When you sell a used car that is a known piece of junk to someone that doesn't know anything about cars, should you feel guilty? This would be a crime of taking advantage of another person's ignorance. But, what if this car were the car that Dale Earnhardt owned when he was in High School and you didn't know this was the case. Collectors of this 1952 Studebaker that was owned by a celebrity would pay 10 times what you received for the car. Should you have been more honest in your portrayal of the quality of the car or should the purchaser have let you know that it was worth a lot more?
Sometimes you can be accidentally deceptive. Such was the case when I sold a photo on eBay that I claimed had a ghost in it. Which led to some deep thoughts on what is honesty.
In the late 1990s I started selling things that I didn't need on eBay for fun and profit. It only took about 3 months and I didn't have anything left to sell. So, I started searching second hand stores and garage sales for items that I thought would have a good profit margin. This is where I came across a medium sized box of old relics including about 50 photographs from the 1920s of a local family. They were of various ages and had similar features. You have probably seen the type which had taken on a brownish tinge from the passing of time.
I created an ad on eBay that read something like this; Here is a great way to create your own family history! Place these pictures on your mantel, give them names that sound like they are your ancestors. When friends ask, you can make up your own stories of greatness about your NEW ancestors. The batch of pictures sold, but they only brought about $10.00.
I removed one picture from the sale because it had a defect. What photographers refer to as solar flare. Which is a little round white spot somewhere in the photograph.
I was going to toss the picture, but started reading about people who had taken photos with sunspots or flares and claimed they were ghost. Some claimed to have captured apparitions of the unseen. This was one of the claims that had been debunked by James Randi. Even after debunking several adherents held onto the believe that objects from the other side had been captured on film. Such were the claims of believers in the Cottingly Fairies.
The bidding for the photograph with the lens flare started at $1.00 and soon rose to about $20.00. I am a little surprised, but I had posted a picture of the old photograph so that anyone could plainly see that this was just lens spot. The picture eventually sold for over $40.00 and I shipped it off, as is.
This got me to thinking about whether or not I had deceived the buyer. All I had said was “there is a ghosting in this picture”. Everyone knows there is no such thing as ghost, don't they? If someone believes there are ghost, do you have the responsibility to convince them differently? After all they are placing their believe in something that is unseen and unprovable. In other words they are deceiving themselves. I don't believe I would be the only one to take advantage of ignorance and superstition. So, I started enumerating the professions that take advantage of these poor people.
We all know the palm reader gets no insight into a persons personal life by looking at the palm of the hand. What they do get is money by playing on the believers ignorance. Just like the psychic, the crystal ball reader, the tea leaf reader and ghost hunter. So, why was I feeling so guilty?
I felt guilty because I had taken advantage of another's ignorance. This person most likely fears death and what becomes of us after we die. This is a common fear and is the most easily used to manipulate others for profit. What if I had told him to read and understand a book that would grant him eternal salvation? Knowing that this book was nothing more than an aggregate of myths that had been passed on for thousands of years. Should I feel guilty if he then gives me money for such a great comfort? Well ministers don't feel guilty for doing the same thing. Or do they?
This became a question that I posed to a former Pentecostal minister I know. He said that not only do you feel guilty, but he had met many others that had felt so guilty they wished to quit the ministry. But, they had invested in a rather long education and had no other means of making a living. They were locked into telling the same stories and promoting the same deceptions to make a living because it would ruin their lives to confess.
No, I shouldn't feel guilty. But, those that commit these deceptions week after week should.