When I first realized I was being lied to, systematically lied to, and by the government, I felt upset, then felt duped, and it started me thinking– how far does this lying go?
It was in the beginning of college and it was the government’s messages about the Vietnam war and marijuana. I found out that it was not just a matter of point of view, of older-wiser people teaching lessons I was resisting. No, it was flat out lies. Things they knew were wrong, but were saying were true. Lies. It was hard to take.
This would have been 1978, and I was 18 years old when it felt like a light was turned on in the room. It may sound like I was naive or unusually sheltered but I don’t think I was that abnormal. I was taught that police were to be feared and respected, their tactics might be harsh, but it was a grownup world and their motivations were mature.
But it was the stinging realization that these lies made a big difference in people’s lives, my life, that made the lies stabbed me, then made me doubt, question, and distrust the powerful. Shifting from thinking of power rather than maturity.
The drug messages in the 70’s was pervasive… if you start with marijuana you will end up on heroin and in a gutter. Marijuana made you crazy and would lead to birth defects. It was the movies we were shown, it was on the tv news and in newspapers, it was in underground books that were circulated like “Go Ask Alice” that were lies all the way through. And that was not all.
The Vietnam police action (it was not a war, they said) was necessary to stop a domino strategy of communist world domination. Resisting was unamerican, and ungrateful for not fulfilling our social contract– not doing the Right Thing. Vietnam was a puppet of China, we were always about to win, we don’t want our boys to have died in vein. As I found it– I was being lied to. Systematically, knowingly, and with grave consequences.
I started to, as they say, “Question Authority”, and I found more and more holes in the logic and rottenness in the motivations. I looked for answers in philosophy classes, maybe they could help me figure out if I should register for the draft– I took a class on social contracts studying Hobbes Locke and Rousseau, but the Leviathan seemed to be a justification, and an a-historic justification for absolute monarchs. I studied western religions at a divinity school, but those approaches did not seem to pass the logic tests. Only Zen Buddhist practice seemed to avoid obvious shortfalls, but only gave general guidance. Maybe that was the best we could do.
Reading real scientific studies of the effects of drugs on the brain was a way to find very different answers from those in Time magazine and the evening news that purported to be built on the same evidence. Scientific writing, and the scientists behind them, while limited, seemed to at least not just be making things up to justify the agenda of the powerful.
Maybe this is just growing up, but I don’t think it has to be this way. We do not need to have to teach our children from a young age that they are being consistently lied to by powerful entities, that they are being sold things that are bad for them, that they should fear the police and not believe them because the police are encouraged to lie to get confessions.
We can do better than this, we can build and live in societies where we do not have to constantly question secret motives. We can dis-empower the institutional structures that profit through deception. Large corporations and governments seem to have incentives to take shortcuts and deceive. Maybe we could replace their functions with responsive and local organizations that are transparent and straightforward. Invest in those we trust and teach our children that they do not need to accept deceit as “just the way it is.”
As a kid, being caught lying was a big deal that came with consequences. Lets have that apply to grownups too.