Lies make us blind in full sight
If an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, what does a lie for a lie do to us? A lie is a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; it's an intentional untruth. It throws acid in the face of facts and disfigures them beyond recognition. Liars are comparable to demons, who steal the soul of truth. In this increasingly deceptive world, truth is regularly decked up to create conflict and chaos.
The world is drowned in deceit as lies heaved upon lies inundate the plains of rectitude. Shops sell adulterated food. Pharmaceutical companies overstate the potency of drugs. Courts give mischievous verdicts. Doctors make dubious diagnoses. Banks missell services, deducting spurious and hidden charges from client accounts. Teachers are relaxed in their grading standards. Lying has been second nature to politicians.
Much of the woes of the world are tied to lies. And these ties have many manifestations. In some cases, lies are downright falsehoods. A lie is often dressed in pretensions. Hypocrisy or double standard is yet another form. A lie can be an overstatement. It can also be an understatement. But it never has the equanimity of truth, which holds the ideal in balance with the real.
A lie, like misfortune, doesn't come alone. It's said that a thousand lies are needed to hide one lie. Once lied about, a fact or an individual triggers the domino effect by setting off a series of falsifications. One dwindling truth knocks down other standing and contiguous truths. The first lie is like a nuclear accident, succeeding ones being radioactivity released.
In A Brief History of Lies, The Most Brilliant Book Ever Written, David Nanavati makes a striking claim. He writes that research shows 1 in 5 things humans say in social situations lasting more than 10 minutes are generally lies. It sounds familiar because those of us, who heavily socialise, also know how people exaggerate things when they brag. The author also gives examples of the types of lies all of us willingly cooperate in without hesitation, including Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, other mythical characters, divorce, and talking to children about the birds and the bees.
Many of us grew up believing in the iconic cherry tree myth in which the first US president George Washington was six years old when he confessed that he had damaged his father's cherry tree after he got a hatchet as a gift. Now we know this inspirational story about the value of honesty was dishonestly invented by his first biographer Mason Locke Weems. Lies are created by men before lies will create them.
History as a continuous process may have cutoff dates for events, but the underlying thoughts, ideas and spirits run like threads. Humans, like spiders caught in their own webs, have lost track of when the first lie was born. But they're now unable to extricate themselves from the tangle that evolved as lies begot lies pushing truths into oblivion. Adults of every generation ask their children to be truthful, themselves wallowing in prevarications.
Nanavati's book also discusses research into the physiology of lying. An MRI study by the University of Southern California in 2005 found that pathological liars had significantly more "white matter" in their brains and slightly less "gray matter" compared to others. White matter is made of axons connecting different parts of grey matter to each other. Nanavati quotes police statistics that about four percent of people are accomplished liars and can lie very well.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the liar can't hear the truthful anymore. Most people these days can lie with a straight face or through their teeth. There was a time when lies embarrassed their speakers if they were exposed. Now it embellishes their unscrupulous intentions. Lying is an insult like water rolling off a duck's back.
In fact, lies are deeply ingrained in our convictions today, and it's an open secret. Corrupt parents bring home illegitimate incomes. Unelected lawmakers represent constituencies. People buy credentials instead of earning. Hard to find anybody true to himself or herself. We're living in an endless masquerade ball where every participant is attending in costume.
The irony of our time is that lies are the only truth. The strategic disavowal of truth leads to the ultimate avowal of falsehood. Fake news refers to false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. As a matter of fact, it's a catharsis releasing repressed emotions, lies within us oozing like pus coming out of abscess.
A lie for a lie has made us blind in full sight. We see others without recognition, also true the other way around. The pathology of lies is creating pathetic phonies. Whichever may come first, having two faces is a function of distorted facts.
The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.