World of Lies

I’ve been thinking about an aspect of modern life that bothers me at least as much — if not more — than the anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-thought, bias of our culture.

It’s bad when emotions are elevated above rational thinking, that what matters most is how one feels. It undermines our future when that is not guided by understanding and thoughtfulness. And all too often those feelings don’t involve compassion and acceptance, but fear, hate, and rage.

What’s worse, what makes we wonder if we’ll ever find a decent path again, is that we’ve become a culture of lies.

I’ve long thought that, to a large extent, it all started with advertising. It’s one thing to promote the legitimate virtues of a product or service. It’s quite another to try to trick people.

There is a spectrum with benign promotion at one end and outright thievery at the other. You may recall the rash of scams of phone calls supposedly from helpful techs at Microsoft hoping to trick you into giving them access to your computer. That was outright thievery.

At the more benign end, when an advertiser touts that “no other product does better” one needs to hear that “our product is no better (or worse) than any other.” That careful wording, obviously, is designed to trick you into thinking their product is better.

Which would be fine if people thought about the information that’s poured into their heads, but in elevating our feelings, we become a culture of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the ringing of a bell.

One of my whiteboards (yes, I do have several) has a growing list of key topics for thought — key aspects of my perception of modern culture — themes that reflect who I see us to be.

The oldest of those reads: Lies & Illusions (Smoke & Mirrors)

It’s been there since I started blogging back in 2011, and it remains one of my most fundamental perceptions about where we’ve gone wrong. The proof of the pudding is the last four years and, especially, the last four months.

§

As I wrote at the end of last year, I’ve become overly sensitized to our love of all the various forms of bullshit, from the most innocent, such as comic books, to the most malign, such as much of right-wing politics today.

Not that I give the left-wing a pass, not by any stretch. It’s steeped in its own kind of bullshit, but it tends not to be drenched in fear and hate and rage. Further the left is far more likely to respect science and education; far less likely to indulge in the evil of racism, misogyny, and nationalism.

But the far right has sunk into bald-faced lies to serve their own ends. The hypocrisy is stunning. The right is, by far, the ones to thump their Bibles and stake out Christianity as their guiding star.

The irony is that Christians believe in the fires of Hell, and their behavior in this world, according to their own claimed religion, is guaranteed to put them there. One need look no further to understand their depths of deception and depravity. An honest Christian should be appalled and repulsed.

I can hear the standard deflection: What gives you the right to criticize? Who are you to tell me about Christianity?

Well,… my grandfather was a pastor, my father was a pastor, his brother taught theology (I spent a lot of time discussing it with him), and I’ve read the Bible several times and studied parts of it in detail. Now let’s see your cards.

There is also that, if I see gaping bloody wounds, I don’t need to be a doctor to understand there is serious injury.

§

What’s had me focused on our culture of lies recently is the unending series of phone calls trying to sell me an extended warranty on my eleven-year-old car.

So many of these autodialing snake oil sellers hear the voice mail greeting and then proceed to crap out a message. I get as many as four of these per day, and it’s a pain having to delete the messages.

So many of them start by saying something along the lines of: This is our final attempt to reach you and if you don’t respond you’re in danger of us closing out your account.

Ha. Liars! Stinking damned liars.

They also often have a bit at the end about pressing [2] to be removed from our list. I’m pretty sure that doing so just tells them there’s someone there, so they should keep trying.

Why are we not more outraged about this? Why do we just ignore it or filter it out if we can? Why don’t we find a way to end these lies?

§ §

I got a letter from Service Today, the outfit that did some electrical work for me back in September of 2019.

I was a little put off by their bait-n-switch, but in the end I was happy with what they did despite it ultimately costing me $2800. In addition to the necessary repair, I got new smoke detectors, a CO2 detector, and surge protection for the entire house.

All in all, I had no complaints and, thus, positive feelings. I intended to contact them about cleaning my furnace and dryer vents. (Which hasn’t been done since I bought the place in 2002! Not good and long overdue.) I’ve also considered having them do some minor plumbing work I don’t want to tackle myself.

But then I get this letter, which starts off: Valued Service Today! Customer…

A form letter that doesn’t even contain my name, and it gets worse: We are contacting you today, because our records indicate we have either serviced your heating/cooling equipment or you have previously purchased heating/cooling equipment from our company.

But no, I just had some electrical work. Which had nothing, repeat nothing, to do with my heating/cooling equipment.

And the letter get quite alarming after that:

Like those scammers trying to sell me an extended warranty on my old car, these folks are trying to sell me an extended warranty on my HVAC equipment. As with the car, it’s a blind call that has no idea who I am or what equipment I own.

I guess that’s the new scam, extended warranties.

I am appalled and repulsed, and I certainly won’t be contacting them for any further work on my place.

§

As someone with respect and regard for facts and honesty, I find all this very depressing. I do connect our obsession with various forms of bullshit, benign though much of it may be, with our bland acceptance of so much lying.

It’s as if we can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy, between fact and fiction.

As someone with a strong science background, who views science and rationality as what makes us better than animals, as what lifted us out of the dark ages, I fear we’re headed back to those dark ages of fear, superstition, and ignorance.

As someone raised as a Christian, although my relationship with God has grown beyond that circle of light, I’m depressed and appalled by the behavior of many who claim that label, who use it as a weapon or shield.

Verily I say unto you, by your own espoused beliefs, you are surely doomed to Hellfire and damnation.

But your supposed immortal soul is the last thing on your minds, isn’t it.

§ §

Whadda world. I am pulled so many ways by it. My misanthropy has never been greater, but through it all I try to maintain hope that we can rise from this muck and someday again start trying to be better.

I may hate humans, but I’m also utterly fascinated and compelled by them. We are both the best and worst thing to happen to the world. We have so much potential, but we squander it so readily.

That is the great tragedy of humanity.

§ §

A few notes before you all go off to the rest of your Sunday:

Of course it’s the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Spring forward and lose an hour of sleep. Cue another round of news articles about the evils of DST. And try to remember it’s “Saving” — there is no “s” on the end.

It’s also Pi Day, so either do some trigonometry (it’s easy) or eat some pie. (But put me down for Tau Day when I ken has double the pizza pie.)

2π — not R2 but are round!

Lastly, it’s Albert Einstein’s 142nd birthday, so happy birthday to Mr. Einstein (we can call him Al). I like to think he finally got a chance to ask God about that dice thing.

Stay honest and true, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

19 responses to “World of Lies

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I was going to say something about the #MeToo problems that are another plague on decency. Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Joss Whedon, Cas Anvar, and now Governor Cuomo.

    Or, for that matter, the Lincoln Project, what a disappointment.

    When, oh when, will we grow the fuck up?

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Lies and gaslighting are evil.

    But what I really hate, and I mean *hate* is Daylight Saving Time. Although it’s not DST itself I hate so much, by the damn time switch. My sleep schedules will be screwed up for the next couple of weeks because of it. The remote work part will mitigate it a bit, but it will still suck, particularly since I have wall to wall meetings tomorrow morning.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Think of it as another bullet point in your retirement calculus! For me it’s just the minor pain of having to change a few clocks.

      Springing Forward was the cruel one in my book. Losing an hour of sleep is tough, especially when one isn’t used to going to bed an hour earlier. Falling Back was easier.

      As those various articles proclaim every year, we really don’t need it anymore, and it apparently causes more energy use. I suppose the ideal would be everyone using GMT and allowing localities to determine their own work or school hours. We’re a bit past the need for the world to work from 9-5 or whatever.

      I’m sure we’ll get right on DST reform right after we’re done fully switching to the metric system.

  • rung2diotimasladder

    Add Amazon reviews to your list. I just bought a tripod—from China, of course—and in the box was a little note asking me to rate the product five stars in exchange for a $30 gift certificate to Amazon. They didn’t just ask for a review, they ask you to give them five stars to get the gift certificate.

    On political lies, I agree with you about the far right. It’s outrageous that anyone could go along for that ride. The left is definitely not as bad, not even close, but I’m far from pleased with the direction they’re going in. I can’t see that they care about education itself, or critical thinking. It seems they care more about teachers getting paid to babysit the children of working women (I think this lies behind the push for early education). The left has the power to change our cultural attitudes about education—which just might lie at the heart of this problem of deception—but I’m afraid it’s not going to happen, at least not anytime soon.

    And if I hear “I believe in science” one more time…

    As for daylight savings time—yay, Arizona got something right! (Excepting the Navajo reservation. Then there’s the Hopi rez which sits right in the middle of the Navajo rez and doesn’t observe DST, along with the rest of AZ.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Was that from the tripod maker or from Amazon? I recall something similar from when I bought the humidifier through them. The manufacturer was begging for a nice review, and I believe there was a gift card offer or coupon or something. I just ignored it and threw it away without really looking at it.

      I quite agree about the left. It’s more about tribalism and winning than about principles or truly governing. The far left disappoints me sometimes almost as much as the far right. The big difference in my eyes has to do with values, the racism, the misogyny, the nationalism, and, above all, detachment from history and physical reality. Even so, I refuse to align with either party. They’re both full of shit. It’s just that the right’s shit is more foul and stinks worse.

      When one comes right down to it, I’m pretty sure the answer to the Fermi Paradox, at least in our case, is that we’re simply not worthy of exploring space, and it’ll never happen. We’ll eventually destroy ourselves with our own stupidity and childishness and fantasy dreaming. The problem with our evolved intelligence is that we’re not anywhere near intelligent enough to fully mature as a species.

      And if we’re the common path for evolved intelligence, no wonder the galaxy seems empty. It is.

      That must be confusing driving from the non-rez part of Arizona, through the Navajo rez to the Hopi rez!

      • rung2diotimasladder

        It was from the tripod maker. It’s only the second time I’ve seen that gimmick, and I really despise it. I like to think that reviews matter. Now I have to double-check that as well. I get tired of having to verify everything online. Makes me want to get up off my lazy butt and drive to the store.

        “We’ll eventually destroy ourselves with our own stupidity and childishness and fantasy dreaming.”

        Yeah, that’s kind of why I’m not a big believer in progress. We make progress, yes, in some sense of the word, but some things don’t change. Where one problem goes away, another one springs up in its place.

        It is a confusing drive! We’ve actually done it, and I was so eager to see the time changes on my phone. Unfortunately, I didn’t get phone service out there. Go figure.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Many years ago there was a 100 Best Movies list on IMDB, and a little internet war developed between cinephiles and fans of the movie Batman Begins. The latter group used strength in numbers to get their favorite — and in their minds “best” ever — movie on the list. Much to the horror and disgust of the former group. Yet another disconnect between “favorite” and “objectively high quality” — a very common misunderstanding.

        I’ve known for even longer that Wikipedia is prone to “edit wars” and contributions based on misinformation, wishful thinking, and political bias. (Fortunately, it’s generally outstanding on scientific stuff, which is mostly what I use it for.)

        Point is that I’ve long been askance at online reviews and, in general, any crowd-sourcing based on opinion. I’ve always taken reviews with a grain of salt, and that’s just gotten worse over time as various methods, even organizations, have evolved to game the system. It’s almost a sociological experiment reading them.

        There is also that I realized even before the interweb ruled our lives that Americans, on almost any topic, can be trusted to divide into two camps, pro and con. Jerry Seinfeld, in a recent Netflix special, talked about how everything is polarized into “Great!” and “Sucks!” (and how the former, if read sarcastically, means the latter).

        Bottom line, the interweb is a key player in our world of lies.

        “Yeah, that’s kind of why I’m not a big believer in progress.”

        It gets harder and harder to have any hope for the famous MLK quote: “Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

        Which he based on the words of Unitarian minister, reformer and abolitionist, Theodore Parker, circa 1850: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

        I’ve long believed in a causal correlation between intelligence and morality, something I believe goes back at least to Kant, but as I look around the world today I’m not so sure.

        Oddly on point, yesterday I finished reading Attack Surface (2020) by Corey Doctorow. It follows Masha Maximow, a tech wizard for a corporation that specializes in counterterrorism technology. Masha worked up through DHS and then the private sector essentially on the side of the state. But she also secretly sometimes helps insurgent groups learn better “opsec” (operational security). She gets caught and fired, and then her life starts to bend to a whole different outlook.

        One of the book’s messages is that the “little guys and gals” have almost no hope of defeating big technology and its ability to spy on us. The counter message is that the fight must continue, and the only real hope is social change. That MLK quote is mentioned a number of times, and the question is posed: Does the arc really bend towards justice? The answer seems to be only through constant effort.

        (I’m not sure I can recommend the book, the only Doctorow I’ve read. It weighs in at 1124 pages in my reader, and to my eye it’s one of the more over-explaining books I’ve read. I think it could have benefited from some serious editing. The ending, especially, goes on and on and on.)

        Racial equality has been on my mind a lot lately (which is why I’m nattering on so much here) — ever since George Floyd was killed here in Minneapolis last May. The trial of his killer has begun, and I’m very much reminded of Rodney King, the trial of his assaulters, and the uprising that resulted when none of them were found guilty. That was 1991 — 30 years ago, and here we still are.

        We even seem to be sliding backwards now.

        So, yeah, it’s hard to have faith in progress.

        Speaking of race, I’ve been very much taken with Paul Beatty, who is an amazing writer. I’ve read three of his four novels and loved them. His writing style is (to make up a term keying off “magical realism”) surreal realism. It’s so erudite that sometimes I have to go look something up, but his way with words is poetic and lyrical and utterly captivating. I highly recommend him.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        True about the reviews. I don’t pay much attention to the number of stars as what people are saying about the product (so long as they are capable of formulating complete sentences and seem reasonably reasonable.)

        The whole George Floyd thing…I keep thinking about how difficult it must be to select the jury.

        I’ll have to check out Beatty. I recall seeing the title “The Sellout” somewhere, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about it yet. Which of his novels that you’ve read would you say is the best?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, jury selection has been causing all kinds of angst.

        The Sellout (2015) is Beatty’s most recent novel (also the first one I read). It’s excellent, but so are the other two I read, The White Boy Shuffle (1996; his first) and Slumberland (2008; his third). I haven’t read his second novel, Tuff (2000), yet.

        The three I’ve read are first person narrations. Beatty leans heavily into flashbacks and wonderful digressions.

        The Sellout is about an artisanal marijuana farmer who attempts to reintroduce segregation and keep a slave named Hominy. He ends up (and the novel begins) in the Supreme Court in Me Vs. The United States of America. It’s an amazing surreal romp.

        The White Boy Shuffle is a coming of age story about Gunnar Kaufman, a poet who becomes a major voice for the Black experience in America. It struck me a little like a weird modern, very surreal, take on James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (which is semi-autobio).

        Slumberland, which takes place in Berlin around the time the wall came down, is about a DJ with eidetic memory for sounds. He remembers every sound he’s ever heard. It’s heavily about music and what it’s like to be Black in a place like Germany at that time. It’s an amazing novel, but not quite as accessible to me as the others. My musical background wasn’t good enough to catch all the references.

        I’d say that either The Sellout or The White Boy Shuffle are good starting points. You can’t go wrong either way.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Thanks! I think The Sellout sounds most fascinating….I might have to check it out.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    A new twist from these lying double-damned thieves:

    Urgent for all foobar.com active users.

    Your ID poohbear@foobar.com have not embarked on a high ultra-security level process. This is caused by the previous notice you ignored requesting you must do it if you’re an active foobar.com user.

    For my foobar.com personal website (not its real name, nor my real “ID”). And, of course, the sender isn’t my ISP. And it has two links to click: “I’M ACTIVE USER” and “RE-ACTIVATE” (both with the same target).

    Easily spotted as bullshit, but I just hate these bastards and would cheerfully see them dead.

    Also in my SPAM folder, a supposed notice about renewing the domain for my other blog, thehardcorecoder — also so very easily spotted as a fraud, but I feel sorry for people uneducated enough in these matters to fall for this lying stinking bullshit.

    The English is better on this one, but they think March is abbreviated “Marc”.

    A world of lies, part number umpitity-ump. [sigh]

  • Andrew Graham

    I don’t want to be accused of buttering you up. I’m a total stranger, after all, and who knows if my credentials are valid? And if so, how? And for what? So, at the outset, please don’t take me for someone with any useful expertise, at anything.

    Having said that, I read this entire blog post, and was delighted and amused. And I want to thank you for that. You are aptly named, stranger.

    🙂

  • retpoet

    Well, whatever I had to say (and I can’t remember now) couldn’t have been that important, or else I’d remember it. :-/ Thanks for your reply, and I’m sorry to have misfired.

    Andrew

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I confess I don’t know quite what to make of this. From the post: As I wrote at the end of last year, I’ve become overly sensitized to our love of all the various forms of bullshit,…”

      If I’m taking you wrong, I apologize, but I live in a world where the same phone numbers call me every day trying to sell me an “extended warranty” on an eleven-year-old car. Each call starts by earnestly telling me this is “the final attempt” to contact me.

      The whole point of this post is how fed up I am with people’s bullshit, and so far I can’t really tell if you’re legit or not, but my threshold is really high these days, so, again, I apologize if I’m taking you wrong.

  • Andrew Wm. Graham

    When I publish something on the internet, I try to be prepared for the odd “unexpected” response, and always hope that it’s not “blowback” and that I’m not just receiving collateral fire (or a ricochet) from someone who is having a terrible day for reasons that have nothing to do with me. And I am sorry if I am coming across that way; it’s not my intention at all. I simply want to affirm that you are taking the risk, and thank you for the beauty and simplicity of your site (which I suppose I should thank WordPress for, but I digress) and offer you thanks for providing me with good thoughtful reading. You can’t be too careful, and there are penalties to pay if you are too trusting. I know. Having said that, this is me:

    I am an Anglican parish priest on Longterm Disability, after a brain aneurysm that I suffered in 2015, which was surgically repaired in Kingston, Ontario. I took a course at the Ryerson University a few years back, and learned some stuff about programming, algorithms, and how to make code run fast.

    And I am sorry for having bothered you.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Hello Andrew, nice to meet you! I wouldn’t say “bothered” so much as “puzzled” — spam is often vague but praising without actually saying much — often, due to lack of specifics, it could apply to any post here. OTOH, your data didn’t seem to link to anything spam-like, so it was puzzling to me. (I’ve been on the internet since the 1980s, so I’ve seen a lot. I’m permanently dismayed over how much of it is insincere.)

      Your introduction here, or even a subset of it, would have been a good way to lead. Putting oneself forth with an offering of self, so to speak. Saying a bit about oneself is a great way to start. BTW, I removed your personal info to protect your privacy.

      I’m glad you like the blog. WordPress does make it pretty easy! 🙂

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