Tired of the incredible amount of lying in public life

Hello friends. I was unexpectedly floored by the Roe decision, which, to my eyes, was meretricious beyond belief. I think conservatives have a point when they say that in 1976, it might’ve been a stretch to read a right to abortion into the constitution. But what they ignore is that removing that right in 2022 requires a MUCH STRONGER basis than simply “I would’ve decided it differently fifty years ago.” They know that this is true; it’s one of the foundations of the Supreme Court. Without that principle, nothing would work.

To that end, it’s simply absurd for Samuel Alito to bring up a thousand and one precedents regarding abortion and how NOBODY could POSSIBLY think it might be a right, but to ignore the one precedent that is most germane, which is the one from 1976. Furthermore, his rationale for revisiting this decision is that abortion concerns two human lives, and that the fetus also has rights as a human being under the constitution. But he does not subject that claim to the same level of scrutiny that he subjects Roe to. There is not a strong basis for believing, under either law or custom, that people have viewed fetuses in the first trimester as human lives.

The fact is, the historical animus to abortion was not rooted in any concern for the sanctity of unborn life. It was rooted in two things: a sense that women should be punished for having sex; and the fact that abortion was extremely dangerous.

Neither of those two things hold anymore, thus there is no reason for holding the prejudice against abortion to be any deeper or more sacred than any other prejudice our court no longer regards as being worth considering.

Alito claims he isn’t asking the court to hold to any particular definition of when human life starts, but this is plainly incorrect. His entire ruling hinges on the idea that the fetus at some point may constitute human life. This idea is the only part of the opinion that matters:

What sharply distinguishes the abortion right from the rights recognized in the cases on which Roe and Casey rely is something that both those decisions acknowledged: Abortion destroys what those decisions call “potential life” and what the law at issue in this case regards as the life of an “unborn human being.” See Roe, 410 U. S., at 159 (abortion is “inherently different”); Casey, 505 U. S., at 852 (abortion is “a unique act”). None of the other decisions cited by Roe and Casey involved the critical moral question posed by abortion. They are therefore inapposite. They do not sup- port the right to obtain an abortion, and by the same token, our conclusion that the Constitution does not confer such a right does not undermine them in any way.

Dobbs decision

Does the fact that governments have an interest in protecting the life of the human that may arise from a fetus justify overruling fifty years of precedent? To say ‘yes’ is to make a moral argument that is not grounded in the history of abortion law. Historically, fetuses prior to quickening were not considered human beings. And it’s just fudging to dance around this by calling the fetus “potential human life”. My sperm is potential human life too. Every human being constitutes the possibility for potential human life. To draw a direct life between unquickened fetus and a human being is ahistorical, and it contravenes the very common law that Alito is resorting to. This is the claim he should be holding to the strongest possible scrutiny, but in fact he holds it to almost no scrutiny at all. It is intellectually dishonest in the extreme.

What I am staggered by is just the sheer amount of lying conservatives do. They know that they don’t think abortion is murder. Of course they don’t! They can claim up and down that they think fetuses are human beings, but deep in the depths of their own soul, they know it’s not a fact. They only think abortion is wrong because they think women should bear consequences for sex. That’s the reason. Be honest about it. Don’t lie to us.

I feel truly depressed about the sheer amount of intellectual dishonesty in the world. It’s gotten so that we don’t even expect people to believe the things they say–all that matters is whether or not we can explicitly disprove those things. But what the fuck! I mean come on!

I’m all for taking people at their word, but sometimes what they say simply doesn’t add up. If Republicans were genuinely motivated by the sanctity of life, they would be against the death penalty. They would be against all these other things. But of course they can make some BS argument about why those things are different. But they’re just lying.

What annoys me is that because lying is so endemic, nobody expects anyone to tell the truth anymore. Like, whatever I write on this blog is what I actually believe. It’s not just some provocative argument advanced for clicks. But if you look on Twitter you see people constantly saying things they don’t believe, and it’s like…have you no shame? How can you look at yourself in the mirror?

It’s not just Republicans who do it. Here in SF we recently recalled our DA, over concerns about crime and disorder. But anyone who paid a modicum of attention would know he bore no responsibility for those problems. Crime is flat since 2019. Homelessness is up a little bit (less than most cities on the West Coast!) and the DA has nothing to do with homelessness! Being homeless isn’t a crime!

But the subtext here is that the people who voted for the recall want someone to lock up the unhoused. It’s abhorrent. But they’re allowed to lie and say, “Oh, our DA lets people commit crimes.” People are also allowed to peddle other falsehoods, like the idea that people move to SF to be unhoused on our streets, far from their friends and family, because our services are so good. This is not true. People don’t even move to SF from Oakland to be homeless here. Almost all of SF’s unhoused people were last housed in SF and lost their housing here.

But people don’t care. They tell lies, or they believe untruths because they want to. They feel no responsibility to the truth. And it’s not both sides equally, of course. The right is fully gone. Their minds are just gone. Like, many of them wouldn’t take COVID vaccines to save their own lives. If they can’t be motivated by the idea of saving their own and only life here on Earth, then no self-interest can motivate them. They’re living entirely in a fantasy-land.

But people on the left also lie routinely. We force people to lie, because we dog-pile people if their beliefs don’t fit the party-line. Thus, we make people say shit that’s not true, and we know it must be untrue, but we don’t care. Like, you’re supposed to say you sweat over and rewrite every single sentence. That’s true for some people, but not for most prose writers. I mean Virginia Woolf wrote Mrs. Dalloway in seven months, and yet people will have you believe it takes ten years of writing before a book’s prose is honed sufficiently to be published. Good prose is about rhythm. Rhythm is something you hear. Revision is correcting places where the rhythm doesn’t work–it really doesn’t take that long (at least for most writers). But you’re forced to lie. And then other writers hear the lies, and they spend years rewriting because they think they’re supposed to.

That’s the problem. Writers say shit in their interviews that they don’t believe, but then the next generation does believe them. They don’t know it’s BS. Like when marginalized people (who are published by big five publishers) say, “I don’t write for white people. I write for my own people.” Come off it, bro. Seriously. You don’t write with a white audience in mind? It could be true, but it’s almost certainly not. Like, I’ve read Indian books not written for a white audience (i.e. popular fiction published in India for the Indian market), and it often has strings of untranslated Hindi in it. Oftentimes it also has social mores that are baffling to Americans and go unexplained. It is not accessible, and as a result those books do not get republished in America.

But writers hear that stuff and say, “Oh I’ve just got to write for my own people, and I’ll end up like this person who’s getting interviewed in the New York Times,” and then they write that book and it doesn’t get picked up, because they believed you! Like, these lies have real consequences. Because they didn’t understand you were just saying a line, they spent years writing a novel that will not sell. Moreover, when you say that, you’re upholding this system that you think is so oppressive. You’re saying, “I am an honest and good writer, who doesn’t compromise, and I succeeded, and you can do.” But it’s not true. It’s the opposite of true, and you know it. The truth is you compromised as much as you thought you had to in order to be published.

It’s just exhausting. Like, my LitHub essay on money and writers. Nobody critiqued or called it out. The whole industry knows it’s true, but they’ll never say it. And next week someone will write an essay saying the industry is racist, and everyone will hop on to tell their own stories.

Like, I just don’t get it. Is success really that great? What is success for, if not to tell the truth and be honest?

It’s like with Liz Cheney. She is not a hero. She simply realizes the truth: being a congresswoman in a country where the President is allowed to lead armed insurrections is simply not worth the compromises. Similarly, it’s simply not worth the compromises to be a well-respected author if it means having to lie to people. Like, that’s fundamentally not what being an author is about. I mean at that point it’s just a paycheck, and who knows, maybe that’s all that writing books means to a lot of people. But a lot of people in this world have given up a lot more than…a fake reputation that’s founded in your ability and desire to kowtow to a bunch of phony mythologies. Like, you’re not an activist if you lie.

People don’t care though. They don’t care if anyone believes their lies. They don’t even understand that they are lying, because they’ve stopped (or never started) doing that thing where you have a self-check, “Oh, do I really believe the thing I’m saying?” It’s like with the ‘stolen’ election. Every Republican, from Mike Pence to Raffensperger to Trump’s own staff, realized that the election hadn’t been stolen. It’s so striking how many people refused to help Trump overturn the election. And it makes you realize: these people aren’t special; they just didn’t want to commit a crime. There is no difference between these officials and all the congress-people who openly espouse the stolen election rhetoric. They all know the truth, it’s just that some of them, if they acted on the lie, would be committing a crime, whereas others, by acting on the lie, got to keep their jobs. That’s all it was. And it continues all the way down. All the ordinary people who supposedly believe the election was stolen? It’s all a fucking lie. They don’t believe that shit. It’s just easier than believing they lost.

And it’s the same with Democrats (although without as tragic a consequence), everyone who believes that the Russians fixed the election for Trump–it’s just a lie. They ran a bunch of Facebook ads, it’s true, but Hillary Clinton outspent the guy massively–he didn’t win just because people saw more ads for him. And he didn’t win because he lied about stuff either. He won because he openly said racist stuff, and people wanted the racist stuff to happen. And then he was elected, and he delivered on his racist promises. It’s a very simple transaction.

We are the fools for believing that the mass of people voted for him for any reason other than overt, conscious racism. I’m not talking implicit bias either. I’m talking “We do not like Black people, and we think they are inherently inferior, either genetically or culturally, to white people” racism. The idea that they don’t overtly, consciously have racist beliefs is just a lie on a massive scale.

And because we know that, we go pick-pick-picking at people, trying to find the places where the lie shows through and reveals their true belief. That’s why people get cancelled for seemingly innocuous statements. It’s because we know people are lying about what they believe. And yet it’s the possibility of cancellation that makes them lie! And then most of their supporters also know their avowals of non-racism are also a lie! Everything has to be coated nowadays in this layer of plausible deniability about what you’re really saying or really believe. It’s pretty exhausting. I don’t know, maybe people need to lie, to preserve their livelihoods, I’m not sure. I do know that we aren’t going away, and the people w overtly racist beliefs aren’t going away either. So I don’t know how we all live and work together in the meantime, I really don’t, I just don’t know.

4 thoughts on “Tired of the incredible amount of lying in public life

  1. Dave

    Hi there. I read your piece about money and writers on Lit Hub and for the first time actually gave two craps about who wrote one of those pieces — they’re mostly pretentious drivel, but at least they talk about books — that led me to look at how I could consume more of your writing, which led me to buy and finish your guide on publishing, which led me to hold you in some high level of mutual recognition, which led me to subscribing to your blog, which led me to realize I haven’t done that for anyone other than George Saunders. This happened in like the space of three days. I’ve never read any of your published novels, but, given the inertia of which I have just described, I’m sure I’ll get to soon enough.

    Point is, I have been wondering the same exact thing about public lying since former President Dump crushed it in the 2016 Republican primary. It has only gotten to be more of a concern of mine that my supposedly overly cynical outlook on people’s attachment to integrity and truth that my friends and family USED TO chide me over has somehow become OPTIMISTIC in the last two weeks.

    Yet as of the overturning of Roe v. Wade (as gateway to overturning gay marriage, contraception rights, maybe even interracial marriage, and while they’re at it, why not overturn Dread Scott?) and Captain Tiny Hands revealed as trying to strangle his Secret Service detail in order to personally encourage his armed mob to kill people and our democratic process. That the same Emperor Toddler Tantrum flung plates of obviously fast food against the wall and ripped away tablecloths like I never did when I was four years old — because it never occurred to me to be that much of a little shit — well, that just tells me there is no floor. Whatever we imagine to be the floor, it’s lower, go lower. Authenticity, integrity, and rule of law? That’s for losers and boy are we about to be big losers.

    I don’t know what razor-wire encircled camp the victorious Republicans will stick me in in 2025 when they have all three branches of government, but when I sit down to eat semi-cooked, pilfered rat meat with my fellow starving residents, get massive food poisoning, and die, I’ll be able to tell my maker that at least I was a socialist 😉

    Sorry to be so dark. It’s been a week.

    1. Naomi Kanakia

      Dahhh!!! I love this comment. I too feel like I used to be considered cynical, but somehow now the idea that integrity exists is the optimistic view? I feel like everyone else adjusted to naked factionalism, and I got stuck on the idea that people might actually have some authentic principles.

      I’m glad you liked my publishing guide! That’s a book I’m really proud of. And glad you liked my other work too! Hope some of the coming posts please you as well

  2. Alaina

    You have a much higher opinion of humanity than I do! I think people really believe these things. Maybe not the politicians and other high-profile people, they have a lot to lose by admitting the truth. But the average voter? Humans have an extraordinary capacity for believing untrue things. It could be evolutionarily advantageous, a way to maintain group cohesion. I don’t know. It is, as you say, exhausting.

    1. Naomi Kanakia

      I feel like the initial liars don’t, then they get replaced by liars who do. Like how we now have these ppl in Congress who are genuine Q anon types. People definitely are capable of believing this crap, but do they? By now they probably do, who knows

Comments are closed