Or: the weird way in which our society functions
By: Mark Linnhoefer
“It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what”
“Dying people lie, too. Wish they’d worked less, they’d been nicer, they’d opened orphanages for kittens. If you really want to do something, you do it, you don’t save it for a sound bite”
– Gregory House, M.D.
We are nothing but mammals, after all, and so it is inherent to our nature to follow certain instincts. One of these is the instinct of self-preservation, and another is the instinct of social recognition.
Which explains why we’re compelled to lie about certain things and embellish certain stories – we want to make ourselves look better, we want to work our own ends, we are looking to accomplish something. The problem is that most of us don’t actually want to do much to gain popular esteem and so resort to lying. Be it white lies, be it excuses, be it exaggerations, we all do it. Statistics back that up: 60% of people lie during a ten minute conversation, so you can go figure for yourself how much truth you’ll be told in longer interactions with most people.
This insincerity is based on our inherent craving for social recognition, among other basic instincts. We need to feel that others acknowledge and appraise our actions, and if we have not done anything remarkable, we’ll embellish the most mundane of things to make it seem interesting or honorable to others. Another aspect of social recognition that compels us to lie is the risk of losing one’s face, of humiliation; if we have done something wrong, misunderstood something, or simply neglected something obvious, most of us won’t have the guts or the integrity to actually stand up and admit it and will resort to half-truths or outright dishonesty to cover up our mistakes.
The last type of lying is also related to social recognition, and it is the most nosy, pain-in-the-ass, self-righteous kind of lie imaginable: the “white lie”, the lie for the greater good, the lie that “protects feelings”. All of that is complete and utter bullshit. You can’t just wash a dirty misrepresentation of truth and call it a “white lie” based on your personal notion of what you believe to have preserved or saved by doing so. It’s still a fucking lie. So, no, I don’t buy what these feel-good-type hippies are trying to sell – that there are circumstances under which these white specks of fucking dishonesty are acceptable.
Don’t get me wrong, I have lied to protect people’s feelings, I have lied to protect what I had perceived to be the greater good, and I have lied just to save my own ass, so I’m not condemning liars, and I’m certainly in no position to take the high road and tell you to abstain from lying entirely. But I do hate people too entrenched in their own pre-conceived notions of righteousness to even admit to themselves that they are, in fact, just lying, no matter how noble their ends may seem to them. I see that as a major hypocrisy. At least be honest to yourself about your lying. That’s the least bit of decency I expect people to have.
Anyhow. There is another aspect inherent to the topic of lying and that is its place within our society and how it makes it work, in some weird way to some extent, that is.
We have built a hierarchical society for ourselves in the course of evolution and that is being represented in the way we teach our offspring and manage relationships with our superiors: we can’t be wrong. Being wrong, especially in our educational system, is perceived as an atrocity of apocalyptic proportions, and that kind of thinking is indoctrinated into school kids on a daily basis for about twelve years, which naturally creates a society where having a good excuse is valued more than admitting your wrongdoings and accepting your imperfectness.
We’re essentially breeding a generation of pathological liars who’ve been taught that as long as their answers and excuses can be passed off as right, there won’t be any trouble coming their way. This trend then goes on. People start lying on their resumes, to their bosses, to their spouses, and ultimately to themselves just to avoid the dreaded feeling of not having been right, of not having succeeded, of having made a mistake. It’s a deep psychological problem we’re slowly but surely installing into the populace, and I don’t see any way out of it, to be honest, because it is so deeply rooted in our being already.
Imagine you’re at your 9-to-5 job, and you accidentially delete an important client’s info – are you going to tell that to your boss, or are you going to invent a sudden technological problem or try to regain the data without anyone noticing? If you opted for the first, kudos to you, but more than half of those reading this will pick the second or last option. Hell, I would too. And it wouldn’t have done any tangible damage, I admit that. But it does enhance the probability of you just lying again the next time you screw something up, and that is ultimately going to make you a weak person with no fucking backbone whatsoever. A slimy, mushy glob of flesh bereft of morals and convictions, just mindlessly sliding from lie to lie in order to perpetuate the pretty illusion of yourself you have created for those around you.
I believe that we need to change some things drastically in order to get this notion of success through dishonesty out of the skulls of future generations. We’re already living in a shit-hole of a hollowed-out society that does not practice what it preaches and has installed a dangerous mindset of avoiding mistakes and making them out to be a guarantee for failure, whereas the opposite is true: If we own our wrongdoings, if we learn to admit our mistakes, we will be able to learn and grow from them instead of resorting to lies to make us seem knowledgable, because that illusion will only last until that pseudo-knowledge is put to a test, at which point even more lies will have to piled on top of the already existing construct of dishonest half-truths, which will in the end only lead to a crash and burn kind of scenario.
Right now, this is the way our society seems to function: you get by if you keep your head down and manage to cover your fuck-ups up with elaborate lies. We don’t need education that indoctrinates children with that kind of mindset. We need an emancipated society that has learned to own its mistakes and learn from them. Because until we get the belief that making errors is bad out of our minds, pathological liars will rule the few honest souls that are made out to look like idiots because they actually admitted their mistakes.
A last point that bugs me about so many lies is the hypocrisy inherent to them – people tell you they’ll do this and that great thing, help this or that cause but in the end they’re just blowing smoke to make them seem more charitable, more interesting, and that’s a sad fucking display of human nature, if you ask me.
As a journalist, I have always preferred hard truths to soft lies, but I have also grown to understand that we’re constantly surrounded by pathological liars anyway, which makes the absolute truth a very dangerous, downright lethal thing to speak out.
In the end, everybody lies and will keep on lying, simply because we humans are genetically bound to. But if keep nesting this thinking of “make no mistakes” in future generations through the educational system, we can just give up on the concept of truth altogether, because it will be too deluded to make out at some point.