Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Fine Art of Lying

In "On the Decay of the Art of Lying" Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens] says that "lying is a sweet and loving art, and should be cultivated. The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying."

Most of the efficient transactions in the world of commerce ride on falsehood and misrepresentation. It is almost as if we cannot believe in the honesty of a gesture--suspecting or deducing the motivation for selling it--unless it be clothed in phony disguise.

In the realm of law, lying is the very foundation of our justice system, polished and honed to a fine edge. The truth is like a block of stone, which is chiseled and sanded and shaped to suit, so that its original form can no longer be recalled. The blind lady with the scale is duped into believing that the weight of truth can be measured, but she can't see what's being put onto the dishes. Lead is as weighty as gold.

Then there is the brand of lying that is mutually acknowledged in the interests of convenience, or of necessity, or of politeness. When Colin Powell lied about the "evidence" of Saddam Hussein's "nuclear program" at the United Nations in February 2003, not only did he, and everyone in the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, the relevant Congressional Committee-members, and the whole of the Western Press, but at least half of the American electorate, knew without a shadow of a doubt that his presentation was a half-baked tissue of lies, promulgated to create a pretext for the United States' determination to conduct a preemptive military strike against the sovereign nation of Iraq. In other words, the whole world accepted the necessity for this lie, as a precondition for the formal justification for the killing of hundreds of thousands of people, to prove that though the King had no clothes, his power and influence were so great, so inviolable, that daring publicly to observe his nakedness would be so repugnant, so embarrassing, as to render such audacity unthinkable.

In the aftermath of this kind of lie, there is almost nothing anyone can say to relieve the tension which it creates in its perpetrators. Powell's political career--as he surely knew--from that point on, was impossible. The cynicism of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, to throw Powell under the bus, in order to float a fake excuse for a preemptive strike, is an altogether typical and even routine strategy, in the highest levels of American executive power, to attain ends which are indefensible on the merits. As one of Bush's token "black" choices for his cabinet, Powell could expect to be required to front for otherwise tainted merchandize, to justify indefensible policies, and to trade his authority and integrity in exchange for the notoriety of his appointed position. Once he'd made the bargain, he knew the stakes. And like the honorable, faithful warrior he had always been, he lied with conviction.

There are times in the march of events when lying is useful, valuable, and even necessary. Then there are times when lying is the worst kind of crime against humanity, when a lie may be used to justify the killing of human beings for no other reason than the color of their skin, the tribe they belong to, or the country they inhabit. Powell's lying to the UN was one of these times.


Ed Baker said...

lying is what allows society to function

lying is what separates man from the beasts

we've been in the
shit so long
we can no longer smell the
stink !

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.