“Why did we bother to lie?” (A People’s History…Ch. 18)

My basic understanding of the Vietnam war is limited to its dramatization in films like Apocalypse Now and Born on the Fourth of July, where actors like Brando and Cruise bring an absurd bravado that undermines any effort in those narratives to indict America and Americans for our part in “the horror, the horror” of the whole affair. Indeed, we have yet to enter our collective “heart of darkness.” Hell, we still think we’re “better than that.”

What is “that” exactly? Whatever lie we need to tell ourselves in any given moment. “Why [do] we bother to lie?” When you establish a coherent self-concept, you move through the world hoping primarily to confirm it. When a nation establishes a particular self-concept and perpetuates it over a long enough period of time (see: any period of time), lying is inevitable. When we become attached to an idea of who we are, we will do anything to preserve the idea and our attachment to it. The clinging is what kills us, and the extra sad part is that we think we’re more fully alive in being ourselves. In fact, we couldn’t be further removed from who we are. Who we are is preconceptual, an infinite jest to what we conceive. Our conception is always a woeful shadow of who we might become if we weren’t so preoccupied with being this or that particular thing. “What’s your thing?” is a question that might stick in high school cafeterias, so…I was going to say, but why does it have to extend into personal and global mythology? We are the masks we wear, so whatever costumes we grasp onto in our early years – no matter how we pretend to dress up later – that’s who we are. Arrested development isn’t just a great show, it’s an accurate way of reflecting on our personal and national identity. We’re stuck in a high school cafeteria, desperately trying to live up to an ideal that doesn’t serve us – or anyone else – at all. In fact, it’s purely corrosive. So again, “why [do] we bother to lie?”

Personally, we may not be responsible for our government’s military action in Vietnam (which serves as a microcosm of American military history generally), but we are responsible for sustaining the myth of American exceptionalism. At the core of practical action is personal belief. American believe in an idea of what it means to be an American. Our leaders embody this belief on a playing field with far-reaching effects; we do the same, especially as we wag our silly fingers at them. The only difference is the size of the playing field and the extent of the consequences. We are our leaders. Our darkness is theirs; theirs is ours. We are living our “heart of darkness.” It’s not too late for us to have our Kurtz-esque revelation. We can see “the horror” now, accept it, not judge ourselves, then move forward into the light. Into Love. It’s right here and now, waiting for us to wake up. So why choose the Dream instead?

After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us.

Ironically, the something is also us. We hide from the truth of who we’ve become, as well as the Truth of who we fundamentally are, favoring the lie of who we want to believe we are. Yet the idea that we want to believe is so feeble compared to the Truth buried under the rubble of our lies. We’ve constructed a myth and gone out into the world to confirm it; meanwhile, the Light is there, amidst the shadows we’re hiding in. Why is it so difficult to see?

When you don’t want to see something – or believe you aren’t ready for it, whatever “it” is, the unknown of it all being the key killer of your curiosity even as it should be the catalyst – you won’t. We see what we want. If we want to keep focusing on the idea, we’ll never see reality. And in the absence of reality goes our idea, ready to fill in that gap.

Let me repeat: you have nothing to fear in the abyss. All you stand to gain is your Self. Until you look there to meet you where you are – where you’ve always been, smiling and waiting – expect history to repeat itself. Guess what? That’s an idea too, which means it can change. History doesn’t have to repeat itself, but we have to choose to stop feeding that idea to ourselves. We have to stop nourishing it, giving it life, with our misguided beliefs.

If you don’t want another Vietnam, another Trump, another [insert your idea of evil, itself a lie], stop the wheel from spinning. Surrender the lie. See your Self truly in the light of Being. You’re already free. The “impossible victory” is already won.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *