Director: Yael Melamede
Producer: Dan Ariely and Deborah Camiel
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
This line is called The Fudge Factory and basically serves as the gray area between honesty and dishonesty that everyone possesses. One thing the film accomplishes is making you realize your own hypocrisy, as in any given month I could tell small lies - perhaps to get out of an event or party, to avoid some additional work, or avoid a phone call. My typical defense is that to do otherwise spawns a series of events that would be even more laborious than participating in them, in that I could explain that I’m introverted and just don’t want to be around people or feel like doing anything as I just feel exhausted, but for those who might not understand those problems, they could build resentment over what they think is an excuse, since they don’t understand or care to, and thus saying I have to wake up early is a relatively innocuous way of avoiding both situations which is understandable to all parties. And yet it’s a lie. I recall being on vacation in the Wisconsin Dells and we were going on the Duck Rides and the guy asked my mom if I was over the age of twelve, and she said yeah and I then said no I wasn’t, creating an awkward situation (in hindsight) for my mom who was caught lying which I wouldn't understand until over a decade later.
This same logic applies often to taxes - which was interesting as I just finished "The Pale King", which discusses the exact issue of revenue lost due to people lying, also presented in this film, which I believe was somewhere around $1.5 billion a year. That’s money the government doesn’t have to operate and provide to the military, social programs, healthcare, etc. because people lie on their tax returns. And so a significant portion of Americans lie about their taxes in order to cheat the government, and these same people might say that they’re patriots and regard America as the greatest country, while also considering themselves and family as honest people (though Ariely demonstrates that these lessons have no worldly bounds). It’s a fascinating exploration of this paradox, which could go in so many different directions.
The thing is, though, it doesn’t go in many directions. After receiving all the data, watching the various experiments, and meeting the various subjects - I’m not really sure what we’re suppose to do with this information. The ending has that exceptionally tropey thing a lot of documentaries are now doing, where it all wraps up in a nice bow; where after watching for an hour and a half or two hours about a disheartening subject you’re then presented with five minutes of a solution of how things could change, even though the solution seems completely absurd and far too idealistic.
In this case it’s almost laughable, as what these scientists learn is that if you put a line like “Nine out of ten taxpayers pay on time” on tax forms, then more people will pay on time and the correct amount, or by having people fill out "Honor Forms", with people signing that they will not cheat, that people do in fact cheat less. All of these seem like far too simplistic for a problem that significantly infects government, big business, and thousands of people day in and day out. Just fill out a form or put a small threatening or enlightening sentence in places where people lie and things could improve. Even the documentary admits it’s not a great improvement, as in Britain these policies only increased honesty by about 5% (though admittedly this is millions if not tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue). But beyond that - there’s no answer. Ariely wraps up his lecture essentially stating that, yeah people lie and it’s a lot more than you think, and in certain situations it’s more and in certain situations it’s less, and there are a few small things we can do about it, but that’s pretty much that. I suppose more research will produce more results, as I was left wondering how it could impact a person’s life or society overall if there was a way to eradicate dishonesty. Even if idealistic, I wanted to know what that world would look like, if at possible. It’s an interesting documentary that leaves you hanging for more.
BELOW: Explaining the paradoxical Fudge Factor
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