Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Do They Think the Truth Is So Unworkable?

There’s an old adage that says, “In war, the first casualty is the truth.” The problem is that modern institutions (government, business corporations, and religions) all seem to look at everything as a war. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all these institutions have systemic lying as one of their primary functions or core values, but I will say that the truth is looked upon as their enemy. Whistleblowers don’t get their power and their 15 minutes of fame by lying. Whistleblowers threaten institutions by telling the truth about institutional lies, and that’s considered dangerous.

It wasn’t always this way. During World War II, Edward R. Murrow reported bad news for war-torn and bomb-ravaged London with nightly candor, while Gabriel Heater gave his unvarnished assessment of U.S. setbacks in the South Pacific with no attempt to sugar coat the losses. By honestly admitting some of the truth to the American people, the real and essential “secrets” like the Manhattan Project could be safely kept under wraps. That’s because the American people, and people in general, aren’t totally stupid. When they are fed a constant diet of happy talk, they develop an intense hunger and craving for some real undiluted truth, and this is grounded in a certain kind of intuition that people have about happy talk. They instinctively know it’s mostly a lie. This isn’t being cynical, it’s being wise.

In the last four months, we’ve seen what happens when the truth is finally exposed after all the “happy talk” efforts have been tried, only to fail. Who can forget the images of the Vatican during Holy Week, 2010, as the Pope tried to swim against the flood of pedophilia accusations that poured in from around the world? You could almost sense his frustration that his traditional authority and power to burn heretics at the stake had been taken away from him. And this was followed by revelations about the devious inner workings and vulgar bonus payouts that defined Wall Street, even as that institution demolished a half century of American prosperity. Then came the BP oil spill. If happy talk and lies from CEO Tony Hayward could soak up oil, then the Gulf of Mexico disaster could have been minimized. Trying to repair the corporate image, BP hastily hired some local Cajun goobers to appear in the BP television commercials in the hope that happy talk would still carry the day if it came from someone without a British accent.

Which brings me to Julian Assange and his WikiLeak revelations about the Afghan War. We should ignore the Pentagon assertion that the leaked information will threaten American lives. The military always makes this claim when any truth whatsoever comes out about the conduct of a war. The only thing threatened will be Pentagon credibility. Now we know that at least one helicopter was brought down by a heat seeking missile supplied by Iran. News flash to the Pentagon— the Taliban already knew about this, and if young American servicemen who fly on helicopters don’t know about this, then they have a right to know the truth.

So here’s the question. Why do they think the truth is so unworkable? It’s because the true believers who populate all modern institutions think it’s their God given right to insult the intelligence of others outside the walls of their own particular institutional fortress, and to do so with impunity.

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