Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. —George Orwell
I’ve spent the better part of two hours this morning looking through headlines and newspapers and magazine articles. Through all of it, the lyrics to Don Henley’s 1989 hit, Heart of the Matter, keep running through my mind:
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Bonus points if you just sang that in your head as you read it.
For all the bulk of information available, I can’t help but have the feeling that I’m not getting the whole truth about anything. I know some articles, especially those shared on social media, are outright lies. Snopes helps weed out some of the most blantant attempts at deception, but their focus tends to lean toward simply outing the lies; they don’t necessarily bring us that much closer to the truth.
So, there’s a story this morning where the headline reads: Police: Virginia Officer Fataly Shot Day After Swearing In. My heart wants to break; the female officer had left the force for a few years, one would presume perhaps to start a family, and then returned. The story is tragic. Oh, but buried in the article is the fact that a “civilian,” also a woman, lost her life in the event as well. She may have been dead before police even arrived. Her name is not mentioned. The condition of the two other officers shot during the same altercation is not mentioned. A partial story, woefully incomplete. Tragedies on both counts, to be sure, but we don’t have the truth, which makes us susceptible to lies.
Anywhere there is a shadow of doubt, where there are questions not adequately answered, where the truth is not plainly evident, we are open to lies. People, and media, can tell us anything when there is an absence of known truth and even if the pieces to the story don’t fit well, there are always those inclined to believe, no matter how obvious the lie might be to those who stop and think a moment. This is why we have conspiracy theories, because in the absence of complete truth, our minds can imagine anything they want.
We can blame the Internet only in part. Granted, the fact that, once something happens, anywhere in the world, there is a rush to get information online, seems to inevitably lead to stories like the one above. When there is pressure to say something so that a media source does not appear out of the loop, even incomplete information seems to suffice. Yet, long before the Internet, there were shadows in the information we receive.
Don’t believe me? Tell me, who shot John F. Kennedy? The depths of the shadows surrounding that case cause us to question whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Sure, that is the official account, but even in Congressional testimonies there were enough lies and attempts to obsfucate the facts that we have reason to doubt official sources. Minus a sense of the truth, we make up our own: the FBI was behind it, the CIA did it, there was a monkey with a pea shooter on the grassy knowel. Anything might be the truth when we don’t know what the truth is.
Partial truths are foundational in advertising. Would you still buy a product if you know that doing so directly contributed to the deforestation of the rain forests, or that the product had blown up in 57 of 58 lab tests? The only place where “truth in advertising” really starts to have any meaning is with prescription medicines. I know everyone has seen the ad where 20 of the 30 seconds is spent telling you all the possible, horrible, death-inducing side effects. Yet, somehow, for some reason, those ads still work. If the truth that a medicine may cause “premature anal leakage” doesn’t keep us from wanting the product, why doesn’t the truth work elsewhere?
Because sometimes we would rather just believe the lies. When the truth runs in opposition to what we want, we’re willing to compromise. If we want to see a conspiracy, we’ll find one, even if it is totally fictional. A perfect example of this is the anti-GMO crowd. Guess what: GMOs are not only not killing you, they’re probably saving your life. Without GMOs, global food prices would sky rocket, making everything unaffordable, even the most basic of grains. Hunger, which is already a significant issue, would more than triple. Some foods would simply cease to exist. Yet, because we thrive on drama and enjoy believing that “they” are out to get us, millions of people choose to believe the lies about genetically modified organisms, totally ignoring the truth.
I won’t even start on how politicians contribute to and thrive upon partial truths and whole lies. No matter what I say, no matter what anyone says, we make up our minds based on emotion, not fact. We vote for the candidate that makes us feel better, not the one who might actually help the country the most. For that matter, we dont’ really have a clue what would help the country the most. All we have are partial truths and whole lies.
And conspiracy theories.
Watch, the next tme you see someone post a statement on Facebook in hopes that, by doing so, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Warren Buffect might give them money, see how many people buy into the lie, “just in case.” We know those stupid games are not true, but yet they spread like wildfire. We don’t want to believe the whole truth. We know the billionaires are rich and have a history of charitable giving, so we’re willing to take just that tiny sliver of partial truth as a basis for believing a wholesale lie.
The more I know, the less I understand.