Masters of the lie

Nick Tayag

Fraudsters, scammers, swindlers, con artists, masters of disguise, whatever the right term to use for them, there are in our midst consummate performers of the art of deception. They are “People of the Lie” to borrow the title of a book by M. Scott Peck, author of several bestsellers.

Capitalizing on society’s susceptibility towards beguiling appearances, coupled with greed, they can ensnare anyone of us, even hardnosed businessmen who are supposed to be experienced practitioners of due diligence. That’s because we are all products of our appearance culture and materialist desires.

This is my takeaway from watching the twin tales of Anna Sorokin alias “Anna Delvey” and Shimon Hayut alias “Simon Leviev” and “David Sharon” who are the subjects of two popular documentary series now on a top streamer.

Although the two series hooked me, I felt uncomfortable because both of the main characters seemed to have been portrayed favorably—as savvy hustlers, and not as convicted felons. At some point, I was even blaming their victims, even thinking they deserved it for being gullible, or, to use the slang, “suckers.” The irony is that the two con artists are even profiting from their fame thanks to media deals being worked out.

It brings me a painful memory of the time when I too was suckered by a conman who suddenly appeared at our gate, in the uniform of a local government employee demanding our permit to construct because our neighbors were complaining about the noise. He was convincing, complete with ID card and a walkie-talkie that he employed to communicate with his boss at the engineering office, plus documents that looked “official.” To make the long story short, he was able to extort from me a few thousand pesos for a construction permit that turned out to be bogus. When I went to the municipal hall later, there was no such person in their official staff.  I was a victim of “budol-budol” scheme, the colloquial term for the art of the lie.

More and more, we are realizing that everything doesn’t seem to be what it is. Every one is not what they appear to be.

What enrages me most about the real Anna and Shimon is that after being found out, they were convinced that they were doing nothing wrong. For them, the illusion they created around and for themselves was the reality. No amount of fact or truth could prick that bubble of pretense. They truly believe there was no deceit. Hence, no feelings of remorse.

But in appearing to just shrug off their felonies, they are in fact turning the mirror around towards us, as if to say: come on, we’re just like you, masters of the lie one way or the other. He who isn’t good at lying, let him cast the stone.

Touché! Mea culpa, because most of us don’t think twice about putting on a “veneer” or an external sheen so others will perceive us as having greater worth. Reflect on the many times we tried to cover up our weaknesses to make ourselves more appealing.

Consider how we project ourselves on social media where we now spend most of our daily life. We keep editing and refreshing our profile to make us look good. Many of us don’t even use our real names, hiding behind aliases. We put on an avatar, or a persona, covering our warts, defects and weaknesses. Our real activities are glossed over with status updates that aim to impress, showcasing only feel good shots of experience.

Outside of ourselves, it’s the same thing. Many of the acquaintances we have are just like Anna Sorokin and Shimon Hayut, overlaid with superficial veneer to look appealing and attractive. They are seen in proper circles, so people think they are “legit.” It’s a tact that Anna Sorokin employed to gain the trust of the rich and the wealthy.

I know someone who has selfies with almost all celebrities and is an inveterate namedropper. He keeps this collection handy, and at the opportune moment, he shows the picture of him with that celebrity who happens to be a close friend of the target person he wants to seek favor from. The shorthand message is: “I’m a friend of your friend, so you can trust me,” even if that photo was just from a casual encounter.

There is now a slang word that is being used to describe such people: “Orocan.” It is the name of a famous Filipino brand for plastic ware. It is also local slang for double-talk and deception. In gay language “orocan” refers to a person who is a fake, poser, a pretender.

Like the pandemic, the culture of deceit is already becoming widespread in the so-called post-truth era, no thanks to social media.

Tragic is a nation that can no longer find an honest man. It’s time to stand up and be counted. Let’s begin a counter-revolution against the masters of the lie.

Let’s be more mindful and discerning in our encounters with people. Know who among your friends are truly honest and sincere. It won’t hurt to do due diligence on people you’re dealing with before making any commitment. Don’t easily fall for that “I am a friend of your friend” gambit, putting your trust on someone just by association or status.

Stay away from “kaplastikan” and other superficial pursuits and instead focus more on activities that are meaningful and uplifting to the spirit. Let people know your real convictions and beliefs rather than be deceitful about it to please them or be acceptable in their eyes. Call them out if they are lying, as gently as possible, of course.

In the coming elections, we need to be more questioning when it comes to the candidates. Are they just “hao xiao” or “ampao,” puffed up to look big but who have nothing but empty air inside? Ask for “resibo.” Who are they behind the faces they want us to see? Where were they before the elections? What have they done for the people?

We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s future. If we fail to elect honest people, then our culture will be pushed further into the muck of deceit by masters of the lie from which we may never emerge.

Most of all, cultivate honest relationships with your spouse, children, colleagues, and subordinates.

Above all, follow Shakespeare’s precept: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Let’s master once more the virtues of honesty, modesty and humility in our lives. By doing so, we are injecting into the social bloodstream the kind of antibodies needed against the people of the lie. One honest person at a time.

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