As Stephanie Ericsson makes clear in her essay “The Ways We Lie”, the world has been desensitized to lying. Concealment of the truth has become a staple in our society, due to cultural pressures on political, social, and economic fronts. Ericsson describes our acceptance of lies as “a cultural cancer that eventually shrouds and reorders reality until moral garbage becomes as invisible as us to as water is to a fish.” Although Ericsson is right in her point that lying has become a daily part of our lives, she is wrong in the sense that it is an exclusively negative thing. Morally, lying is frowned upon in nearly all circles. The art of concealing the truth is probably most openly frowned upon by those who most avidly use it to their advantage, and in and of itself that is an example of how they do so. However, as Ericsson views lying as something that shrouds or burdens reality, lies are actually the very fabric of our existence. Countless things, ideas, and occurrences all around us each and every day are the result of mistruth or misguided truth. The order we perceive in our own personal lives, as well as on a global scale is at least somewhat dependant on one lie or another, whether it be one told by us, to us, or perhaps something even larger.
From a first person standpoint, there are two types of lies. Long term lies, or ones that we premeditate, and short term lies which are spoken with the agenda of the moment in mind. The existence of a long term lie implies the conscious action of concealing a certain truth, whereas the short term lie is more targeted at solving the problem of the moment. Although it seems ironic, when we tell long term lies we permanently place the burden of truth on ourselves and our situations. We create a web of lies that must all be in agreement with each other, and the pretenses they came with all rest upon it. What this means is that our existences are reliant upon these lies. Unfortunately, this web we build is our life, and if we choose to dabble in the art of mistruth, we must live with that burden.
Where the long term lie shapes our reality and the way we live it, the short term lie offers insight into who we are as people. White lies, lies of omission, and deflection, all discussed by Ericsson in her essay, are dominant in this category. Whether you’re telling someone they don’t look fat in that outfit, leaving out the fact that you forgot to pay the bills, or avoiding a touchy subject, you are still either entirely misrepresenting, or at the very least avoiding, the truth. The motives behind short term lies are more easily deciphered than those behind long term ones. For example: a man telling his wife that she looks fine in that dress when she really does not obviously shows that the man wishes to avoid confrontation. Omission and deflection are used in similar contexts and all are means of getting to a more comfortable end. The “more comfortable end” is what would never be achieved if honesty were employed against today’s standards. Little lies are told in a nonchalant fashion, but have large implications all the same, and our relationships rest just as much upon small lies as upon large ones.
Just as the inside of our personal lives are shaped by lies, so is the world around us. Politicians that don’t give the public the full story are committing lies of omission, and many politicians lie outright. Political rhetoric is designed to sway the masses and inspire patriotism as opposed to actually presenting the facts. Here in the United States we are exposed to propaganda daily on nationally syndicated radio and television networks. The internet, growing in popularity as the most extensive source of information, contains infinite falsehoods, free to be taken as facts by anyone who happens upon them. If the skeleton web-work of lies holding this all together were ever to collapse, it’s hard to imagine what would happen. Not only would relationships between everyone (everyone lies) on a personal level be compromised, but relationships between states, nations, religions, and literally everything would be in turmoil.
Lying is not a good thing. It is a concealment of the truth, of the substance of life and the things that actually matter. Ironically and unfortunately, lying is also a fact of life and it is unrealistic to pursue a world sans-falsehood. Lies exist now, infinitely, and will continue to exist as long as people have reason to hide the truth. Therefore, we must take lies at face value for what they are and what they represent in our society. Naïve thoughts of reducing the monopoly lying has on the world should be replaced with an acceptance of lies and the fact that they will always exist. Lying has created a teetering structure which our existence as the human race now rests upon, and it needs to be recognized as such.