The Ubiquitous Matrix of Lies
by Charles Eisenstein
Let's begin with beer. Near my home I drive past a billboard advertisement for Coors Light. The slogan is, "Coors rocks Harrisburg." Now, does anybody actually believe that Coors does in fact "rock Harrisburg?" No. Does the Coors corporation itself believe it? No. Does anyone believe that Coors believes it? No. It is a lie, everyone knows it is a lie, and no one cares. Everyone automatically writes it off as an ad slogan, an image campaign.
The next sign advertises Miller Beer with the phrase, "Fresh beer tastes better." Does anyone actually think Miller is fresher than Budweiser, Coors, or Pabst? No. Does anyone at Miller Brewing think that? No. It is another obvious and unremarkable lie, beneath the threshold of most people's awareness. But it contributes to a feeling of living in a phony world where words don't matter and nothing is real.
Here is another beer slogan, for Carlsburg: "Probably the best beer in the world." Obviously, the word "probably" has been chosen to suggest that someone devoted great consideration to this question, sampled all the world's great beers, and finally issued an impartial judgment. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. No one thinks it did. Everyone knows that actually what happened is a bunch of advertising pros thought up a slogan in an effort to create an "image." Isn't it remarkable that lies are still effective even when no one believes them? Unfortunately, when it hardly matters whether words are truth or lies, then words lose their power to convey the truth.
Continuing on my way, I drive past the Colonial Park Mall, a generic, boxy edifice amidst a vast expanse of concrete. There is no park here, nor is there actually any connection with anything "colonial," a word chosen to evoke an image of simple times, kind folk, and quality craftsmanship. The mall is home to a food court called "Café in the Park," a name chosen to evoke (who knows?) a Parisian café with outdoor tables under the shade of the trees. Basically, the entire name is a lie. No café, no park, nothing colonial. And this lie is, again, completely unremarkable.
Increasingly, words don't mean anything. In politics, campaigning candidates make statements that flatly contradict their actions and policies, and no one seems to object or even care. It is not the routine dissembling of political figures that is striking, but rather our near-complete indifference to it. We are as well almost completely inured to the vacuity of advertising copy, the words of which increasingly mean nothing at all to the reader. Does anyone really believe that GE "brings good things to life?" Or that a housing development I passed today - "Walnut Crossing" - actually has any walnut trees or crossings? From brand names to PR slogans to political code-words, the language of the media that inundates modern life consists almost wholly of subtle lies, misdirection, and manipulation.
We live in a ubiquitous matrix of lies, a sea of mendacity so pervasive that it is nearly invisible. Because we are lied to all the time, in ways so subtle they are beneath conscious notice, even the most direct lies are losing their power to shock us.
The most shocking thing about the lies of the Bush administration was that those lies were not actually shocking to most people. Why do we as a society seemingly accept our leaders' gross dishonesty as a matter of course? Why does the repeated exposure of their lies seem to arouse barely a ripple of indignation among the general public? Where is the protest, the outrage, the sense of betrayal?
It is certainly not to be found in the person of Barack Obama. Just as there is little difference between Coors and Miller, so also is there little difference in the policies of Bush and Obama. I realize that this statement will provoke outrage from many of my readers. Sure, there are some differences between them - enough to establish Obama as a new brand - but the basic course of empire, of finance, the military, medicine, law, education, of all the defining institutions of our society remains unchanged.
To Read the Rest of the Essay