Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Truth, Honesty and Dodos

Can you remember the last time you told a lie? Chances are you won’t have to think back very far. How about the last time you were lied to? You are a fascinating person. See? That was just 2 seconds ago. And you believed me. Didn’t you? And I don’t even know you. Sometimes I wonder if anyone can actually tell a lie from the truth anymore. When you think about it, we are surrounded by lies 24/7. They permeate our very existence. They define our very society and us as human beings. Most of us lie and all of us are lied to dozens of times a day. We don’t give it a second thought. If the truth were a bird, it’d be a dodo.

OK. I’ll admit that the vast majority of lies that we encounter do not have a big impact on our lives. They don’t cause any measurable harm or pain. Some people call in sick when they are not. Many respond to people who ask how they are feeling by saying that they are 'fine', when they are really feeling like crap. Some get back a bit more change than they are owed at the store and keep it. Some tell their wives that they don’t look fat in those slacks or that supper was delicious. Or, ladies, how about that last time you faked an orgasm so he would finally roll the hell over and let you get some sleep?

These are small, understandable lies. We rationalize them away and tell ourselves that they are justifiable and not that important. But it wasn’t always that way. (OK, maybe the fibs about supper and looking fat date back to the stone age, but that’s a matter of self preservation for god’s sake. No man tells the truth when their life is on the line. Let’s have a bit of perspective here.) Generally speaking, though, for the most part, don’t you think that lies are morally wrong and that people actually were a lot more honest just a few short years ago?

I do. In fact, I know they were. Important deals were done with a handshake. (It’s how my grandfather bought his house). When people gave their word or said something, it meant something. Divorce was rare because the words ‘commitment’ and ‘fidelity’ actually carried some moral weight. When teachers disciplined kids and told their parents that they had misbehaved, parents trusted the teacher’s judgment and gave their kids a good licking themselves for good measure. These days, however, our little darlings can do no wrong and woe be to any teacher that suggests otherwise.

Somehow, over the years something has changed. We have gone from a society where the truth was understood to be black and white, to a society where honesty is no longer an absolute and truth is a grey area to be debated, questioned and, often, exploited.

Depending on how old you are, you might remember the old days when honesty was expected from everyone and truth was an absolute matter-of-fact. These were comforting, straight forward, unambiguous times. People knew right from wrong and truth from fiction. It seems like a long time ago - almost like it was on another planet. Truth, as an absolute is almost impossible to imagine in today’s cynical, superficial, secular, valueless society.

I remember reading in the newspapers a year or so ago about a woman who stumbled upon a bag of money in the street here in Scarborough. It was an official bank package that had apparently fallen out of an armored car or something. Without a moments hesitation she marched over to the bank and turned the money in. The press was notified and this simple act of honesty made headline news for days. She was made out to be a hero - a human of rare and exceptional character. When, really, all she did was be honest. These days, it would seem that, honesty is in such rare supply that we are literally shocked when someone actually puts it before their own selfish interest.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately and have identified five specific areas of our lives where the truth is routinely compromised.

First there is the personal realm, where lily-white lies in our personal relationships and everyday lives occur daily. Please see above. (No, baby, I mean it, you positively skinny in that dress.)

Second, there are the lies perpetrated by corporations and individuals for personal profit. Some are implied, others are explicitly dishonest. Car companies that tell us that their vehicle is the best thing since sliced bread. Tide is better than Cheer. Campbells is preferable to Liptons. Enron and Worldcom are in good financial shape. The price of gas is not influenced by greed and profit, rather by so-called market forces and foreign policy. A party isn’t a party unless you pay a visit to the liquor store. A gift of Barbie will make your daughter’s Christmas exceptional. A life without Leaf tickets is not worth living. Yep, ma’am, your furnace/car/roof needs a total overhaul. We live in a world of lies and selfish exageration and innuendo. No one is to be trusted.

Thirdly, there is the spin perpetrated by various charitable and non government organizations for the purpose of currying favour & donations and influencing the way we think. Some seek donations by implying that men are horrible abusers and women are always the victims. Some use statistics to garner public attention and donations. They use numbers relating to people affected by any given ailment and disability. The number of AIDS victims is routinely exagerated in order to garner pity and public support for a problem that would not exist except for sexual promescuity and infidility. “Over two million Canadians have diabetes” says the ‘Canadian Diabetes Association’. That is one in 15 Canadians. Tell me, does one in every fifteen people you know have diabetes? Does the number they use include those who have not yet been diagnosed? How do they come upon this number? This sort of creative accounting is used a lot in our society to curry support and sympathy.

Fourth, there is the media. No reasonable person believes that the media reports unbiased facts. No one really believes that they can trust newspapers, television stations and radio to provide a balanced, unprejudiced viewpoint. Media sources never have and they never will. Private media sources are owned by rich people. And rich people have their opinions and biases. It is perfectly understandable that someone who owns a media company will invariably use that company to perpetuate and support their own personal political and social views. You would too. Be honest. But, when the news does not deal in facts, and instead deals in perspective and ideological manipulation, is this not just another way of lying? I’m not saying they shouldn’t have the right to promote their own beliefs. After all, in a free society, independent companies and people must have the right to own media companies and influence public opinion. Otherwise, here in Canada, only the CBC and their government benefactors would. Whatever the case, neither government, its media consorts, or independent media sources, speak the real truth. Whatever they say is always distorted in the prism of their biases. We must always be aware of this when we listen to what they say and temper our judgment accordingly.

Then, finally, (number five) there’s the most insidious, selfish and evil sort of lies imaginable. Those perpetrated by politicians and bureaucrats for the purpose of holding onto or gaining political power. Surely, there can be no greater lies that these. It is no coincidence that few Canadians trust government or politicians these days. It’s almost a given that they lie. We all know it. We all expect it.

This, in and of itself, should tell us how pathetically used to lies we have become.

Face it. Lies are everywhere. They define us as individuals and as a society. Therefore, they define our future. All that we are, and hope to become, is dependant on lies.

And here’s the rub. (You knew it was coming.)

It is really about values folks. Our forefathers expected to trust each other and be trusted in return. Truth was a reality to them. Lies were an exception.

And hey, wouldn’t ya know it, they believed in this being called ‘God’. He made rules and if you didn’t follow them, you’d go to hell. Normal, regular people believed in God. After all, they didn’t want to go to hell. So, normal, regular people followed his rules, spoke the plain, simple truth and lied (and tolerated lies) a helluvalot less than we do today.

These days, most of us either don’t believe in God or seriously question his existence.

God’s rules no longer matter. And with no rules, comes no truth. And with no truth comes no honesty. After all, honesty cannot exist without truth. And truth cannot exist without a common, understood set of rules that define what truth and honesty is.

We, as a society, are in big trouble. We no longer have any rules to help us define what truth is. And if we can no longer define truth, we can no longer know exactly when truth exists. And if we can no longer know exactly when truth exists, we can no longer pass judgment on anyone who lies.

Therefore, the future belongs to liars.

Get used to it.


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