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Monday, August 21, 2017

“I Love You”–Why Do We Accept The Baldest Of Lies?

“I love you”, John said to Mary.

“Prove it”, she replied; and John bought her baubles and champagne.

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‘Collectibles” were for a long time women’s hedge against untrustworthy men.  When husbands eventually left, the diamond rings, emerald earrings, and silver brooches were theirs and theirs alone.  Enough to live on until the next husband, insurance against hard times, and a show of feminine cunning.

There is no need to hedge any bets in the modern age of contractual marriage where codicils, articles of privilege, and restraining limitation are the rule.  No need for a woman to evade responsibility, probity, and fairness when the law is on her side.

Yet men still rarely mean what they say, exaggerate particles of truth or downplay bald facts; still embellish small accomplishments and dismiss dismal failures -  all to retain influence or at least parity. 

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However, here most men fumble, and few are eloquent enough to be listened to let alone believed, and never a Casanova or Don Juan.  A believable lie has to be told not only as if it were true, but coming from a place of love and intimacy.  Canny men have long learned how to confect the most loving, attentive, and responsive lies – so emotionally persuasive than women will willingly suspend their disbelief and overlook the most obvious traces of liaisons and cinq-a-septs.

Women are a lot more honest when it comes to their feelings.  They have taken their lessons from Shakespeare’s Rosalind, Viola, Beatrice, and Portia who outrun, outsmart, and outthink their suitors by playing on the fragility of their male egos, the vanity of their romantic love, and the absurdity of their sexual persistence. 
No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club; yet he did what he could to die before; and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont, and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned; and the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was--Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies; men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love (Rosalind, As You Like It)
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Love is not the exclusive domain of lies by any means. Franchot Gunn, for example, a man with a modest resume and unassuming talents, had a silver tongue and an effusive charm, and no one could resist him. Professors, women, colleagues, supervisors, and competitors were all seduced by his grace, intimacy, and personal concern.  They had no interest in really knowing who he was, what motivated him, or from what compassionate or spiritual spring his sympathy and understanding came.  He was so good at his elegant ballet, that people were enticed, engaged, and finally hooked.

“Charm and a silver tongue will get you everywhere”, he told his young son. “The only lesson you will ever need to know.”  This bit of wisdom is of course not new, and ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’ was the the guiding principle of P.T. Barnum, the greatest huckster in American history.  

Franchot Gunn shared none of the concerns of moral theoreticians like Sisela Bok.  For him life was a carnival complete with mountebanks, carnies, bearded ladies, babies with two heads, and sideshows.  In Bok’s world there would be no carnivals, circuses, tearful public apologies, or great novels.
Everyone is deceptive and deliberately so.  The fact that they get caught in their lies does nothing to alter the equation – lying is the rule, honesty a tedious ideal, and the conflict of the two the stuff of theatre.  If people were as good as Bok hoped, we  would be bored to tears.

Franchot Gunn’s deliberate deception worked like a dream. His silver tongue enabled him to lull even his harshest professional critics.  Hours of revisions of proposals, reports, and company white papers were avoided because of his ability to convince people of the irrefutable logic of his arguments and the rightness of his cause.  His ability to marginalize enemies and build almost universal support among the staff gave him carte blanche. His charm was so convincing that even his severest critics never knew that he had hung them out to dry.

Despite his repeated and continually sexual indiscretions, his wife never had a clue.  Or more correctly, suspended her disbelief at his stories because of his enchanting charm and simple, heartfelt expressions of love and consideration.  His deception was so artful and so complete that she was the last to know about Franchot’s lovers and paramours.

The fact that some men and women are extremely talented in fabricating the most inventive, credible, and emotional lies, the question of why the rest of us so gullibly believe them.

There is a long-running Turkish soap opera (Love is in the Air) built on lies. Everyone it seems uses deception as part of a larger plan to marry well and to have access to wealth, status, and influence.  Mothers, fathers, sisters, and aunts are all ambitious and find that they can maneuver their way to the social top through carefully-woven and –planned trickery and duplicity.

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Yet all of them are gullible to each other’s lies.  The hero cannot see through the guile and deviousness of an ambitious woman.  Mothers  deliberately ignore the harmful lies of their children and their attempts to cover their hateful and destructive actions.  Sisters in love with the same man ignore their aunt’s obvious Machiavellian scheming and selfish self-interest, and listen to her advice as though it were given honestly.

In other words we both lie and want to believe the lies of others.  Women want to be loved, to catch the right man, to be afforded the wealth and status they cannot attain on their own.  Men choose to ignore a woman’s character and suspect past because she has ‘understood’ him, appealed to his insecurities, and gratified him sexually.  Mothers refuse to believe their children can be moral derelicts; and children refuse to face the reality of their immoral parents.

Political lies and electoral suspension of disbelief are so common, so prevalent, and spreading so rapidly in the viral universe that they are taken for granted.  Our biases and prejudices and our faith and principles need to be reinforced, justified, and sanctioned; and because our search for personal legitimacy and identity is so strong, we choose to ignore the nasty bits of a politician’s rhetoric, embrace his exaggeration and distortion and vote for his representation of our beliefs, however irrational that may be.

Ivan’s Devil in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is a vaudevillian, a circus clown, a deceiver, and and entertainer:
So against the grain I serve to produce events and do what's irrational because I am commanded to. For all their indisputable intelligence, men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy. They suffer, of course ... but then they live, they live a real life, not a fantastic one, for suffering is life. Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? It would be transformed into an endless church service; it would be holy, but tedious.
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Is this the real reason for lying and willing deception?  Is Love is in the Air not just an entertaining soap opera but an accurate description of not only the common liars we are but the grandiose liars we would like to be? As the Devil suggests, why live life in a church pew?  Lies and deception are simply techniques of melodrama, grand guignol, and the vaudevillian stage.

Although Mary says “Prove it” to John when he says, “I love you”; and while she well knows that it is best to be wary, many other women wonder what love would be like if always conditioned by the boring, practical truth?

There are few lies that are impenetrable.  Bernie Madoff’s clients should have known better than to believe in consistent 25 percent returns on their money; but they chose to ignore the fact and believe his lies because they wanted to.  Millions of men and women who could easily see through each others sexual chicanery choose to take their chances in a romantic adventure.

It looks like we all lie and we all like to be deceived.  It all depends on the lie and who’s telling it.

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