Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

The lies we tell ourselves and the lies we are told

I’ve always been a big fan of the boiling frog analogy since it fits so neatly to the concept of global warming. We all know that the world is heating up but for most of us looking out of the window, it’s just another day, so we keep on about our business until that day we are all boiled alive.

The only problem with the analogy is that frogs don’t happily swim around waiting to be cooked (and who is the pyscho chef who put the frog there in the first place anyway?). In reality, when things get too hot they leap out following a hard-wired instinct for survival just like some hope to do when the world becomes uninhabitable (one-way trip to Mars anyone?).

People also love the dog eat dog version of the world — men especially. Hollywood still churns out films centered upon the laconic, grizzled hero cracking bones and emptying clips into his enemy. But aside from a recurring societal loop of damaged adrenaline junkies, nihilists and psychopaths, most people, I would argue, prefer peace.

In fact, as animal behaviorists now testify, there is no such thing as an alpha in a wolf pack. Surely enough there is a hierarchy among wolves but nothing as clearly defined by the snarling über alles wolf leading his pack forward. The reality is governed more closely by the collective needs and demands of a hungry family.

Wolves, like us are social animals and persist through collaboration, not competition. Little Red Riding Hood is still on the menu but it’s more a question of bad timing and hungry opportunism if she gets eaten.

What I am getting at here, is of course the fact that these unfounded but accepted ‘truths’ that actively guide our behavior are extremely persistent and mask any possibility for critical thinking. It also allows for the continuation of unconscious behavior in the guise of things ‘simply being that way’, when the reality is far more subtle and nuanced.

For example, if you troll through FB on any given day, you will undoubtedly come across the trope of the disappearing honeybees tied to our imminent destruction as a species. Now I love bees whether they bumble or make honey but their extinction, while a significant milestone on the present road to the sixth mass extinction, is not the deathblow it has been made out to be.

To make this particular lie about bees even more egregious, it was misattributed to Albert Einstein, whose stable genius status has been a convenient hook to hang all sorts of nonsense. The bigger issue, and one which I have touched on in earlier blogs, is the fact that in the delicate web of ecosystems, so many other less memable pollinators coming broadly under the term ‘bugs’ are facing insecticide because of our dependence on insecticides to protect a narrow range of crops we deem valuable.

Again, it proves the point that a lack of critical thinking and a willingness by producers to accept the bribes and the marketing of poisons by industrial chemical giants has repercussions for life on this planet. In case you don’t think that it is an issue, forget the bugs and count the blighted generations of humans in such places along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam and Bhopal in India.

Speaking of other bugs, we could also return to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has been a master class in the failure of critical thinking by both the public and politicians. The lie we tell ourselves is our belief in our own immortality — particularly when self-interest governs your thinking, the enemy is invisible, and deaths happen in hospital wards beyond your purview. The lie only becomes the truth when somebody we know has died from Covid-19, as surely they will.

The second lie we tell ourselves is that much fuss has been made about a virus that only kills one or two percent of those it infects — mostly the old and the already sick ie, ‘expendable people’. The fact is though, that we have been given only a gentle reminder of the power of viruses — a dress rehearsal as it were of the viruses to come, as surely, they will. The science is clear on this and any vaccine is a far-off prospect now and then. Put a deadlier virus in its place and we all fall down. Who is expendable then?

Just to give you an illustration from history — here’s a sobering analysis from the 1918 flu pandemic taken from the book The Great Influenza by John M. Barry:

Investigators today believe that in the United States the 1918–19 epidemic caused an excess death toll of about 675,000 people. The nation then had a population between 105 and 110 million, while it was approaching 300 million in 2006. So, a comparable figure today would be approximately 1,750,000.’

Probably the worst behavior around this virus can be seen among politicians who have used it for political gain, and tech giants and industrialists who have enriched themselves as a result of subsequent disruption. I don’t claim that all politicians or industrialists are venal or corrupt, but emergencies tend to bring out the worst (when not the best) in people in power, which probably magnifies the plight of those at the other end of the scale with least agency.

America, presently run by a kakistocracy, is a compounded example of the power of lies. Covid 19 goes from being a ‘kung flu’ which will be over by summer to a wrecking ball of the economy, the cause of upwards of 160 000 attributable deaths (undoubtedly there are thousands more) and the transformation of the US into a pariah state.

The wearing of a mask has become a political act rather than a collective effort to contain a novel virus. Fortunes have also been made selling sub-par face coverings, which is particularly despicable. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists challenge the science in favour of a theory that states that impose the wearing of a mask create the mandate for further restrictions of civil liberties. Certainly enough, there is a danger that an administration can be suitably emboldened by blanket diktats in the name of civil order but for the most part, democracy prevails in the west and our rights are still enshrined in statutes that even the worst in power cannot huff, puff and blow down.

With my tinfoil hat on, I do, however, fear for the sleight of hand that is too well performed for even the smartest to see. As the digital agenda advances, the line between fact and fiction is easily blurred. If Satan is the father of lies, his little helpers are undoubtedly hot desking behind computers in Hell to promote them.

The uncanny valley can project itself anywhere in the world where there is a screen to view it and a brain to perceive it — take a look around you the next time you venture out into the public to see how many people are locked into their phones, riding the elevator, riding their bike or e scooter or driving an eight wheel truck down a highway at 100 kph. Sleight of hand requires divided attention — the stage is already set for the next act.

And what would the next act look like? If you are a conspiracist (and I am not one) the logical blunder would be a hot war. It’s still good for business — especially if destruction is your business model. China is the obvious enemy and since for most westerners, their culture and aspirations is at odds with the model we are following, it would easy enough to precipitate the kind of public support necessary for great acts of irrevocable brutality. The present trade war between the US and China has already caused economic suffering on both sides invisible to all but those on the ground — but suffering is still suffering and inevitably leads to more.

And this brings me to the last enduring lie, which is the one that we use only 10% of our brain capacity. Naturally enough, the brain is an organ comprised of multiple structures layered one upon the other from the stem to the neocortex as the latest addition. While it is true that only a small minority of neurons in the brain are actively firing at any one time, the brain is always greater than the sum of its parts.

It would seem like an evolutionary dead end for an organ to develop so large that it jeopardized both the mother and child in the act of childbirth and regularly required 20 percent of the body’s energy in order to function properly for it to only operate at 10 percent of its capacity. The mysteries of the brain’s structures are still a frontier with many pathways unexplored.

Albert Einstein was barely 7 hours cold before his cap was peeled and his brain removed. While there were some distinct anomalies, perhaps the most remarkable finding was how much like any other human brain it was (and the fact that the autopsy was performed and his brain stolen against his wishes and that of his relatives, but that’s another issue).

With nothing else to go on, we all have the potential to be geniuses with the brains we are provided (and many unsung pass into history without as much as a footnote). If there is any hope for humans as a species, it would be time to locate those great minds, challenge our misconceptions and those of others and raise up all who operate at less than ten percent of capacity.

And before those smug billionaires reach escape velocity aboard the rocket bound for Mars looking out of the window of an asset-stripped and blighted earth, it would be good for them to be reminded of the one thing they cannot escape, even in the vastness of space:

Einstein said it best:

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”




Making piece with absurdity and cognitive dissonance

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