Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stockpiling Lies and Judas Kisses

Last week, in our monthly salon group, a conversation spontaneously kicked off about the "balloon boy"--the wild story of Richard Heene and his son, Falcon, that had been gripping the media for several days. At that point, it was known that Falcon was not in the balloon, but it had not yet been established that the whole thing was a hoax designed to get the family a gig in a reality TV show. Everyone in my living room that night agreed, however, it was likely that the Heene family had probably made the entire nation their dupe.

Which led us then to an interesting discussion about hoaxes and about what it means to be duped. One saloneer, Bill, told us about how his brother has been making mysterious trips to England for the past year or so. After some Google sleuthing behind the scenes, Bill had discovered his brother was an active member of a psychic organization there that holds seances. He described being nonplussed when his brother asked him if he would like to have a conversation with a former U.S. president. The president in question turned out to be not someone living, but Thomas Jefferson. Bill described how his brother wept when talking about these conversations, and how they have changed his life. So, what do you say to a brother who has become obsessed with having conversations with dead people? Bill wanted to know.

The salon then zoomed on to Bernie Madoff--how did he manage to fool so many people? Did his family know what he was up to? And I brought up my old experience with psychic surgery, which I had witnessed years ago in the Philippines. Did that doctor's hand really penetrate deep inside the woman's stomach and pull out some diseased matter? I was watching him "operate" in his clinic, only about five feet away from the table, and I even took a couple of photographs. It certainly looked legitimate enough and real. But was it a fraud? What is "real" anyway? I have always tended to think that "real" is somehow equivalent to the truth of things. But these days, the truth of things is so hopelessly scrambled, it has become like a collection of useless, mismatched shoes.

Yesterday I woke up to warnings on NPR about counterfeit cures for swine flu being sold all over the Internet. Today it was news of students in Afghanistan protesting the desecration of a Koran by U.S. troops; the accusation was totally denied by the U.S. military, which claims that the event never happened but is a rumor being perpetrated by the Taliban to stir up hatred against the U.S. All summer long we had to endure attempts to derail health care reform by fabricated stories of "death panels," and protests by Medicare recipients demanding that government stay out of health care. These events were followed by two major fraudulent elections, in Iran and Afghanistan. This morning it was a report of toxic dry wall imported from China that is destroying the infrastructure of many houses and undermining owners' health. Everyday we hear about more banks failing, while those that were bailed out are suddenly making outrageous profits again.

I could of course go on and on with examples of the sinister way the world is moving from near nervous breakdown, to nervous breakdown. Whenever I think about what this breakdown might actually look like, it strikes me that maybe it won't be malign buccaneers arriving at the front door in the middle of the night, or global pandemic, or wandering the roads and eating grass. Maybe it will look more like the extinction of truth under a fire-hosing of fraud and deceit: a stockpiling not of nuclear weapons but of treachery, bad faith, lying, double-dealing, hoaxes, and unrelenting dishonesty.

A friend of mine wryly pointed out the other morning over brunch at my favorite restaurant that all my sentences seem to end in apocalypse. Yeah, I agreed, but pessimists tend to be right, although optimists probably live longer. Truth is, I really don't want to live in a world without truth: a world in which every single thing becomes an object of suspici0n. Admittedly, I have trust issues. But what's a girl to do? It just isn't a whole bag of fun watching the human race exterminate itself with a steady stream of Judas kisses.

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