To Tell the Truth

Why do we have thirty-six verbs that mean “to lie” and zero verbs that mean “to tell the truth”?

Maybe lying is more popular, but I think there is another reason.

It’s the same reason we have the verb “levitate,” but no verb that means “to remain on earth, subject to gravity.” To levitate is to do something unexpected and contrary to our natural state. We need a word for that.

In the same way, a lie is contrary to our natural state. Humans communicate. A lot. In every conversation, we assume the information given to us is true, or we would not bother to listen.

But there’s more to a lie than bad information. The speaker aims to deceive. His untruth invites and depends upon the listener’s assumption of truth. He exploits our natural state to pervert our natural state.

The truth at the heart of every lie is that truth matters. If it didn’t, lies would not work.

But it goes much deeper. Humans communicate, but they also learn and reason and, at last resort, attack. We could destroy one another (and sometimes do), but we more happily use our minds to enrich one another, learning and reasoning together in peace and humility.

It’s not that humans are naturally agreeable, but we know two important things.

First, there are real things about which to agree, things we can confirm with our minds and our hearts and our senses. Second, we know how ugly and futile it is to use force.

Our shared ability to see and discuss real things and, especially, our refusal to use force against those who peacefully disagree, was the foundation of our peaceful culture.

But this appears to be over.

Yesterday’s judicial attack upon a political rival was a dramatic step away from American culture and into the realm of tyranny, but it was not the first. For years, we have seen the power of our government used as a club, overruling more and more of what we know to be true.

We lie about law. We lie about humanity. We lie about history. We lie about science. We lie about medicine. We censor ideas we don’t like and persecute people we can’t control. We lie about the obvious and, as our lies become more outrageous, we use greater force to compel obedience.

Our lies have destroyed the foundation of peace upon which this nation was built.

So, move over, George Washington. You’re being traded for the Father of Lies.