An old friend, one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, uses this line frequently. It’s funny. It’s true. It’s true for all of us.
Is this just the way things are? Is this the only way things can be? If so, there’s a big reason for pessimism and the need to escape into irony and detachment.
We tend to follow this chain of assumptions. It siphons off our discontent and turns it into a useless channel.
“Lie to me.” It’s the internalization of the effective drive behind civilization. It takes the conceit of those who would be our rulers and accepts it as the natural course. It goes beyond that, “everyone does it!” And claims it as a universal “truth.” It may be the fundamental symptom of our Stockholm Syndrome, as we identify with those who would use us for their own ends.
“Sincerity is boring. What is truth anyway? Why should I bother?” The list of justifications winds out in a spiral of infantile reactions that remove any notion that we have any right, or responsibility, to engage our reality directly, asking our own questions and resisting easy answers.
How can we make any headway – dealing with anything! – while immersed in such an environment where the general and correct supposition is that we are being lied to, that we have no basis on which to asses any form of truth?
We make stabs at addressing problems, at encountering our predicaments head-on, but all of these efforts are poisoned by this atmosphere.
We are indulged. We are indulgent. That is the way an economy of lies, of liars, works. We take whatever partial, half-formed notion of a solution or a way of coping with what cannot be changed and we run ahead to form a movement behind and around our idea. We jump into the general stream of propaganda – Oh! That’s not a nice word, Public Relations. And attempt to sell our view. We take advice on how best to Brand ourselves. – An interesting thought, what would an eighteenth century colonial slave think of our enthusiasm for such a practice!
Slavery. Branding is always needed in a slave economy. How else do we know who owns whom? An acceptance of branding as a given is a sign of our acceptance that slavery is a given, that life is a struggle between those who would own others and those resisting being owned. Or, as is most often the case, resisting the tasks thrown at them while accepting that being owned is the natural state for most of humanity.
This is the subject of one of our most fundamental lies. That this transaction will be hidden from view, that we will conspire with everyone else to ignore this truth about the way our cultures are organized and that we will insist that it is futile to expect anything else; these are assumptions we all hold, but would rather forget them than challenge them.
At some point, somewhere before Gilgamesh‘s day, some people decided that with a growing population it made more sense to exploit this growing “resource” than to continue treating others as kin. The Elois and the Morlocks of H. G. Welles’ “Future” are a symptom of our desire to see this as universal. But has it been? It is certainly convenient, it would be advantageous if it were true. We could just get down to business without all this remorse, regret, or recrimination.
In fact, our entire appetite for convenient answers, for ways to sidestep having to face hard truths, is another symptom of living in an envelope of lies. Our exhaustion in the face of difficult thorny problems and deep seated predicaments is a sign of our confrontation with the futility we cannot suppress in the face of our systemic revulsion at a world constructed of lies to maintain the domination of the many by the few. That we are entertaining any of these questions at all is a sign that the entire edifice of exploitation and deceit is imploding around us. If its effects had remained at a toxic chronic level instead of spiking to an ever more alarming critical stage, we would remain caught up in the fog of struggling with what we instinctively reject but cannot see a way around. Such are the rewards of a moment of clarity.
Attention. It all does come down to attention. The P. R. types have all known that too! They use this to distract us. Can we use this insight to break out of their traps?
My instincts are to shut out the demands on my attention that appear to be self-interested, that are part of what I’ve referred to as the Spectacle. We become vulnerable to the variety of traps labeled ironic detachment and pragmatic skepticism if we fail to see that these are only subsets of the greater atmosphere of deceit. This is where the fiction about the need to strive after results is well positioned to lead us astray. If we accept the necessity to strive after goals we can find no way out of the trap, because we have ourselves chosen to take yet another lap of the cage. Our hunger for psycho-drama will be fed. We will feel busy. We will be too tired to think or feel anything through. We will be driven to accept every short-cut offered us. We will remain where we were, at some level in a chain of exploitation, probably not at the very bottom, although that is the fastest growing group! Most probably not at the very top. I hear there have been some problems lately even for them…. But we will not break out.
It’s a habit. As with any habit, a predilection for breathing lies is an acquired taste. Accounts of “savages” on their first contact with the civilized are full of their amazement at seeing a look of insanity in the eyes of their visitors. An amazement that the ones with the most power seemed to be the ones most crazed and most likely to lie to them with a conviction born of long habit at having internalized their lies by believing them themselves. The rest has always played out in only one way. But these were all examples of “innocents” confronting duplicity in the hands of the powerful for the first time. Now we have few innocents left. It is now a case of finding ways to wean ourselves of duplicity and enter into relationships of strength versus power. This is a type of relationship we know little about! Don’t assume anything about what it might entail. It hasn’t been discovered yet.
We are so habituated in the habit of conflict. Everything now has a “War” against it so that we are blinded to the way epochal shifts tend to actually work. No Bird or Mammal carried out a “War on Tyrannosaurus Rex!” to end the domination of our world by dinosaurs. Any of them crazy, or foolish, or demented enough to meet them in direct confrontation would not have been there to contribute their genes to what followed. They attended to their own affairs and avoided getting killed.
“The truth tends to be boring.” Would you rather be entertained to death?
If so, just go on asking everyone to lie to you, everyone else does.