Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Art Of The Lie

If there is one troubling aspect to popular culture in this new age, it is spin, or as I so fondly call it, the "art of the lie." Now, spin is not a new concept; it is as old as recorded history. It is the victors who write the history books, and the victors will always cast themselves in the most positive light. Manifest destiny, superiority of talent or morality, divine intervention -- the reasons for their victory are always of the highest order.

Mind you, the vanquished often find a way to have their say, in one fashion or another, especially when they turn the tables on the original victors and are themselves victorious. They then proceed to drag the newly vanquished through the mud while expounding upon their own virtues in the very same tones. And so this dance continues its endless cycle, the truth being trampled beneath heedless feet. It is very rare that anyone can stand aside from the maelstrom and pick out the roots of the truth, but every so often a historian gives us a critical look at events to the best of their ability, and perhaps we learn something of it.

My implication is not that honesty is dead. If it were, civilization would have broken down completely by now. No, it is not dead, but it may not be feeling well and is no doubt desirous of a trip to the nearest medical facility for a check-up. The dance of spin has ground upon it for so long that the truth's bones are beginning to ache.

There is no incentive in telling the truth. If the truth you have to tell is painful, no one wants to hear it. If the truth is damaging to your reputation, you wish to minimize the effect. If the truth is embarrassing, you wish to avoid anyone finding out, lest they use it for their own purposes. If the truth brands you a criminal, you would rather hide behind lies and hope you can tell enough of them sincerely enough that people will believe you.

Part of that is our own fault. Whatever the aroused and enraged mob may want us to believe, their cries of "Tell us the truth!" ring hollow, for they do not actually want to hear it. The truth, far from setting them free, would imprison them in cages of their own guilt, forged by their own hands and actions. They would be forced to confront the stain upon their own souls and admit that they are less than the people they claim to be. How can we be fine, upstanding citizens, if we are not fine, upstanding citizens?

Of course, that's the point: honesty is its own reward. It is the lever the raises one above the crowd, setting you slightly higher. If you are honest, if you accept the blame that is yours, if your apology comes from the heart, then whatever the transgression, you sink far less into the mire of iniquity than if you seek to protect yourself and your reputation at all costs. It is more laudable to commit an unsavory act and stand up to be counted, than to do so and hide behind a web of lies.

And yet, in the news right now, there are unrepentant transgressors who, rather than making quick, clean work of their obvious mistakes, seek to minimize them, to claim that all is not as it appears, that others had a hand in it, that they were merely foolish or stupid. If they lack sincerity, it is because they have sought the counsel of those who make a living of taking the truth out back, roughing it up, painting it a different color, and pretending it is out of town. They ask others to come in and shape the truth for them, crafting something which sounds a lot like the truth, a lot like an apology, but lacks for substance and for coherence. They stage-manage their "truth," to put it in the best possible light, then dole it out to the teeming throng and walk away satisfied that they have quelled suspicion.

And yet... the taste of spin is such that this pre-packaged and processed version of the truth is unpalatable and hard to swallow. For some, it won't be touched, or if touched, will be vomited back up, marked as the hypocrisy it is. The vast majority will choke it down. It will sit within them and cause unsettling pain, but they will keep it down and eventually the pain will pass and so will their discomfort.

Sadly, for a great many people, spin is getting easier to swallow.

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