Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why we hoax

People hoax things sometimes. We can all agree on this. But, when we get to attached to an idea (whether it's Eastern religion, spirit channeling or the Shamwow) we get blinded to the hoaxter possibility. "Well, this and that may be wrong, but at least I can tell that he/she is being honest."

While I call into question anyone's ability to tell whether someone's being honest, that's a different matter for a different day. Much of the time, an individual has a very clear reason to be dishonest, which may look like dollars in the US, or pounds sterling in the UK, perhaps yen in Japan, but it all amounts to the same thing. Money has been a great power in the campaign to turn otherwise good people into scam artists since its invention. As the saying goes (and I'm not entirely sure it's true) Everyone has their price.

But then that leaves all of these other things. Things where something happens, and there is no clear motive for someone to have lied, or faked evidence. They're not making tourist money, book money, talk show money or movie rights money. Sometimes the hoaxter, if there actually was a hoax involved, has hidden from public view. In these cases, those of us that are rather attached to the idea of something being real may argue that it was not a hoax, because obviously the perpetrator would have nothing to gain, in the measure of dollars, pounds, or yen.

When it comes to fooling people, though, there's always a motive. Even if the trickster is losing money in the exercise, there is always a motive. That motive is fun.

It's fun to fool people. Whether you want to throw on a bigfoot costume, video-edit balls of light making a crop circle, or just give a moving testimonial on the internet on how ipecac helped your ulcers. I don't know if you're like me, but I think there's something very thrilling about telling a tall tale, and having people hang on every word.

It is fun to fool people. I don't know if I'm special, or if this is just a quirk of the animal we call Humanity. Untold millions of practical jokes have happened, and very few people ever gained a dollar off of them. Youtube is crowded with things like cell-phone radiation popping popcorn, a giant Lego-ball rolling down a street, not to mention the ridiculous chain-emails that get sent my way, giving me the most absurd advice I may have ever gotten.

I recently read an article in WIRED magazine (yes, I'm a few months behind) about this very subject. It's called Cognitive Surplus: The Great Spare-Time Revolution. It's a very good read, and is basically a discussion of something that we all already know, but doesn't really seem to be fully integrated into many of our worldviews. Besides biological imperatives (eat, drink, watch Beyonce music videos), and reward-punishment type motivations, there is a third drive, which amounts to just doing something because it interests you. This is why Wikipedia exists, it's why Youtube exists. Hell, it's why half of the modern internet exists, including this blog. Don't let the ads fool you, my fortune cookies do not mention money.

So, the next time you hear a knocking on your window, and nobody is there when you look, keep in mind that someone might be having a great time at your expense. The next time you see gigantic footprints when you're out camping in the Pacific Northwest, don't discount the possibility that there is someone with a big rubber foot watching the newspapers, waiting for photographs of his handiwork. And next time you get a convincing email telling you that hugging your kid causes Ebola, don't let the kid suffer for someone else's jollies.

I think we're all tricksters, at some level. And I'm sure we were that way long before the invention of money.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - one can speculate on everything perhaps the bible is the ultimate great hoax or perhaps it was not intended to be taken as reality - after all today we state on novels: This is fiction - perhaps back then they thought one would use logic to realise what was real etc..?

    Why is it we chose to believe the bible and not the Iliad?