Lies, I realize, are highly pragmatic. This realization came during a discussion of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, in which the main character, Billy, is a PTSD victim who survives many of the hardships in his life by creating a fanciful world that he escapes to. Although this is an extreme case, it’s illustrative of so many aspects of modern life as a whole.
From birth we’re taught so many lies. Society teaches them. Parents inculcate them. Priests impress them. Teachers reiterate them. I’m sure you’ve heard all of them, at one point or another: you’re special. You’re valuable. You’re unique. You can have a positive impact on the world. You can make a difference. Jesus loves you. You have a purpose. There’s a reason for everything. Everything works out in the end.
All lies. But not malicious lies, but rather pragmatic lies. Lies essential to the happiness of individuals and the function of society. If one were to come to terms with one’s helplessness and insignificance… if one were to realize that “free will” is just a bullshit Western idea designed to give us some sense of purpose, when in truth, our choices are null: we all start at point a and all end at point b, regardless of our actions in life. A hundred despairing realizations– more– all stopped by societal lies.
Douglas Adams invents a brilliant form of capital punishment for his Hitchhiker’s Guide‘s universe. It’s simple: it just shows one’s position, relative to the whole of the universe. The realization of one’s infinite smallness invariable destroys the victim. And it makes sense.
So we tell ourselves we’re in control: we guard ourselves against apathy. We tell ourselves that something matters: it gets us out of bed in the morning. They tell us Jesus loves us: it brings coins to church coiffeurs and contentment to church-goers. We’re told we can be unique: it keeps alternative clothing manufactures in business. The lies go on and on. And thank god for them.
It’s interesting to reflect that Palahniuk seems to try to strip away all these comfort-lies. Rather than perpetuating these lies, he counters that: “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else. Jesus doesn’t love you. There’s no reason to keep going. Give up. Give in. Abandon everything.” And yet with this he creates another lie. He tells us that, when we abandon and destroy all, then we become. Then we have meaning. Then…. He replaces our lies with his lies. But who can blame him? Who would believe him if he encouraged us to simply shrug off all the societal deceptions, so we can realize how meaningless everything is. How stupid everything is. How meaningless we are. Etc. Few would believe. After all, who would willingly choose to be depressed?
So in a way, we’re all PTSD victims. We’re unable to cope with the reality of our place in the universe, so we create these grand delusions of meaning and value. We dupe ourselves into caring, into hoping, into loving… It’s either that or kill ourselves.