Friday, April 11, 2008

The Fine Art of Beautiful Lies

Untitled Song - Buddy Miller (mp3)

According to my wife, who swears she saw this on Oprah or some such, all of us have the same amount of gas. Pound for pound, all humans have equal fart-ability. Such a study seems pretty dubious, but for the purposes of this entry, I'm gonna say it's food for thought. Just keep this seedling planted in your noggin, and I'll get back to it.

I lie to my children. I teach them to lie to other adults. But don't worry. Newsweek says it's OK, and if anyone should know, it's journalists.

The Newsweek article suggests that certain kinds of lies are totally OK to tell your children. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Other times it's totally OK to encourage your children to lie. Yes Auntie Gertrude, I just love that disco jumpsuit. I'll wear it all the time!

If those are the good lies, what are the bad ones? According to the article, lies that abdicate one's own responsibilites
-- as a parent, as a friend, as a coworker -- are much less acceptable. These are lazy lies that come back to haunt you, karmically speaking.

All I did was help you tell a lie.
You never even knew it when I said goodbye.

A superb article from the New Yorker last summer explored our cultural fascination with lying and our over-inflated belief that we can catch others in lies.

In reality, we totally suck at detecting lies. We're only slightly better than 50-50 at doing so. Think about the significance of that for a second. If someone is lying to you, or telling you the truth, flipping a coin is almost as accurate as your "gut feeling." Much like most of us think we're "above average" in intelligence and looks and talents, most of us think we're above average at smelling bullshit.

In reality, our BS detectors are BS. We think so highly of them because we pat ourselves so heartily on the back when we catch someone in a lie, not realizing that for every lie we've caught, another one or two have snuck by us unaware, like small insects we unknowingly eat while sawing logs in slumber at 3 a.m.

Back to the discovery that we're all equally full of hot air. Hot, stinky, noxious air. Most of us don't like admitting that our shit stinks, or that we're full of shit. But lying is more about the fumes we expel than actual substance. Lying is more flatulent, less fecal. And more often than not, our lies are the Silent-But-Deadly type. Besides, it's somehow less of an insult to tell someone they're full of fart.

All humans have in them this need, this natural-born drive to tell lies. As much as I'm a religious fella, I believe this need, in and of itself, is neither sinful nor evil. Lying is a dangerous weapon, but it has its good and proper uses, much like money, which is only the root of all evil when it is held too close to the heart.

All our words are written down in chalk
Out in the rain on the sidewalk.

At the risk of coming across as a frightening sociopath, lying is what makes us human. It's one of the most complicated and nuanced facets of our lives and one of the easiest ways to separate us from less-sophisticated animals. It is to humans what flight and X-ray vision is to Superman, a power we uniquely possess that can cause tremendous destruction but also help us navigate life's treacherous SpyHunter-esque highway (and no, Tom Cochrane, that's not always a road you want to drive all night long).

Let's use an embarrassing example.

I'm 17. My parents are out of the house at a dinner party. One of my precious and rare female pals calls. "Whatcha doing?" she asks innocently. But what I'm doing is touching myself and watching one of my dad's not-so-well-hidden dirty movies. So when I said "Um, nothin'" rather than saying "Watching one of my dad's porn movies and imagining you and me doing what these people are doing to each other"... was I really doing the world some kind of disservice? Is this the kind of honesty our world needs or wants?

(NOTE: I have never ever in my whole life touched myself in such a way. Nor do I know anyone else who would do such a repulsive thing. I was just using something that happened to a friend of mine. As an example.)

Here's a more kid-friendly example: I believe in Santa Claus. That's a very complicated lie for me, and one I'm not ashamed to state. In fact, I bet even a lie detection machine would say I'm telling the truth on that one. (By the way, even the most biased studies in favor of lie detectors put them at around 90%... how would you like a 1 in 10 shot of being put on trial for a capital crime because that damn machine read you wrong?)

Lies can be complicated, nuanced, delicate things. Lies can be beautiful. They can save marriages. They can bring people to Jesus. They can reunite long-exiled family members. Lies can save innocent lives.

Picasso said, "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." The word "Lie" is Legion, three letters possessed by a thousand different demons and arguably a few dozen angels. If we don't see lies for all the good -- or non-bad -- they can do, how can we properly fear and respect their power to do harm?

This Buddy Miller song, written by his wife Julie, is neither on any of his albums nor available in any form that I know of. But I highly recommend sifting through's MP3 collection of Buddy Miller (or Buddy and Julie Miller) songs and showing this renegade Nashville couple some luv.


Bob said...

Yo, Cowboy. How cool is it that I posted the Dickinson poem on truth issues the same day you post on lying?

By the way, if the Buddy Miller song is unavailable anywhere, how do you have it?

Anonymous said...

lambert here...since I've not been "invited" to post under my g-nom du plume, just making myself known. A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, a terrific book out in hardback, writes columns for Esquire. He spent time with the founder of the Radical Honesty Movement. Wild stuff. Here's the link:

For more good stuff, go to AJ's website of links to other online writings from Esquire:

Bob said...

Lambo, yes, you can post as yourself. You don't need to be invited. You choose the "google/blogger" option and enter your info.

Anonymous said...


karos said...

Long live lies.

And here is where I was going to oh-so-cleverly install my own little "lie" ditty and I was saddened to read the correct version versus the one I've always had in my head.

Cue up Quatro:

Our love is a lie, and so it begins...
foolishly layin' our hearts on the table
stumblin' in.

Damn. It's ALIVE.

Unless that's a lie.

Billy said...

Bob, in answer to your question, this is the beauty of an iMac. Some site had a web video of the song. I snagged the movie file, pulled it into iMovie, exported the sound file into GarageBand (both of these are free with the iMac) and then exported the mp3 from that program.

All to the goal of sharing some tasty (Buddy & Julie) Miller High Life.

Bob said...

I've been doing the same thing using an MP3 convertor.

Oh, and thanks for never leaving a comment on any of my posts. I enjoy feeling like Garfunkel to your Simon, Pinky to your Brain, Ted to your Bill, Ebony to your Ivory.

Who's this other dork and when is Billy going to post again?

Anonymous said...

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Check out the lineup at: