How to Fake It So No One Notices

Immanuel Kant famously argued that lying is a parasite on truth-telling. But parasites must be self-limiting: Killing your host is an evolutionary dead-end, so a successful parasite must keep from pushing its growth to the utmost.

Lying, then, is often caught in a balance between too little and too much. Fraud and fakery limit themselves, and nothing-but-the-truth is something nobody wants.

Here are five examples of faking that isn’t too big, and isn’t too small, but just right.

Fake purses and saints’ bones

Holy relics were one of the most important trade items during the Middle Ages in Europe—mainly fragments of the bodies of saints and martyrs, but also objects connected with the life of Jesus or the apostles, such as fragments of the True Cross, Mary’s robe, and even one of the baby Jesus’ diapers (which is still to be seen on special occasions in the German city of Aachen). A vast network of traders and thieves supplied the needs of cathedrals, churches, and private collectors, and some historians have suggested that competition for control of the relics trade was a primary motivation for the Crusades.1 The relics market thrived despite the fact, which must have been obvious at the very least on numerical grounds, that many of the goods for sale were fraudulent. At one point 21 different churches claimed to have the Holy Foreskin, while the quantity of nails from the true cross that Mark Twain encountered on his European travels amounted to “a keg” all told. “And as for bones of St. Denis,” he said, “I feel certain we have seen enough of them to duplicate him

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