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Truth vs. Illusion

by | Mar 29, 2021

Two weeks ago, there appeared in “The New York Times Book Review” a review of Derk DelGaudio’s just-published memoir, “Amoralman: A True Story, and Other Lies,” even though he says, “It is not a memoir.”

Rather, he says, “I had a story to tell about my days as a bust-out dealer, hired to cheat card players at a series of high-stakes poker games at a house in Beverly Hills. I told the story through a memoir.”

In the first half of the book, Derek tells of his early years growing up in Colorado—first in Littleton and Aurora, and then in Colorado Springs. He never knew his father. His mother was a firefighter. He did not get along well in school, and had few, if any, friends.

When 12 years old, Derek found his calling when he walked into a local magic shop in Colorado Springs, that a kind gentleman named Walt owned. From Walt, Derek bought a book on sleight of hand, plus a deck of cards, went home, and practiced for hours after school, until his tricks impressed Walt.

Derek worked for Walt part-time when in school, and then full-time after his school days ended.

Walt introduced him to other magicians, including a well-known magician and sleight of hand pro named Ronnie, who saw potential in Derek, then just a teenager.

In the book’s second half, the scene shifts from Colorado Springs to Beverly Hills, California.

At the age of twenty-five, Derek lets Ronnie talk him into taking his place as a bust-out dealer in a rented house in Beverly Hills. His job was to feed his boss, a guy named Leo, winning cards, and ensure that other players lost.

It was a dangerous job. If ever caught cheating when dealing, he could receive a ferocious beating, or worse, but he was well-paid, taking home each night a percentage of Leo’s take. He later learns that when “he is duping others, he is also duping himself,” and others are duping him.

At the book’s beginning, Derek repeats Plato’s story from his dialogue, The Republic. It is a well-known story, told by Socrates, about prisoners, chained, shackled, and held inside a cave.

A high school history teacher had encouraged Derek to look it up and read it. He did.

The only thing the prisoners ever see are shadows on the wall, which they try to decipher and understand their meaning, but fail. The shadows originate from puppeteers who reside on the other side of a wall and who hold up various objects in the light from a fire.

Socrates explains that if a prisoner ever leaves the cave, the sun outside will blind him, and if he staggers back into the cave and explains to the other prisoners the actual meaning of the shadows on the wall, the other prisoners will not believe him and may kill him.

Socrates declares that “the prisoners are like us humans.” What we think and believe is true is a shadow of an object we cannot touch or see, and only guess at its meaning. “Nothing is as it seems.”

Derek plays on that distinction between truth and illusion. He says, “Truth and lies are opposite sides of the same coin, but who’s flipping it?” “I lost sight of reality just enough to glimpse the truth.” He also lifts a quote from Ecclesiastes, “We are born knowing only truth. Then we see.”

Derek DelGauido’s memoir reminds me, in a slight way, of Charles Mackay’s 1841 book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It too is not a memoir but a catalog of gullible people chasing foolish dreams. In it, you can read about “tulipmania.”

Mackay wrote, “We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit. Millions become impressed with one delusion, and run after it.”

“One nation seized with a fierce desire of military glory, another crazed upon a religious scruple, and neither recover until it has shed rivers of blood.” “Men think in herds; they go mad in herds; they recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

Mass delusions can become quite “popular” at certain times, and then “extraordinary” when studied later in the light of a new day.

Who can you and I trust? How can we pull truth from an illusion? How can we defer a delusion? Good questions. For some possible answers, I point to James Allen’s 1908 book, As a Man Thinketh. In it, he argued that a solution lies in how a solitary man or a woman trains and focuses his or her thoughts.

He says that a thinking man “is the maker of his character, the molder of his life, and the builder of his destiny, if he will watch, control, and alter his thoughts, tracing their effects upon himself, upon others, and upon his life and circumstances.”

You have permission to play a prank on Thursday, and celebrate April Fools Day!