[This is an excerpt from something else I’ve been working on. Sorry if it seems abrupt. I’m curious to hear what others might make of this approach to truth and lying.]
So it goes.
That’s something Vonnegut used to say before he died.
Vonnegut, by the way, had things pretty well figured out. He was able to negotiate a dialectic that most people cannot sustain. That is to say, he was able to remain both appalled and horrified by the multitude of death-dealing ways in which people treat other people, and he was still able to prevent this full-on confrontation with death from crushing the life, love and laughter within him. Most of the rest of us aren’t able to do this. We either face the death-dealing elements of life and burn-out or blow-up in that confrontation, or (more often) we refuse to face this part of our existence and so the life, love, and laughter we pursue is often tinged with desperation, superficiality, and dishonesty.
Speaking of dishonesty, the reader should know this: I am not a particularly honest person. However, I should clarify what I mean by that: I believe that I am quite honest with myself, I just don’t think that I need to be nearly as honest with others. I have found that lying, more than truth-telling, is often the only way to pursue ends that I believe are good and moral. In contradistinction to the kind of lying I just mentioned, I lie not in order to avoid a confrontation with death, but in order to win that confrontation.
So, I’m not particularly bothered by observing this about myself. All of us are liars or, to reframe that discussion, all of us are daily engaging in the creation of fictions. In a world bereft of certitude, wherein “truth” and “lies” are simply the products of language games created by people (wherein all truths are tautological), I’m not entirely sure of the value of continuing to employ this terminology. In many ways, we are quite literally creating the worlds in which we live. We all create or buy-in to systems of value, meaning, and significance that we ultimately have no way of knowing are actually true. Thus, living life meaningfully is an ongoing process of creative fiction writing.
Further, like all good fiction, it isn’t very useful to refer to this as something that is either “true” or “false”. When I read Dostoevsky (or any other talented author), I don’t think, “man, what a liar, this guy is making all this shit up.” That would be an exercise in missing the point. The Brothers Karamazov is no less true than any work of non-fiction – any historical narrative or any “true story”. Further, “true” stories, histories, biographies, or whatever else, are just as “made up” as The Brothers Karamazov, in that people choose to highlight certain things, leave other things out, connect certain events to other events, ascribe value to some things and not to others, and so on and so forth.
All stories are fictions and anyone who imposes a narrative structure on his or her own life, or onto the world, is a liar.
So, with that in mind, I am not interested in telling stories in order to capture some “truth.” Rather, I tell stories in order to pursue that which is life-giving. If lying is more life-giving than truth-telling (and it often is), then I will lie. These lies then actually alter the world – by creating life, they become “truer” than that which we perceive of as “factual.” Like I said before, we are all in the process of creating the worlds in which we live. Some lies – the real good ones – are “false” before they are spoken, and “true” afterwards.
For example, I may work with a homeless man who others have described as “worthless,” “bad,” or a “piece of shit,” and that person may have internalized these markers into his own self-identification. Indeed, the evidence offered for this description might be compelling: maybe this guy sexually abused his sister, maybe he is selling crack to kids and single mothers, maybe he beats people up for money. Whatever, you get the idea.
However, when I go on to describe this person as “valuable,” “good” and “beloved,” and when I treat this man as such, my description often ends up becoming more definitive of who he becomes. Thus, while others might be inclined to call me a liar for describing the fellow they knew in that way, all I’m doing is speaking a truth that has not yet become true. I am engaged in the process of world-creation, which involves participating in the creation of the characters around us.
However, I do not engage in this process alone. Everybody is creating the world in which they live, and most people are trying to impose their world onto the worlds that others are trying to create. Those with wealth, status, power and control of the means of communication are particularly successful in having others accept the world that they want to create. The problem here is that these people tend not to be concerned about the lives of others. They treat others as pieces of shit and ensure that those others actually (factually, truthfully) turn into pieces of shit. This is a death-dealing way of creating the world.
I say fuck that world.