questioned thereon.

The Fiddler

It is often said that you should be careful what you wish for. Should we wish for a society in which everyone has to speak the truth? Would the granting of this wish set us free or would it have chaotic effects?

We are soon to find the answer to these questions. Genetic engineers have just announced that they are now able to modify the gene structure of a human in a way that the person will have no choice but to give honest answers to all questions. If we project ahead to a brave new world in which every human being on earth has this modified gene, then lies, deception, fake news, false propaganda, Donald Trump, etc. will be things of the past.

Consider the impact of this on that most honourable species known as politicians.  Any genetically modified person standing for office would have to admit to all the bad things he has done in the past if questioned thereon. This might make it almost impossible to find anyone who deserves to hold public office. Also, a person would be disinclined to stand for office because he will know that any attempt to use it for personal gain will easily be found out. If a person seeking re-election he would not be able to give false promises of rich rewards to the constituents if they vote for him again because if he is asked if he will keep these promises he would have to respond in the negative. As we know only too well, politicians lie a lot hence the jibe, “The only foolproof way of telling when a politician is lying is to see when his or her lips start moving”. With all these constraints upon abuse of office, politicians would become an endangered species.

Corrupt, bribe-taking judicial officers and prosecutors and avaricious bogus prophets could be easily exposed.

Employers would be able to avoid employing scoundrels by asking candidates for jobs a few simple questions.

The criminal justice system would be transformed. When questioned by the police a suspect would have to tell the truth about whether or not he committed the crime. If the person admits that he committed the crime there would be no need for a criminal trial as the culprit would only need to be brought to court for punishment to be imposed. Defence lawyers would be rendered redundant. Many would maintain that this is not a bad thing.

A person would not be able to enter another country to commit acts of terrorism because he would be obliged to answer truthfully the question in the entry form, “Are you a terrorist?” (I have always been amused with the inclusion of this question in the present day entry forms. If the person has not been modified to tell the truth, do the authorities really believe that he will answer “yes” to this question?)

It would be interesting to see what would happen in international relations if world leaders now had to tell the truth. If Putin when asked about this had to disclose exactly when he was going to obliterate London, his opponents could get in first by wiping Moscow off the face of the earth. Sadly that would still not prevent Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

There will be far less adultery as the adulterer would know that all the wife would need to do to find out about extra-marital affairs is to ask whether he has been faithful. Wife: “Why did you arrive so late this evening?

Husband: “Because I had a hot session with my latest girlfriend, Darlene.”

Wife: “Then let me see whether this carving knife can fit very deep into your chest.”

This brings to mind this courtroom exchange:

Q: Are you married?

A: No, I’m divorced

Q: And what did your husband do before he divorced you?

A: A lot of things I didn’t know about.

And this truth-telling story:

Do you talk to your husband when you are making love?

Only if he telephones.

The insertion of a truth gene in men is particularly necessary in the light of the facts set out below:

“A study has found that men don’t just rank higher than women in terms of how often they lie — they also consider themselves better liars. This is according to researchers from the University of Portsmouth who found a significant link between expertise at lying and gender.”

The lies men tell about themselves when dating and when in relationships could be prevented by truth modification. But yet again very few women would be prepared to enter into relations with men who have given them a candid breakdown of all their quirks, bad habits, failings etc. Woman to a man she meets on a date: “What is your worst characteristic?” Man: “Do you mean things other than the fact that I am a serial killer and consume human flesh?”

We need to consider the negative social impact of truth-telling. If we went around telling people exactly what we think of them, violent responses may be engendered and this could lead to serious social disorder. On questioning, bigots, racists, extremists and other undesirables would have to reveal their perverted views and this could lead to civil strife. If I think that Mike Tyson is a nasty brute, and someone asks me in his presence what my opinion is of him, the obligation to disclose my true opinion could put me in danger.

If a cruel dictator asks his minion whether he is the greatest leader ever, and the minion replies that he is arrogant, stupid, heartless and treats his people like dirt, the leader’s reaction would be unpleasant for the minion.

We would not be able even to tell “white lies.” “White lies” refers here not to lies told by a European like Cecil Rhodes, but rather to lies about an unimportant matter told to spare another person’s feelings and to avoid causing offence. What if you hated the special dish that the hostess had gone to enormous trouble to prepare for you? It would be very impolite for you to tell her that it was the most horrible food you have ever eaten in your life and it was not fit to be given to a pig. Yet if you were fitted out with the truth gene you would be obliged to utter these words.

Take the situation where a soldier has been killed when a missile intended for the enemy went astray and accidentally killed the soldier. If asked by the widow how her husband died, it would be appropriate for the commander to tell her that her husband died bravely while engaged in a firefight with the enemy.

Moreover, there is a fundamental flaw with a compulsory truth-telling world order. Some countries will undoubtedly hold out against having their people genetically modified. That will give it an unfair advantage when, for instance, this country is trading with a truth-telling nation. It could induce the truth-telling nation to enter into a contract based on blatant lies and deception. Those who only speak the truth will not be able to detect lies.

On balance, therefore, it might be better to avoid creating a world devoid of lies. Would I lie to you?

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