LVI – Lying in State

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If
a politician or government official were to tell me the time, I
would check my watch for confirmation. And the basis for my wariness
gets reconfirmed each day, as members of the political establishment
announce new falsehoods. A friend of mine once told me that as a
radio newscaster he was tempted to start his newscast with the comment:
"Here are the lies your government would like you to believe
today!"

President
Bush and his administration have told so many lies about the purposes
and status of the war in Iraq that only the most credulous of his
supporters can take his statements at face value. Such gullible
souls have failed to learn the important lesson offered to Kurt
Vonnegut by a friend while the two were returning from Europe at
the end of World War II. Vonnegut asked his friend what was the
most important thing he had learned from his wartime experiences,
and received this reply: "Not to believe my government."

Most
people misunderstand why governments continually lie to their own
citizens. It is too often explained, erroneously I think, that dishonesty
in high office is brought about by disreputable, ambitious men and
women attracted to positions of power; that if honest and principled
persons could be persuaded to seek high office such problems would
be resolved. It is this faith that has long fired political reform
movements: the belief that there is nothing wrong with the system
— and, even if there are systemic problems, that they can be
tinkered with and overcome — but only with the character or competency
of those in power. This belief put Arnold Schwarzenegger in the
governor's chair in California.

This
attitude completely misconceives the symbiotic nature of political
systems and untruthfulness. Lying is more than just an easy or habitual
course of conduct to the state. It is so intrinsic to and ingrained
into the system that truth operates as a kind of virus to its well-being.
The very existence of the state is postulated on an intricate network
of falsehoods; each one depending upon and, at the same time, supporting,
the others. Should any one proposition fail, it might — like a house
of cards – bring about the collapse of the entire structure.

Among
the more prominent lies are those defining the state as the product
of a "social contract" — implying a voluntary social arrangement
binding only upon those who chose to be bound. Such a lie clouds
the truth that all political systems have arisen by violent conquest.
Written "constitutions" are held up for our consumption,
telling us that state power has been limited therein, while our
individual liberties have been protected. But because the
state is the body that interprets this document, its powers have
consistently been given an expansive definition, and our
liberties a restricted one.

The
lie goes on to assert that the state is necessary for the "protection
of the lives, liberty, and property" of people, and yet the
first thing every government does is confiscate property (through
taxation), and force people to do what they choose not to do — or
prevent them from doing what they do want to do. Through its war-making
capacities — which, as Randolph Bourne reminds us, bestows health
upon political systems — the state destroys the lives of millions
of human beings. We are further told that government officials are
our "agents" who owe us obedience, and yet the Realpolitik
of the system demonstrates that it is we who are expected
to obey, and political authorities who are the masters.

These
lies have been strung together by politicians, academicians, special
interest groups, and members of the media who have a shared interest
in maintaining state power over the lives and property of others
in order to advance their own ambitions. They have created a network
of lies that resembles a spider's web. A particle of truth about
the system poses the kind of threat that a small rock would when
thrown into a spider's web: it causes a disconnection within the
network of lies that is difficult to reconstruct.

This
is why "whistleblowers" are such a threat to political
systems, and why the state has always insisted upon keeping secret,
from its citizens, the nature of its conduct. "Top secret"
and "national security" are convenient devices for hiding
as many lies as possible from public view. The state is adding new
safeguards to keep its actions from public scrutiny: secret courts
and secret trials of persons accused of crimes against the government.

While
members of the Busheoisie continue to recite the party line about
how well the war in Iraq is going, the Pentagon is doing its best
to assure that the American public will not bear witness to the
human costs. Unlike Vietnam, television cameras are not allowed
to photograph the caskets of dead soldiers being brought home from
Iraq. The lie offered for this change is, as one might expect, to
protect the privacy of family members! The government will not even
acknowledge the caskets, preferring to call them by the most dehumanized,
Orwellian term "transfer tubes." Perhaps the soldiers,
themselves, will soon be identified as "disposable biological
combat units." A president who can give a media performance
in southern California to (in his words) "hug and empathize"
the victims of recent fires, is apparently unwilling to show up
for the funerals of young victims of his own firestorm!

The
state has always had a low tolerance for those who speak embarrassing
truths, not out of a fear that enemy nations will gain an informational
advantage in wartime — they doubtless already have such knowledge
— but that its own people will discover the state's duplicity. What
ulterior purposes lie hidden behind official lies? Whose interests
– and to what ends and costs – are being fostered by the
Bush administration's war against the world?

It
is not surprising that, in today's climate, neocons are quick to
condemn critics of the American Leviathan for "treason,"
which the Constitution defines, in part, as giving "aid and
comfort" to the "enemies" of the United States. Since
the Iraqi government already knows the truth about whether it had
weapons of mass destruction, it can hardly be benefited by information
challenging the truthfulness of Bush's statements on the subject.
One is drawn to the conclusion that the "enemies" to which
the neocons refer are the American people themselves, a proposition
offered a half century ago by the political philosopher Pogo Possum,
who said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Because
state power depends upon our willingness to believe in its legitimacy,
the well-being of political systems demands a public mindset not
given to questioning falsehoods or contradictions.

Truth-telling
might become an infectious habit, producing revelations to which
state officials must respond and, even worse, creating in the minds
of the citizenry the thought that the government might be duplicitous
in other matters than those previously exposed. Those who would
expose the lies must be discredited: as "paranoids" who
believe in conspiracy theories, or "disgruntled employees"
who wish to bring discredit upon their erstwhile employer, or "America-haters,"
"anti-Semites," "racists," or victims of "senility."
The state must be forever vigilant against those who reveal what
it does not want known. Its attitude, in this regard, was well expressed
when the Wizard of Oz admonished his trembling subjects to "pay
no attention to that man behind the screen!"

I
have long suspected that statists may be overreacting in their efforts
to cover their lies. Most people seem unperturbed by the dishonest
nature of political behavior, and are more disposed to condemn the
messengers who reveal deceit and wrongdoing. What demands have we
heard for the impeachment of George Bush, whose flagrant lies about
"weapons of mass destruction," al Qaeda connections to
Iraq, and Hussein's imminent terrorist threats to America, manipulated
an already gullible American public into an unjustified war? Impeachment
proceedings were brought against President Clinton, but for
the "lesser" offense of perjury.

There
is a willingness of men and women to overlook grave offenses committed
by institutions with which they identify their sense of being. When
one identifies with a "nation-state," any wrong perpetrated
by that state is a personal reflection upon oneself. To such a person,
the American government cannot be a vicious wrongdoer, because
to so regard it would be to castigate oneself as a wrongdoer.
This is as true for Americans as it is for Germans, Chinese, French,
Israelis, the British, or Iraqis. The phrase "my country, right
or wrong," always comes down to "me, right or wrong."

Thus,
for people to admit to the inherently dishonest nature of all political
systems, is to confront their own image. To examine the monstrous
nature of such systems is to explore the "dark side" of
humanity that is the principal organizing force behind the state.
Not wanting to face that specter, they join the flag-wavers to condemn
the truth-tellers, or simply repress the dishonest nature of what,
by default, they have made of their lives. (Do you really believe
that Mary Shelley was trying to horrify us with a monster of protoplasmic
dimensions?)

And
so, as evidence for statist lies piles up around us, most of us
respond in the manner to which we have become habituated: to try
to reconcile, ignore, or repress the falsehoods and contradictions.
We look to the news media to distract our attentions: did Scott
Peterson murder his wife? Did Kobe Bryant rape that woman? And what
did Dave Letterman name his new son? Inquiring minds want to know!

Not
being challenged in our thinking, the absurdities upon which the
political system is grounded continue their exponential rates of
growth, generating a collective insanity immune to reason. Thus,
those who kill a half dozen persons are labeled "vicious"
and "depraved" murderers, for whom the death penalty is
insisted upon. At the same time, those who plot the systematic killing
of hundreds of thousands of victims are called "statesmen,"
and are even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize! Corporations with
close White House ties — such as Halliburton and Bechtel — are awarded
government contracts worth hundreds of millions or even billions
of dollars, but it is Martha Stewart — who makes a decision to sell
her own property — who is prosecuted for "insider trading!"

Perhaps
this is nothing more than another manifestation of "scapegoating."
Not having the moral or intellectual courage to confront the wrongdoing
that is so closely associated with who we are, we settle
on a suitable whipping boy upon whom to inflict punishment for wrongs
we dare not admit even to ourselves. If, in the case of the serial
killer, the scapegoat is a wrongdoer, so much the better
with which to delude ourselves as to our motives. A scapegoat need
not be blameless: he or she need only be convenient.

It
has been said that "The truth shall make you free," a
proposition that is only partially correct. It is our insistence
upon truth being identified and spoken — particularly to our own
minds — that will make us free. It is such an insistence that terrifies
the statists, who understand full well that the health of their
system depends upon our willingness to be deceived. As more and
more particles of truth are thrown into the state's spider web of
lies, the disconnections with reality will become more and more
apparent, so much so, perhaps, that even academicians and members
of the media may begin to take notice. Perhaps comedian George Carlin
best identified the symbiotic relationship of politics and untruthfulness
when he observed that "If honesty were suddenly introduced
into American life, the whole system would collapse!"

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