Why TARS and Cooper Were Wrong: An Interstellar Essay About Honesty

In one of my favorite movies of all time, Interstellar, a super cool robot is asked what his “honesty parameter,” or honesty setting is. He says it’s 90% and his explanation is both funny and spot-on:

“Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.”

When I first heard that line, I admit, I agreed. 90% honesty is basically totally honest, and peopleĀ are really emotional and difficult to deal with. Plus, diplomacy (tact and conciliation) are good qualities!

Nonetheless, I present an alternate idea: tell the fucking truth. With tact. šŸ™‚

Back in the Interstellar world, Cooper uses the robot’s 90% honesty setting as justification to make a pretty serious life decision for a female doctor that has the bad luck of being the last one alive with him. And of course, he doesn’t tell her he’s made this life decision for her until he’s ejecting himself from the craft and sending her on her way. Or his way, I guess you could say. I could discuss the creepiness of this in terms of gender but I’ll spare you and stay on track.

What track are we on, exactly?

The truth track! The one where Cooper could easily have told Dr. Brand the logistical complications of their situation and let her make up her own mind. The one where Cooper doesn’t get to choose a person’s future because he thinks he knows best. The one where Cooper tells the truth.

It could be argued that Cooper was “doing what was best for humanity,” but I call bullshit. There’s something inherently selfish in lying, always. Excuses can be made, justifications can be articulately delivered, but the bottom-line is that the liar always thinks they know best. They always think they have the right to lie, for whatever reason they’re doing it. And they don’t, because they aren’t omnipotent and they aren’t better than the person they’re lying to.

In a world dominated by corporations and advertising (by lies), I posit that we don’t need to add any more to the laundry list.

It’s possible to exude tact and conciliation and still tell the truth, or at least, our version of it. Especially when it comes to major life decisions that affect other people, not necessarily the pair of pants your sister just put on that makes her look like she’s packing something in the crotch region. Actually, tell her the truth about that, too.

Over and out,