Conventional Lies are a Devil we can no longer shun
I read it in my childhood, not sure when. I read it in the dusty attic, the safest place I had where to read forbidden stuff. That was a book that ought not to exist, but for a miracle that copy survived the Church & State book burning blitz.
It had shed its covers and its pages were dog-eared, this attesting to how far it had traveled underground. A best-reader, but not a best-seller, the latter due to book-burning causing a supply shortage. All manifesting the potency of curiosity and its corollary appeal of the forbidden, that which drove Adam & Eve to commit you know what sin.
It was the 1883 Max Nordau book “The Conventional Lies of Our Civilization”. Its chapter on Religion is remarkable and it was this that sent the clergy berserk. They led the rest of the establishment into a frantic mission to destroy the book and damn the cost. The governments of Russia, Austria and other countries banned the book. I was lucky to access it then and I re-read it recently, comfortably this time.
It is about lies, the worst of them all. Lies burned into our minds, masquerading as truths, hence the immensity of their potency to do us ill.
Everyone I guess has heard John Kenneth Galbraith chanting his “Conventional Wisdom” mantra. His supplanting “wisdom” for Nordau’s “lie” bestows extra dimension of ill this may do. Then, omitting to credit Nordau blocks people from discovering Nordau and reading the real thing.
In the “Affluent Society”, the “New Industrial State” and elsewhere, Galbraith reviews the contemporary scene, but does it “impartially” and distanced. He ignores god and resolutely avoids matters theological. As for the rest, he simply observes and reports, never finding wrong in anything. The economy churns out waste he observes, but that is “affluence” he authoritatively asserts, certain that everyone loves affluence. Industry produces waste too, but worry not he says, for the producers push it on the people by inducing demand for it, hence it is fine, he finds. His splendid personal mannerism and
unbound eloquence rendered him into a perfect Prophet of the System. For this he was amply rewarded by those he served. Galbraith’s approach of appeasement-with-the-wrongs sharply contrast the dynamic activism of Nordau.
Bertrand Russell contributed substantially to the theme, too. He curses the rubbish society implants into the minds of the young to pre-program them for a life in conventional lies, hiden from sight like a cesspool under a snow blanket which makes the countryside look beautiful and pure. It is an ode to the human mind when people like him abandon opulence to embrace Reason.
Nordau, Galbraith and Russell are not originals really. The attack on “conventional lies” traces back to Solon. He was the scion of a wealthy Athenian family, in the 5th Century B.C., raised for life in the status quo strata. But his mind soared high and he felt the pulse of the society. This made him jump off the Power pyramid and climb up the Reason tree, so to speak. To make the change he had to wash out of his head that which was planted there as part of his upbringing. He experienced first hand the problem of dumping the old to make space for the new and the rich rewards this brings to those who make it across. He shares that with us: “The most important learning is the un-learning of the trash stuffed into our minds”, Solon said.
Socrates was put to death for threatening the lies that sustain the status quo. He, went about teaching the young and all to not do as told unless and until they examine it for verity. He topped that by refusing to escape execution thereby demonstrating the severity of the effects from living with conventional lies.
So tight is the stranglehold conventional lies have on us, that many of the few who discern that opt to fall silent instead of standing up to fight it. Or, surrender themselves to the Establishment, like Galbraith did, This because of the conventional lie, that attacks self-confidence in our ability to prevail over the propagators of the conventional lies. The Truth is that it is merely difficult but mightly possible.
To list all the lies we are forced to endure is too ambitious a task to tackle. But we already have a sample of the efforts of the establishment to lie to us about Nordau’s book having ever been written, by burning it. This proves the thesis but I will add to that another pair. One is the contemporary lie that switching from fossil fueled carriages to electric powered ones would reverse the galloping atmospheric warming. No! it would not.
Another is the myth that the Establishment graciously “granting us a vote” every 4 -years makes us a democratically governed, strong and free people. No! it ain’t so ...
Ills that come to mind, like some mother’s kid sleeping in a store doorway or one lying breathless on rubble in Ukraine happen, in the final analysis, because of “conventional lies”. This is the hub of all ills, this we cannot shun ...
BITS & BYTES
The Shoulder Strap
“The Shoulder Strap” is not a mirage, I have issue No.1 on my hands. Dated 1938, was to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the BC Provincial Police – yes, once a BCPP there was. It came to be in 1858 and ceased to exist 92 years later, in 1950, at which time the RCMP took over taking care of us.
At the time the mag, Issue No.1 was published, the force was 80 years old, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. McMullin who takes credit for the Mag. On the cover is the bargain “Price $1.00 Yearly”. It comprises 104 pages plus the covers and carries 400 advertisement.