“Reckless Endangerment”

Amongst the aboriginal tribes of the North American Plains, truth-telling was a matter of survival. “Naming and shaming” was the fate of those who spoke with a forked-tongue, who, by rumour, innuendo, or duplicity, sowed dissension in the band (now called “wedge politics”) or otherwise misled the band in other ways. In serious instances of deceit or offence, “setting apart” – exile or excommunication – was the recourse. The offender was expelled from the tribe, which in most cases would have been a death sentence unless the offender rallied enough followers to accompany him to start a new band. 

“Reckless endangerment” is an appropriate term for the various forms of lying, which are plentiful, for the price of lying may well have led to the dissolution, disintegration, and death of the band. There are probably far more ways of lying — and words to describe those ways — then there are of truth-telling, probably because lying comes easy, truth comes harder. It takes courage to speak the truth, and maybe a great deal of effort, particularly in times such as our own when “duplicity is the currency of the day” (Pope Francis) or when “time makes hypocrites of us all” (as someone else once stated). To speak the truth and to act truthfully becomes a matter of survival. I don’t think I can overstate too much that the word “sincere” probably has the meaning of “against decay” – Latin sin + caries — and that insincerity is destructive.

There’s no reason why we can’t describe propaganda and “perception management” also in the same terms – as “reckless endangerment”. The dilemma, here, is that such “reckless endangerment”, in the form of propaganda and perception management, is protected by free speech rights. In other words, the irresponsibility of the duplicitous, or of the propagandist, spin-doctor, the gossip and rumour-mongerer, must be compensated for by the responsibility of the “adults” amongst us who understand that “speaking truth to power” is a matter of general survival more than it is a “moral” issue.

When “duplicity is the currency of the day” (the forked-tongue as “the new normal”) social and individual decay and disintegration are not far away. Just as “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, so neither can the soul of man. We become incoherent and inarticulate. We babble inanities. We literally “fall to pieces”.

The old formula of “truth to the friend, lies to the foe” takes on a rather sinister significance when politics is debased to being merely “war by other means”. That’s what Colbert meant by his now famous remark about “truthiness” in politics and the media. It’s duplicity by another name – something that has the appearance of the truth, but is not the truth. “Satan is but the ape of God”, and the Devil’s tongue is depicted as forked, while the tongue of Christ as a “two-edged sword”. Those images are very potent symbols, meant to draw a distinction between the diabolical and the symbolic, or of dualism against the unity of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum), or the disintegrate and divisive against the integral and the whole. Superficially, as previously mentioned, they could be mistaken for being the same, but they are completely contrary. The forked-tongue is the tongue of “truthiness”.

Grammar is an ecology in itself. It’s even the most appropriate model for thinking in ecological terms – how the various parts of human grammar are like the species forming a meaningful whole: nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, participles, declensions, articles, number. Their articulation (ie, “joining together”) contributes to making a meaningful whole, just as the species of an ecology “articulate” to form a sustainable environment. The debasement of grammatical, articulate, and coherent speech is just as disastrous for society as is the destruction of an ecology or the environment, and indeed the corruption and deterioration of coherent speech and the environment belong to the the same problem of irresponsible reckless endangerment. It is a delusion to believe that the cultural (mental-social) environment and the natural environment,  are separate — the subject-object dichotomy. The destruction of the natural environment and social environment precisely mirrors the growing incoherence and corruption of the mental environment.

I’ve found that very few people really understand the meaning of “ethics” and “integrity” which, like so many of the other values discussed in The Chrysalis, have been debased like old coin, much like Gresham’s Law that states “bad money drives out good”. And what is that “law” except Nietzsche’s definition of cynicism and nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”? Everyone wants to blame everyone else for their lack of ethics and integrity (or “law & order”, too). But the minute the spoils of power, and the largesse of pork-barrel politics and patronage begin to flow their way, it all becomes “relative”. (“Integrity? We don’t need no stinking integrity! We’ve got principles!. Ethics and integrity, or even law & order – that’s for other people. We’re principled! Ethics and integrity? That’s for those without principle!”)

It’s true, people can be really that devious. Or, I should say, the ego-nature is really that devious.

“Naming and shaming” seems to be of limited utility when everyone is participating in the same atmosphere of corruption and duplicity, and enjoying the temporary fruits of mutual deceit, deception and self-deception. The politicians pretend to value ethics and integrity because the electorate also pretends to value ethics and integrity. It’s the Era of Universal Pretense. The so-called “adults” all play pretend while the children get serious. It’s all very Wizard of Oz and Topsy-Turveydom.

There are laws against reckless endangerment. Unfortunately, they don’t apply to cynical propagandists, “professional communicators”, “perception managers” and the various political hacks and flacks.

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3 responses to ““Reckless Endangerment””

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    “the responsibility of the “adults” amongst us who understand that “speaking truth to power” is a matter of general survival more than it is a “moral” issue.”

    Yes, especially for those who have children and want a bright future for them, if not because justice and “honesty protects all” – as I recall you state on The Chrysalis some time ago.

    Grammar as mental “ecology” is brilliant, and attention to speech can reveal so much about an individual beyond the spoken words. This, of course, is highly critical for voters who are deciding in whom they should put their trust.

    I’m not very familiar with “The Archdruid Report” even though I have seen the name mentioned here, occasionally, by some commenters in the past. Now, speaking of grammar as ecology, this essay entitled “The Era of Pretense,” had a bit that caught my “Aha!” attention in the same way that many comments that inundate many of the political essays on The Guardian do. Here’s the bit:

    “If the United States implodes over the next two decades, leaving behind a series of bankrupt failed states to squabble over its territory and the little that remains of its once-lavish resource base, that process will be a great source of gaudy and gruesome stories for the news media of the world’s other continents, but it won’t affect the lives of the readers of those stories much more than equivalent events in Africa and the Middle East affect the lives of Americans today. ” – The Archdruid Report: “The Era of Pretense.”

    I disagree entirely with that paragraph from The Archdruid Report. I don’t think Greer understands the ancient, and now global, roots of the great vast portion of the evils of our time. Of course, to find that connection, one must first look at the ancient civilizations that have survived to this day and examine the roots of the events that have contributed so much to the shaping of the destruction of many of these same civilizations up to present day. Greer’s lack of knowledge in this area has convinced him that if the United States implodes it won’t have much affect on the lives of the people living in, say, Africa and the Middle East.

    That is just gobbledygook from Greer, considering that even today, decades after the closure of the Ellis Island, many millions from every corner of the planet hope to win in the immigration lottery and be able to come to the United States in order to make a better life for themselves. Of course, even this is a superficial and easy way of rejecting Greer’s statement, given that in 2008, we all witnessed how events on Wall Street – just one street in New York City – affected entire economies around the globe. Not to mention that the implosion of three tall buildings in New York City initiated a series of events that have affected the lives of millions of people from Middle East to Africa to Europe to Australia to South America.

    But the key point I am trying to make is this…….

    The internet is inundated with comments that blame or belittle the United States as a whole for everything from the hole in the ozone layer over Australia to the various brutal outcomes of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Whereas, once you have lived in the United States, you’ll discover it to be a generous country filled with opportunities and guides to help you pave a legitimate path to achieving your legitimate dreams.

    So, why is there so much discrepancy between the image of the United States and how it treats you once you live there?

    The answer is in our grammar; that is, in our usage of the nouns, to be exact.

    If all the negative commentary about “United States” or “Yemen” or “Iraq” or “Syria” or “Libya” or “Iran” or “Britain” or “France” or any other country was replaced with the much more specific noun: “MONEY CHANGERS,” in reference to an analysis of events inside or by those countries, all those comments would have it just about right – if not perfectly right.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It’s great that you caught that in Greer’s essay. Yes, indeed. You are quite right, and I found that too a little bit too self-flagellating when I read it, and even a bit myopic. And its that odd “Americo-centric” view of things, even amongst some self-deprecating Americans.

      As I say in The Chrysalis, it hasn’t much to do with “America” or anyone else — it’s an Era in decline, and the Modern Era just happens to coincide with a certain geography we call “The West” and its spill over effects too. But “the West” is less about geography than it is an historical formation. And it’s breakdown is reverberating globally. Africa, the Middle East, Asia too — all in the same canoe, we might say. That’s the “postmodern condition”. It’s not about “place”. It’s about “time”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “it’s an Era in decline.”

        Precisely. It is the model that our civilizations all over the planet are based on – i.e. the era of economic Man or the era of Man focused on all things material – that is failing.

        The only difference between the United States and somewhere else is that the decline in the United States is happening at a far far less rapid rate than elsewhere.

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