Many people know that monologuist Mike Daisey is an acquaintance of mine and that he even wrote the cover blurb to my Acid Logic book. You also might know that he’s been in some hot water recently; it’s been revealed that parts of his spoken word performance piece damning Apple Computers for using mistreated Chinese labor are untrue. This op-ed piece has a good overview of the story and its ethical dilemma.
My take so far is that, yeah, it sounds like Mike crossed some lines and I don’t buy his defense along the lines of, “I had to lie to tell a greater truth.” But this section from the op-ed got me thinking.
Daisey is great with his other persuasive tools — particularly his signature long pause that precedes a fact on which he wants you to linger, for maximum outrage. One such fact is that the sullen-looking Chinese factory guards carry . . .
. . . guns. It’s a sharp little moment, placing Daisey up against dangerous people who clearly have something to hide. Unfortunately that turned out to be . . .
. . . untrue.
Although Daisey still says he remembers guns, the evidence overwhelmingly is that there were none.
I’m prone to thinking Mike’s full of it and knows damn well they didn’t have guns. But I just read a recent Wired article on the fallibility of memory.
In the past decade, scientists have come to realize that our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all.
The scientists aren’t sure about this mechanism, and they have yet to analyze the data from the entire 10-year survey. But Phelps expects it to reveal that many details will be make-believe. “What’s most troubling, of course, is that these people have no idea their memories have changed this much,” she says. “The strength of the emotion makes them convinced it’s all true, even when it’s clearly not.”
Reconsolidation provides a mechanistic explanation for these errors. It’s why eyewitness testimony shouldn’t be trusted (even though it’s central to our justice system), why every memoir should be classified as fiction, and why it’s so disturbingly easy to implant false recollections. (The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has repeatedly demonstrated that nearly a third of subjects can be tricked into claiming a made-up memory as their own. It takes only a single exposure to a new fiction for it to be reconsolidated as fact.)
Basically: memories can’t be trusted and should even be viewed with suspicion (just like Jews.) So maybe Daisey honestly did recall guns where there were none. And more to the point: we should be viewing every personal account with skepticism. Even our own.