By Larry Feinstein

Graffiti on a wall in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Stella Cooks/Conspicuous Blankness

When do you think the first lie was insinuated from one, hairy upright person to another? I told a classic lie when I was around 12 years old. My mother found a pack of Marlboro in my jacket pocket, a serious bust back then. Without hesitation and with a straight face, I told her I was holding them for my friend, when in fact I had just smoked one with him behind my garage.

I don’t think the monsoon of technological breakthroughs has dramatically changed who we are. I am not sure how far science can go back in the history of our species to determine when we started behaving and thinking the way we currently do, at least several thousand years. I am pretty sure the cockroach was a mature cockroach before we got to be humans. The point is we have not been at this way of being very long, certainly in comparison to other life forms that have been around for millions of years. We still have much evolving to do.

We have been lying to each other and ourselves for a bunch of millennia; and we’ve done it to both protect our butts and to frequently influence someone else. One of the words we use for this strategy in the “modern era” is advertising. We have traveled a long way from the whispered rumor in an ear to a heavily viewed web page with a bunch of garbage on it, but it is still us.

I fibbed long before the Marlboro confrontation. Complete honesty is an incredible challenge and not a very good idea, at least in the extreme. I figured out pretty early there were other people in my world and I didn’t want to anger them or even hurt their feelings. I was never a kid looking to get spanked by my parents or into a fight with some animal twice my size.

People in positions of power have rarely put a concern for the truth first. To me, the truth is facts without any shade, an honest attempt to be honest, regardless of consequence. The best example I can think of is science, a terribly maligned discipline these days. However, it, too, has been twisted by greed, the arch enemy of all that is humane. Scientists on the corporate payroll long ago discovered the link between cancer and cigarettes and more recently, global warming and automobiles. Today, even science is suspect, and that makes me sad. In school, I never imagined science and corruption in the same test tube. However, I would trust a scientist about a life time before I’d trust a politician or a CEO.

Power and politics are synonymous, and their offspring is the lie. In the long run, I am not sure we are better off with the web over smoke signals or jungle drums, but I’d bet there was some phony drumming back in the day. We are so much more in touch with the world now than ever before, but naive in terms of believing how sinister some of our species can be. Wikileaks and Snowden reflected the unedited, unprotected communication, secretly reverberating off the marble halls of Washington and in multinational boardrooms. Who gave these people the right to spy on us, to secretly influence world events and even determining how you and I spend our money?

When I was a kid, I believed what I read or saw on TV. Walter Cronkite was the most trusted person in the Universe! When he came out against the war in Vietnam, it was very big news. Back then, most of us trusted him. We had newspapers and radio and TV with three networks and public broadcasting. No, I am not implying they were angels, but it was nothing like the fractionated and disparate sources of information that we like to call facts or the truth today.

Larry Feinstein

I still want to keep this conversation personal and not get too deep into the big picture, but the web deserves a couple of words. These things called search engines are like the traffic cops of the web. It is not hard to figure out how they work, which means you can play them like a virtuoso if you are smart, have some bodies and some cash. If you are a government or a business, you can control what appears on anyone’s screen when they fire up their computer or tap their phone. You can influence the politics of a nation, along with any agenda you want to promote or the choices people make in the market place.

Walter Cronkite is a relic from the recent past, so who are we to believe now? In my life, I can strive to be as honest as possible, knowing I am not going to always do the greatest job. The macro manipulation that is victimizing all of us today is a whole other ballgame entirely.

When I am feeling trapped by competing truths, no matter their size, it is the gut that seesaws the scale up or down. Shining a light on that place deep down inside, into the engine room of our own life force, is where we find what to hold on to.