Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Little Lies and Big Lies

Derrick Jensen is right:
our way of life requires a taboo against telling the truth.

      Let me tell you a little story, to start. It was during the weeks after the attacks of 9-11, when it seemed my entire city was waving the U.S. flag and wanting to bomb the hell out of somebody, anybody.
      I was skeptical about it all, from the start. I hated the flag-waving and the lack of any sort of historical self-awareness that would temper the blood-thirsty patriotism all around me. (I live near Camp Pendleton, after all.)
      A huge American flag was pinned to the wall in the lobby where I worked; tiny flags went up at our stations, and patriotic posters were put up on the walls. One poster in particular caught my eye. It was a photo of a Marine, saying good-bye to his little daughter. While I appreciated the sadness of the reality depicted there, I also recognized the poster as propaganda: left out of the picture, but present in my mind, was the horror about to be inflicted by that soldier and his army on innocent Iraqi children, mothers, and sons; left out of the picture was the uselessness of trying to fight cult criminals with an army.
      But my main problem was with the company’s response to 9-11, what I felt was the imposition of right-wing politics and jingoism on our environment, as if all the employees had to be gung-ho for the war or just shut up.
      My mistake was that I let slip my disapproval to a temporary supervisor. I didn’t say much, only that the picture was sad, but it was propaganda, and I thought such propaganda had no business being up on the walls in a work place.
      A week later, I happened to drop in to talk to our manager for a separate reason. I walked in rather meekly, as I remember, for this woman had demonstrated a capacity for ruthlessness on many occasions, and I didn’t want to rile the beast. She looked up when I spoke and gave me an amazing stern look. I remember she said, “That’s interesting...I’ve been mad at you for an entire week!” Cindy had told her what I’d said about the poster.
      So, still recovering from treatment for breast cancer and not wanting to lose my health insurance, I lied: “Oh no...not at all...” I said, and she took that to mean I was as gung-ho for the military as she, and the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
      Needless to say, Cindy got the cold shoulder from me for awhile. “But they told me I had to report everything!” she said.

      In A Language Older than Words, Derrick Jensen writes, “In order for us to maintain our way of living, we must, in a broad sense, tell lies to each other, and especially to ourselves.”
      There ya go, Cindy...
      While I was maintaining my way of life, that is, working, and telling my little lies to management, I noticed the lies told by management as well, and the internalization of those lies by employees, all of which then became a blueprint for conflict—gossip, cliques, power struggles, shouting matches, cold shoulders, reprimands, and various degrees of verbal and psychological abuse.
      The first big unspoken lie that seemed implicit in corporate life, among the many, is that profit-making is the highest virtue. Within that lie is another: “we are an aggressive, predatory, ruthless and competitive species.”
      Another lie is that people are motivated by “self-interest,” that such interest is without of concern for others, entirely selfish and focused on the base values of the first big lie.
      Then there’s the hierarchy lie—that we are pack animals and must, in service to our basic natures, organize according to our sacred texts: upper/middle/lower; top/bottom; winners/losers; leaders/followers; victors/the vanquished, stars/average Joes/flunkies. (It's not that I think the notion that some people are better endowed than others is a lie; it's that such "superiority" entitles those with higher rank to humiliate others and deprive them of human dignity—that's the lie.)
      The most obvious lie behind management rules is that employees are stupid, lazy and wicked, and management’s job is to manage them—control, teach, discipline, exploit.
      None of these are new insights. I realize that.
      But I think even those of us who claim to have better values, at work or at home, behave in ways that honor those lies. It is nearly impossible to be free of them. Thus a relationship that could have provided human comfort and peace in an otherwise nurturant culture not bent on “success,” or productivity, or victory over others, instead goes cold, or hostile, or violent, or hateful, or, at the very least, passive-aggressive.
      Prof. George Lakoff claims that 95% of thought and emotion is subconscious. If true, this would explain why it is impossible to confront indirect hostility, because people who do it are hardly ever aware they’re doing it; thus you might hear your friend say to you, “But they said I had to report everything!” but you don’t want to lecture her on what should have been her loyalty to her peers, rather than to management—after all, that would be patronizing.
      You felt the stab in your back, but you would not convince her it was a stab in the back; she didn’t mean it that way, not consciously. And, anyway, could you possibly expose the lie that she supported by betraying my confidential remark, the lie that tells her that thinking for herself is a no-no and will get her fired? You cannot. You must instead protect the taboo against recognizing cooperation with power as a lie, as a detriment to well-being.
      Derrick Jensen concludes the same paragraph by saying, “And so we avoid these truths, these self-evident truths, and continue the dance of world destruction.”
      This means to me that all the little lies are like cells in the body of the big lies of our monster system, all serving to support the life of denial, our way of life.
      The myth of self-responsibility serves such denial too, it seems to me, on behalf of the system at large. Take, for example, my attempt to include the competitiveness feature of our culture as blameworthy in family conflicts as well. In a conversation with a family member, this notion had to be immediately recognized as “not taking personal responsibility” for one’s choices, behavior, personality flaws and so forth. This to my mind is the lie of personal power and responsibility that we all buy into, while ignoring all the factors in life that have the power to crush personal power and personal will—the fear of getting fired, for example, or poverty, inequality of education, opportunity, encouragement; cruelty, unfairness, injustice, competition, and hierarchy itself—all creating low self-esteem, discouragement, depression, helplessness and hopelessness. In such a system, somebody always has to be the loser. This lie of self-responsibility is among the lies that block consciousness, collective or not, of the truth about a way of life that is destructive of authentic happiness.
      Thus, the system functions freely, without exposure of its lies, and at our expense. Then happiness becomes something you have to drug yourself to achieve, especially if you’re not “happy,” according to the definition of happiness in our culture: rich, successful, famous—but, it was your choice not to be “happy,” anyway. Which reminds me: that definition of happiness? Another lie. (a reminder not to take blogging too seriously as a means to happiness)
      What it comes down to is this: we simply must not think certain thoughts, among them the primacy and possibility of nurture—in families, between friends, in business and in government—as fundamental to our character and values; nurture, not as from parent to child, but between co-equals, with interest in the well-being of both ourselves and the other, with respect for each other’s human rights, and each other’s psychological, emotional, and physical needs.
      We must not have this thought: that above all else we are nurturant, altruistic, and equal by virtue of our basic humanity. To have it, to express it out loud, is to invite accusations of being “soft” on...whatever—communism, drugs, crime, and blah blah blah. Essentially, to have it is to threaten the god of masculinist capitalism, for want of better words, and all the lies that occupy that territory.
      Consider, more specifically, on the microcosm level, the wife-beater, how his definition of masculinity includes the lie that to be a man is to control and dominate —be above— a woman, or women. Nowhere listed in the sad, furious wife-beater’s definition of manhood will be the word nurture. This is why, to my mind, he is more pitiable than vile—think of the curse he has taken from his culture, a curse that condemns him to relentless evidence to the contrary of his “masculinity,” and perpetual slavery to having to disprove such evidence.
      It is no less true of our way of life, it seems to me. Corporations are not in the business of nurturing employees, or customers; policy-makers are not in the business of nurturing indigenous peoples in other countries, or sentient creatures, or the living world; war-makers are not in the business of nurturing the enemy—it’s kill, kill, kill, then drill, drill drill.
      Have you noticed McCain’s rapid and continual blinking? That’s beacuse he’s lying, constantly.
      I’m thinking it might be a good idea to start nurturing corporate CEO’s, to find a way to combat the lies embedded in our way of life. After all, they have grandchildren too. I have to believe it is not too late to raise the consciousness of even the most blind among us. It’s a bit patronizing, but can it be helped? Better to be patronized than bombed, right?

That’s all folks, for today...


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