Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

On why we lie.

Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Chicago, Illinois

“There’s a counterintuitive motivation not to detect lies, or we would have become much better at it,” said Angela Crossman, an assistant professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But you may not really want to know that the dinner you just cooked stinks, or even that your spouse is cheating on you.”

We’d rather not know a lot of things. The culture we have primes us from infancy to believe life is unlimited possibility and goodness, all Dr. Pangloss and no Candide. “The best of all possible worlds” is our world, everything harmonious and rational, no suffering or want beyond our capacity to solve. This is what we ache to believe and how we want to live.

There’s a reason humans, over the long course of our history, reject prophets. Truth-telling exposes our weakness and vulnerability as qualified things (here is your indulgence, here is your exploitation of others) with actual social costs. We’d prefer our lies went unnoticed because there’s a trauma in having to acknowledge how profound an effect they have on our lives and on the lives of others.

We’re seeing something terrifying in this age of 24-hour news, persistent internet connections, and cell phones that keep us always within reach of everyone. The terror we’re seeing is the collapse of infantile notions that bad things happen to others, if they happen at all. Airplanes fly into skyscrapers before our eyes, everywhere we happen to be in the world. We’re losing the option of tuning out bad news and the ability to relegate it to someone else’s backyard.

Exacerbating the situation are opt-in social networks like Facebook. On the one hand they depict us one-dimensionally, as we’d like to be seen in general, and on the other they reveal us duplicitous (or multiplicitous) characters by recording and displaying our interactions for the mass of our “friends.” In the first case: the lies we tell ourselves and others. In the second: the bare facts exposed in our communication. Not only are we shown to be liars but we’re forced to own up to our lies — with Madoff and Blago, naked all day every day.

And as of now we have no psychological or spiritual resource to address the shitstorm of truth, the first winds of which rap our windowpanes.