Friday, February 04, 2005

A Loving Spoonful of Deceipt

This past weekend I was driving back to Los Angeles from Mammoth Lakes, when I asked the lovely Elizabeth to hand my a can of Rockstar from the small cooler in the rear seat of my Suburu...I popped the top and the following conversation ensued

Lizzy-Liz: You're not going to drink that without cleaning the top are you.

Wilson: I have never gotten sick from an aluminum can...if I don't see something disgusting, I pop the top and have it at it...its not because I am careless, but I just don't think about that kind of thing.

Lizzy-Liz: Well you know they have found traces rat urine and rat feces on those cans

Wilson: (apathetic shrug)

Lizzy-Liz: My cousin works in a warehouse and he told me....

Now I really didn't hear exactly what came next, but it was some kind of testimony about the disgusting conditions under which soft drinks are stored in warehouses. The reason I don't really remember what she said next is because I immediately had a very hot flash of anger, followed by disbelief, that left nothing but a dull, lingering sense of apathy in its wake. Why? Well, I have heard the rat piss story before and it just so happens that it is considered to be an urban legend. No credible news source has ever reported about a woman dying from drinking from a coke can, but I have gotten an e-mail or two in my day warning me that vermin-infested warehouses were coca-cola is stored are to blame for this horrible safety hazard.

So here is what my anger and disbelief was about. I don't know why people start urban legends, but some just have legs, especially those that don't require us to send money to Nigeria or anything else that would force us to participate in being swindled or otherwise run amok. But I am 99% certain that Lizzy doesn't actually have a cousin that works in a warehouse that told her that he/she has personally seen the horrible conditions under which these beverages are warehoused. No doubt, Lizzy probably forgot where she first heard the rumor about the rat piss, but it did probably strengthen her personal paranoia about Coke cans that I am sure existed long before the internet. I don't think Lizzy is really secretely attached to me to the point of being vigilant about my health concerns, but I think she likes me enough to want to see me stay alive and in her own estimation she was informing me of a very real concern. What I don't understand is why she had to personally vouch for the veracity of the story by incorporating at best some half-truth into her health warning about a cousin who told her what he had seen personally.

You see Lizzy was probably lying at that point, and the worst part is that it wouldn't have made any sense for my to try to find out if she was lying because it wasn't worth the conflict for me to sit up there and go into investigative mode. Who is this cousin of yours? Can you give him/her a call now so that I can ascertain under what conditions I should really be careful? No, she would have taken that as an accusation that she was being dishonest, and no one likes to be called a liar in spite of the fact that everyone lies from time to time. But why lie about something like a health warning? You can warn me about not wearing my seat belt, or about smoking cigarettes, or about talking on the cell phone while driving and you don't have to lie to give me a sense that there is a real risk that I am taking.

I have a theory:

Wilsonism #1: Many people will lie to you with no moral or ethical concern if they feel it is for your own good. But knowing that this is a common practice in society, how do we go about trusting anyone who tells us about anything "for our sake" when we are required to trust in the honesty and sincerity of the person who is "helping us"? If people will lie about cousins who witnessed rats pissing on aluminum cans, doesn't it only make more sense that they will lie about moral decay and hell? Or lie about the dangers of drugs and alcohol? Or maybe they will lie about the emotional and psychic harmlessness of casual sex? Or maybe they will perpetuate any lie in order to enforce their vision of the world or their perceptions and their reality. In a world where people will lie about tangible things, what is to stop them from lying about intagible things such as love, faith, meaning, happiness and even god? Which is a greater act of love: 1) The man who tells the truth and never misrepresents his experience OR 2) The man who joins the chorus of popular belief in order to not render people as faithless as he is?

1 comment:

chad said...

First, let me say that I am very excited to see that you have decided to start recording some of your writing in a more public format.
I have found your writing to be occasionally inspiring, usually entertaining, often delightfully profane, sometimes penetratingly insightful, generally brilliant, half-way sensitive, half-way offensive but always sincere and thoughtful.
I'm glad that you are ready to share that gift with a larger slice of humanity. You seem to have the ability to observe life from some point of view that most people do not have access to. It's interesting to me... You can often be defensive and guarded to others (like we all are), but you will examine yourself honestly, objectively, and mercilessly. Of course, you may argue that last point (since it came from without), but the bottom line is this...You have something interesting to say, and I'm glad you are exploring how to express it on this blog.

In regard to this particular posting...Right on, my brother! If I had a share of Microsoft for every person who was willing to verify an urban legend about Bill Gates giving away money on the internet because their cousin or best friend got paid, I'd be a wealthy man now.
Of course, you bring up a good point about people lying to justify a myth that they think is healthy. For about this classic: Tommy Hill got on Oprah and said, "I hate black people, I never would have designed my clothes if I knew they would be so popular with black kids." Now, I'm sure this was started by someone who was tired of seeing the African-American community worship brand names, and sell their souls to the God of consumerism. But, instead of trying to suppress this tragic pursuit of bling with logic and reason, they tried to harness the emotion of black people who are theoretically more sensitive to the remarks of racist fashion designers than they are to the remarks of their peers who clown their "cheap" clothes.
Does this justify telling a lie? We do it to kids. We try to control them with fear, by augmenting the results of bad behavior. "Don't swallow that chewing gum, cause it will get stuck in your liver". How about this one Kacy..."Stop sucking your thumb, or you will suck it off like Uncle Lee". Surely it's okay to use a little loving dishonesty and appeal to peoples' emotions and fears to guide them effectively, right.
Of course it's okay. In fact, in the 1930's a brilliant young politician said so: "I use emotion and fear for the masses, and reason for the few" Those words written in his book, Mein Kampf, helped that young man guide his country out of bitter depression. Sure, critics point to a few minor sequelae from leading with fear from lies, myths, and stereotypes, but look what Hitler was able to accomplish in so short a period of time.

Well now that I have betrayed my position on this issue, I must say there is nothing Machiavellian about my personal ethics. To me, the end does not justify the means. If the means are impure, they will contaminate the end. The objective may be achieved, but it will be short-lived, and self destruct, because it's built on a Swiss cheese foundation. On the other hand, if the means are pure and true, they will sanctify and strengthen the end. Just ask MLK and Ghandi about non-violent resistance. They led with love, truth, and reason, and the ends they achieved with these means are still being enjoyed long after their deaths.

Now I don't mean to imply that Lizzy-Liz is a Nazi for her fear mongering about rat urine, but I noticed that you broadened the discussion beyond urban myths to
more weighty matters: love, faith, meaning, religion, and hell. Well, I'd be a very sad excuse for a proselytizer, if I did not respond to this agnostic rhetoric, with some good old fashion theology. . (This is fun, huh Kacy...You have to picture me laying hands on your head with some holy oil to get the full effect.)

Let's use the obvious example of the Christian world view to illustrate my point.
To be honest, you are absolutely right Kacy. Since the dawn of Christianity, there have been those that preached fire, brimstone, and eternal damnation to justify "saving souls", even though Jesus brought a much different message: John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who used truth, love, and reason to advance His message. He was totally misunderstood, eventually tried as a criminal, and hung naked and beaten on a tree for all to see. But the means sanctified and strengthened the end. His message continues to be heard 2000 years later.
Now the Christian worldview has been perverted and distorted by many throughout history. Christianity was used to justify murder in the crusades to "save the lost". Christians condoned slavery in the New World to build a new "free" nation. Most recently, fundamentalists have bombed abortion clinics to "save" unborn children. The crusades did not convert the world, slavery has left this nation divided and broken for more than 200 years, and no woman has been helped by violence perpetrated against abortion clinics. These ill-conceived means have accomplished nothing worthwhile and long lasting. The means defiled the end.
Just because people have used lies to promote a cause, it does not mean the cause they promoted was bad. Just like those parents telling lies to their children or your friend trying to protect you from rat cooties, there is a noble end that lies under those misguided means. It's not that the Christian worldview is necessarily bad, but it has been polluted by years of lies and half-truths. It's a testimony to the virtuous life of Jesus that 2000 years of desecration by deceitful means have been unable to completely defile His ministry.

So to answer your question: "Which is a greater act of love: 1) The man who tells the truth and never misrepresents his experience OR 2) The man who joins the chorus of popular belief in order to not render people as faithless as he is?" The greater act of love is clearly in the truth, but that faithless man may need a dose of truth himself. Behind the popular belief, there may be beautiful truth or more ugly lies, but you have to look beyond the superficial to see it...

Let me use one more example to make my point about underlying truth. Now, we agree it's wrong to use deception "for someone else's sake", because that deception will eventually reap more confusion than benefit. Like the admonitions about sex that I got from Father O’Leary growing up... "Sex is bad! Don't think about it! It's sinful to have sexual thoughts! Your equipment may stop working if you misuse it! It's a sin to play with yourself!" All of this was said "for my sake", but it created more confusion about sex and did not equip me to deal with reality. And just look what the Catholic associations of sex and shame have reaped...repression then sexual perversion, and finally pedophilia.
But under those admonitions to not have sex before marriage, was some beautiful truth. There was truth about love, purity, and the sacred beautiful expression of sex in the right context. If we tell children lies, it does not reap the desired result. It does not protect them if we try to hide the truth about the pleasures of sex. We should tell children that sex is amazing! If we tell them the good and the bad as we really see it, they are more likely to learn our values. We can warn them about the hurt and pain that can be reaped when sex is misused, but we should tell them the ecstasy of sex when it's the right time and place. Do we need anymore evidence that the telling lies about sex, and making children feel shame does not produce chastity or even any happily-ever-afters.

My point is this: Although the Catholic priest who tried to teach me to fear sexual expression, actually did me a disservice by lying about sex, there was some honest truth about sexual purity that motivated all those silly Catholic hang-ups about sex. His lies drove me further from that truth, but I would have been a fool to react to his lies by going out and having sex with everything that moved. It was up to me to see beyond the lies to the truth.

So to conclude my brother, I agree with your distaste for lies "for my sake", but I hope you always take the time to determine what motivates those lies.

Keep this blog up man...It's therapy for me just to respond to your thoughts.

Peace & Blessings,

PS: You shouldn't drink that Rockstar crap... My homeboy’s cousin works in Las Vegas where they bottle it, and they put nicotine in it to get you hooked!!!