In our culture we do not believe in objective truth. We believe the words of those of high rank. Lies are told by those with power and we accept them as truth in the face of our own experience. We can’t believe in objective truth, objective right or wrong, objective benefit or destruction. We can’t use these as measure because so much of what is foundational to our economy and political structure is inimical to objective good. It is manifestly and obviously and excessively bad. To any observer. Even those of high rank.
Dave Pollard was grappling with authenticity in last week’s post on How to Save the World. He writes, “We are living today in a world where many deny the very existence of ‘truth’, and assert that if enough people believe something it is effectively true, at least for them. In past, we used the word ‘myth’ to describe such beliefs (whether they were true or not).” Revealingly, when we talk about the stories of our culture, it is in the language of myth, in narratives with uniquely-endowed and utterly independent heroes, with over-arching morals that excuse temporal harm, and with continual upward progression toward the ever-shining present City on a Hill. We do our best to ignore that the present is always past before we even speak of it, and the city is never all that glittering in memory.
In that discordance between our myths and our experienced reality is where the lies become structural. Those in power elaborate the lies into an opaquely woven web. They tell us that what we see and experience and feel is our idiosyncratic and irrational interpretation. They say we have misguided judgement and poor understanding. We have opinions, they say, while they claim to speak the truth.
Longtime cultural observer and Simpler Way creator, Ted Trainer, recently posted an essay on the inherent dissonance and disinformation of EuroWestern capitalism. He says, this culture, and particularly its economy “… embodies several principles and procedures that are clearly undesirable, unjust and indeed immoral, yet they are ‘normalized’, made to look acceptable, justified, even admirable. It is OK for the richest to take as much as they like and thereby deprive the poorer people, grotesque inequality is in order, inevitable, development of trivial and luxurious ventures is not a problem, large numbers are dumped into unemployment and homelessness but there is no need to dump an economic system that does this.” These breaks with reality are normalized, he says, because this is exactly what capitalism is designed to do — concentrate capitol to the benefit of those in power — and the lies are told to hold the rest of us in check.
This system of normalizing continual and structural lies has worked well for hundreds of years. This recent hot mess is but the latest in a long line of liars who benefit from our bemused complaisance. Every time a new ascendant comes along, all he has to do is tell his lies loudly and continually. We judge his veracity by his effectual power to get those words to us. If he has influence sufficient to make the media repeat his lies, then he speaks truth. Thus little Hitlers with their “big and frequent” lies are raised above us with the collusion of the media. And we put our heads down and accept whatever nonsense is thrown at us. Because it’s all already non-sense. What’s one more lie?
I’m not excusing anybody here. This is not absolution for those who refuse to make any effort to sift through the morass and discover real, evidence-based truth — because while it is a constant effort, it’s not a difficult one. It’s as simple as refusing to accept anything from those that are selling you something, including their political selves. Especially if whatever they are saying is obviously harmful to a great many people. (Witness the pandemic.) Listen to those who have direct experience with whatever they are talking about, and get your information directly from those few who stand to gain nothing from distributing it. But there is the main difficulty… because so many people who should be credible have been bought, their expertise and integrity purchased for the benefit of the liars. So even though there is always a trail, it does take effort to engage in perpetual contact tracing. Who works for who works for who… who is getting money behind closed doors to speak lies? Many of us don’t have the time or the research skills to make that daily effort.
However, the unforgiven are those who don’t want to, who prefer the lies and do not want to hear the truth. Because they judge truth by their own benefit. And the foundational lies are explicitly told for them — “all men are created equal” — so they deem the daily stream of untruth and disinformation likely to be of personal benefit as well. Even if it’s not obviously so.
And so, for one reason or another, we acquiesce. We must to fit into this house of cards that these lies have built. If we are to participate in this system, we must adhere to the words of those who created it and those who continue to rule it. This has been necessary — this crediting words that are counter to our experienced reality — since the founding of this country, perhaps since the rise of EuroWestern economic systems. This is a culture of lies and to be in this culture is to accept untruth.
However, as Dave Pollard says, “Misinformation and disinformation have enormous consequences for the functioning of civil society. Societies that are based largely on blatantly false assertions and provably erroneous beliefs are called cults, and they usually — though not always — end in ruin.”
Actually, initially I was going to say this has been true since the inception of care-work slavery… but on consideration, I realized that was not accurate. Take that other property-based empire, Rome. No Roman ever claimed that all men were equal. No Roman ever said that freedom was an inherent right. Rome did not have a publicity campaign. I think this double-speak only began with the demise of kings. The demise of kings, alongside the claiming of royal prerogative by those who toppled the thrones. Indeed, these upstarts felt so insecure in their right to rule that they made themselves the only inheritor of any rights at all, lest anyone level a legitimate challenge at them.
And yet they chose to use the rhetoric of freedom and equality.
They never had the temerity to say “No, that’s just for us. You all still get to be slaves.” They still constantly pretend that we’re all equal in opportunity when we are so obviously not. They may use this rhetoric of meritocracy to salve guilt, to perhaps convince themselves of their worth, their right to command and possess everything. But the most egregious of them tell lies knowing full well that they do not deserve to be listened to — and they don’t care. They are damaged by this sociopathic system and can’t care. And so we live in a culture of constant lies. Not even deception. Because there is no expectation that we truly believe. Cameras clearly reveal cynicism, lies told brazenly in winks and nods and smug half smiles. No, we are expected to act as if we are deceived no matter how outrageously unbelievable the deception is. We are expected to bow to the lie, knowing full well that it is a lie.
Perhaps this double-speak isn’t merely a lack of chutzpah. It is possible that they just happened upon a highly effective way to keep us all under their control. No brute force or expense or compromise necessary. Keep repeating that one big lie that we are all equal in rights and in opportunities to make lives for ourselves. Tell us we are ranked as we are through merit, that we all deserve our lot whatever it may be. Tell us that whatever we think we experience that might be counter to that narrative is nothing but our irrational opinion. Tell us that we are the liars, coloring our own lived circumstances with fantasy, falsities aimed at taking what we have not earned. That we have not profited from those opportunities to be equal only through our own faults… not because those opportunities don’t exist… Tell us this over and over and over until we accept it without question.
Well, a deluded and confused and thoroughly gaslighted public is a defeated public. We are not going to mount many offensives to wrest real opportunity from the liars. We go along. Because it’s easier for many of us. And because it’s truly hopeless for many more.
When I described how we are told that we are divided and how this didn’t accord with at least my lived reality, there was a comment that labeled all this deception as a plot. I’ve been chewing on that for a few weeks now. My initial reaction is to say “Hell yes, it’s a plot! This whole country is a very effective plot! It is designed specifically to accomplish one goal: cow the masses so as to keep the few folks in the propertied class in charge.” But I’m not as sure about that now. I’m not sure that the founders were smart enough or prescient enough to craft a plot. However, I’m quite sure that this systematic lying has lasted as long as it has — and therefore this country of lies has lasted as long as it has — because they quickly discovered the power of lies — especially this particular lie of equality and freedom — to hold on to power. They lucked into the one thing that would allow them to be kings with no divine mandate. (Which itself was another fortuitous fiction… but probably not a plot.)
(That said, I’m fairly sure that Andrew Jackson and perhaps Alexander Hamilton did understand and did plot. Jackson was surely the loudest liar until our audacious orange one arose from the New York sewers. Jackson used the power of this lie to the utmost so he could get other men —men that were all “equal” but never as equal as him — to kill for him.)
Most of the founders were not so intentional. Most of the propertied class since then is also unlikely to be doing much lying with intention. I’m fairly certain they are more like toddlers. They found this magic button that when pressed will give them what they want — mainly, to not work and to be adulated. Like toddlers they keep pressing this button and it keeps working because we acquiesce. Like toddlers they never question their wants. What they want is good. Getting what they want is good. Any misconduct along the way to that good is acceptable — collateral damage… And as long as that magic button keeps working, delivering their wants, like toddlers they will just keep pressing it over and over and over no matter how much evidence is mounting that pressing that button is destroying everything. They are damaged children. They do not see the damages they cause because nothing outside of themselves concerns them. We are being ruled by toddlers.
One of the reasons ex decided to become ex was summed up in a plaintive wail: “But I wanna travel.” And he knew that wasn’t going to happen, that the magic button didn’t work on me. He couldn’t make his wants acceptable by merely telling me that they were. The magic button fails on me for many general reasons, but in this specific case he knew it wasn’t going to affect my decision to stay out of airplanes. First of all, I get horrible motion sickness and have terrible circulation that makes being stuck in a plane absolute misery, usually lasting well after I’ve escaped (and well into whatever plans necessitated the plane ride). So fair disclosure, I’m prejudiced against planes. But I also have ethics that don’t bend to the lies as readily as they once did, and it has become fairly obvious to any objectively moral observer that air travel — in fact, all tourism — creates an outsized level of waste and destruction while benefitting nobody. Yes, nobody, in an absolute sense. It is destroying our life-support systems on this planet, and thus it is harming even those who receive monetary wealth from the industry. And of course, it directly harms millions whenever anyone buys a plane ticket to go globe trotting — witness the fucking pandemic.
But I am unusual, and ex knows he can push that magic button with any number of other people and they will tell him his wants are perfectly acceptable. Desirable even. Contributing to the growing economy. Good. He can tell himself and others lies and he will be believed — or at least not called on it. I am unusual but he is not. I am telling this story because it illustrates the extent to which lies told by a certain class are tolerated and normalized. He chose to end a thirty-year relationship, to shatter his family, to place us both in financial insecurity (though me much more so than him) — merely because he could no longer get the magic button to work. “She thinks what I do is wrong, what I want is unacceptable.” Rather than analyzing why I think that, he chose to blow up his marriage. And this was a perfectly rational decision in his mind. Because this is exactly how our country works in microcosm… A lie told by those in power will be accepted as truth. Simply because he wants it that way.
We have created a class of power-wielding toddlers who speak whatever they want and demand that the rest of us accept it as truth no matter how conflicting their wants are with any sort of reality. We are a country of willful, lying children and bewildered — tired! — workers. There are no mothers to enforce good behavior… because we have been discredited and silenced. So far…
But here is the picture that Dave Pollard paints:
“… it is very unsettling, and historically destabilizing, when a whole society fractures along the lines of what stories each fragment wants to believe to be true, especially when those stories are incompatible. Those fractures usually manifest in wars, genocides and civil wars. They are alarming, but not a new human phenomenon. Faced with incompatible truths, societies disintegrate and often collapse. Eventually new societies emerge within the wreckage that have enough shared beliefs in what is true to be able to function and provide enough value to their members to endure. Their members’ Stories of Me are, for the most part, cohesive, becoming, to some extent, a collective Story of Us.”
I tend to think that we have perhaps passed the fracture line. The lies told by those in power are being questioned. The cracks have opened in our country’s collective identity, that which allows us to be a “we, the people”. I don’t know if genocides and wars are soon to follow. The advantage of our age is that all of us who are not in that small propertied class can communicate with each other. We know we are more numerous. We know we have more collective power than they do. We know they are dependent on us and our subservience. And we know that we do not have to be their servants. Their lies are revealed whenever we talk with our neighbors and help each other out. Their willful sociopathy is not enough to keep us apart. We are stronger than they are and we have reality on our side.
So what is the next story? It’s up to us. I’ve not often been called an optimist, but I am strangely hopeful that this time we will found our communities in the solid grounding of this planet, in the reality of shared experience, and in the truth of who we are. For I truly and firmly believe in that facile and much-maligned adage: the truth will set us free.
©Elizabeth Anker 2022