Affirm, Affirm, Affirm!

The 1967 film A Guide for the Married Man (Walter Matthau, Robert Morse) contains a disturbing scene that I thought of as the Palin situation began to develop. Joey Bishop is caught in bed with a lady not his wife, by his wife. He ignores her accusations, responding to her only with his own monosyllabic questions: Who? What? Where? Why? When? Finally the wife looses confidence in her own eyes and accepts that the complete rejection of her observations and total ease of her husband must mean that she didn’t see what she clearly did. The McCain campaign is following the same plan. They didn’t vet Palin, she has no experience or depth suitable to the presidency (standard that must be used) and she has an increasing list of untoward behaviors and situations surrounding her; and so the campaign responds with deny, deny, deny. They are stonewalling as though it is all in our heads, as though they have done nothing wrong, expecting that the American people will finally be beaten down and expecting that the fantasy of this Palin person will be accepted as if it were a new and better reality.

In an added twist of gutter ruthlessness, the sort of thing the MSM calls “brilliant” campaign strategy, “affirm, affirm, affirm” has been added to the repertoire. If enough balls are tossed into the air, the audience may not realize that they are just falling to the ground and not being artfully juggled, especially when canned cheering and yells of “great juggling” are projected from the bought, paid for and otherwise compromised press.

Of course, Palin is only a symptom of our political disease. The sideshow magician has taken over where honest debate on matters of real concern once took place, not a new phenomenon, but increasingly troublesome as our options and opportunities are reduced by our increasing environmental, energy and resource challenges, exacerbated by our general failure to correctly evaluate our true role and responsibility in the changes of our world.

The most basic value that is being lost is honesty. Lies misdirect and disable response systems; which is, of course, why they are told. Lies are different from confusion. Simple confusion can be in the pursuit of veridicality. A lie exists to obscure veridicality. The very most dangerous and difficult human problem is believing and acting outside of biophysical reality. Our acceptance of lying as a “natural” human condition through which we expect to navigate is a first order change that we must make. Humans that lie must be shunned; intentional dishonesty rejected.

Recognizing lies is a great responsibility. Not only an abstract dedication to truth is required, but both a willingness and a capacity to reflect on one’s own thinking and nature, and an ethic of study of all that is neutral to or challenging of your own beliefs and knowledge. Darwin carried a notebook in which he wrote down only those things that challenged his positions; he said that it was easy to remember those things that he already believed, but difficult to keep in the mind that which was foreign to his understanding.

Add to a practice of challenging one’s own prejudgments a dedication to being as truthful in both substance and style as possible and, with like-minded others, to form communities that value and support deep truthfulness as an essential and primary value. Such communities can have incredible power through their renewing connection with reality. And they would tend to contain both honest conservative and honest liberal viewpoints. A dedication to exposing and dissolving the lie would draw together the complimentary strengths of the different thought habits.

McCain is a liar. Obama is a liar. Palin is a liar. Biden is a liar. Bush is liar. Cheney is a liar. It is sad for the world that this list would go on for thousands of pages. A “realist” would say that we must judge the degree and depth of the lie and pick the least offensive. But the damage is done. The lie, whether about the significant or the “insignificant”, takes away our power to respond. The most offensive liar should be shunned first and most aggressively, but it is ultimately the lie that must be overcome. If the basis of our “truth” is a lie then ultimately only the application of physical force is decisive, it becomes our only recourse to reality. We are clearly moving in that direction both internationally with our endless wars and more locally with police-state responses to dissent.

Even though all the major political actors are lying to us, and very likely to themselves, there is a difference at this stage of our situation that we must pragmatically recognize. We need to shun all liars for veridicality to be our standard, but when no one is telling truth distinctions in motive need to be made. This is very difficult and is the very reason that we have come to this pass in the first place, but for now we must shun the worst and challenge the rest. It is increasingly clear that the McCain campaign is affirmatively lying while the Obama campaign is lying as the standard practice and expectation of our time.

So who does one support and vote for in the coming election? First of all, this question conceals a major lie. Our elections are devices to select who will hold office, but they are not about the actual direction or leadership of the nation. No one with a real and possible agenda to invigorate the power of the majority can gain more than minor office. The present structure of governance is to support and protect extreme wealth and power and to increasingly weaken the greatest number’s access to the power to control, not just their governance, but even their own lives. To control their own lives the majority would have to have powers that would inhibit the desires of the elite. Political parties, the relations of the branches of government, the media reporting on government, most academics studying government and the beliefs of the ‘lied to’ public all support this truth, but as a truth that must not be told.

The question, ‘Who does one vote for?’ is not as important as making a struggle against what seems to you to be lies. Paul Krugman recently wrote in the NY Times that he recognized as lies many proclamations from the 2000 Bush campaign and assumed that lying would be the style of Bush’s presidency. It is certainly likely that many people recognized as lies statements from the Gore campaign. Krugman was able to satisfy himself that Bush was the more serious liar. The element that was missing among the masses was the attempt to discover a veridical version of events. It is clear in retrospect that almost any evaluation of the statements and counterstatements would find Bush and his people the more egregious liars. It is here that we see the power of lies to remove the capacity to respond. Tell many lies and people cannot act. Get people to believe one lie and they will act in ways that benefit the liar.

The millions of words spilling from the media maw about the present campaign’s truthfulness or lack there of reminds of noticing with surprise that shit comes from a puppy and then diving in it and rolling around. Does it not occur to these word dribblers to wipe up the mess? The answer, of course, is no. Outrage at Palin’s dishonesty and incompetence is simply rolling in the puppy poop, hardly different than repeating in wide-eyed wonder, “and did you know that Obama is a Muslim.”

We cannot either expect or force the MSM to report daily as the ‘above the fold’ lead: “Today’s Lies From Political Campaigns.” Such fully fact checked listings would change the nature of campaigns and could change the nature of governance. We could compare the NY Post‘s, the NY Times‘, the WSJ’s and other’s listings for consistency; the expectation would be that, while some slanting of opinion would be inevitable, the fact checks should be roughly the same. But this is not going to happen, not without a fight.

Though there is a model. In the sciences the ethic is absolute transparency. A proper scientific report must have every statement verifiable either by reference to a peer reviewed source or by showing clearly how a result was obtained so that others can repeat the test. It is not perfect, but the ethic is to strongly reject the liar. As a result it is possible to act on the vast majority of the information produced by the sciences. The ethic of honesty and transparency is the reason, not the scientific method or some other special “science” thing.

We have come to expect that our social and media information is of questionable honesty. We have accepted this. The natural history of this process and the deep nature of misrepresenting, while interesting, is ultimately not the issue. Our very survival depends on being able to act with some accuracy in the world from the information that we gather, and to do that we must have a ethic of honesty in our social communications since that has become almost our only source for the information upon which we act.

The first action to change the nation has to be a dedication to personal honesty in our own dealings and to the diligent study of events so to measure the truthfulness of others. Just as we will not drill our way out of our energy troubles, we will not vote our way out of our governance troubles. Be honest in your own dealings, respect and support honesty in others, shun the liar (personally and politically) and create community with those who do the same. Let me tell you honestly, no one is going to lead us out of the perversion of governance we presently endure, not Obama, not McCain, not a Gandhi, Einstein, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln all rolled into one. It really is our turn this time.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a biologist and psychologist who after discovering a mismatch between academe and himself went into private business for many years. His whole post-pubescent life has been focused on understanding at both the intellectual and personal levels what it is to be of the human species; he claims some success. Email him at: Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Donald Hawkins said on September 19th, 2008 at 8:43am #

    Of course, Palin is only a symptom of our political disease. The sideshow magician has taken over where honest debate on matters of real concern once took place, not a new phenomenon, but increasingly troublesome as our options and opportunities are reduced by our increasing environmental, energy and resource challenges, exacerbated by our general failure to correctly evaluate our true role and responsibility in the changes of our world.

    Well put.

  2. polack in idaho said on September 19th, 2008 at 8:40pm #

    if only people knew and understood, how PLEASANT it is to live in truth… Not in terms of physical well-being, because commitment to truth can easily bring sometimes substantial risk to life and limb – but the alternative is feeling of worthlessness and emptiness; a void that is impossible to fill. Weak people, who succumb to lies, often try to fill this void – with money, drugs, sex, jewelry, shoes – or, if they are sufficiently powerful, with human misery, suffering, and dead bodies. But at the end of the day, they still have nothing. Or even less than that.

  3. Donald Hawkins said on September 20th, 2008 at 5:13am #

    Polack keep writting.

  4. Brian Koontz said on September 20th, 2008 at 6:24am #

    “if only people knew and understood, how PLEASANT it is to live in truth… Not in terms of physical well-being, because commitment to truth can easily bring sometimes substantial risk to life and limb – but the alternative is feeling of worthlessness and emptiness; a void that is impossible to fill. Weak people, who succumb to lies, often try to fill this void – with money, drugs, sex, jewelry, shoes – or, if they are sufficiently powerful, with human misery, suffering, and dead bodies”

    That’s not their perspective. To see something as a void one must be able to see what can go into that void. Otherwise it isn’t seen as a void at all.

    There are two obstacles to people acting honorably – a devaluation of the “honorable action” itself – for example some people prefer bling to love. The only way to overcome that is for them to change their minds.

    The second is for them to be able to *produce* the honorable action. Monsters like Dick Cheney are excellent at seizing and maintaining power – his skill set doesn’t extend much beyond that. Is it any wonder he’s in control of Washington, the heart of the empire? What else could someone like Cheney DO with his time?

    People must be empowered to understand and reproduce honor. America is decaying in part because the ruling class has become distanced from anything honorable, and their massive control over media means that distance is reproduced in the general population. Hence American society itself has become disgusting.

    Take a look at people who love killing other people, for an analogy. It’s not so much “love of killing” that drives them, it’s a regression of more powerful forms of love within them. When you walk up to a neighbor, for example, you have the choice of talking to him or killing him, among other events. The result of walking up to a neighbor is determined by the most dominant aspect of social relations you have with your neighbor. If the value of compassion, solidarity, and cooperation is not recognized or disrespected, other values will “fill the void”. Values that produce Dick Cheneys.

    Neoconservatism and it’s cultural derivatives emerged from the belief that goodness is a form of weakness. It emerged from an evaluation of the events of World War II – that Hitler was strong precisely because he was evil and the Jews were exterminated because they were good. Then Vietnam taught these same people that Good America failed because it was insuffiently evil. Thus the solution was to make America more evil, so that it might triumph in the days ahead. Neoconservatism went about such tasks with considerable relish, and here we stand in the aftermath of the impact of such non-jailed human beings.

    According to this logic, neoliberalism is not bad because it hurts people, it’s GOOD because it hurts people. “What does not kill me only makes me stronger” – the outcome of this thinking is that the more one hurts people, the stronger they become. Therefore it’s *morally imperative* to hurt people – the IMF and World Bank are doing people a *favor* by hurting them.

    I have never seen the left address any of this fundamental aspect of neoconservatism or neoliberalism, just one of many tremendous failures of the left and the reason they remain on the sidelines in America.

  5. bozhidar bob balkas said on September 20th, 2008 at 7:36am #

    what is missing in keye’s piece? the widest possible vista; that’s what is missing.
    eg, education or miseducation/disinformation, dictatorship, religion, etc., has been w. us since when?
    certainly not w. the rise of america, egypt, sumer, rome, london, moskva, china but long before that.
    now, i’d like to leave out WHEN all this evil started for experts to deal with.
    in any case, miseducation or training of people and dogs (conditioning) started long before ascent of sumer.
    and, oh boy, have we been conditioned. like a dog, once it `learns`, it never deviates unless dementia takes over.
    now the question arises, do we differ from dogs in this process of learning obedience.
    calling people stupid, uncaring, ovine, etc., which some people resort to, further obnubilates the sit`n.
    in short, it is learning, conditioning that to me is of paramount import.
    now, when i use the word “learning“, i imbue it w. full and proper symbolic value.
    thank u
    one who `learns` there is a god, has not learned but been deceived regardless whether there is a god or not.
    thank u

  6. James Keye said on September 20th, 2008 at 8:02am #

    Mr. bozhidar bob balkas,

    You are certainly correct that the vast vista is missing. You have, in you comment, given that vista an address. My essay is about actions that we can take, no matter how imperfectly, to decrease the power of lies in our lives — and maybe influence the politic condition of our lives.

    The beginning is with an individual recognizing that what they believe to be true is a better guide to action than what they believe to be a lie, regardless of their political values. This will lead some to evaluate information; this can lead to internalizing tools for evaluation.

    There are people who “believe” that Palin is completely honest for no good reason at all, they will argue for her and vote for her, not because they are stupid or evil, but because they have no process to recognize the lie.

    I am not saying that there can be perfection in discovering the difference between truth and untruth, only that if we are moved to even a weak process that trumps simple ‘high school team’ loyalty, then there can be a significant check on political lies.

  7. cg said on September 20th, 2008 at 8:56am #

    Like Huck Finn said: “You can’t pray a lie.”
    But I guess that’s only relevant to those who pray..

  8. James Keye said on September 20th, 2008 at 11:34am #


    I pray to myself: “Please listen to your better self; please measure desire against need; please pay attention.

  9. cg said on September 20th, 2008 at 1:17pm #

    Mr. Keye, do you not realize the context in which I cited Huck?
    The reason Huck (Mark Twain) made that very profound statement?
    You’s be had pressed to find a more affirming moment in all of literature.

  10. bozhidar bob balkas said on September 20th, 2008 at 2:11pm #

    keye, thanks for ur comment.
    the point i was making or shld have made is that we cannot understand today unless we know smthing ab. yesterday, -year,-century, -millennia.
    for me, studying history for its protreptic value (instructive value) which includes doings on personal, intranat’l, and internat’l levels, suffices.
    for a long time, history has been presented to students as a series of events.
    it was and still is, i believe, important to know the year of the battles; names of winning or losing nobles, kings, generals, et al; number of slain or taken captives, etc.
    but isn’t the study of causative factors/actors for wars always in toto ommited?
    instead of enumerating causative factors for waging war against iraq or palestine, the clerico-politico-media people offered us mere rationalization and, of course, lies or half truths.
    yet not single cause was given for attacking iraq. reasons yes. but even every murderer has reasons for killing someone.thank u

  11. DanE said on September 20th, 2008 at 5:19pm #

    Chimu anyone: “protreptic” means “instructive”? Looks like quite a stretch from here. “Hortatory” seems like a better synonym, yes?

    I mean, I could say “Psephisma” is synonym for “rock & roll group”, & how many would challenge it? If I repeated it enough it could even become true, right?

    Evo Morales could turn out to be the reincarnation of Charlie Chan Chan but by that pt Tricknology was old stuff. “In the beginning was The Word — which even then was a Lie”.

    Re causative factors behind wars: Baron Ulanov offered an indepth explanation in his “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, which may not be the last word on the subject but certainly must be referenced whenever you or I essay an updating, whether or not we call it “Globalization the Highest Stage of Imperialism”?

    But you’re quite right, serious people need to study a lot more History, but maybe even more need to study pre-history. How did we get from Orririn Tugenensis to proto-Sumerian settlements organized not on Matriarchal or even Kinship bases but according to geographic/spatial rules?
    How did Abraham get to be a Nomad with a Patriarchal ideology? Lots of dispute now about where the Hellenes came from, which may seem like an unrelated q. but isn’t. But how can you critique Morales if you never heard of Nazca?


  12. cg said on September 20th, 2008 at 6:40pm #

    Here’s some prehistory, Dan E.

  13. bozhidar bob balkas said on September 22nd, 2008 at 3:16am #

    yes, dan e,
    hortative (thx for pointing it out), instructive, protreptic, educational, etcetc.
    may i postulate some causes fro warfare: fear, greed, lust for control, supremacism, envy, rage, hatred, false knowledge, evaluation of beliefs (guesses) as facts, desire to be someone
    no, we r not stupid/evil; we r what nature made us. the nature cld not give us more.
    thus, the only sane conclusion to make wld be to say we r OK; we r wise, we have knowledge, etc.
    but yes, for millennia we have been ruled by the unsane people. and these had brought us to a sit’n in which we live day to day.
    the big bang might be just arround the corner. thnx

  14. Bustednuckles said on September 22nd, 2008 at 9:53pm #

    I can only speak from my own experience but I got cured of lying real quickly as a young man by getting my little arse beat with a leather belt.

    They call that child abuse now but I can tell you it makes a lasting impression.