Sasha Frere-Jones
Dec 7, 2017 · 4 min read

We assume that politicians are without honour. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandals of their politics: not that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political lie.

To discover that one has been lied to in a personal relationship, however, leads one to feel a little crazy.

— Adrienne Rich, “Some Notes on Lying” (1975)

The liar speaks. It sounds clumsy, even for a liar. The words are ugly and out of place, or would be, if they had a place.

We are embarrassed, not for the liar, but for ourselves and our neighbors.

How did we hear these things? Where did we stand? Who were we near? What is this place?

He won’t last, keep moving.

Wait. Hang on.

The lie takes and there is a pause, a moment to consider what’s happened. At first, it feels compromising to admit that the lie found an audience. We don’t honor this person or his methods so how can we acknowledge a dirty win? It is easier to assume that the lie will fade, not today, but soon.

The lie is the announcement of the betrayal, and its first stage.

The lie is never as big as it will eventually be.

The betrayal is found not with the liar, or in the lie, but in what lights up after the lie.

The betrayal is not one lie.

The betrayal is the wave of all lies now made possible. It is each lie pushing the next one forward, each one confirming things that cannot be confirmed.

This wave has its believers and every believer creates the network of shit anew.

The fact that people need to believe the lie is infinitely worse than the lie. The believers undo themselves and their neighbors. Skepticism does nothing against their belief because a wave works. The skeptic has nothing and is not even visible in the age of assertion.

We have betrayed ourselves by saying we.

Betrayal is attrition, a reduction that can only happen in the flood of the many.

The horror comes with time, the knowing and seeing that it is already over.

There doesn’t need to be more than one lie to establish a language. There doesn’t need to be more than one lie to establish an economy. With the first, trade is in place. Buyers show up.

The success is in the quiet that surrounds the lie, and the betrayal is in the quiet that surrounds the lie.

Fish as pencils. Why not? They will stain the paper. Houses as graves. Why not? We’ll fill them.

A lie finds harbor in rumor. It becomes a thing to know. To a believer, the lie is “commonly known.”

A lie is the perfect expression of, and in, the age of assertion.

Assertion speaks to convenience. Assertions are weighed against other assertions, each statement stripped to its spine. The challenge is now style versus style, day versus day, need versus need — no people, no stories. The wiring of the lived has been torn off, pulled off, removed.

Convenience and assertion are the pumps of lying. If truth is fractured and dull, believers will ignore it. The lie can be the one bright thing in place of many pale and dense things. The lie is convenience.

The lie was said. The lie wasn’t erased. We heard it, you heard it, and there must be a reason.

The lie was burped onto the floor of the world. There it is.

The betrayal is a lie that speaks to a group. That group needs a lie, and the lie is for those who believe it. The liar is secondary. The liar need never show up twice, though the liar always does.

The lie can’t be worsened once it has become itself. Ask around. You know.

Mendacity drains us.

Fine. Yes, I know. Yes, I heard.

The fighting stops because it has to. The lie doesn’t stop because it doesn’t have to.

We are embarrassed for ourselves, about ourselves. The betrayal is in our lack of preparation. We claimed to be ready for things, and this is the lie of preparation. We didn’t know someone would, you know, lie.

There is an impulse, given time, to find a different definition and a new explanation.

It might have been a lie, yes, but that wasn’t the thing, no, not the thing that actually changed the nature of things.

We want something less shameful than the truth that a bad lie was enough. The truth is that enough people preferred a bad lie to any other explanation. The truth is that lies work.

But the liar needs a crowd. In close quarters, it falls apart. Provisos, qualifications, what-ifs. Liars need the anonymity and mutual confusion of an audience. Who will be the first against a second? A first against no one is easy, but a first in a crowd of strangers is not.

How do these people think when they are not thinking about this one untrue thing? Why assume this is the worst thing they’ve ever believed? The betrayal here is with ourselves. Our understanding was lacking. Our ideas were pleasant projections, and in their way, more false than the lie.

We imagined that this lie was not real. What we imagined was imaginary. The lie was the realest thing about this place.

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