3
$\begingroup$

Say that, through magic, a limit to the number of lies someone can tell is imposed on each person when they are born. You can't ignore this limit--it's not a law or a rule, it's an inborn mental limitation which is impossible to surpass. The limit varies between people, usually falling into the range of fifty to a hundred. One you use up all your lies, you literally cannot lie. You also can't tell white-lies or half truths. The lie limit isn't triggered by falsehood, it's triggered by intentional deception (so someone who doesn't know something wouldn't lose a lie if they said something wrong about it, but someone who said something technically true that they knew would be interpreted inaccurately would lose a lie).

You figure out your lie limit by looking at some kind of birthmark, hidden from public view so that people can't tell when you're lying based on your lie limit going down. (Because every time you lie, your lie limit--the number of lies you have left--decreases by one.)

How would this affect society? Would lying be considered good, or bad? Would those with a high lie limit be prized and worshipped, or feared and mocked? What if there were certain people in society (magicians) who could remove their own lie limit and lie freely?

How would society evolve if people could only tell a certain, low number of lies in their life?

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Lying is an important survival skill and there are many kinds. White lies, rationalisations, collaborative lies, and so on. Even the concept of ‘Hope’ is a lie. I remember reading a short story about guy who only had X amount words left to speak and would die when he reached the limit. He went through hell. The pressure was unpleasant. Your scenario reminds me of that. $\endgroup$ – Darius Arcturus Dec 2 '19 at 12:19
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You'll have a problem with a watertight definition of what a lie is. For example, misdirection and deliberately withholding information can all have similar effects to lying, but without actually telling any untruths. Lawyers and politicians have managed this skill quite well in the past (though admittedly many modern politicians have found that no-one cares if they tell the truth or not...) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 2 '19 at 12:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does storytelling count as lying? We game possible strategies by making up stories. We also shorthand history to make it memorable and teachable by leaving out details that distract from the point. Lying is critical to thought. Can you differentiate deliberate deception lying from lies of convenience? $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 2 '19 at 13:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wife: "honey what's you're staring?" husband: "noth.... Okay okay a pair of boots over there, jesus that was close." $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 2 '19 at 13:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In line with the answers below, I'm pretty sure my toddler has lied to me more than a hundred times in the last weekend alone. Usually along the lines of questions like "Do you have to go potty?", "Are you ready for a nap?", "Did you hit your sister?", "Who made this mess?", etc... $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Dec 2 '19 at 15:07
4
$\begingroup$

I have something that prevents me from lying. Basically I cant read social cue's as naturally and have to learn them from memory and previous interactions. This caused me to have little feedback to how well I performed a lie (or someone else lying to me) and means that I never learned to lie properly.

And its such a liability that I'm actually learning how to lie properly. Not for purposes of deception but social acception. Lying about yourself to others is a core of many actions you take a day, and its mind-boggling that many of your most important interactions like solliciting for a job you want you are expected to lie and make yourself seem more awesome, if only so they dont think you sound so-so and think that you still needed lies for that assessment.

50 to 100 lies is incredibly little. Children between 3 to 7 are likely to break that limit twice over each year as they experiment with social interactions and non-existing interactions (I swear I saw a monster in the closet every single day). And ignoring or punishing children for this makes them feel unwanted, hurts trust in caretakers and stunts their future interactions with society.

If you excempt children you would still hit the teens, which include puberty and the finalization of your brain growth and social interactions (well it really stops around 20 to 22 in my experience).

I think a better way to handle the situation would be a limited amount of lies each year and have the amount of lies go down as you grow older to give children more leeway. As the question stands though...

Society would run out of lies quick. People would have to go around telling the truth simply because they cant do otherwise. Social convention will change: uncomfortable questions become socially unacceptable to ask. People who still do so can expect anger, insults and even violence as social acceptance is massively important to humans (so important that large social interactions like speaking with public is one of our most common fears next to death). Forcing someone to either not anwer a question and "admit guilt" or to tell the truth and possibly shame themselves would simply not be acceptable. Asking proper questions would also become more important in this society. Not just "proper" but actually well constructed questions that can give an answer without forcing social repercussions. Think of questions about work, family, friends, love that we now sprinkle with lies. Is she pretty? Regardless of how you actually did do, do you really feel you did a good job on that project? Did you really do that thing you said you did exactly like you said to your friends or did you spice it up a little or leave stuff out to make it less boring?

It would make certain things easier ofcourse. Big murder investigation? Just do a organize something similar to a local election where people have to identify themselves and then answer a few basic questions like "have you intentionally harmed someone. Have you murdered someone. Did you commit a serious crime" etc. For things like flying its also easy. "What is your destination. What is the most important thing you intent to do during the flight. Are you currently or in-flight a danger to yourself and others". Any time a question raises more questions details can be gathered.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ nice catch with the unacceptable questions! For children maybe it would not be considered as lie, cause they believe in it. $\endgroup$ – Zavael Dec 3 '19 at 8:00
5
$\begingroup$

Based on current human development patterns, the vast majority of people would use up such a quota of lies in early childhood, probably before they gain an appreciation of what they've lost. Parents would have to work extremely hard to discourage their children from lying. Fortunately parents of young children would be able to see the birthmark and know whether their child has lied (although not whether it was a lie to them or to someone else at school that day). But I would still expect that people in society who still had the capacity to lie would be relatively rare, and it might well develop into a sign of social status independent of its primary purpose, as a thing you were born with that you cannot gain but only lose, and which you maintain through supposedly virtuous qualities of self-discipline and integrity (especially if, in reality, high lie quota is a mostly hereditary quality imparted by "good blood").

Assuming that lying is still common enough in society that it's only "significant" rather than "unheard of", then society will develop accommodations for it. The presence of the birthmark means that you can prove that you're not lying, either voluntarily to someone you're prepared to expose yourself to, or involuntarily when under interrogation or in court. Expect a mythos to develop around the birthmark which makes it a very intimate part of the body, and a one-rule-for-the-rich whereby it's considered outrageous to slight the honour of an aristocrat enough to demand to see their birthmark (and hence exceptionally) demeaning to them to be forced to show it), while the lower classes are forced to expose themselves to higher classes as a matter of course when signing contracts, taking oaths of allegiance, etc.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Conversation culture

It could have a big impact on the way of talking, mainly asking. There are many ways of how to lie, or better - how to not tell the truth. Maybe people would start to ask cautiously, to avoid their friends to loose a lie. Maybe there would be more frequent answer Dont ask me that question with the meaning I can't afford to lie to you

Aristocrat: Did you steal it?
Beggar: No! (thinking aboyt bicycle)
Aristocrat:... Did you steal my car yesterday?
Beggar: No! (thinking about green car)
Aristocrat: Did you steal my Noname-brand red car yesterday?
Beggar: No! -> loosing one lie

Jurisdiction and economy

The powerfull people would be able to force other to show their mark, and not expose their own. In a democracy, there would be either a law, that anyone has to show it, or (with GDPR) it would be your privacy. On the black market, it could be a matter of business. At one point a photo of aristocrats mark would be highly valuable, until he dies -> drop in price. A whole market section could rise from that. And in the same way, there would be magicians who would sell lie limits (if able) or magicians with world-saving-and-freeing goals to free them all. Maybe cults could arise around this types of magicians, aiming to find a way out or a way to rule the world.

A good point from @Zwuwdz in comment: There will be a need for people with high lie limit for some positions: PR marketing, Politicians, Secretary, Accountant, HR management, Fortune-tellers...

Relations

People would have fewer friends, but these relations could be stronger, more honest. Marriages could cease to exist (or be replaced by some other official relationship), as the famous "yes" answer could be impossible for some people with zero limit of lies. It would be harder to get high demanding proffesional job, as many prospects are lying in job interviews. Raising a child would be much affected. We are always telling lies to children just to force them to do something, or to keep them safe - lies about touching electricity, knifes, cigarettes.

People would be unhappy about inequal distribution of lie limits, about equal weigth of important and unimportant lies, about (real/unreal) myths that powerfull people can lie freely. Unrests can rise from that. I would treat a person with zero limit with compassion because they would be totaly exposed even in everyday conversations. But on the other hand I would abuse the knowledge about zero limit of somebody to get some informations out of them. Not with force necessarily, but with repeating modified questions.

Me: Take a cake I made. Do you like it?
Zero-limit: Its sweet.
Me: Hmm.. Yes. And did you eat a better cake?
Zero-limit: I had once much more sweeter.
Me: Really? So.. it is the best cake you tasted?
Zero-limit: Do you really want to know it?
Me: Uh.. ok.. I think I already know the answer. Give me back my cake!

General setup

You have to decide when a person is lying. If its always a lie when he says untruth regardless of his knowledge (the easiest way but with much bigger impact, children unintentionally say untruth all the time), or it dependes on what he knows. If a sentence is a lie only if you are intentionally lying (you have to know its not truth) can be insufficient. People will start to learn how to intentionally forget facts. Or how to percieve their own mind that a lie is actually the truth. They can even start some brain training schools.

You will have hard time to define the rules of lies. And as it is in every system, there will be exceptions (and in literature a chosen-one who can bend the rules).

At this changingminds.org page there is a nice breakdown of lie colors, based on the gained prospect from a lie - you can find inspiration there. If the lier gets prospect and the others lose, its bad. On the other hand white lies shouldn't affect the limit. There are other types of lies defined around the internet.

NOTE: it reminds me of the movie In time (2011) where people had their lifetime countdown and could pay with this time I think. It was frustrating seeing the countdown closing to zero :)

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Another possible economic change could be more formal tracking of "need to know" information. The CEO very much doesn't want to hear any bad news right before an earnings report. And the structure of the company is set up to avoid him finding any out. He probably has a very highly ranked secretary with 1) many lies remaining 2) more information about the company than him 3) plenty of security. $\endgroup$ – Zwuwdz Dec 3 '19 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Zwuwdz nice point, I enhanced the answer with that $\endgroup$ – Zavael Dec 3 '19 at 8:30
0
$\begingroup$

There are several studies on how often an average adult lies per day. The range seems to go from 1.65 to 25 lies per adult and day. Maybe that depends on how seriously the lies are counted.

(For example: The origin of the phrase "good morning" is something like "I wish you a good morning". So everytime you say "good morning" to a person while actually not really caring if they're having a good morning, you're lying)

When you only have 50-100 lies for your entire life, you will probably use them up before you're able to say more than a few words. People will be used to the fact that no adult can lie and will believe anything you say. Most people may not even know that those birthmarks have a meaning. Some parents may find out that those marks disappear when the child pretends to not have pooped in its pampers, but because they aren't used to the concept of lying, they will just see it as an early childhood issue and those marks will maybe be called "poopmarks" or so.

Communication will be rougher than normal because many good manners are little lies (you can say things like "good morning", "thank you", "merry christmas" etc. only when you're really meaning them). When your child paints a picture for you, you can no longer say that it is beautiful, when it's actually just a mess of lines. Same is for the new hairdress of your colleague or the clothes of some stranger. You will most probably talk like the aliens in the "strange planet" comics.

Because you're used to hear nothing but the truth, you won't be offended when somebody says something bad about you. It will be more like a computer message. When it says that your password isn't safe enough or it doesn't understand your Excel formula, then it is a bit annoying but not offensive. The good side will be that you can't be bullied, because nobody can say "you stink" or "you're ugly" when you're not. Most people will profit from hard truth. Just think of all the people who can't get a partner and don't know why. They will quickly know the real issue and can work on it.

People that are able to lie will do their best to hide their ability. Misfits are not welcome in most societies. When somebody finds out that you are lying sometimes, you might be lucky and only be perceived as being dumb or forgetful. If you're not that lucky, people may think that you have a mental illness that is dangerous for society and you will be put into psychiatry.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ The origin of the phrase might be "I wish you a good morning" but that's not it's current usage right? I use "good morning" as a way to say "hello" and nothing else. It's not a lie. As the question states it's the intention that matters. It would be weird otherwise as your idea would mean that the origin of language would cause constant lies. Most words are borrowed from other languages and started out with different meanings, and your usage would mean you would constantly lie and suddenly not be able to speak normally. Also 25 lies per day seems low. Did subjects lie about it? $\endgroup$ – Demigan Dec 2 '19 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ Also I think you are a bit heavy on the pessimistic side of things. Things I created when I was a kid are still treasures hoarded by my mother. I often say Merry Christmas as either a greeting or with the actual intention of "I hope you have a happy Christmas". You can say "thank you" easily as an acknowledgement rather than an actual thanks and I often do say thank you with the intent of thanking them, and the feeling of thanks does not have to overwhelm you before you have to be able to say it without lying. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Dec 2 '19 at 17:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.