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  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.
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.