Lauren R. Stevens: The difficult job of confronting all the casual liars

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The greasy, oily bilge of the S.S. America is flooded with lies. The moral engine of the republic has quit and the ship is adrift.Although we all know who captains this distressed vessel, he has many junior officers and crew members — and not solely Republicans.

Take for example a call I received about dinnertime not too long ago."Someone who cares for you asked me to call," she said. Oh, really, and yet it's unlikely the robo-caller knew my name, let alone could name someone who cares for me. I didn't hang on long enough to learn what she was promoting. Does the conscience of the woman who recorded the message wake her at night? She's part of an epidemic of casual lying.

Or, what about another woman who called, likewise at suppertime? Presumably to cover her delay in picking up, a live person this time trying to handle multiple lines, she started out by invoking her troublesome husband who had distracted her. Of course it's fiction; she wanted to engage me in conversation about mates as a way of easing into whatever it was she was selling. When I called her on it, she hung up.

Marketing, like elections, has always dealt in exaggerations and distortions, but these are so personal, so family oriented. Where does that come from? Consider Facebook.

Much in the news for Russian interference and other untruths in the previous and perhaps most recent election, Facebook thrives on the personal, with little regard for truth. It is promoted as a form of social contact, a way keeping in touch with friends, a moving display board for the lives and feelings of family. I, too, have scanned Facebook on occasion for photos of grandchildren.

But that interpretation of Facebook is, like much of its content, a lie. The company's business model is more like that of the telemarketers — or vice versa. It is to collect personal information from its users and sell it to advertisers. Facebook is a primary purveyor of false information in our world and it exploits users intimately. Why does anyone still want to participate?

Even by the standards of politics, President Trump is strikingly personal in his attacks. He goes after reporters or adversaries or even his own cabinet members by name. We could almost feel sorry for ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He insults people, mocks them for their backgrounds, physical characteristics and disabilities. He dismisses scientists as having "a political agenda." He threatens individuals, such as reporters, with harm and incites his followers to do likewise.

As with telemarketers and Facebook, truth is not a barrier. Nor, like telemarketers and Facebook, is he constrained by any limit. Where he should have a moral compass he stands before an empty binnacle.

Trump recently referred to the media as "the true enemy of the people." In Henrik Ibsen's play, "The Enemy of the People," the physician/scientist who says the mineral baths that support the town's economy are causing illness is called "the enemy of the people," while the community maintains that the baths are healthy. The president may not have intended to invoke a scientist exposing a big lie.

The media have helpfully taken to fact-checking the president's words, or at least noting that he said something was so without any evidence. Would that facts were checked more generally or, better, that we all checked his — and our own.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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