What If A New Technology Forces Everyone to be Honest?
Inga Karton and Talis Bachmann worked with 16 volunteers who submitted to transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can stimulate some parts of the brain and not others.”
International Business Times, September 9, 2011
2016 presidential candidate Bob Glitch is preaching to the Republican Party faithful: “With God as my witness, we’re going to bring morality and family values back to America and we’re going to turn back the homosexual agenda…” Anonymous member Bob Dobbometer joins the cheering throng, raising his fist in the air and points his magnetic truth ring right at the candidate. Glitch continues. “I have nothing against homosexuals. Jesus said we should love every… (Glitch pauses, twitches slightly) “Man, that dude in the muscle shirt is freaking’ hot. I’d like to meet him in a men’s room and…” The mic goes dead.
Of course, the early truth machine will not come in the form of a handy dandy decoder ring and anyway the assumption is that it will be used only on “criminals”… and by criminals we of course mean poor criminals without connections and armies of attorneys. But what might it be like sometime during the coming years of radical technological evolution, if its use becomes generalized and it becomes really hard to tell a lie?
In my last piece for H+, I asked whether enhancement seekers really want to know themselves. This piece could be seen as asking a similar question: do we really want to know what other people are thinking… about us; about treasured beliefs; about anything?… and do we want them to know what we’re really thinking?
One group that would say yes are the practitioners of “radical honesty.” Focused mainly on total truth telling in interpersonal relationships, the advocates promise to “transform your life.” I wonder.
“How’s my hair?” Jill asks, pointing the truth ring at Jack. “It looks terrible,” Jack replies. Jill is unhappy. She runs off to the beauty parlor and gets a new look and returns. “How’s my hair?” she asks, and points the truth ring again. “I think that’s a trivial dumb question,” Jack replies. “You should be thinking about the crisis in East Blogostan.” She moves the ring closer. “What do you care about East Blogostan?” she shouts. “You don’t do a fucking thing about East Blogostan?” Jack twitches slightly. He sinks deeper into his real thoughts. “You’re right. I don’t give a fuck about East Blogostan. I’m actually unhappy because my dick is only 4”. He frowns and now he points his ring at Jill. “So am I!” she screams.
If Jack could have simply said, “Your hair looks beautiful,” Jack and Jill would have each gotten a pleasant little jolt of oxytocin which would have made them both feel good and decreased their stress… and, as you know, stress is a major cause of health problems. Instead, they bitched at each other for several months until they got a divorce. Soon thereafter, Jack died of a heart attack and Jill got kicked out of the health club when she tells the owner, a large black man with a gigantic magnetic truth decoder neck chain who had just asked her to dinner: “Black men like you scare me.”
On the other hand, Radical Honesty advocate Brad Blanton has run for Congress in Virginia and that seems like the sort of place where my imagined Magnetic Truth Decoder Ring could be quite useful. Of course, politicians would resort to headgear to protect their brains from forced magnetic transparency; or if that proves to be too obvious, they would likely opt for surgically implanted firewalls against forced truth telling . Early adopters of this surgery would have a huge advantage. They would be able to spew political and personal homilies and everyone would assume it was true.
OK. I’m being playful here, but — as with the other column I referenced earlier in this piece, it poses a serious question. Is enhancement simply a matter of more?… more years, more muscle, more copies of the self, more brain power — or is it a matter of depth and complexity? Are we better humans because we have replaceable parts or because we have been transformed in our thoughts and behaviors by technologies that are challenging and perhaps painful to utilize? I’m not suggesting that the answer is obvious but I do think it’s a worthy area of discourse for H+ers to engage.
R.U. Sirius is currently editor of Acceler8or at http://www.Acceler8or.com