Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Liar's Poker

When it comes to honesty, is there anything better than Liar's Poker?

Liar's Poker is a game in which two or more players lie to each other. Each person holds a dollar bill that is hidden from the other. Each takes a turn guessing how many twos or threes or fours or whatever are contained not just in the serial number of the bill s/he is holding, but in his or her bill plus the unseen serial number of an opponent. Each seeks to find a larger number than his/her opponent.

Two threes beats two twos, three sevens beats three sixes, five eights beats four eights or five sevens ... etc. All lying is permissible: A person with no nines is welcome to bet "three nines." If his opponent has two nines in his hand, s/he might estimate that the combined serial numbers might reasonably contain three nines.

The bets inch higher and higher until at some point one contestant decides that the other is lying and "calls." If there are eight numbers on one bill, there are sixteen numbers in total to lie about. But at a certain point the likelihood of seven fives, for example, dwindles. After the "call," both players lay down their bills, the truth of the last bet is measured against the serial numbers of both bills, and the winner gets his opponent's bill: If that last bet was "five fives" and there are five fives, the bettor wins; but if five fives turns out to be a lie, the one who called wins.

How much more straightforward could something get? All lying is not just permissible, it is expected. Lying and not lying are all part of the game, but in the end, the facts speak for themselves. It's a little like the (I think I read this somewhere) Italian court system that assumes those offering testimony will lie on their own behalf ... as distinct from the American judicial system that makes a great show of getting those testifying to swear to "tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Liar's Poker: The truth comes out in the end. Wouldn't it be nice if the same yardstick were applied to spiritual endeavor ... that the assumption is not so much that anyone might be telling the truth, but rather, because of the nature of the game, everyone were bluffing or lying or possibly telling the truth? Wouldn't that be easier than lollygagging around, swearing to tell the truth, claiming to tell the truth, pretending to have the truth well in hand? Don't such assertions, whether cleverly disguised or not, run the risk of sinking the liar further into a liar's mud instead of into the winner's circle?

Of course in Liar's Poker, there is a certifiable truth that comes out. In spiritual endeavor the certification comes from within, from an experience that brooks no doubt and does not require 'certification.' A (wo)man who can ride a bike doesn't ask for proof -- s/he just rides. Talking about it just slips back into a new game of Liar's Poker... which is dishonest in an honest cause.

I like the honest dishonesty of Liar's Poker. The dishonesties of spiritual endeavor are a bit more tricky -- few, for example, would see it as a fun game -- but the possibility of uncovering the truth does exist, I imagine.

After all, honesty counts.

1 comment:

  1. Brings to mind...

    One bright day in the middle of the night,
    Two dead boys got up to fight.
    Back to back they faced each other,
    drew their swords and shot each other.
    A deaf policeman heard the noise
    Ran and shot those two dead boys.
    And if you don't believe it's true,
    go ask the blind man, he saw it too.