Chapter 5: The Truth behind the Truth (c)1998 Grig Larson
Dennis saw Andrew right away, even though the diner was more crowded than usual for a Tuesday night. Outside, it was dark and rain was pouring down. But the diner was dry and warm, and on days like these, Dennis knew why Andrew spent many days here. He sat down in the booth, and ordered some iced tea. Andrew was already halfway through a stack of pancakes.
"Andrew," he started, but Andrew paused him with his hand.
"I like pancakes," he said. "You never get food this good on Homeworld."
Dennis paused. "No, but it's not good for you, either."
"Dennis, have you ever examined the food Authority gave you? I mean, did you ever think about it?"
"Yes, I did. I appreciated the meals provided by--"
Andrew cut him off by waving his fork, "No no, Dennis. That's what they tell you say in rote memorization as a pup. And yes, our food was very well balanced and infused into our bodies through our feeding gills so we'd never have to think about it. But we never enjoyed it, either. We just took it for granted."
Dennis sighed. "I miss those feeding times. Everything was so structured. Back then, when Authority told you something, you knew it was right. You didn't have to think about it, and no one else did, either. You could communicate freely without playing time-wasting games."
Andrew looked up from his glasses. "Something on your mind, Dennis?"
Dennis sighed again, and purged his thoughts onto the table. "Okay, you know I am a product designer at work, right? Well, for the last few weeks, I have been working with a few other humans to try and design this new hair dryer. I designed it so that it would be a perfect fit in the hand, would fit the machinery well, and had a very aesthetic look to it according to what the client said they wanted."
Andrew swallowed another bite of pancakes. "And you were turned down."
"Not turned down per se, Andrew. It's something else that's bothering me. One of the the people I work with is called Dave. Dave is very dedicated to his work, but his ideas are not always the best. Yet he refuses to see that. For instance, he didn't like the grill design I had, but his design would cause the hair dryer to overheat. His design also was unwieldy, and had poor balance. Most of the other people agreed with me. Even the client said that he liked my design the best at two meetings. But on Monday, Dave decided to go with his plan, and he submitted it without asking anyone else. The client was told, by Dave, that there was no other design. The client is not happy, but he did agree to Dave's design."
"Do you get paid more if your design is selected?"
"No, but we are all supposed to be a team. We were told that by our boss, and most of the upper management has said that since I started working there last year. Yet Dave... says things that contradict what is real."
Andrew smirked. "You mean he lies."
"Yes! He knowingly tells falsehoods. I don't know why. But this Monday's lie was the worst of all. He made the client unhappy, he made us unhappy, and when the customers buy that hairdryer, and it is hard to hold and overheats, they will also be unhappy. Doesn't Dave know the long-term consequences towards his decision?"
Andrew smiled. "Yes. But he doesn't care."
Dennis sputtered, "B-but, he's supposed to!"
"He doesn't think so. Look, you have been here for three and a half years. Don't you know humans lie?"
"Yes, but... at least... ugh, I don't know."
Andrew put his fork down. "Tell me, do you always tell the truth?"
"Yes," answered Dennis reflexively.
"How about when you landed here? Did you tell anyone you were an alien?"
"Authority told me it would not be best. They said it would cause an outcast from humans, where I might be killed or locked up for good. But they didn't say lie, Andrew. I mean, no one has ever asked me if I am an alien."
"What if they did?"
Dennis paused uncomfortably. "I... I don't know. I mean, I used to. Or maybe not. Gees, Andrew that's a hard question. We were told as long as we didn't tell anyone, and acted human, even if we made huge mistakes, people just assume you're strange. But they never asked us to purposefully tell a falsehood."
"So being an alien makes you insecure, correct?"
"Well, I think the sixteen months we have been speaking you have make correct assumptions that I was insecure about being here forever."
"Yes, and that is because you told me. You are a good citizen of Homeworld. You tell other citizens what you think, without being destructive. You never had to worry about hurting someone's feeling because essentially, we didn't have any. We never had a motivation to hurt another. Authority made you secure and strong. Now, lack of Authority makes you insecure. You don't know your place in this foreign world."
Dennis nodded. "I know I am not human, but I feel cut off, and the need to be... in with humans..."
"You seek approval. That is what you seek. Like a node cut off from the master control, you are seeking control. Humans have no master control. Some think they do, but since it's not real, or even tangible, they argue what is the master control. Some turn towards others, some turn into themselves. Humans on this planet form complicated clumps of unbalanced authority. Sometimes, the need to structure is so great, they will actually try and shut off anything that disagrees with them."
"You mean fight. Like war."
Andrew nodded. "Yes, but most of it is not that grand of scale. Dave did not punch you, did he?"
"No. No he did not. That would have been out of bounds with our corporate rules."
"And yet he lies? Is lying stated in the corporate rules?"
Dennis thought for a moment. "You know, I don't think it does. I mean, you are told never to lie, but it seems... Andrew, it seems humans lie constantly! But that's against what they preach in religions and television and... almost everywhere!"
"You see the overt messages, Dennis. Not the subversive ones. The media is constantly trying to get people to lie. They say 'tell the truth,' but in many cases, the only people who tell you that have a subversive plan in mind, and they want to be in control!"
Dennis stared at his iced tea. "I don't understand."
Andrew thought for a moment. "Dennis, do you remember the lesson on Homeworld about the iron particles?"
"You mean the ones with the magnets?"
"Yes, that's the one. Remember how all the small bits of iron formed neat lines and rows when the magnet was placed under the table?"
"I recall that. It taught us about polarity, and one of the basic principles of energy and matter."
"Right! Now do you remember playing with the iron particles after the magnet was taken away?"
"Yes. I recall the lines went away."
Andrew swallowed his last bit of pancakes, and pushed the plate aside. "Do you remember how some of the particles remained charged, and clumped together?"
"That wasn't part of the lesson," Dennis balked.
"But you saw it, didn't you?"
"Yes. The instruction process told us that was because the iron particles retained some of the magnetism."
"Yes, exactly! Now hold that thought. This world is filled with people who have no magnet. They did once, or at least their chemical brain thinks they did. Most normal humans grow up with parents who care for them, but many do not. Authority cared for us ever since we were born. Authority was always present, always reassuring. Human parents try their best to be, but they have their own experiences competing with what they were taught later on. Most adult humans are a confused jumble of conflicting thoughts and emotions. That's why they all act so different."
"I always thought it odd that no one had started an Authority."
Andrew smiled, "History is full of attempts, Dennis. Most of them failed miserably. Most were nothing more than the insecure ruling the insecure. One day, some human is going to have the right answer. It hasn't happened yet, or else humans would instantly align themselves towards it. Just like those iron particles to the magnet's force. But right now, we have clumps of people with similar beliefs, but no one force to align them all into a secure structure. There is too much doubt, too many bad experiences. Some most humans have a sort of civility, but only because it is currently in their best interest. Those are the clumps. This city is full of clumps. Most believe that you shouldn't steal or murder people, not because it's wrong, but because they are scared of the risk."
Dennis shook his head. "Wow. It seems like all of human civilization is on the verge of collapse."
"It always has been. Laws are written by the government not because they need to state what's wrong, but because if they didn't it would be chaos. And people follow laws as long as they believe in them. But deep down, no human trusts authority. Their experience shows them that trusting the wrong person, in their search for Authority, has caused them great pain. Most humans are only out for themselves, and those that aren't, face the hardest challenge of all: living in a society where lying is crucial to survival."
"How so? How does lying help? I think it makes things worse!"
"Dennis, it does. But so many people lie so many times, the real truth, the Authority, is essentially meaningless here. So control is kept not by a master force of harmony, but in the self."
"That's their animal side of evolution."
"It is. And it's served them so well. But soon, it will be their end. With no central Authority, they are doomed to many generations of fighting and pain."
"So what does this have to do with lying, Andrew?"
"Easy. Lying is the art of control where there is no Authority. You control another's perceptions for your own gain. Since you are the only one you have to answer to, you kind of have to. Like when you won't tell anyone you're an alien. You depend on that perception, no matter how false, for your survival among the humans. Cut off from Authority, you now have to rely on your inner self to tell you what's right and wrong."
"But I do what the Authority would tell me to do!"
"Yes, but Dennis, you and I and all the other stranded aliens here are alone in that. We clump. Now imagine millions of other clumps, with different Authorities, all having a different message for the same experience, having to work together."
"B-but... there is only one true Authority! On Homeworld!"
"You think that because you were raised that way."
"I think that because it's... it's the truth!"
"Some humans believe that Jesus is their God, and God wrote the Bible. Some think of other Gods. Some insist only on science and repeatable experiments. All believe their way is the truth, Dennis."
Dennis sat and stared incredulously at the table. His whole mind had to take in that others did not know of Homeworld, which although he knew, he never had to think about it before. Suddenly, he understood why humans were so insecure. All of them were cut off from Authority. And none of them had really experienced it, ever. What Dennis took for granted all his life before coming to Earth, no one the people here knew. The warm security, the simple... assumption that everything was set right, and that they were being cared for. All of them. All the time. And every one of the were yearning for it.
"You okay, Dennis? You look shaken. I didn't say this to you to make you upset, I just said this to you to explain why humans do things like lie, cheat, steal, and hurt."
"I am shaken. But I will survive."
"Good to hear. You are a good citizen. Now do you understand why Dave lies?"
Dennis nodded. "I think so. Dave is insecure about his... position. He yearns acceptance, and so tries to secure that by social manipulation through falsehood and ... sheer willpower, I guess."
"What he wants to be true becomes true. Humans have an odd knack of denying truth, even if it is right there, in plain view. They depend on perception, a primitive social need for small clumps."
"S-so... how can I tell if someone is lying?"
Andrew smiled. "You can't."
"I am not encouraged by those words. It simply increases my insecurity."
"Many say you can tell by body language, like touching their face, shrugging, no eye contact, and so on. But that only works if they are saying something they don't really believe. Many humans can fake what they say by simply insisting on believing in them."
"If I were to live a life of lies, I'd be even more insecure!"
"You would, but that's, again, because you care. Many do not. Many find security in hiding beneath dozens of philosophic layers. They call it 'denial,' and in some, it's so complicated, that there is no way for them to tell what's real. They just create their own reality, and poof! It's real. No insecurity, and no one can tell it's a lie, even themselves."
Dennis shook his head. "Gaaah... how am I going to live with these people?"
"Sadly, we weren't meant to. We were sent here to study them and study them I did, because Authority told me to. And you, as well. I do not know why Authority cannot get us back, but since I know Authority does not lie, it must be something Authority did not foresee."
"M.. maybe we're not really stuck here, but Authority keeps us here for a reason." That thought gave Dennis some comfort.
"Thinking like a good citizen, Dennis. I also came to the same conclusion, once I faced I may never leave here. I trust Authority. Other aliens, when cut off, simply could not take it. I don't know what happened to them. Some ran off. Some killed their human form, even though it may mean they life force will never form again as corporal. It's not they didn't trust Authority, it's that they didn't think past it, like we did. We do have to stick together."
"Authority would recommend that," said Dennis, with a smile.
"Authority would. Now, if you excuse me, I have to go home now, since my bus will be here very soon. Please pay for our dinner. You go to your home, and we'll meet again on Friday, in the park. I want to know how you were able to make peace with Dave, and be a citizen of his world."
"If decorum requires," said Andrew, with a chuckle. "Your sense of humor is improving. Good. That's your first step in acting human: the sense of irony and resolution of conflict. It is best mixed with trust and lies, but that's another lesson. Good day, Dennis."
"Good day, Andrew," said Dennis, as he paid for their meal at the cash register. He watched Andrew board the bus, and watched the bus drive away in the rain.
Yeah, not exactly my best work, but I have always been fond of this piece. Other pieces included explaining humor, sarcasm, and how money works. Maybe I'll fix those up and post them another day.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000250.html