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We live in a dishonest society, that’s what I’m thinking now. It is not newly dishonest, though it seems to be increasingly dishonest. Obviously, our mass media thrives on hype and fiction, fantasies. But there’s more to it underneath. Capitalism, our entire view of money and work, is fundamentally dishonest. How can a multi-billionaire honestly be worth so much more than another human? What could be more dishonest than to say that some people deserve fine things, lives of ease, while others don’t? At every level there is dishonesty.

We live in a dishonest society and we have broken trust with each other. That is, the dangerous effects of never having properly built trust are magnified because we have more dangerous devices to amplify our ill will.

Humans kill. Anyone can kill anyone. We are ingenious like that. But if we are to accomplish anything together then we have to trust; we have to be able to turn our backs. It is not a covenant between man and God that we don’t kill, it is a covenant between man and man that we don’t kill each other.

Trust has always been tenuous, but we understood that we couldn’t survive without each other. Death without trust was certain, so trust had to be trusted. Now the trust is broken. We are too disconnected, too cynical, too dishonest even to the smallest domestic details of our lives.

Anyone can kill anyone. It happens on TV all the time.
But that’s all made up, isn’t it?

What is truth? What can be trusted? Only ourselves—no, not even, because anyone can kill anyone (or even oneself). Because anyone can think anything. This is the other sacred trust between humans. We know we think things that aren’t so. We know we invent. We know that fictions and entertainments are part of the pleasure and responsibility of our unique consciousness. We know how to lie and we agree, again for survival, to contain the lies and inventions within forms specifically established for this mental play. Together, in survival situations, we have recognized the usefulness of truth—truth and trust. . . .

What is true without my having to believe in it? When a person or group acts like it is very important for me to believe the things they do, my response is that anything that requires my belief to be true can’t be very true. Surely this standard can be applied to economics and political and social “truths” as well.

Let’s take a deep breath and ask: What is so without the forced consent of everyone? Laws are only laws if we mutually agree. Money is only money if we concur on the value and the symbols. Leaders are only leaders if we follow them. What is true without our consensus as a group?

People have to eat. A starving body can’t do proper work. A fearful creature is a dangerous creature. No system can sustain unlimited growth indefinitely. There are some truths for you.

We are a dangerous species because we are afraid. Not just on a situational  basis, not just when survival is actually threatened—because of our minds we are afraid even when we’re safe. We anticipate and motivate ourselves through anxiety about the future. We remember privation and fear losses to come. It’s a survival mechanism. But its usefulness is passing. Not the anticipation, not the thought, but the fear.

There’s less unknown to be afraid of and more known. The dangers all come from us, from our hubris and selfishness. Look, we’re all gonna die. No one gets to skip that part, or the pain that goes with it, or with knowing about  it. You would think the least we can do is feel compassion for one another, but apparently this is the most we can do. The very hardest thing is the most desperately needed.

We are frail beings with high ideals, and damned for the seeming impossibility that these two traits might ever be reconciled. But I think we are not as frail as we fear, and our ideals are not as high as we would like them to be.

from Time and Temperature: thoughts about consciousness

© 2003, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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