Truth Under Attack While Liars Run Rampant

Recently someone wrote to me criticizing the fact that I linked to a Matt Taibbi article at Rolling Stone.  Their comment was a valid argument, so I posted it.  I usually will respond in the comment line, but I think there is one thing in this particular comment that deserves to make its way into the larger conversation.  The comment had to do with a Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone article that I linked to.

Their first sentence was:  “You mean Matt Taibbi and the disgraced Rolling Stone.”  Now if you don’t know the reason that Rolling Stone is deemed a disgrace, it is they printed an article about a rape at the University of Virginia.  The main source for that article was discredited.  A lot of reputations were damaged horribly in the process that shouldn’t have been. It was a black eye on the magazine, especially one that is known for it’s in-depth political reporting.  (And shitty music journalism!)  But to the best of my knowledge, it was only one article and no other modern investigative reports by the magazine have been disputed factually.

Because they got one article wrong, it does not mean that their other articles are wrong.  It also certainly has nothing to do with Matt Taibbi.  Imagine if you were working for a company delivering widgets.  You do your job to the best of your ability.  You always try to do your work with integrity.  However, one of the other drivers that is delivering widgets is stealing a couple before they are delivered and therefore those widgets never make it to the distributor.  Management, that has always been on top of things as far as you know, doesn’t notice that this one employee has been stealing until it is too late.  Even though you work for the same company, this in no way has anything to do with your integrity.  And although this will no doubt tarnish the reputation of the company for a period, this does not necessarily diminish the overall integrity of the company.  The company will no doubt have to make some changes to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, but it is what it is; A one time incident that in reality does not accurately reflect all of the company’s employees or the operational integrity of the company at large.  One bad apple does not mean that the orchard is rotten.  If you can pick up a systematic pattern it would be different, but you can not judge an entire group for one incident.  And certain members of that group, even if there was a systematic pattern, do not necessarily have anything to do with it anyway.

And this is something that reflects what often happens in our culture at large.  Often those that are speaking truth to power have to jump 100% of the hurdles that are in front of them.  If they trip on one, those that do not agree with them are going to be sure to use it against them to destroy their integrity, even if it is again one incident, however unfortunate, out of many.  Distract, divide, and conquer.  Muddy the waters so that no one believes anything they read anymore.  Organizations that do investigative journalism have to be really strict while weighing the facts.  This is not only because these organizations should morally and ethically not want to tarnish those that are innocent, which is obvious.  This is also because those that don’t want the truth getting out there will use even the slightest breach as a way to hamstring their enemies.

Why do you think that Fox News, which has behaved unethically in a systematic way that can be proved, so often dwells on stories that are nothing but mere distractions?  Why did Fox News make a mountain out of a molehill when it came to the story of Obama not putting down his latte when he was saluting a troop?  If you can discredit him in some small way, that a portion of the public will be influenced by, you can use it to feed a larger narrative of misbehavior and anti-American sentiment.  Again, those that try to operate using facts need to be right 100% of the time or their enemies will pick them apart.  Meanwhile those that care nothing for facts only need to get that one image or that one outlier of a story to go to print with “damaging” facts.   Truth is constantly under attack while liars run rampant.

And if my sentence structure is a bit befuddling, I apologize.  I was on a booze cruise last night.  My mind feels like a sponge that has been filled with bleach and then left to dry in the sun…does that discredit me?!!!

The Balls of Advertisers

The balls that advertisers have:  Nothing says Australian Cricket like Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In Brisbane reading with the TV on in the background.  A KFC commercial has come on twice that shows a family from the 70’s to the present eating fried chicken while watching cricket.   One is supposed to take away the idea that KFC is as much a part of Australian tradition as cricket.  Think about it, shitty fried chicken from an American company that originated in Kentucky is boldly claiming to be part of cultural tradition in a foreign country.  It is delivered with total sincerity.  The commercial is meant to pull on the heart strings.  When this kind of distortion,  or bold faced lie, can be delivered without blinking an eye during casual viewing, is it any wonder that companies and their politicians can get away with murder? 

How Images Can Lie

I was just updating my instagram and looking back over the photos.  I was thinking how images lie.  Although sometimes you can tell they were taken from a van window, at times it looks like I was prancing across magical fields.  Also, I only post photos I like, so one is seeing a selected view of what I have seen.  This is not to say that my tour hasn’t been nice, or that I haven’t seen a great deal of amazing imagery.  It is just that it gives one a false sense of my reality.  They don’t capture how tired I have been at times, for instance. 

We judge so many things these days by images.  I have noticed an uptick in my blog stats once I started including more photos.  An image can change our perception of a politician or a celebrity.  Plus we watch shows that claim to be “reality”, when they are highly manipulative in their edits and are often even scripted.  This is all old news. 

Another example is the less outrageous travel shows.  Heat, cold, and bugs don’t make their way into an image.  Even if they are highlighted by what an image shows or by commentary we don’t feel them.  We just see the scenery that the camera focuses on.  We rarely see the really impoverished parts of a country on a travel show. 

Also important in imagery is what is not in the photo.  The politician smiles for the camera, but do we see the protesters in the crowd? 

Again, these aren’t new ideas, but I believe they are important things to remember in our increasingly image focused society. 

When We Should Lie

One of the most interesting subjects that I can think of is lying.  If we never lied, I imagine we would constantly be at each other’s throats.  David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, said that, “History is a lie agreed upon.”  Oscar Wilde once said, as I have quoted before, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, or otherwise they will kill you.”

Let me give you an example.  If a fat, hideous woman asks you how she looks, what do you say?  If you tell her the truth you are probably going to hurt her feelings and make her suffer.  If you lie to her you might boost her ego and make her feel good about herself.  You might also send her off into the night in a clown suit where she will be further ridiculed, but alas, these things are complicated.

If you meet a pair of brand new parents that have an ugly baby, do you fill their heads with grand delusions, or do you prepare them for the cold hard realities that their child will face?  The rules of society are that we should be compassionate to the new parents and tell them pretty lies.

These are small individual and trivial matters in the world.  What about when something is more serious as in politics?  If you are an atheist and you want to get someone that is religious over to your cause, and they ask you what your beliefs are, it does not help you to tell them that you believe they are worshiping a strange space god.  Conversely, if you are religious and you want to win an atheist over to your cause, it does you no good to tell them that they are going to burn in eternal hellfire.

Not only can the truth be hard thing to find, but it can often be a hard thing to tell.  Our society is built upon a bunch of fairy tells and delusions that help glue us together.  George Carlin calls this, “The American Okie Doke.”  I’ve included his words in full in an earlier post.  These lies include stuff like all men are equal, the police are always on your side, business is good, and your standard of living will never decline.  He also calls this, “The official national bullshit story.”

I once read a book called How to Be Good by Nick Hornby.  In this book a married man decides that he is always going to be good and that he is always going to tell the truth.  Basically, he ends up making life hell for everyone around him.

There is also the concept that sometimes fiction can help us see the truth even more than nonfiction.  Werner Herzog often fictionalizes things in his documentaries.  But what he is after is not what he calls, “The truth of accountants”, but a deeper truth that lays beneath the surface of the everyday.

There is no good answer to when you should be truthful and when you should lie.  I would say that the closer you are to someone the more brutally honest you should be.  If we can’t trust our friends and our loved to tell us the truth then we are in serious trouble.  The more serious a topic, as in war or poverty, the more it should be your duty to tell the truth as well as you can.  These are life and death situations and demand bravery in truth telling, even if it comes at a personal loss to you.  In art I always think the deeper more penetrating truth is the one that should guide you.  If you are a journalist, then just stick to the facts.  Another thing I liked about George Carlin is that he always believed in treating individuals as individuals.  Different people, when it comes to matters of their personal life, can handle different amounts of truth telling.

I think the main thing you should weigh when you are debating what to say is does it lead to more suffering or not.  Let’s go back to the fat, hideous woman.  If you tell her she looks great and this decreases her suffering, than you have probably done a good thing.  However again, if you tell her she looks great and again she goes out in an outfit that brings her even more ridicule, then she will suffer more and you have done her a disservice.

There is no easy answer to any of these questions.  I think decreasing suffering should always be our guiding principle, but even that does not give us a clear path.  The only time when suffering should not play a role in our decision is when it’s our own.  We should always tell the truth if the only one that will suffer will be ourselves.  The truth is an important thing that should be valuable to us all.  It should be guarded and kept sacred whenever possible.  One should always be honest, except when one shouldn’t be.

Quote

Paul Westerberg on Songwriting

The hack songwriter will write the absolute truth every single word, whether it makes a great song or not.

Quote by Paul Westerberg.  I find that quote interesting, because I’ve always believed that in some instances fiction can get closer to the truth than nonfiction.  Werner Herzog once called Cinema Verite, “a superficial truth, the truth of accountants.”  The world is a complicated and mysterious place.  Occasionally you need myths, tales, and lies to get to true nature of things.