By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/23/2020
Posted: 2/20/2008
Topics/Keywords: #BushCrimeFamily #Conservatives #Humor #Politics Page Views: 4079
Fantasies are no way to run a government.

Is it possible that anyone in the United States above the age of three, doesn't know what the picture on the left represents?

On the off-chance that you might be such a person, it is a drawing of a stork delivering a baby.

If you are above the age of twelve, it's unlikely that you believe that babies are, in fact, delivered by storks. Yet the image persists; its presence on a greeting card is yet an acceptable shortcut for saying "We're having a baby!"

This bit of silliness comes to us from Victorian days, when it was thought necessary to answer the perennial child's question, "Where did I come from?" without actually bringing up the topic of (shudder, pause) sex. Storks, or specifically the white stork, built very visible nests on British chimneys in which stork mothers could be seen from the ground, devotedly tending their stork babies. Since storks were already thought to be harbingers of good luck, it wasn't such a big stretch to credit them with the arrival of a child…especially since the reality was, at the time, a Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

This conceit was still with us in 1941, when one of the opening songs in Walt Disney's Dumbo was "Look Out For Mr. Stork", in which flocks of white storks were shown delivering baby animals to their parents, including Mrs. Jumbo. It was in that cartoon that the addition of caps, such as were worn by telegram delivery boys, was added to the stork's attire and mythology.

The significance of the stork mythology to us is that it vividly portrays an example of eagerly well-meaning parents telling lies to their children on the assumption that the child doesn't need to know the truth. (How many Victorian girls found themselves pregnant, with no idea what was happening to them, since they hadn't been near a stork?) These same parents, of course, would vehemently deny the same kids the right to withhold truths from them on the basis that the parent didn't need to know! Yet we adults find ourselves living beneath a paternalistic government which believes we should be "protected" from truths we don't need to know. And, as with the stork, the consequences of living with false information are hard to gauge but should not be ignored.

Harmless Lies

The basic misconception is that there is such a thing as "harmless lies". We have been so indoctrinated with the moral aspects of telling the truth (doing it because that's what God wants) that we seldom ponder the ethical aspects of telling the truth (lies cause harm to others, and often wind up coming back to bite us in our collective asses).

For example, we usually tell our children that some falsehoods are acceptable. It's a culture-wide joke that one must never tell a woman that "those pants make her butt look big".

At our house, we've been watching the new season of American Idol which until recently was still running auditions across the country. Contestant after contestant would show up before the show's three judges and release some toneless banshee wail that would peel paint from the walls, yet be honestly startled when Simon asks them, "Who told you you could sing?!" The answer is, invariably, "My family…and all my friends…"

Was the lie, undoubtedly told in kindness to these people, actually harmless? Some of them, on the basis of this lie which they came to believe, spent a lot of money on traveling to the audition city. They presumably devoted a lot of time to practicing for the audition. In some cases they've designed costumes, or at least purchased clothes suitable for a stage appearance. I have to assume that most if not all the contestants are prepared to be told they haven't quite made the cut…but these folks are as devastated to be told they can't sing as Mother Theresa might have been upon presentation of irrefutable proof that she was causing more harm than good to poor people. When one has built a life and a purpose on a belief, the removal of that belief is world-shattering. Usually, the person cannot, in fact, tolerate the end of his or her world-view, and decides the proof is flawed. Most of the contestants described above, leave the audition room growling that Simon doesn't know what he's talking about. All the contestant's family and friends can't be wrong! Never mind that Simon makes a living and travels the world because he's proven he is able to spot talent and does know good performances from bad. Never mind that the contestant's family and friends have possibly never traveled outside their home county or heard a live performance other than that offered on karaoke nights at the Golden Throat Saloon.

And because a person driven to audition for American Idol is likely to truly love music, that person, still laboring under the delusion that he or she possesses an exceptional singing voice, will go on trying to audition for other venues. He or she will forsake any other career, all because the person's world-view is built upon the falsehood that he or she can sing.

A harmless lie, indeed.

And yet, who doesn't empathize with the parent who doesn't want to hurt the feelings of a child? A parent naturally wants the child to love him. And it seems like such a small thing, that lie.

Lies always seem small when first delivered. But, like Pinocchio's nose, they can't help but grow.

Saving Face

The fact is, most lies are not what I call "primary" lies. Primary lies are the ones that seem harmless and are given simply to avoid a confrontation or an unpleasant subject.

Here are some examples of primary lies:

  • Of course you can sing!
  • You're blind? I hadn't noticed.
  • The traffic was horrendous; that's why I'm two hours late coming home.
  • We like you when you've been drinking.
  • The President is always right.

But due to the simple fact that a primary lie isn't true, there won't be evidence to support it. And so the recipient of the lie will keep challenging it. They may come back to the primary liar, or they may seek corroboration elsewhere. Either way, there is now more pressure than ever to maintain the lie, because of the presumed shock of finding out the truth. And that brings us to the "secondary" lie.

  • Well, if your mother says you sing beautifully it must be true.
  • Lots of people wear sunglasses. And I just thought that was a walking stick.
  • My cellphone battery must have been dead. And I don't know why my secretary said I was working late.
  • Have another.
  • Fiscal conservatism means nothing when our security is at stake.

Now, unless the recipient is an idiot, the lies to bolster the first lie multiply like third-graders in math class; because each new lie is less likely to be well-thought out, and will thus be even easier to see through. Look at the permutations of the Santa Claus story that have been forced upon us as children have grown more sophisticated. How can Santa find our house in bad weather? He has a reindeer with built-in radar (Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer). What if you don't have a chimney? The radiator or a chair "morphs" into one (The Santa Clause). What if Santa doesn't like milk? He drinks Coca Cola (advertising campaign, starting in the 1940s). Who brings presents to kids on other planets? Santa trains a native (Santa Claus Conquers The Martians).

When my kids were little, I made the decision to not lie to them about Santa Claus (or anything else). But we were immersed in a culture frantically trying to impose this story from every direction. I tried to counter with "'Santa Claus' is the spirit of Christmas, like 'Wonder Woman' is the spirit of heroism. Neither one is 'real' but it's still fun to think of Christmas and heroism as if they were people, and to make up stories about them as if they were."

The end result? My grandchildren were told Santa Claus brings them some of their Christmas presents, especially any Wonder Woman dolls.

If this doesn't end in tragedy it will be because very little of my grandson Zachary's world view is based on the existence of Santa Claus. Not all his presents are labeled "From Santa". We never told him that Santa spies on him to make sure he behaves. (Yes, he heard that from the very scary stalker song "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" but I don't think he ever took it seriously.) Plus, Zach will be nine soon, an age at which he's expected to see through the lie, and at which we adults are expected to grin and admit him into a new and previously unsuspected level of childhood: The one in which he knows the Truth About Santa but isn't allowed to enlighten younger children. (We All Know that only the meanest brat would "spoil Christmas" for a six-year-old. —Which reinforces the lie that Christmas is really about presents. At what age do we adults graduate to the level at which that lie is exposed as such to us?)

The point is, once a primary lie is told it must be propped up by an expanding web of lies intended to mask the original lie. This takes a lot of effort and creativity and ultimately fails anyway. However, we live in a world in which much—or most—of what we take for granted is based on primary and secondary lies that have been with us for 5000 years. No wonder we're so screwed up.

Reason To Believe

Kids need an answer to "Where am I from?" Zachary was just as satisfied with the simplified truth as his forebears were with the stork story. At eight, he equates "sex" with "kissing" and thinks both are disgusting; but he feels the same way about broccoli. At twelve, he'll have a foundation upon which to build a sex education, including avoiding unwanted pregnancies and diseases—something to which the stork story does not lead.

We Americans have a lot riding on our faith in government: Our livelihoods rely on a strong economy; our safety depends (so we are told) on a strong police force and the Rule of Law. That's why, eight years ago, the people who voted for George W. Bush could be understood, if not forgiven, when they ignored the evidence that the election had been stolen. Even after books and magazine articles were written on the subject by such luminaries as Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Bush's supporters continued to look fiercely the other way, their ears in their fingers as they sang, "La-la-la-la!"

The preposterous story presented to us by the government as to how the false flag attacks of 9/11 were really the work of Osama Bin Laden convinced no one but those who wanted to believe it was so. (Largely, I'm afraid, the same people who keep their children ignorant of the workings of sex on religious grounds. Go, Storks!) Then, with one lie on top of another, we attacked Afghanistan in revenge (even though most of the purported hijackers were from Saudi Arabia), and then Iraq (where none of them was from, and where Saddam Hussein refused to allow any members of Al Qaeda refuge). A recent report has revealed that a total of 935 official lies by the Bush Administration were told to Congress, the Senate, and the American people in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. The "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was the primary lie; all the rest were secondary.

And even now, a small handful of frantic believers is convinced that those WMD were found! (They weren't. They never existed.)

With glacial slowness, Americans have begun to see the truth. But it took the collapse of our economy and $100-a-barrel oil (all predicted by liberal bloggers, including me, from 2002 on) to bring George W. Bush's approval rating to 19%. That's the lowest in history! —Lower than Clinton's during the impeachment proceedings, lower than Nixon's, lower than Ford's after the pardon, lower than even Truman's in 1952, a record that stood for 55 years until Bush broke it this week.

So now, one out of five Americans still believe that Bush is doing a good job, despite having brought Al Qaeda into Iraq by removing Hussein; despite having killed more American soldiers there than civilians were murdered in the 9/11 attacks; despite having bankrupted our country just as he bankrupted every other business he ever ran. How? Why?

Maybe the stork knows. 'Cause I sure don't.