by Richard Martin Oxman
“I loved that book you had us read.” — One of the author’s home schooled youngsters, commenting on James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me
— John Milton, from “To My Lord Fairfax” (1694)
To lie habitually, as a way of life, in the manner that well-meaning, highly educated and deeply experienced professionals do in academia, media and government, is “to lose contact with the unconscious,” as Adrienne Rich has said. It is like taking sleeping pills, which confer sleep but blot out dreaming.
The unconscious wants truth. And Truth wants out. Even when one has a terminal disease and acts as if they’d rather not know what’s coming down, they do. And the truth will rear its head one way or another, in one form or another. Through tics, anger or with the most gentle embrace one’s ever known.
Either by omission or commission, with Mendacity we merely obscure. The truth stays in the undergrowth, waiting to be discovered. The growth of cancer is always known on some level, whether it has to do with a reduction of cells proliferation of cells , or a proliferation of incarceration, cells that rob human beings of their humanity, as a rule.
Rule. Rules. What’s the role of rules vis-a-vis Truth? Who rules? Who rules your life?
Well, BIG questions here. But I can tell you this. The first casualty of war is… Truth. Aeschylus said it during what’s known as Classical Greece. Known as the Father of Tragedy, if he were living today he’d be saying in his plays that Truth lives no more. For war is wall to wall now, isn’t it? Ongoing and proliferating, without end in sight. There was some respite from war during Fifth Century Greece. No longer. In fact, the very nation of Greece may go down the tubes as a function of a new kind of economic war that’s been waged against it.
I had been teaching Adrienne Rich’s poetry for quite some time before she entered the taxi I was driving in New York City, and shared the lines I cited in my opening paragraph above. She gave me the largest tip I ever had driving as a hack. And I don’t mean money. I’m talking about the advice she gave me. I had taken the taxi gig — even though I was immersed in academia at the time — because all during my tenure as a teacher I held down one blue collar job or another to keep in touch with the so-called real world.
She talked to me about Aeschylus, and we went back and forth about war, discussing the Marine Corps’ Smedley D. Butler’s War Is a Racket, and his contention that Mendacity is what war is all about. Falsehood in the name of the business Bottom Line. Unconscionable upheaval and utterly abominable acts against Mother Nature and all that’s sacred in life. Her tip? I’d like to tell that to readers one on one, ideally reproducing the intimacy that I had with poet Rich. Rich on Rich once again.
And speaking of “Rich”… something comes to mind that has nothing at all to do with her last name or my first name. That is, The Rich. The wealthy who Butler lambasted after winning the Medal of Honor, and becoming the most decorated Marine of his era. The relatively small group of greedy creatures who call the shots in our society vis-a-vis war and all else. [Pause.] They lead the way, but we must also keep in mind the large group of suffering citizens amidst us who have sold their souls in the name of supporting U.S. war efforts and the Weapons Industry.
Those folks — together — don’t have a sense (or don’t care) about the fact that the U.S. Military is, arguably, the greatest single polluter on earth. Or very close to it, by any standards. That’s not a well-known status, as it’s verboten to address in many quarters, and there are many highly influential forces aligned to undermine any interest in dealing with that fact of life.
“The term propaganda rings melodramatic and exaggerated, but a press that — whether from fear, careerism, or conviction — uncritically recites false government claims and reports them as fact, or treats elected officials with a reverence reserved for royalty, cannot be accurately described as engaged in any other function.”
Those are the words of Glenn Greenwald, an investigative reporter who really cares about the Collective Good. Unlike career politicians, who — by definition — are too self-serving to place Truth above personal profit, securing a spotlight, etc.
Frederick Douglass said, “Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and all places.” True enough. And that’s why in my new Language Arts and Social Studies classes I’ll be teaching this year, we’ll be reading the richness of Rich, Aeschylus, Butler, Greenwald and what the African-American abolitionist has shared through the centuries in authentic honesty. In lieu of the select “great” works which are routinely assigned regardless of their angle of vision.
You see, there’s a lingering myth in educational circles that “objectivity” must rule. There’s a comparable attitude in mainstream journalism and in other “respectable” quarters, as per Greenwald’s words above. But it’s time for concerned citizen educators like myself to make some attempt at directing vision within academia. Not embracing the traditional stance against subjectivity in putting together a Reading List.
Above I asked, Who rules your life? Well, Truth does not. We are embedded in Falsehood. We all live in Menda City. Mendacity. The Audacity of Mendacity should have been the title of the overly popular Obama book. And whatever book is going to be ghost-written for our new president. Ditto for the works incessantly inundating us courtesy of other elected officials and their money-making mendacious colleagues who have them in their corporate back pockets. [Pause.] The same should be said of the vast majority of academics who are — consciously or not so aware of being — in bed with said rulers.
Take out your rules, kids, and let’s take measure of our Collective Situation. For the Collective Good. For Collective Survival, I’d say.
Hannah Arendt once said,
“When we talk about lying… let us remember that the lie did not creep into politics by some accident of human sinfulness. Moral outrage, for this reason alone, is not likely to make it disappear.”
I rest my case on that truthful note. And note that I have a proposal for action which is designed to give trustworthy concerned citizens a shot at relocating. Moving out of Menda City.
The thing is, a core group of citizens are — first — going to have to get off of the Untruthful Treadmill that they’re on. Talk about the toxicity of the blacktops that cover the only roads now available. And, then, carve out unprecedented inroads in the realm of the electoral arena.
Again, I have a proposal for doing so.
The liar’s punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, of course, but that he cannot believe anyone else. Lying is easy. But it’s lonely.
In solidarity, we stand to be bonded beautifully standing by Truth together.
“Glorify a lie, legalize a lie, arm and equip a lie, consecrate a lie with solemn forms and awful penalties, and after all it is nothing but a lie.” — Edwin Hubbell Chapin