The Toxicity of Deception


Got pulled over for speeding our first day on the big island of Hawaii. Unmarked SUV flashed his headlights before swinging a U and coming after me, and I wouldn't have pulled over had he not turned on that distinctive blue light only cops (and L.A. psychopaths) have.

I confess. I was speeding, going 60+ in a 50 zone. The road was empty and we were coming off the side of a volcano, the car gaining momentum on inertia and I didn’t notice my speed right then, which is exactly what I told the 6’5”, 300+ pound cop when he lumbered up to the driver’s window. I apologized for speeding, explained I wasn’t familiar with the rented car just yet and promised to pay more attention to the speedometer, and then pleaded for a warning instead of a ticket. I hadn’t gotten a ticket in over 10 years, and wrecking my perfect driver status was a hell of a way to start a vacation.

The cop pulled up his sagging pants up but the waistband never made it past his enormous belly and fell back down around his hips. He held his pants with one hand and leaned over to look in our car, smiled at my husband next to me and our two kids in the back, then straightened and smiled at me. As he pulled his ticket pad from under his arm he explained he’d usually just give a warning, but since I had kids, well...he loved kids and didn’t want them getting injured, so he was going to write me a ticket to remind me to slow down.

Watching him write the ticket I felt annoyed. A rickety red truck had passed me less than a mile before the cop pulled me over. Kids were bouncing around in the back of that truck, which is dangerous as hell, and illegal in California. There were no roads off the one we were stopped on. The cop had to see them before me. Why had those locals not been stopped, I asked him as he filled in my ticket, and when he didn’t respond I queried him about the motorcycle that was on the truck’s tail and had whizzed past me like I was standing still.

The cop gave me a broad smile as he handed me the ticket to sign. No worries, he explained, the ticket was a formality. The courts were lenient on tourists and would likely throw it out, or, at worst, just give me a ticket for going only 60, not the 65 noted. Again, he flashed a big happy smile before launching into exactly what to say in the letter I should write to the courts to get the ticket dismissed completely: 'Explain it was a rent-a-car and you were not familiar with it yet. The speed limit in California is 65, and it being your first day on the island you were still adjusting to the slower pace here.' He continued on with several more key phrases, and again assured me the ticket would be dismissed, “Guaranteed,” before wishing us all a nice stay on Hawaii and exiting the scene.

I wrote the recommended letter two and a half weeks later, begged the courts mercy along with everything the cop had told me to write, assuring them I’d not only taken responsibility for the violation, but action. Directly after receiving the ticket I switched driving with my husband and he'd driven the rest of our vacation.

A month later I got a letter for the Court of Hawaii denying my plea, charging me over $200 for speeding at 65mph in a 50mph zone, and $100 more for miscellaneous court fees and taxes. No mercy, no leniency. No driving school option to keep my clean record.

Now, I deserved the ticket. OK. But not the cop’s bullshit rhetoric.

He was misinformed, misguided perhaps? Or maybe it was my letter...

The other glaring probably was the cop lied.

When he gave me the ticket I got mad, and he got defensive. I felt the change. He went from cautious to jovial as he delivered the good news. The ticket wasn’t really a ticket, he’d proclaimed. He didn’t want to deal with my impudence, especially after I confronted him over the red truck and motorcycle. He was after tourists--easy targets passing through, and had a canned speech that he delivered like one. And he achieved the desired effect by lying. He probably gave the same rap to everyone he stopped.

The cop’s moral infraction was limited to our simple interaction, and though pissed me off was ultimately of little consequence. But the propensity to lie, to absolve responsibility or to motivate an action, is growing, infiltrating all parts of our society, and more dangerous than ever before.

At my daughter’s soccer game the other day, a mom was comforting a player after she got hit in the face with a ball. Brushing the girl’s fine blond hair back, the mom repeated, “It’s all good. You’re fine. It’s all good here.” She was trying to calm the kid, perhaps to avoid a display, or reorient the child back on the game. The girl ignored her, which seemed about right since what the woman said was nonsense. It wasn’t ‘all good’ getting hit in the face with a ball. Mistrust starts justifiably young and injects instability.

From the doctor who makes us wait an hour after our appointed time with fabrications of emergencies; to the Blue Cross rep in India who assures us she’s there to help us with the bills they didn’t pay; to every answering system that keeps us all in phone loop hell collecting information to better serve ‘us’ before putting us through to a rep; lying has become the norm. And though these are seemingly inconsequential, barely noticed exchanges, the toxicity of the deception we now operate in eats away at our already precarious foundation of trust that bonds us.

Lying to achieve an outcome isn’t new—from holy men, to Machiavelli, to the modern era; and though it may have been easier to manipulate the ignorant back then, fabrications were delivered in small doses to few, who, at the time, lived worlds apart.

Today, marketing and advertising models target the psyche of millions by correlating and refining thousands of data points collected on individuals, revealing triggers that motivate each of us to act. Lies are spread and multiply within seconds now, and though information may be distributed and accessible globally, instantly, facts are illusive or difficult to find, and all too often debated.

Fear.
Hope.
Desire.

The top three marketing hooks to get you to believe, support, buy. Instill one, or even better, all, and they’ve got you by the balls.

Truth doesn’t make the cut these days. As a matter of concern, it’s considered one of the last resorts, after the lies have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as in ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ or ‘Wall Street governs itself against corrosive greed.’

Politicians, supporters and proponents of measures and propositions on the upcoming ballot are currently infesting TV, internet and cell phones with ads relying exclusively on the top three hooks to sell their message. Truth is a rarity. Consummate liar has become the de facto emblem of our representatives regardless of party affiliation. We all shake our heads with a sly grin, as if politics have always been like this, but tightly targeted, technology driven marketing to the masses is beyond dangerous, it’s potentially disastrous.

Democracy, the will of the people by popular vote, is a lie if we don’t know what we’re voting for. We all know big money must back big ad campaigns, but we don’t get to know the contributors or their real agenda. More often than not, the truth is the opposite of the most aggressively advertised messages, but it’s hard to be sure since we’re voting virtually blind on multi-layered issues laden with complexity designed to baffle. Reviewing ballot measures is beyond hellish, even as a writer with a high tolerance for rooting out crap, but what about most working adults who don’t have the time or energy to get to the truth before going to the polls? ‘By the people, for the people’ becomes directed by the few who can afford the latest behavior analysis, and then the airtime and direct mail it takes to win your support.

Some would argue truth is subjective. One quick Google search on almost any charged subject will return opposing views by ‘experts,’ but most dismantling of facts is merely a smokescreen to distract. From big business to congress to the cop and even the soccer mom, living in the land of pretend threatens our fragile connection to each other and this planet, and serves no one in the long run.

I would have preferred the cop said, "I caught you speeding and I’m giving you a ticket," and then dealt with my irritation. With every action there is a reaction, and he should have been prepared to deal with mine given he was an adult and his position of stature. He demeaned his own authority choosing to lie, and though his fabrication may have pacified the moment, ultimately it undermined my trust—one more brick in the wall of my view towards authority. And though it may seem like a small thing, of little consequence, multiply me by millions whose trust in our leaders, authority figures and each other is being whittled away with every lie, and you have a culture teetering on the preverbal brink.

A foundationless society eventually devolves into anarchy.

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