The following was written in 1972:
A fiercely combative system characterized by a high degree of tension must eventually overload and collapse. There are only so many put-ons that man can sustain before his entire system of interrelationships becomes ambiguous and, ultimately, meaningless. Twenty years ago, the need for a book probing the exploitive, manipulative techniques in our society did not seem as compelling as it does today. Now, new forces and events in our contemporary culture, interacting with new insights into behavioral speech and communication technologies, would seem to make the production of a book of this kind more urgent, more pertinent. Hopefully, in the future human communication will become more open and straightforward—at which time, perhaps, less games-oriented and more optimistic volumes may be written.
[Irving J. Rein, Rudy’s Red Wagon: Communication Strategies in Contemporary Society]
Fifty-one years have passed since Professor Rein wrote the above. A one-ounce letter cost $0.08 to mail. Cable television was still new. Mobile phones were for affluent businessmen. The Internet was a dimly imagined vista of the future. How do you think he would assess today’s dominant currents and motifs in communication? More manipulative, or less, and to what sociocultural effect?
Are we a nation of gamesmen who use words only as tools of manipulation? Or is our communication straightforward and “non-strategic” more often than not?
The crux of the argument must be the prevailing attitude toward truth.
Columnist Maggie Gallagher won a permanent niche in my affections when she wrote that if there is no objective truth, all our statements consist solely of attempts to use one another. The inverse is equally compelling: if our statements are composed solely of facts and honest convictions – that is, the truth as best we can know it given our own position in space, time, and circumstance – then we are not attempting to manipulate but to inform or discuss.
The distribution of one versus the other determines the trustworthiness of a society. For there has never been a society in which there was no manipulative pseudo-communication. Nor has there ever been a society in which no one ever spoke the truth as best he knew it. Which style prevails among us today? By how much?
Among us are men that knowingly promulgate falsehoods. Some of them shout so loudly that their words become mere noise. Some emphasize their proclamations with violence. Yet they can achieve nothing lasting, for reality is implacably hostile to what is false. They can only hope for near-term gains, and to “get while the getting is good.”
Ayn Rand noted that the short-range mind is characteristic of the criminal. To attempt to deceive others in hope of gain is criminal behavior. The law calls it fraud. Yet it is no less an offense against others to insist on falsehoods with no hope of personal gain. Successful deceit must eventually damage the deceived, even if the deceiver gains nothing from it.
Most poignant are those cases in which the deceiver and the deceived are one and the same.
It would be well if those of us who are the targets of the deceivers were as knowledgeable about manipulative communications – its methods and its warning signs – as the deceivers themselves. It would be better yet if we were forceful in condemning deception and manipulation, rather than letting them pass. But it is not so today. I doubt there has ever been a time when it was.
“You spoke of trust. If there is no truth, there can be no trust.” – Jack Vance, Araminta Station
The statement above is as compelling in speaking of the character and practices of a society of millions, as in speaking of the most individual relations. It follows that a society that rejects the concept of objective truth will be a zero-trust society. The general awareness that truth has been categorically dismissed is itself undeceivable.
These are not involute exercises in subtle reasoning. In an earlier time they would have been called simplicities. Yet many ignore their power. The dominant practice, when confronting untruths, is to wish them away. We’ve become so confrontation-averse that when Smith lies blatantly and directly to Jones, Jones immediately strives to circumlocute, or to say something equivocal, or to change the subject, or to flee the conversation: anything but contradict Smith. But allowing an untruth to be spoken without immediate and direct refutation gives the field to the untruth and to him who speaks it.
By permitting it we permit liars to reign over us.
Truth and trust have frequently been on my mind these past few years. Untruth, including deliberate denials of objectively verifiable facts, dominates our culture and our politics. Falsehoods are so pervasive that even the most truthful persons – men who’d as soon slit their own throats as tell a lie – seldom command the degree of trust their honesty warrants. It’s an important ingredient in the cocktail of poisons that’s killing American society.
Few are openly fighting the tide. Those who do are often castigated for it. The “why fight about it?” crowd must think a harmonious culture can breathe the noxious vapor of lies without coming to harm. But it is not so.
When I wrote about this episode:
“The country was deep in the grip of the ‘diversity and inclusion’ fad. It started before you were born, and was pretty much a bad memory by the time you were old enough to notice. Noisy minorities were at their noisiest—and since a history of oppression was the legal and social coin of the realm, every one of them claimed to be ‘oppressed.’ The one getting the most attention at the time was ‘trans.’”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. “A transportation company?”
She chuckled. “No, biological men who wanted to be women, or to be treated as women. A very few biological women who wanted to be men, or treated as men. They called themselves ‘transwomen’ or ‘transmen.’”
I barked a laugh. I couldn’t help it. I caught hold of it quickly, and forced myself back to seriousness.
She smirked. “You can laugh because you have no idea how bad it was. But there was nothing funny about it. Even though there were only a few thousand of them all together, they were unbelievably successful at bending governments and institutions to their whim. They won privileges that very few people can imagine today.
“Tim’s employer’s Human Resources department was run by a gaggle of vicious women—real ones, not ‘trans’—who’d already succeeded in enacting weird ‘sexual harassment’ rules and rules about how to treat persons of differing sexual orientations. You could get fired for daring to defy the company line…so naturally the company’s vicious women and vindictive homosexuals used the rules like a club to subjugate or flat get rid of anyone they pleased.
“Well, these insane HR harpies needed new worlds to conquer, so they decided to make ‘trans tolerance’ their next campaign. But they didn’t mean ‘show tolerance for the deluded.’ They meant to make differing with a delusional person—calling a ‘trans’ person by his birth name, or referring to him as ‘he’ when he claimed to be a ‘she’—a hangin’ offense.
“They rewrote the personnel policies for the company for the umpteenth time. Corporate management gave in without a fight. The new policies included mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ seminars for the entire company. Until Tim was herded into one, he had no idea what was coming.
“He sat through about twenty minutes of their harangue before he couldn’t take any more of it. He felt someone had to take a stand against the lunacy. And Tim being…well, Tim, he wasn’t going to wait for someone else to do it. So he stood up.
“He told them their nonsense had gone far enough. He said the ‘trans’ types are obviously detached from reality. That they need therapy to help them accept themselves as they are, not reinforcement for their delusions. That we should treat the mentally ill with compassion but that it’s wrong to cooperate in their lunacy. And he said he wouldn’t bow to any rule, from HR or anyone else, that compelled him to think or speak or act otherwise. And he walked out.
“His supervisor fired him immediately after the seminar. He didn’t have anything against Tim. In fact, he agreed with him. He just didn’t want to tangle with HR.”
[From Love in the Time of Cinema]
…I was describing something that had really happened – I was a witness to it – and I could not let it go un-memorialized. I put it in a fictional context, because fiction has always possessed more power to persuade than factual exposition. Yet I was assailed from all the points of the compass, including by persons who agreed with me and other witnesses to the event. The dominant theme was “Why get them riled up and demonstrating in the streets? Just keep your head down and let it pass.”
Does anyone else recall the old Superman TV show? The one that starred George Reeves? It inspired my generation to believe in “truth, justice, and the American way” – to believe that those things can and would triumph against all opposition and all odds. Does it take a fictional superhero, a creature that could not possibly exist, to uphold truth?