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An addiction to lies undermines our freedom

By Matthew Delaney 

Muhammad Ali once said, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” If our mountain is bettering our life and the ones of those around us, then the pebbles are the lies we love to tell ourselves.  

We’re a culture that’s eerily comfortable with dishonesty.  

Promoting a glammed-up version of our life over the internet and talking smack to someone we’d cower from in-person are the norm. Men wearing dresses is fashionable and obese people are healthy is common knowledge. Thinking you’re “fine just the way you are” and other people need to change is our default.  

Tolerance for these seemingly innocent lies have made us more agreeable to consequential ones. Of course, the “Big Lie’s” sinister nature was behind the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Obviously, there’s an epidemic of police killings of unarmed black men. 

There’s no reason to believe in election interference after watching journalists suppress certain stories while fluffing a walking skeleton in Joe Biden. Just like there’s every reason to believe police hunt unarmed black men despite evidence saying otherwise. 

A lot of this, as you might have picked up, is media driven. Though it’s a bit passé to do the whole media-is-corrupt spiel (unless it’s me). On a meta level, however, we have an industry founded on telling us the truth choosing to deceive us over politics. Nothing says we’re cozy with dishonesty more than that.  

Such blatant lies are the cancer to our freedom. It makes cynicism into the one thing we still share because everyone feels like they’re constantly being hustled. We forget, too, that our internal drama is a chance for foreign adversaries to troll the idea of individual liberty. All they must do is expose our tenuous grip on “the truth.”      

Russian President Vladimir Putin did just that during his summit with President Joe Biden in Switzerland. After ABC News’ Rachel Scott questioned how the dictator can say political opponents get fair treatment when they’re either imprisoned, poisoned, or killed, she ended with “What are you so afraid of?”  

Putin coolly replied he doesn’t want to let extremists have a voice in his society like we did with Black Lives Matter protesters, even though he sympathized with their grief.

Then, he pointed to how we have “criminals” storming the halls of our legislature with some killed and others facing 20–25-year sentences during the riot at the capitol on Jan. 6. So, the question of him unfairly imprisoning people seemed uneven. 

The mobster’s response left journalists aghast at how Putin could draw a false equivalence between his gangster behaviors to our own dirty laundry. So, because Putin said something, suddenly it’s untrue? 

Meanwhile, the organizers of various Black Lives Matter branches are open radicals. Last summer, Hawk Newsome of BLM Greater New York said, “Give black people their rights, or we will burn this country to ashes.” 

That line was sandwiched in between one city already torched and another that would be in flames two months later. Plus, Martin Luther King, Jr. was seen as a dangerous radical in his time, so BLM must be doing something right.  

As for the riot at the Capitol, FBI director Christoper Wray called it an act of “domestic terrorism” when testifying before Congress in March. Countless other politicians, including some Republicans, referred to it as an “insurrection” spurred by Donald Trump’s election fraud lies. Prison sentences, and yes, an impeachment, sound deserved with those characterizations.  

Now, the lie isn’t that both narratives are false. Trump did stoke election fraud allegations, and black Americans do have uniquely degrading experiences with the police. It’s that they’re treated as absolute truths to serve a specific purpose. 

For the “Big Lie,” that’s getting Republicans to kowtow to left-wing talking points. For systemic racism found in police killings, it’s to make those talking points into a plain fact. One we must act on with federal force and cultural “re-education.”  

Basically, they’re done to score political points. Now that our enemies abroad use those same absolutes to show our image’s flaws while defending theirs, the game is no longer fun.  

This is the problem with making “the truth” conditional on who it benefits. The American press can’t call out strongmen like Putin for vanishing people when it declares all our black citizens live under a racist police state. Or that a group of rebels tried to overthrow our government.  

It’s fair to wonder what the difference is between the U.S. and other authoritarian regimes given that framing? Our top adversary in China seems to think there isn’t much of one, and they’ve taken the past year’s events to slap us over our supposed hypocrisy.  

One of their spokesmen tweeted “I can’t breathe” in response to a State Department counterpart publicly backing the Hong Kong protesters. Also, Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces mocked the U.S. for breaking up BLM riots and for Trump hiding in the White House, when months earlier it was telling Beijing to have a serious conversation with its protesters in Hong Kong. 

The Capitol riot was another slug in their barrel. The Global Times, one of CCP’s state-controlled newspapers, claimed that “Chinese observers said this is a ‘Waterloo to US international image,’ and the US has totally lost legitimacy and qualification to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs with the excuse of ‘democracy’ in the future.” 

Now, we know intuitively it’s propaganda. There’s no comparison to our protests — no matter how ridiculous and violent they get — to those where state actors jail journalists for suspicion of “subversion of the state,” “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” or using Twitter. That’s on top of the nation’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s northwest region of Xinjiang. 

Besides, China isn’t immune to the virus of anti-black racism either. African visitors were forced to take Covid-19 tests and enter 14-day quarantines after five Nigerians tested positive in Guangzhou. That resulted in a hundred Africans getting evicted, along with being told that “Black people are not allowed to enter” a McDonalds.  

It doesn’t matter, though. As Johns Hopkins University professor Ho-fung Hung points out, “Beijing points to the violence and injustice of the United States to exonerate itself from its own egregious violence and injustices.”  

Simply put: If they can do it, why can’t we?  

In our own words, our high-minded ideals of freedom and individual rights produced a hate-filled, anarchic, and distrusting population. Where’s the benefit of liberty in that? At least ceding your judgment about what’s “true” to the state lets you enjoy a simpler life. 

Removing ourselves from the messiness that comes from living freely has more appeal than you might think.  

The ability to make our own choices can be seen as a prison of its own kind. Especially when we’re all making similar ones that consistently lead us to feeling empty. While we often talk about filling that void through materialism or sex or substance abuse, our overwrought tendency to be activists is our most potent form of escapism. 

Fighting every abstract form of racism or extremism creates the illusion of a clear right and wrong. The hardship that comes from trying to achieve “justice” mimics what it’s like to live with a purpose.  

It’s only human of us to crave meaning. A Stanford University study laid it out perfectly. He said activism is one way of life that may cause unhappiness, but people are motivated by the larger purpose they’re trying to accomplish. 

However, my earlier comment about the only thing we still share is cynicism may not be fair. We all believe that contributing to those around us is the most desirable pursuit to have. Ali was right — everyone wants to climb that mountain. 

But if your meaning is found in propagating lies, even ignorantly, the high found in activists’ challenges are hollow. Raising your fist in protest just becomes another drug to dull your lack of fulfilment. And the lies become your dealer.  

The sheer scale of our dishonesty lowers the value of freedom more than anything because it’s a reflection of our choices. Luckily, there are other choices we can make to show we’re trying to break this addiction. In case you need a reminder about why getting clean is important, look no further than the foreign leaders who rejoice in our decaying state. 

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Matthew Delaney


Matthew Delaney is a local journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he’s not questioning why he joined the media, he’s doing his part to restore some of its credibility with quality work

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