I think it was in kindergarten when I remember being told the story of little George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington and the cherry tree he confessed to his father he had chopped down. Through this vignette, my classmates and I were admonished to always tell the truth. The only problem was that often told tale … is a lie, a fabricated fable of fibbing fiction. It was actually created by biographer, Mason Locke Weems, as an anecdote laudable to Washington’s character and as an “exemplary to his countrymen”. Nevertheless, this fractured fairy tale is almost as hallowed as the national anthem.
When I was 2 years old, the US Congress passed the ‘Gulf of Tonkin Resolution’ granting President Johnson the wanton power to take military action as he saw fit in Southeast Asia, ostensibly to combat the spread of communist aggression. The passage of the resolution, enabling Johnson to launch America full-tilt into the Vietnam war, was predicated on a fabricated set of events suggesting that American naval vessels had come under unprovoked attack by the North Vietnamese.
When I first heard the above tale, I remember being skeptical. I’m not sure why my ‘bullshit detector’ went off that day. Perhaps it was the result of a burgeoning character flaw or a latent psychic ability to perceive the teacher’s own insincerity in her own overly dramatic rendition of the fable. Some might say that my lack of gullibility at that tender age speaks volumes of my character or my perception of ethics. And, indeed early on I began to question my moral constitution. In retrospect, I was ‘loony’ to do so.
When I was 3 years old, my sister told me about a cow that jumped over the moon. My grandmother, whose stock reply to most things was “tell it to Sweeney”, later cracked that the moon was made of cheese.
As a society, we seem to be obsessed with lies. Parents spend eons of time drilling the words “don’t lie to me” and “be honest!” into their children’s heads. Fairy tales and fables regularly espouse ‘golden rules’ and long-winded speeches on ethics. Yet, we allow ‘big business’ concerns to lie to us on a regular basis under the pretenses of marketing. Similarly, I don’t think patriotism has anything to do with our accepting that some politicians and lawyers actually lie for a living. Incredibly, the ‘powers that be’ of government even enact laws of impunity, pardoning such actions under the guise of national security. Yes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one that’s administered every day.
When I was 4 years old I remember my pediatrician telling me he had to look in my ear to see if there was a puppy or elephant hiding in there. A moment later, brandishing a hypodermic needle about two feet long, he dismissed my fears by telling me, “this won’t hurt”.
Teachers lie to us, transmitting historical revisionism without a thought, and in many cases without knowledge of the fabricated fiction they force feed us. After all, if it’s written in the history books … well then it’s must be accurate. The truth is that we know the truth, but we dismiss it anyway, waving it away like a cloud of smoke.
When I was 5 years old, Lucky Strike cigarettes launched an ad claiming that 20,679 physicians suggest that ‘Luckies’ are ‘less irritating’ than other brands, and that the ‘coffin nails’ represent “your Throat Protection against irritation and against cough”.
Hollywood films makes us believe that which is unbelievable, and we love it. In fact, we expect movies to defy our expectations in this respect. Ask George Lucas, who replaced “Muppet” Yoda with ‘computer generated image (CGI)’ Yoda.
When I was 6 years old, I convinced my first grade teacher that I could speak Chinese. I did so by counting to 10 in mono-syllabic utterances that sounded more like ‘Klingonese‘ than anything Asian oriented. She was so impressed she fawned over my abilities in my mother’s presence at their first parent-teacher meeting. My mother, nonplussed, rebutted the claim forthwith. Upon returning home, she asked me why I had lied to my teacher. I responded by asking her if she spoke Chinese.
Scientists are still working on revising the absolute laws of physics, given what we now know or don’t know about sub-atomic particles and quantum theory. Nevertheless, schoolchildren are still taught that said laws are absolute.
When I was 7 years old, the Nixon administration dramatically increased funding for the voluntary sterilization of low-income Americans, statistically represented by Americans of color. In light of the ‘Family Planning Services and Population Research Act’, government-funded sterilization programs organized at the behest of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) were accelerated. With respects to Native Americans, it is later revealed via anecdotal evidence that procedures are carried out on patients who were often misinformed of said procedures.
It seems the hardest thing we can do sometimes is be honest with ourselves. You’d think we’d have some inner defense mechanism that prevents us from psychologically pulling the wool over own eyes, but we obviously don’t. Many seeking the “truth” of their existence and their shortcomings are easily led astray by nefarious types offering reams of rhetoric and who offer salvation in exchange for blind faith and allegiance.
When I was 8 years old, I kind of figured out that the tooth fairy didn’t exist. The handwriting on the encouraging notes she left under my pillow was just too close to my mother’s. I recognized it from those notes I had to take to school explaining my frequent absences.
We embrace the concept of ‘sometimes its better not to tell the truth’ when it’s convenient. When faced with adversity we justify, rationalize and defend our actions, regardless of whether we were selfless or self-serving when acting either in our own or in others’ regard. Claims of moral ineptitude fall on our defiant deaf ears.
When I was 9 years old, the Watergate scandal exploded. Journalists everywhere feigned a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Nevertheless, the news media regularly bends the truth in the name of gaining ratings. Of course, the media doesn’t lie, so much as it just withholds the truth. No comment needed.
We really are our own worst enemies. It’s ironic how we take perverse pleasure in watching the witty con-artist shake down his mark, unless the mark is us … which is exactly what we tend to be when we’re desperate and willing to believe anything or anybody, especially those we hold dear.
When I was 10 years old, I convinced myself, that the religious life my family began to live didn’t suck. It did, but still I went on convincing myself for another 15 odd years … very odd indeed.
Nevertheless, rather than putting faith in ourselves we’re asked to put our faith in science, religion, government and in others. Question the ethics of these purveyors of ‘the truth’ and you get self-righteous indignation. Indeed, as any school child will tell you, “he who denied it, supplied it.”
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