Sunday, March 5, 2017

Reflections on the "light" of truth-telling in a climate of the darkness of lies

There is beauty in truth even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, help anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.  (Jose. N. Harris)

Once while writing an examination as part of a hiring process for a large insurance company, I encountered the question “Have you ever lied?” with only a “yes” or “no” response permitted. Under pressure of whatever...time, a foreign country, a profound insecurity about what I was even doing there, and able to “see” that it was not my practice to lie, I answered “no”…and never heard from the insurance company again.

The most dangerous kind of liar is the person who lies to him or herself. The rest only lie to others. I am glad the insurance company wanted nothing to do with me, not because of my answer, but because I could never have accepted the required set of perceptions/beliefs/”values” and practices that drive large corporations to generate profits. By playing on fears (mostly unreasonable fears) and manipulating their clients and their prospective clients into a transaction involving the acquisition of a product or service that, by itself, is smaller than portrayed in the offer, and whose need it meets is likely smaller than envisioned by the client. Often, even, the corners(tone) of integrity that sustain any “trusty” building have been so “rounded” that the building’s integrity is now suspect.

In the seemingly more important attention paid to the immediate “need” (protecting one’s reputation, distracting an accuser, impressing an authority figure, avoiding a charge/conviction, or simply needing to demonstrate power) we have all dissembled, told only a half-truth, or rationalized our way out of having to confront the bald, bold, and often unpleasant, or perhaps unbearable truth. Even professionals, like medical doctors, have to make ethical and moral judgements about how much truth to tell….another variation on the premise of telling the truth. “Do we tell this patient that he has only a week to live?” could be a question that easily passes from one physician to another, given their respective “read” of the evidence in the diagnosis. And the question becomes even more murky if the time left to live is more indeterminate. (There is evidence that, in the not so distant past, doctors learned that the “raw” truth often resulted in shortened life spans, so they have had to reconsider that approach.)

I once listened as a friend unloaded on his family doctor who told him he would not survive the pancreatic cancer that had invaded his body, as he insisted, “I am going to beat this thing, John, regardless of what Howie told me!” Knowing the “Howie” of whom he spoke, (also my family doctor), I suddenly felt deep empathy and compassion for both men, the doctor who was authentically carrying out his professional, ethical and moral responsibilities, and my friend, for the prospect he faced, without real hope of surviving.

Another story: a former friend is hospitalized for what the psychiatrist has diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and for which he has prescribed medications for depression, anxiety. Not fully knowing about the range of treatments for the disorder, I ask, innocently, “Are there any other ways for you to be treated?” (always seeking alternatives to pharmaceutical remedies, if feasible and available, and in this instance, wondering about increased exposure to “light” even enhanced electric  light). My hat was sitting on the bed, where the patient was seated, leaning on his “table” as we talked. He turned his head toward my hat, and without uttering a word at first, punched the hat with an intensity that shocked me, as he exclaimed, “Damn! You can see right through me!” completely confused, I returned home to find a phone message from his then spouse with these words, “Don’t you ever visit or speak to “X” again!” It was months later that I learned the ‘friend’ was deeply experiencing a profoundly troubling experience, as he struggled with his sexual orientation. He only later “came out” and I discerned that he was not being “treated” for SAD, but rather for the emotional turbulence of reconciling with a new awareness of an authentic gay sexuality. Did he “lie” to the psychiatrist? Did he misrepresent the truth to his then spouse?
These questions do not permit easy and glib answers. They are part of a human dynamic that finds each of us, at various times, struggling with the “truth” and how to cope with its implications.

Growing up in a family in which physical and emotional abuse were a regular occurrence, I knew, without doubt, that the “family truth” must never escape my lips, and it never did. However, concealing the truth must also be considered when one reflects on “lying” given the kind of protective covering family loyalty too often demands. And yet, were I to have disclosed the fullness of the truth, the only remedy would have been the social agencies, and I would probably have been removed and placed in a foster home, separating me from the other parent whose support I needed. Keeping the truth hidden, along with the details that were buried in that “attic trunk,” nevertheless, required the kind of unpacking that most adults of dysfunctional homes have to go through. So when is the truth fully revealed and when are we fully capable of comprehending its implications, as gift, not merely as dark pain?

We are witnessing a series of political sequels, in the current American political landscape, saturated, it would seem, by lies, cover-ups and dissemblings, along with the required “lawyering” of statements to protect the “innocent” whose “guilt” must be protected until it is finally proven. And, naturally, in a country where laws fill tombs and memory sticks, every moment in which a public figure fails to disclose the whole truth and nothing but the truth has become justification for firing. Engraved in the North American memory are the image of Bill Clinton, telling the world, ‘I did not have sex with that woman, Monika Lewinsky!” only to subsequently face impeachment. General Mike Flynn is no longer the Head of National Security for failing the “truth” test in his testimony that he spoke to no Russians. Currently, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions is facing rising pressure for his failure (refusal/resorting to lying?) to disclose his conversations with the Russian Ambassador in the midst of the recent presidential campaign. Today, we learn that Jared Kushner also had conversations in Trump tower with that same Russian Ambassador to the United States, in mid-campaign.

This series of stonewalls, lies(?) is certainly not the first to be visited upon an  electorate. Yet, there is a kind of toxicity that is barnacled to this drama, now being viewed by the whole world. As one observer put it to me today, “If Trump were the president of Bolivia, we would be laughing at him! However, he is the President of the United States and we cannot laugh!”

Underlying the distrust more and more people are experiencing about the American administration is the proclivity to lie. And there is no end in sight!
Overlaying the garden of specific lies, omissions, cover-ups and distractions are statements about the “honesty” of his “people” by the president. Words like “witch  hunt”* and ad hominums like “hypocrite” (Schumer) and “lying” Pelosi, just like “crooked” Hillary, amount to little more than “vengeful jabs, hollow and vacuous as mere ‘shock-and-awe’ World Wide Wrestling phantom ‘slams’ to the mat of the opponent.

Simultaneously, while Trump beats his character assassination ‘drum’ (against his opponents), the news media feeds up a litany of specific omission, lies, distortions by the “trump team” in a counterpoint of both style and content. So while Trump himself is not being directly accused of lying, the narrow and strict purportedly objective reporting of “lies” could and may well get lost in the fog of Trump’s percussion. defines “lie” this way:

a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.

And just as each of us as individuals struggles with the tension that inevitably accompanies our encounters between full disclosure and protecting our privacy, (telling the truth does not mean telling the whole truth always to everyone), so too do large organizations. Recently, we learned of corporate malfeasance that demands exposure, distribution and reflection.

KPMG, the global accounting firm, peddled tax evasion schemes to wealthy clients, through an method that moved large sums of cash “as a gift” to offshore bank accounts on the Isle of Mann, where tax would not be paid, and where interest without being taxed could and would accrue. The plan also promised the return of those funds, also as “gifts” and therefore not taxable to the owner at some future date. The Canadian Revenue Agency would neither discover nor prosecute the participants who paid the required “administrative” fee of $100,000 for each account. So there is the obvious “lie” to CRA about the end-run around the tax laws. And then there is also a secondary “lie” about the percentage claimed by KPMG on each account, while publicly declaring no such ‘creaming’ was taken.

As for the public interest, there is another layer of concern, focusing on the Finance Committee of the House of Commons which investigated the accounting firm and let pass an “arrangement” of no penalties or interest between the participants and CRA, using a “current law case” as the cover for their refusal to refer the matter to the RCMP for investigation and possible prosecution.

If we critically examine the public behaviour of corporations, like the tobacco companies, each of which knew for decades that their products were killing users, while they denied any responsibility, we find corporate lying abounds to protect both the executives and the share holders, at the expense of the customers. Takata, the air-bag manufacturer, knew for years that their devices were potentially lethal, without either admitting wrong or cleaning up their mess, while drivers and passengers were being killer. Volkswagen, too, lied to emissions testers, by inserting software that covered up the true level of toxic emissions from the diesel vehicles during emission testing. Recent disclosure implicates the car manufacturers Toyota, Honda, Nissan and others, who allegedly also “knew” of the defective air-bags when they installed them into their respective vehicles.

Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, contracted by avid golfers, encountering herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and the like on golf courses, in an obsessive attempt to meet the unrealistic expectations of golfers who demand pristine fairways and greens, free of dandelions, is another under-reported tragedy. When the political class banned these substances from neighbourhoods, in a co-dependent obsequious bow to the corporates, they exempted golf courses. Ironically, in Scotland, where the game was invented, all forms of weeds, and other growths, were an integral component to the golf courses, including the venerable St. Andrews.

Most of the regulatory and monitoring schemes currently in place, in food, in autos, in professional services, and in all manner of human encounters emerge from some incidents in which someone, or some group, or some government (individual or department) failed to comply with basic common sense, or in more complex situations, with policies and practices that required compliance. While the comedy writers/actors/producers glean their material from the bizarre incidents in human lives, (and we all have lived out our share of those mis-steps!), frequently, those mis-steps are soil for legal and sometimes criminal cases.

In grade school, “he started it” will often be the first words out of the mouth of a school-yard combatant, when an authority figure steps in to break up a fight. And his “defence” will be immediately rejoined with “no, he hit me first” from the opponent. In adult lives, the “he-said-she-said” argument seems unlikely to be resolved, given that admission of truth is a sure and certain path to “proven guilt” without the ‘other’ paying any price. Parents who find their credit card missing from a wallet or purse, when they confront the “suspect” will often hear some slim and slippery excuse offered up as “need” when the intestinal fortitude required to “ask” for the money is lacking.

And it is not only among the young that dissembling occurs. Plagarism, the borrowing of the words/ideas/theories of another, without attribution, has taken the careers of significant journalists, educators and historians, one of the more prominent was the American highly respected historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, who admitted to a failure to footnote her sources as a sloppy oversight, upon discovery.

And then there is the question of professional “ethics” that compels participating individuals to refrain from public criticism of colleagues whose work is below acceptable standards. Is such silence another form of lying, if, in the public interest, the performance of some is relegated to the trash-heap of “silence” in order to support the prevailing ethic of “protection”. In these cases, the public reputation of the “professional group” is considered to be a higher social value than the full disclosure of what could well be unprofessional behaviour. Recently, the matter of conferring “consent” by an intoxicated woman in two sexual assault cases has created headlines, given the lack of clarity of the mental competence of an intoxicated person. Of course, those engaged in the legitimate protection and support of victims of sexual assault, are outraged that there would even be such a debate.

Another anecdote highlights the complexity of deception, lying and the blurred lines between those who engage, compulsively and those who are being subjected to the obsession. I once worked for a person who had borrowed a social-justice model of journalism from a Chicago experiment, in which un-and under-employed youth were invited to learn the skills necessary to journalists and their craft, while they reported on issues facing their community. Judging others as compulsive liars, this person was one such. And both the blindness and the projection of the behaviour onto others was so evident that the ground on which all were working was, predictably, unsafe.

There is both evidence and reason to make a similar observation of the current occupant of the Oval Office, from which emerge the most outrageous statements that do not square with the shared reality of the general population, or with the shared reality of even the rest of the members of both houses of Congress. During the course of the campaign, it was then candidate, Ben Carson, who offered this lame defence, when asked about Trump’s lying: “Well all politicians lie, don’t they?” as if such behaviour is both so commonplace and so acceptable as to be unworthy of challenge.

And yet,
·       mass deportations that are said to be “no mass deportations” and
·      walls to be paid for by Mexico that Mexico refuses to pay for, and
·      making American great again by nominating a racist Attorney General and
·      refusing to disclose tax returns because the American people are not “interested” and
·      denying anyone I know had anything to do with Russians during the campaign, while the evidence mounts to deflate that balloon and
·      defying all appearances and compliance with the emoluments clause while seeking and accepting profits from the sale of hotel rooms, banquet rooms and conference rooms, without a hint of remorse, shame or apology and
·      declaring the news media “dishonest” (just another projection of the dishonesty that infests the White House
d   denying even knowing who David Duke (KKK leader) is, while writing executive orders that are demonstrably racist and white supremacist and


For Trump to accuse Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower, without acknowledging that presidents do not order warrants from the FISA court and do not plant wire-taps, is just another blatant "lie" of epic proportions. 

Malcolm Vance, a counter-intelligence practitioner told Joy Reed on AMJOY, on MSNBC this weekend that Trump is “flailing”  because he knows there are sources of information out there that are eventually going to corner him on the question of Russia and his tweets are evidence. If Vance is right, it might be feasible that we will eventually bear witness to the entrapment of a self-sabotaging, self-constructed web of lies that impales the president.

Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press, on MSNBC and NBC, has recently cut a commercial for the cable news outlet, in which he cites the rules of basketball and asks the question, “Are there any rules in politics anymore and is anyone keeping them?”…followed by a piercing “sell line”…”We are prepared to blow the whistle!”

The world needs an army of whistles and whistle-blowers, is the tidal wave of lying is to be restrained from drowning the structure, the tradition and the integrity of American democracy. And the model being exercised in the White House is giving silent “permission” to lying, dissembling, deceiving and cover-up at all levels of human discourse.  

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