Our world is full of pseudo aphorisms — all widely accepted and all utter crap. For the most part, they’re harmless, even cute. But lately they’ve been creeping into our fundamental thinking — causing trouble — and distorting our ability to handle problems.
For example, whoever said “There’s honour among thieves” obviously hadn’t met many thieves. This is a truisms that simply isn’t true. Thieves steal things; that’s their job. When there’s no one else about, they will steal from each other. Haven’t you ever seen The Sting? “Honour among thieves” suggests that there’s some kind of a Rogue’s Code out there that governs the little bastard who stole your iPhone™. There isn’t! He doesn’t belong to a fleet-footed fraternity of contemporary Robin Hoods, dedicated to redistributing technology to the less fortunate. The only creed he lives by is economics – straight up and down. He stole your phone for money: that’s it! We attribute a modicum of honour to his profession because most of us simply can’t fathom an ordinary person following a moral compass that doesn’t have a dial. However, the reality is the gentleman thief is a fiction, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law to amuse his Victorian friends. Unfortunately, it has somehow gotten stuck to our psyche, with disastrous results. And it’s not the only one.
There is a general misunderstanding that poor people have a moral leg up on the rest of us. It is widely believed that if you are struggling to make ends meet, you’re absolutely bursting with integrity. Not only that, but if, for whatever reason, you jump off the moral balance beam, the assumption is you were forced into it by an unforgiving society. Let me set the record straight. People who take the early bus to menial, minimum wage (or below) jobs do not necessarily have either honesty or empathy hardwired into their DNA. Yes, they are working hard and, quite probably, getting the shaft on a daily basis, but I doubt very much that moral intrepidity is based on an unfavourable income tax bracket. The “Poor but honest” stories we all grew up on are wonderful tales for children. However, unless you’re seriously into economic profiling, there’s no reason to believe that poor people are any less corruptible than your average middle-class, 80K-a-year systems technician (No offence, systems technicians!)
These are just two examples of truisms that simply aren’t true. There are piles more.
Our society has some serious problems, and most of us sincerely want to fix them. Unfortunately, we’re never going to come close as long as we keep using mythology as our starting point.