A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Throughout history, from Pinocchio to Bill Clinton, there have been fantabulous liars in our midst. Unfortunately, appreciation of the art has fallen out of vogue. Personally, I blame Dubya and Cheney, who, having convinced half the world that Saddam Hussein had WMDs under his bed, finally (in a burst of weird integrity) admitted they never found any. Honestly, if you’re going to lie, at least have the cojones to see it through.
Despite lying’s bad reputation, it is absolutely essential to modern discourse. Lies pedestal our good intentions by rounding off the sharp edges of our conversations. They give us a way in and a way out of difficult situations and grease the social wheels so we can get on with things. Without lying, couples would suffer grievously and the breakup rate would triple (quadruple?) overnight. Office workers would be at each other’s throats — on a daily basis — and salespeople, telemarketers and lovesick teenage boys would disappear entirely. You see, we can’t tell the truth: at least, not all the time. The problem is that dress does make you look fat, some questions are WTF stupid and we’re never going to do lunch – “real soon” or otherwise. These are truths; however, it serves no purpose to broadcast them. In fact, shooting your mouth off could open the door to tons of problems which, if just ignored, would solve themselves. For example, the hideous dress will end up in the back of the closet or the landfill eventually – why push it? Likewise, neither one of us wants to do lunch: we can’t stand each other. So rather than descend into open warfare, we just pretend to be polite.
Every single person on this planet lies at least a half a dozen times a day, despite what we tell the neighbours, and none of us thinks it’s morally reprehensible to do so. That’s why we call them “white lies” (sometimes we even add “little” to emphasize the point.) We’re convinced, and rightly so, that these lies are not only harmless but, in fact, necessary. They are an integral part of our human experience, and we accept that. Yet, when it comes to institutionalized lies, we blow a gasket. Why? Because we hate being lied to — even though sometimes, it’s in our best interests.
Okay, the secret recipe notwithstanding, I want to know what KFC puts in my chicken. It’s not going to do me any good, but I figure if Colonel Sanders is trying to kill me, at the very least, I should know about it before I give him permission. That goes double for everything else I ingest, including the air I breathe. So, when some bureaucrat tells me that the water is perfectly safe and I end up sick as a penguin, I’m hauling out the torches and pitchforks and, in the words of Russell Peters, “Somebody’s going to get a hurting, real bad!”
On the other hand, I really don’t need (or want) to know how close we are to bombing Iran’s nuclear weapons program back to the Stone Age. That’s just counterproductive. Believe me, I’m not going to sleep any easier tonight if I know that Obama just walked into the Pentagon and shouted “Cry havoc! And let slip the drones of war!” – and, BTW, neither are you. In fact, we’re both going to get a lot more future Zs if he just tells us everything is fine. Later on, he can make up another lie about national security or whatever to cover his ass — we’ll believe that, too, if it helps him out. However, right now, I, and a whole lot of other people, just don’t want to know.
Everybody knows that being entirely honest is not all it’s cracked up to be. Therefore, it logically follows that good leaders, like good people, should know when to give us the straight goods and when to just flat-out lie. Unfortunately, contemporary society isn’t very sophisticated. We believe in all kinds of non sequitur Pollyanna principles and rarely let common sense get in their way. It’s too bad, though, because our time has produced some extraordinary liars.