"Lying is universal -- we all do it; we all must do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others' advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling"
—Mark Twain (1835-1910), "On the Decay of the Art of Lying" (1882)
(Swans - April 22, 2013) WORTH LYING? Gilles Bernheim, the chief Rabbi of France, resigned from his position on April 11, 2013, after it was disclosed that he was a heavy plagiarizer in his books and essays, and that he had lied about being a professor laureate in philosophy, which he was not. (In 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy appointed him Knight in the Légion d'honneur.) In May 2012, when François Hollande was elected to the presidency of France, he and his prime minister selected Jerome Cahuzac a former surgeon turned politician, as their minister of the budget, in charge of the entire budget, austerity measures, taxes, and, ironically, the task of bearing down on tax evaders and tax havens. It turns out that he was himself a tax evader, and lied for months until he got caught. Embarrassing, disruptive, but not particularly surprising because these phenomena exist everywhere.
PLAGIARISM is an age-old technique that has become more prevalent in our digital age of copy and paste. The problem for the plagiarizers is that with the use of the same digital technology one can relatively easily find the culprits, as I once explained in "The Scourge Of Plagiarism And Scrubbing" (April 5, 2010). So it's easy to plagiarize but the odds of getting caught are not on the side of the delinquents.
EMBELLISHING A RESUME is a very human process. One simply wants to present the best possible accomplishments in order to get a new job, advance one's career. Nothing wrong with that; the hiring company will call the shots. However, to state that you had a job that you did not really have or a university diploma that you never got is not only dishonest, it is stupid in the age of the Internet. For Gilles Bernheim, a man of power always talking about morality, to claim he had an agrégation in philosophy was not just a lie, but proof of utter depravity. These people cannot get it yet. With all the databases on line nowadays -- and it will become even more powerful over time -- lying is not worth the consequences. It's as if when I mention that I am an alumnus of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris -- which I am -- I would be lying. A search on the school's Web site, with a little effort because the school keeps revamping its site and changing search pages, will prove that I got my diploma in 1976. In the forthcoming years falsifications will be dug up at the click of a button.
AS TO LYING, let's be honest, we all do it. There is no truth without lies. We lie by compassion, by self preservation or social advancement or self interest or self defense. There are white lies and dark ones. Sociologists contend that we are lying more due to individualism, personal competition, the desire to succeed -- that is, make money. I don't think so. Here again modern digital technologies allow for catching the lies, and to decipher in a hurry the credibility of those lies. Lying is an art, something to savor like a great piece of theater or an opera. As early as 1882, the genial humorist, novelist, and historian Mark Twain (1835- 1910) -- aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- wrote a superb essay, "On the Decay of the Art of Lying."
FOR TWAIN, "... the Lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man's best and surest friend, is immortal, and cannot perish from the earth while this Club remains." But the lie must be made with a high level of credibility. If not, he says, it's better to tell the truth. This was the issue with Jerome Cahuzac and Gilles Bernheim. They were not credible, especially Cahuzac. You could look at pictures of him or videos of his appearances in the news. His eyes and his grimaces did not lie. It was obvious to all that he was lying, and the scandal has shaken the entire government and even the republic. The approval rating of the Hollande administration is down to an abysmal 25%. Twain was quite right. Sometimes it's better to tell the truth.
THE BOSTON NIGHTMARE is finally over, except for the families of the four dead (including a young police officer they killed at MIT who had nothing to do with the investigation) and the 170 people or more who have been gravely wounded. I have a couple of friends who live there, one of them in Cambridge, two blocks away from where those two creeps lived. He barricaded himself in his apartment. Jan's best friend and her family in Boston are okay but emotionally shaken. We were worried to death. Thankfully, they all are fine.
FROM THE GET GO I thought this was domestic, not foreign, terror. While the pundicracy was quick to finger out various countries in the Middle East or Northern Africa, it made no sense to me. These people do not attack civilians (except among themselves -- Shias vs. Sunnis). They target governmental and military installations. Even the 9/11 WTC destruction could be seen in this light, as a symbol of Wall Street that does so much damage to their countries and all over the world -- that is the nerve center of American power. The only exceptions I know of are attacks perpetrated in France in the 1990s by Algerian extremists. So, in my mind, this horrific event had to have been fomented in the U.S. and carried out by U.S. citizens or residents.
SOME WILL ARGUE that they were from Chechen roots. So what? I am from French roots. Does that make a difference? Actually, Chechen separatists have not been involved in international violence. Their struggle is with Russia. What they want is independence from Russia, and they have lost 200,000 people out of a population of one million at the hands of the Russians. They've never targeted the U.S. Furthermore, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (the 19-year-old younger brother) never lived in Chechnya. He was born in neighboring Dagestan before eventually emigrating to the U.S. He got his green card and became a U.S. citizen. He's lived more than half of his life in the U.S. He received his education in the U.S. His older brother once said that he did not have American friends, that he did not understand Americans. So what, again? I've been living in the U.S. for 30 years. I have very few American friends and there are many things I do not grasp about them and their culture. That has not made me a killer. As President Obama asked: "Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?" Yes, why? I did not think the police authorities would catch these two men alive. I was incorrect. They caught the youngest one. He is seriously wounded. I hope he can be kept alive and over the next few months we shall learn more about their motives.
PERHAPS he will tell that he was deadly opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and condemned the drone strikes that killed so many civilians. Well, I very much agree with these sentiments and many Americans do too. We oppose this mindless violence but we have no say, politically speaking, in the decisions taken by our government and the military-industrial-congressional complex. One cannot hold responsible the peace activists who cannot influence the U.S. establishment. Moreover, try to talk about some kind of blowback to the Richard family whose 8-year-old son, Martin, was killed in this horror, and Martin's mother and sister were seriously injured. His father, Bill Richard, is a longtime activist in Dorchester, MA, and his mother a librarian, active in a civic association. I'll bet you that they also are peace activists. There is a touching picture of Martin, with his brilliant smile and deeply kind and intelligent eyes, holding a small poster that he had made. It read: "No more hurting people. Peace." He had drawn two small red hearts on each side of the word "Peace," and a peace sign at the bottom of his poster. Did Martin have to die because a little girl in Pakistan or elsewhere was killed by a drone strike?
THIS IS so sickening, so despicable. PEACE NOW! As W.H. Auden once wrote:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
The entire poem can be read at
The first part of this extraordinary poem appeared in the 1994 romantic movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral.
INCIDENTALLY, one has to wonder about all the civil libertarians who keep objecting to video surveillance in our streets and our stores arguing that these instruments are curtailing our liberties and our privacy. The very videos and the countless ones taken by people were exactly what allowed identifying the two brothers. We need to rethink our assumptions.
LET ME FINISH with a short pitch for an anthology published by the UK organization Corporate Watch that includes twenty essays edited by Rebecca Fisher, "Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Organization of Dissent" (its table of content can be read at this link). According to their Web site, the writers "collectively argue that in today's 'democracy' elite interests are served by the limitations placed upon popular participation in decision-making, by the manipulation of public opinion through propaganda, and from the attempts to co-opt, marginalize and/or repress oppositional politics." This is quite a pertinent book, which one wishes Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother had read to understand how the people, especially the dissenters, are being manipulated or ostracized, or co-opted by the elites. It's also a book worth reading because Michael Barker (a regular writer for Swans) and Edmund Berger (an occasional writer for our publication) contributed five essays to the anthology. The book deconstructs all the myths surrounding democracy and the techniques used to thwart it. Edward Herman wrote that "Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent has effective analyses of a wide range of these engineering techniques, from adapting language to make capitalism and democracy warm partners, to propaganda barrages in the press and on TV and movie screens, to philanthropic actions, to cooptation of progressive organizations and movements, and to the various forms of repression and violence. This book covers these techniques, and their mode of use at home and abroad. It is an eye-opener." Go and read it.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.
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