In the classic 1950 Japanese film Rashomon several characters provide different—but similarly self-aggrandizing—accounts of a rape and murder. The story is a study of how self-interest leads to deceptive accounts that obscure our search for the truth.
The core lesson of this movie could easily be applied to the routine and reckless lies that now dominate our national discussions on issues ranging from the war in Ukraine to the many pronouncements surrounding Covid-19. It is no surprise that it is human nature to tell stories that cast our beliefs and actions in the best possible light, but we seem to have have crossed over into a new and dangerous era of mendacity that is crippling our capacity for self-governance.
America’s leaders have, of course, always resorted to strategic falsehoods when the truth was either too embarrassing—or too terrible—to reveal. Military defeats have been hidden, wasteful spending has been ignored, the peccadilloes of elected officials have been overlooked, and troubling realities have been whitewashed.
During the most terrifying days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, Americans were assured they could easily and effectively shield themselves from the deadly effects of radiation with homemade shelters constructed of plywood—lies were a shield against panic. The obvious parallels between those flimsy fallout shelters of sixty years ago and the recent requirement that we protect ourselves from a virus by wearing equally flimsy paper masks are both compelling—and pitiful. Very little ever changes when it comes to government’s desire to reassure with beguiling falsehoods.
What has changed, however, is that the lies we are told are larger, their frequency is higher, and the damage they do is more devastating. It is little wonder that trust in both government and the core institutions of American society are at all-time lows. It would be incredible were it to be otherwise.
Americans are typically both trusting and generous, but we grow understandably enraged when our faith and generosity are abused by those who apparently see us as suckers to be fleeced.
Spiraling government debt concerns us. The many falsehoods regarding the efficacy and safety of Covid-19 vaccines worry us. Government efforts to use our public education systems to push controversial theories about race and gender onto our children anger us. Advocates for defunding the police and setting criminals loose on our streets catch the full force of our disgust.
However, the real crux of the problem is that all points of view now come with their own fierce armies of elected officials, journalists, corporate sponsors, experts, academics, and social media guerrillas ready to flood our digital world with words and images designed to obscure and insult—not to promote discussion.
These repeated attempts to censor our speech and control our thoughts obviously lead to discussions that are markedly more emotional because frustration and angst creeps into the tone of those whose opinions have been treated with disrespect and disdain. This is unfortunate but understandable, and it lends a certain sourness to the debate and inquiry required in a functioning democracy.
Tough and pointed words are to be expected when feelings run high regarding a particular topic or issue—especially those that might expose uncomfortable realities that we desperately want to ignore. American history is a chronicle of bitter and raucous disagreements, and any conflict is naturally more difficult when money and reputations are at stake.
Some of this is also the result of the incredible power inherent in 21st century communications technology, which can be a powerful tool—but is too often wielded as a weapon. There is no doubt that certain portions of what should be a free exchange of contrasting viewpoints are instead designed to silence and humiliate those whose beliefs spring from differing values and life experiences.
Moreover, as the past two years amply demonstrate, if you can control the narrative, you can control our nation to a degree heretofore unknown during our previous—and blessedly dull—analog existence.
With only a handful of television channels, the far less intrusive medium of radio, and perhaps a daily newspaper at hand to influence public opinion, national conversations proceeded at a slower and more humane pace. Crises were much more difficult to conjure out of thin air due to the simple fact that the 21st century expedient of relentlessly pounding messages of hatred, fear, and paranoia into our brains was unavailable because we did not live our professional and personal lives in a stinking swamp of on-line rumor, innuendo, and gossip that is often passed off as supposed fact. We now live in a marketing and public relations fantasyland that has produced a hell on earth.
Little wonder that prescription drug use for anxiety and depression is at a record high. Americans are lab rats that are addicted to the cages we have been trained to love, and we have been given so many electric shocks by our cultural, social, and political overlords that we have gone half-mad with fear and rage.
The obvious solution is to turn off the messages flooding into our brains, but that it is easier said than done. As we now know, much of the information we are fed is carefully and deliberately manipulated to catch our attention, make us angry or fearful—and keep us coming back for more.
Corporate profits and political power are now predicated on keeping us perpetually dissatisfied so that we buy that pair of shoes, lust for that car, vote for that candidate, and sneer at those who live and think differently than ourselves. Much as the purchase of ecclesiastical indulgences during the Middle Ages paved our pathways to heaven in exchange for a few gold coins, so are we promised an earthly paradise if we pull out our credit cards and close our minds to opinions that challenge what we have been instructed to believe.
Unsurprisingly, censorship of ideas and opinions deemed to be “misinformation” is now used to suppress troubling facts and ideas so that businesses, interest groups, and politicians are not threatened.
Rather than learning and thinking for ourselves, we are amazingly complaisant about social media companies de-platforming those who actively question the version of reality that has been approved for our consumption. Two years of watching politicians, pundits, assorted experts, and social media busily attempting to erase any suggestion that Covid-19 may have been created in a Chinese bio-weapons laboratory—before finally being forced to admit it was likely true—has been a useful and important lesson about the manipulation of public opinion. Likewise, being continually reassured by pharmaceutical companies and their shills at the CDC that just one more booster shot—we promise!—will save us from the Coronavirus should be a hint that stock market valuations are subservient to actual science in our nation today.
Even this week’s revelation that the Russian’s were, in fact, not at all responsible for the nefarious information contained on Hunter Biden’s laptop computer—after over a year of the mainstream media, Big Tech, and sneering government insiders actively suppressing news of its disturbing contents—tells us more than we need to know about the complicity and collusion that masquerades as journalism in America today.
“Misinformation” is, to be blunt, merely a term used by somebody with money and power who doesn’t like what is being said out loud—and wants it censored immediately.
Is this the path we want to endorse for America? Nations such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea ensure that their citizens hear nothing that contradicts the preferred narratives of the government and the elites. Are these the examples that we want to emulate here at home?
When we are children, we are told bedtime stories to lull us asleep. The efforts that have been afoot for many years to convince us to trade our precious American freedoms for an illusory security—one that apparently requires our absolute obedience and acquiescence to bureaucratic diktats in which we have no say—are both ongoing and (if we deign to open our tired eyes) obvious to all but the most deluded.
Children can be forgiven for believing in fairy tales; adults should be ashamed of worshipping at the interlocking altars of Big Government, Big Tech, and Big Banks. It should be clear to us that we have surrendered far too much in exchange for a future that is both financially unsustainable and culturally bankrupt.
To be a serf is sad; to demand our own enslavement is the most egregious stupidity imaginable. However, if we are indeed now incapable of determining the differences between good or bad, right or wrong, and moral or immoral for ourselves because our critical thinking faculties have atrophied, we richly deserve the censorship and destructive fantasies that today are being pressed upon us.
If this is our choice, Americans can revel in the drowsy sleep and facile thoughts and dreams enjoyed by children. However, if we wish to take on the responsibilities and rigors of adulthood, we will find that the challenges ahead will be more enlivening than the passive and pointless futures now being foisted upon us to keep us compliant.
Ignorance is, most definitely. not bliss. We must actively fight all attempts by elites and insiders to hide disturbing truths from us if we expect our tattered democracy to survive.