Winston Churchill famously said that "a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on," and from what I understand, he said that before the internet was much of a big whoop.
If, like me, you're on Facebook (What's wrong with you? Seriously - get off NOW!), then you've gotten fairly used to being lied to on a regular basis. And while it would be fun and make me feel superior to pick one, particular direction from whence the majority of these link-lies lies come (cough, cough, foxnews, cough), the truth is they come thick and fast from all directions.
Sometimes it's faked photographs with lies for labels. Sometimes it's articles that stretch or invent "facts." Sometimes it's the false attribution of a quote to someone, or a misquote. Sometimes it's just a touching, heartwarming story that's being passed off as the truth.
With such a constant barrage of lies, it's easy to feel as though the Snope.comses of the world are doomed. They probably are.
Because where there are humans, there are humans willing to deceive: for attention, for money, for power... perhaps even for the sake of deception itself.
Maybe the old, old stories are true, and there is indeed an evil Force at work in the world. A dark side. A darkness, boiling across the surface of the deep. It definitely feels like that is true, when you spend enough time on Facebook.
When I see something shared on Facebook that looks or smells like a lie, I'll usually do a quick search to see if I'm correct. Often it only takes a few keystrokes to find direct evidence that the lie is, indeed, just that.
So... why don't the people who share the lies check them out, first?
I think it's fairly obvious. I think it's because the lie in someway confirms a narrative they already believe about the world. They don't notice the obvious lie-signs because they don't want to. By sharing the lie, they think, they are both shoring up their own position and demonstrating to anyone with eyes to see that everybody who disagrees with them is an idiot.
In my Facebook feed, I have seen lie-posts that prove that:
A. The Christian God is the one true God and intervenes miraculously day-to-day.
B. The Christian God is a fantasy perpetrated by villains against idiots.
A. Liberals are stupid idiots with their heads in the ground.
B. Conservatives are stupid idiots with their heads in the ground.
A. Christians are crazy, violent, hateful nutjobs.
B. America is a hostile, evil place where the few, righteous Christians left are endlessly persecuted.
A. Famous Person Joe Smith is a racist, bigoted stupid-head.
B. Famous Person Joe Smith is the victim of a vicious smear-campaign by communists.
The list goes on and on, but what bugs me the most isn't the lies from the right or the lies from the left, it's the response I've gotten, more often than not, when I've taken the time to link to Snopes (or wherever), in the hopes of giving that particular lie a little less traction.
Almost inevitably, someone (possibly not the original poster) will say something like, "Well, okay. Fine... So, maybe that was a lie. But that doesn't mean things like that aren't happening all the time. So, it's pretty much true (even though it's a lie)."
And usually, there is an implicit-but-never-spoken tag-along sentiment that goes something like this: because we all know that those people are just like that, even if they weren't actually like that this one time."
And then the lie-sharer doesn't delete the lie.
And they don't apologize for sharing it.
And they don't seem to feel one bit sorry about the fact that one more lie went all the way around the world before the truth had the time to get its pants on. The reason for this, I think, is a reason that was best exposed by Churchill's contemporary, J.R.R. Tolkien, when he taught us that there is a great evil that lurks in the hearts of men. An evil that goes something like this:
I can lie just a little. I can pick up that ring of power for just a little bit, and I can wield those lies for good. And sure, yeah, that would be dangerous for a lesser person than I. But I'm better than that. I'll use the ring for just long enough to fix things... just until everyone is forced to acknowledge that my way is right.
Did you get that last bit? That bit about forcing people to acknowledge the Truth that I alone hold?
It's all about power. It's about being the one who KNOWS. Who sees things as they really are. This is why Sauron is an eye - because Tolkien knew that evil's greatest hook into the hearts of men (and women) is the lie of perfect knowledge. Take the ring and know all things - good, evil... everything - and then you will be like a God.
The problem with this is that it's just not true. You will never be a God. You will always be a puny speck on a tiny planet. You were born, you will live a while, and then you will die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And the only thing that matters about what happens in between is how well you loved.
And lies are not of Love.
The ring destroys everyone. It eats them up and craps them out - demolished. You cannot do evil in the name of good and remain unchanged by it. The lie will take root in you, in places you cannot see. When you share lies on the internet, you become those lies.
I don't know... Perhaps you are a hobbit who, because of the circumstances of your life, have been forced to carry the ring for a while. Perhaps you are a soldier or a cop with a gun. Perhaps you are a school principal, or a President. Carry it, then, if you must. But do not use it lightly, or without the gravest regret. Your time with the ring will mark you. It will steal your joy. It will be a burden to you forever.
So... what are we to do - we who are not hobbits?
Well, the obvious thing would be to stop lying, ourselves. To stop believing that evil is ever a path to the good, or that it can ever be anything other than evil. But more importantly, we can do what The King and his fellows do when they're trapped in Helm's Deep and there is an insurmountable evil pounding, pounding, pounding at the gates...
We can ride out to meet it.
We can say - in the face of certain failure and defeat - that we will not ally ourselves with evil. That we ride out to our deaths, if need be, in service to our ideal.
It sounds despairing, I know, to say that it is better to die as idealists than to live as slaves. But where have our compromises gotten us? A gridlocked political process. A world where monstrous corporations pull the puppet-strings of pretty much everyone. The hurtling destruction of the natural world, courtesy of our own selfish lust for more, more, and more.
We ride against evil like this for one reason only: HOPE.
We hope that even if we are completely crushed, something good will live on in our name. We hope that Gandalf will come on the third day as he promised, before it's too late. We hope that there is more to life than living it in service of a lie.
As Harvey Milk said, "I know you can't live on hope alone; but without hope, life is not worth living."
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A FINAL NOTE: Writing isn't magic. It's hard work, and the greatest reward for that work is to share it with others. So if you enjoyed this little (ad-free) piece of my brain... please share the love on your social internets. And pick up a copy of my Short Story Collection, whilst you're at it. You can even get it as an ebook for less than a fancy cuppa hot bean-water, and it'll last waaay longer.
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