Liar! Liar! (and really, it's okay, given these Post-Truth times...)
Sara Swinson
7/27/2005 9:55:29 PM

Ralph Keyes in The Post-Truth Era, [St. Martin’s Press] delivers a compelling exposition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ famous line, “There’s a whole lotta lyin’ goin’ on.” With literary and journalistic acumen, Keyes fashions the low-down on our lyin’ ways. Due to its amusingly convicting nature, reading The Post-Truth Era is apt to galvanize uncomfortable twinges of self-recognition; a decent thing since we’ve successfully cauterized our collective conscience, rendering us an almost twingeless people.

Lying is multi-identitied and deceptively amorphous, wearing innumerable disguises: euphemizing, spinning, contextualizing, nuancing—whatever you want to call it, Keyes unearths the squirmy worms beneath the pretty stepping-stones and diagnoses America with acute Euphemasia. Fabricators aren’t lascivious liars, they are fabulous fabulists. “Dishonesty inspires more euphemisms than copulation or defecation.” P.17 However, the premise of TP-TE rests not within the realization that deceit is on the exponential increase instead, “… we may be no more prone to making things up than our ancestors were, but we are better able to get away with deceiving others, more likely to get off the hook if exposed, and in the process convince ourselves that no harm’s been done …” P.11.

While most concede dishonesty is detrimental, there are those who laud lying’s virtues and unabashedly dispatch untruths willy-nilly; some people love delusion. Keyes mentions a few guile-o-philes, “Oscar Wilde defended the aesthetic and moral value of lies. Friedrich Nietzsche thought the well-told lie was a sign of greatness. ‘A liar in full flower,’ wrote Ernest Hemingway ‘is as beautiful as cherry trees, or apple trees when they are in blossom.’” P. 9

Hemingway killed himself; Nietzsche collected his own feces in jars; and Oscar Wilde, although highly charming, never felt the fury of a woman-lover exacting payback after one of his “aesthetic” lies. Might we glean falling in love with lies leads to canning your own excrement, witty androgyny, or suicide?

Sadly, our country’s label originates from a lying merchant. Our “ … very name derived from a tall-tale merchant, Amerigo Vespucci, who apparently made few of the trips to the New World that he claimed to have made.” P.47 Undeniably, Lady Liberty herself is merchant-heavy and truth-lite. Consequently, through some metaphysical, moniker-related oddity, we’re genetically predisposed to lying … thanks to Amerigo. We should’ve just called our great land, Pinocchio. At least then maybe we’d all be cute, if slightly wooden.

The ruling class is the merchant class. Like Amerigo himself, merchants, are often accused of spinning tall-tales. Corporations are legally recognized people but there’s no soul in the roof of Widget Inc angsting unduly over outsourcing. Corporate America’s purpose-driven life is profit. Why lie? So consumers will buy. It’s a symbiotic relationship like rhinos have with those little pecking birds that feed off the bugs that land on their hard, scaly skin. But who can fault merchants? Consumers lie. Citizens lie. I lie, you lie; we all lie for ice-cream.

Some lies are innocuous, “Sorry, I can’t take your call right now, I’m tied up.” Meanwhile your hands are untied and you’re using them to manhandle the remote. Some lies are dangerous, Keyes notes, like— “There are weapons of mass destruction.”

But why this current crushing on hoodwinking? Where’s the breakdown? TP-TE strongly connects loss of communal integrity to deception. In the spring of the 21st century, we’ve never been more anonymous, more opportunistic, more mobile, more autonomous or more isolated. What would’ve appeared laughably oxymoronic in the day is now our situation—we’ve generated anonymous communities—technologically birthed, netfully encouraged and webwardly directed. We can hide nameless and unaccountable. This liberation from identity is intoxicating.

Keyes asserts that when the integrity of any community is splintered, the integrity of the individual is splintered. In addition to anonymity, mobility applies a fracturing force to communal and personal integrity. Once community is devalued and mobility becomes the proverbial “given”—only because it affords greater opportunity—what we end up with is an opportunistic culture; an opportunistic people; mobile in exploit and mobile in character. Fluid anonymous communities beget fluid anonymous character; fluid anonymous character begets fluid conceptions of truth; fluid conceptions of truth beget fluid conceptions of untruth; fluid conceptions of untruth beget real, sticky lies.

Keyes suggests that when it comes to the Body, Veritas—we’re all a little dysmorphic.

The Post-Truth Era is thought inspiring but may guilt you into amending VM-messages to, “I’m available but not to you.” But then we’d all have to read The Post-Polite Era.


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