The Lasting Legacy And Surprising Backlash Against the Era of Bullshit
That’s a really common word in an election season, but I feel like its importance and lasting effect has been radically downplayed. There was a point in the 1980s when it seemed to catch on, if I remember correctly it was part of the tobacco lobby. Where it originated is honestly immaterial. It came. It saw. It changed everything.
“Spin” includes (cribbed from the Wiki page):
So, professional lying. Just flat out lying as a skill set. This gave rise to a whole modern acceptance of lying that has permeated our culture in truly transformative ways.
I maintain that at some point in the 80s, America transformed from a culture of mostly honest people to mostly liars. Were the 80s before your time? Okay. Here’s a dating video. It’s bruuuutal, but you’ll get a sense of the cross section of folks who were around back then. And these are people trying to MAXIMIZE their appearance and appeal. Keep that in mind. This is them puffing themselves up. These are people before the dawn of universal spin. This is largely who we used to be.
Okay, yeah, it’s tough to watch. But you’re seeing a certain through line there. Future serial killers? Possibly. But really just a bunch of people who are completely unaware about how to market themselves or spin anything.
Sometime after this point, people became better liars.
There was a critical mass of lying, innocently and unintentionally assisted by entertainment like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Fletch, which featured lead characters who were master manipulators and had the god-given knack for bending the rules and the truth to fit a certain narrative. After the shock that was Watergate, there were also scandals like Iran/Contra where it was shown (yet again) that even the highest levels of government weren’t immune to just bold-faced lying. Governments have always lied to their people. That’s as old as Romulus and Remus. But that’s when they started to do it to our faces, with a smile, when we knew they were lying. And that’s when they seemed to start believing the lies themselves and being holier than thou and self-righteous about it.
Once we let them get away with it, once they could trademark the skill of lying, it was over. From then on, giving “your word” meant absolutely nothing. In that vein, being “under oath” doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
Lying has become so commonplace that people have no idea when they’re doing it. Our very identities are tied to both the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we believe that others tell us.
You’ll look better with a spray tan!
There is no evidence of a correlation between football and CTE!
We can help you find the love of your life!
That money will come back to you!
That degree will make all the difference!
Life’s short - have an affair!
Your money is safe with us!
People lie so much they don’t even know when they’re lying anymore.
These days, we have a civilization of professional liars where lying is a tool in people’s arsenal. Obviously, there’s a subtle difference between marketing and outright lying, but look at how people spin their public persona on Facebook. Look at how people fluff their resumes. Look at how people sculpt a public image that may not be congruent with who they actually are. Look at how second nature it’s become. People are so confident about lying that they convince themselves they haven’t lied. In this day and age, if you steal something and don’t get caught, then you didn’t steal at all. The lie, the transgression that might haunt previous generations, is nothing more than a shoulder shrug.
But that’s not you and me, right? We’re talking about “other” people. I mean, we’re good people! We’re not liars. You and I aren’t professional thieves.
But, like, that doesn’t count! Everybody does it! Right?
You want to know why people in the Silent Generation, who lived through WWII, are terrified about the future of this country? Because they see this everywhere. Goddamn natural liars on every corner, in every business, in every hospital, and at every single level of government, which is the place that rewards liars the most. When they grew up, being a liar would get you a fat lip at the very least, and likely a poor reputation and being shunned from society. Now it gets you to congress.
Why do you think congress suuuuuuuuuuucks so hard? It’s wall to wall liars.
I mean, honestly. Have we had a president who hasn’t lied to us since Ike? Jimmy Carter, maybe? Think about it. Even the ones you love are goddamn liars. Every last one of them.
Hell, we sent troops into a sovereign country based on a lie. One of the biggest mobilizations of troops and armaments in our lifetime and the man who ordered it is blissfully making fourth-grade-level oil paintings.
How is that a lie we’ve swallowed so completely and shrugged away? How can we, as a people, move on as a culture without owning the lives that were lost on both sides because of that initial lie and the robust world series of lies that followed it? How can we give in to anti-Muslim rhetoric without lying to ourselves about the role our politicians have played to foment the type of rage the anti-American sectors of the Islamic world feel? We can’t. We have to lie. We have to lie it all away. Our leaders lie about all of these issues and we let them, because the lie is easier than the truth.
Forget Columbus Day. Let’s make a national holiday where we begin to take responsibility for all the lies we’ve told and all the hurt we’ve caused. I’m not saying we haven’t done great things as a nation - we have. But the unexamined life is not worth living and the unexamined country is not worth trumpeting. Let’s own our mistakes, publicly, annually, so we’re not doomed to repeat them. What are the chances of that kind of day happening? I won’t lie about it. Not bloody likely.
We’ve been lying - all of us - for so long, we have no idea where the lies begin and end. We have no way to unravel them. It’s a liar’s world and a liar’s culture.
And it all began with Spin. Taking an innocuous word and giving it a sterile meaning, which is actually rooted in some truly insidious shit. It’s not “breaking” or even “bending” after all! It’s just spinning! If you don’t agree it’s just because you haven’t seen the ‘right’ side of an issue.
Let me spin that for you, friend. So you can see it the ‘right’ way.
And look at us today: The two candidates who are surging are the ones who seem to be spinning the least. That’s where it got us. A generation and a half of such amazing, natural liars, that we’re sick of it. We can smell a spin-style political liar a thousand miles away because we all know how to lie. We’ve lived most of our lives being lied to in every possible way and we’re sick of it.
You may not agree with Donald Trump, but he’s not willfully lying. He’s been lying so long he doesn’t even know what a lie is. He’s spent a lifetime as the richest kid in the room and believe me, people let you get away with anything. He’s been conditioned to say whatever he wants to whomever he wants without consequence for his entire life. From the moment he was old enough to speak. That’s why, when people question him, he lashes out. It’s his only move. He’s incapable of self-reflection because he’s never had to do it. The golden rule is that whoever has the gold makes the rule and he’s always had the gold. From day one. It’s true liar’s affluenza.
He’s a bigot and a hateful prick, but he’s just saying whatever he’s actually thinking at the time. He’s like a drunk uncle who no one stops from talking at Thanksgiving. But he’s hitting a chord with a certain percentage of the American people because he’s just blasting away from the hip and his shtick doesn’t feel politically massaged. He’s not polished enough to know the issues enough to spin answers. He doesn’t have to know the issues! He’ll hire the best people to fix everything! Like he always has. He thinks he’d be able to run the Oval Office like the Lido Deck of his private yacht. Because he literally knows nothing else. He’s always had an obscene amount of money and he’s always had people doing everything for him.
There’s not a lot of artifice with Trump because he’s just a cult of personality. He’s just riffing and people are connecting with it. Granted, he’s a great liar. A professional-level liar. He’s never had any need to be truthful and no one has ever dared to call him on it, because they’d be fired. According to Politifact, he tells the truth exactly 1% of the time. If any of us did that, we wouldn’t have a single friend in the world. For Donald Trump, it makes him the front runner of the Republican party.
It’s quite clearly straight out of McCarthy, with a xenophobic and backasswards hat tip to Orwell, and he’s absolutely lying - he lies the way most people breathe - but he’s not lying in the way we’re used to politicians lying.
On the other side of the aisle, you have Bernie Sanders, a true believer, who has connected with voters on a molecular level because he’s telling the truth. You can feel it in your bones. In almost every speech, Bernie says what people feel.
Now, the case can be made that all of his promises are pie in the sky horseshit, but man, you feel like he gets it. And, more than that, you feel like he’s just fed up with the bullshit in the same way you are. Especially when he’s compared to Hillary.
I’m not going to pile on against Hillary, but how her candidacy has been affected by the legacy of Spin is that she’s a daughter of it - if not directly, then anecdotally. She came up in politics during the heyday of Spin, and she’s been sculpted and shaped by the political necessity of it. You feel Spin in every answer and every choice, and while I’m a big fan of hers in about a hundred ways, I wish there was a way for her to get out from under the pressing necessity of political spin.
Incidentally, guess which candidate Politifact has as their most honest?
So how much is the perception of spin or dishonesty hurting Hillary? Quite a bit in the minds of the people, obviously.
I’ll give you an example: It was early in the campaign process, I forget when and I can’t find it online, but Hillary was on Oprah (I’m pretty sure), and they asked her what her favorite book was and I swear she said “The Bible.” And I just rolled my eyes, because it didn’t sound honest to me. It sounded like a thing she had to say to secure a block of voters and man I get it. I get it. But then I found this tweet and I’m like oh thank goodness.
That’s the better version of Hillary. That’s much more interesting and it feels right. A little bit of this will go a long way for her campaign. Obviously, Hillary has to walk the tightest of tight ropes, but one of the reasons she’s getting a lot of push back is that people have the sense that there’s a political gloss on every issue with her, and contrasted with Bernie’s approach, it feels disingenuous. I understand the why, obviously. I’m just talking about how that particular why plays in Peoria.
It’s almost like, on some level, some politicians aren’t feeling the shift yet, whereas voters seem to be demanding it. I’m so absolutely sick of the lying in politics. It’s nauseating the shit we put up with, and have for years, on both sides of the aisle.
Just stop with the lies already. Stop lying to me. Stop lying to yourself. Why is that so difficult? Because it’s a foundation for so many people. It’s how they got where they got. It’s the only way for them to justify who they are. It’s gross. I remember when I graduated from college, all of the most deceitful people I knew, people I detested, got jobs in the financial sector. Now, obviously, not everyone there is bad. But in my personal experience, the guys that did the most coke and cheated on exams and were entitled dbags all went into one industry. Is it any wonder there have been transgressions of integrity in that sector? Of course not. It’s full of professional confidence men, swindlers, and liars.
So it it any surprise that the professional liars we sent to govern us have rigged the election process to better fulfill their needs, rather than ours? Is it a surprise that they enjoy a slew of benefits that we don’t? Is it any surprise that, when faced with an issue that requires character, people without character struggle with it? Of course not.
The surprise is that we’re surprised at all. You don’t ask a thief to hold your wallet. We put them in charge of all of our bank accounts and we get frustrated when they mismanage it. Hey! Why isn’t that thief better at not lying and managing money! Harumph! It’s because the skill set required to get the job and keep the job is wildly different from the skill set required to actually perform the job.
You ever encounter a really good salesperson? What do you remember about him or her? Probably that you felt that they didn’t lie to you. They shot you straight. Ever have a salesperson tell you that the product sells itself? That’s because it’s a good product and they don’t have to lie about it. That’s what we all expect. We expect to be lied to. We expect to be up-sold at every turn. When we’re not, it feels refreshing.
How much do you like friends you can trust? How much do you respect when someone is labeled a “no bullshit” kind of person? How do you value a boss or manager who gives you his word and then keeps it (and how many executives conveniently don’t?)
We only notice these things because they’re the exception now. Liars are the rule.
How about when you sign up for a new product or service? You have to click through a quick contract. Blah blah blah just get me to the app. But you know that they just want to hook you and then change the EULA. (End User License Agreement). You know they’re going to exploit you and invade your privacy. “We will never sell your information” often migrates to sold information and it’s accepted as business as usual. Lies. Damn, filthy lies from the very beginning.
Why do you lie on your tax returns?
Do you believe that, across the nation, there are IRS agents who are full of integrity, who are looking out for your best interests? Do you feel that your local city officials are very careful about not using their government vehicle for personal business? Do you believe that most judges make completely impartial and fair decisions, and treat everyone the same regardless of race, gender, or class status? Do you have a sense that the companies behind the apps on your phone have an unseen person working for them who is hell bent on protecting your privacy, even at the cost of his or her own job? Do you feel like there are an ocean of super-honest people at key positions of integrity across the country who value a personal code of honor over financial gain or deception?
Of course not! That last paragraph is like a joke. It’s like I wrote a joke. And the key element missing in all of that is a fairly basic adherence to the truth. What a sad statement. How far we’ve fallen as a people.
It has permeated society in a weird way as well, where regular folk have become used to getting away with lying. For example, every day, in the pickup line at my son’s middle school, I get there early and wait in line, reading a book in my car. And every day, almost without fail, someone pulls in and cuts somewhere in the line. It’s always different people, too. Not just one person. That’s shitty, in general. But what feels worse to me is the absence of social control. If I walked up and knocked on their window, I would be the asshole, not them. How dare you question me? They’d think. From then on, I’d have an ‘enemy’ in town, and someone who would talk shit about me and it’s honestly not worth the hassle. How dare I shame them? They were in a hurry! Where do I get off judging them?
So I (and everyone else) do nothing. The cutters win. Every day.
But people are sick of it. They’re sick of lying companies that knowingly pollute and when they do, create a fund to head off future lawsuits and make money off the interest of that fund. They’re sick of the legalese that protects assholes and they’re sick of perennial rule breakers. They’re sick of rich people and corporations not paying the same amount of taxes as them and hiding their money in offshore accounts. It all comes from lying. From characters like Gordon Gecko in Wall Street saying “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” No, Gordon. Greed is not good. Greed is never fucking good. That’s Spin, pure and simple. And people, from top to bottom in this country, are sick of it.
Half of the major political parties in this country won’t even admit there’s a climate problem. How grand of a lie is that, perpetuated by thousands of people onto millions of people EVERY SINGLE DAY WHILE THE PLANET DIES BENEATH US.
For what? For what gain? Some money? Are you fucking insane?
Maybe I’m the insane one. Maybe me and the pinko liberal horde are the ones being lied to. Okay, fine. But if we’re wrong, what’s the cost to our children and our way of life?
Now consider: what if you’re wrong? I say again: are you insane?
No, you’re just conditioned to believe the lies that suit you. And I’m conditioned to believe the lies that suit me. We’re products of the spin era. The bullshit generation. The trademarking of deceit as a version of honesty.
Just think how easy it is. How common it is. How people unknowingly perpetuate it. When your child is late for something and you say “oh just tell them X” THAT’S A LIE, PEOPLE. You’re teaching your kids how to spin. How to fluff the truth. Where the outside edge of the truth is. No! Don’t do it. Don’t make them lie. Don’t teach them to spin. Be the change we need them to be. Model truthful behavior.
When I was a kid, we used to be less inclined to bend the truth, in general. Now, I see that coming full circle. Social activism on the internet is helping to bring this back around. My kids have far less patience for lying than I do. I have a sense that the younger generations are so disillusioned with all this rampant dishonesty that they’re the ones leading the charge to change it. That’s heartening.
So, between the connectivity of the internet and a general exhaustion with lying scumbags at every level, maybe things are headed back in a less deceitful direction. Maybe the nauseating era of spin is coming to an end, finally. Maybe the younger generations are leading the surge, toward less Madison Ave and more Lincoln Memorial. Less Don Draper and more Honest Abe. It’s a tall order, but I desperately want to believe it’s happening.
Do your part. Eliminate a lie from your day, every day, and see what happens. Ever notice how excited people are about someone who is caught being honest? Someone who is honest when they didn’t have to be? Someone who’s honest when no one is looking? It’s nuts! So let’s all do our part to change the culture of lying. Shut off the spigot, one lie at a time. Honest Abe the hell out of this with me.
I swear I’m personally going to start right this second. Tomorrow, when somebody cuts in line, I’m going to walk up and knock on their window and confront them. Damn the torpedoes. I’m going to do it!
(Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could take my word on that?)
Don’t worry, I’m telling the truth.
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