The Problems of Deception part 1

At a party years ago, a friendly three-year-old asked me if I had a penis or a vagina. Her mother put her head in her hands, weak from embarrassment. Kids can say the darndest things, with no grasp of adult norms, pretense, or a political agenda—just wide-open wonder. At just three years of age, she had figured out that there are two sorts of people, male and female.

She took baths with her one-year-old brother and had asked her mom why he looked different from her. So mom had to explain the difference. Mom must have felt some culpability at giving out such adult information to a three-year-old. Mostly, I was surprised to hear that the little thing could speak in complete sentences.

Then, kids grow toward adulthood, and their grasp of things becomes a balancing act between the "in" doctrines and the uncensored facts. Many people feel confusion at the variety of correct and incorrect interpretations. Often, they turn to law enforcement for a career, which typically operates from external facts—"Just the facts, please."

On an episode of the TV show COPS, for instance, Miami-Dade police officers conducted a sting operation against prostitution. They stopped a suspected cross-dresser, and to establish the external facts, they asked him bluntly, "Do you have a penis?" His answer, no, was evasive, so the officer asked him again, "Do you have a penis?" Whereupon the prostitute admited that he was, in fact, a male. He would have said more, if the officers had bothered to listen, how much he hated his failed male-self—how much he wanted others to regard him as a woman, but police and a lot of other people judge the situation of the cross-dresser as deception; and the disabused "John" may not take a hooker's deception so lightly. The life of a hooker represents enough risks, even without this kind of deception.

Our modern, liberal society takes great pains to protect our representation of ourselves. We allow these games of chance with the greatest of ease during times of comfort, peace, and wealth, but when push comes to shove, people want to know who you really are—not just "Johns" and police officers, but also enemy soldiers in a time of war; and they do not bother to ask if you have a penis. They pull your pants down to see for themselves! This sort of thing happened in Russia during World War II. The invading German Army went through village after village sorting out who was Christian and who was a Jew. They made each male pull his pants down to look at his penis.

No one likes a deceiver. If you let a hooker into your car and realize belatedly that the parts do not add up, well, anything can happen. But often, deception does not appeal to the deceiver, any more than it does to the deceived. The deceiver may only deceive to save his own skin. If soldiers from Nazi Germany stop you and and make you pull down your pants, what will you do? That happened to a Jew named Salomon Perel during World War II. He saved himself by claiming that he was a German like themselves. The soldiers believed Perel, but he had to allay any suspicion until the end of the War, just to survive. To do that, he had to pretend to be just one of the boys, join the Hitler Youth, and live a lie 24/7.

By the end of the War, Perel had reached the limit in personal disgust over his pretences and dishonesty. From then on, he only wanted to live in a place where he could live as himself; so he emigrated to Israel. When he married and had sons, he had them circumcised according to Jewish law. His life should serve as a model for everyone. Deception and falsehood hurt a man's dignity and respect, and raise the suspicions in the people around him about his real selfhood and his intentions toward others. What could he be hiding? Perel learned about the problems of deception in the most urgent circumstances imaginable.