Aug/Sep 1998  •   Salon

Mostly Abstract Musings on Truth and Other Stuff

by Tom Dooley


Not doubt, certainty is what drives one insane.

The trouble with the truth is it's just what I need to hear... and it's everything I want, and it's everything I fear.

The truth... will set you free.

What do you believe? Do you believe in Bigfoot? UFOs? Ghosts? What about God, or JFK assassination conspiracies, or Clinton's denial of sexual relations? Did Timothy McVeigh blow up the Federal Building with a U-Haul truck full of fertilizer? Did the CIA blow up Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland to cover up an international software spy-scam? Does the Loch-Ness monster exist? Is a woman's reproductive right sacred? Can a person's fate be changed?

It seems ironic, but the more I've allowed myself to believe, the more paranoid and less trusting I've become. Faith, it seems, costs peace of mind. At least, it does if you're like me, in this time of X-Files and Oliver Stone, this age of internet information, this era of disillusionment. No one wants to play the fool, and there's no more personal way to do so than to become a dupe. When it comes down to what one believes, though, I've come to realize the only way to avoid the possibility of becoming a dupe is to believe nothing. To, in effect, not care what the truth is.

Ah, the truth. As Chris Carter will tell you, shrewdly, for he knows it will make him tons of money, "The truth is out there." Perhaps now more than ever, it seems we Americans desire the truth. Or, maybe it'ís the other way around, and we really just want to be bombarded with conflicting versions of what the truth might be, until we're reveling in a real-life mystery more complex than the most twisted spy thriller.

This issue, I had an opportunity to interview a gentleman named Mike Ruppert. The interview is about conspiracy, which is really about an attempt to discover the truth, which in turn is really about what one is willing to believe. Previously clueless about conspiracies, and still relatively ignorant (considering the vastness of the topic), I've nonetheless developed a new understanding and appreciation for the wealth of conspiracy out there. The mainstream term for all of this is conspiracy "theory," though presumably some portion of these theories is fact, while some is quite probably fiction. There are elaborate, unified theories explaining every political event, scandal, and mystery since Abraham Lincoln was shot and before.

Warning: If you allow yourself to get enmeshed in these web-like theories, at some point, even the most skeptical of you will begin to weaken under a barrage of what is almost a kind of delicious psychosis.

Mike, the guy I interviewed this month, claims the CIA has trafficked drugs and assassinated presidential hopefuls. At the risk of destroying the objectivity I attempted to maintain during the interview, I'll admit I believe he was telling the truth—at least, from his perspective. I can't really say why. He has plenty of documentation, his story is extremely compelling, and he appears to be a credible person. However, the same can be said about many conspiracy "theorists." Who knows, perhaps they're all telling the truth. But it seems to me that how much of what he said was true, or how much you or I believe is true, isn't the paramount issue.

What is at issue is a capable, intelligent man has spent over 20 years of his life attempting to prove the CIA is guilty of some very nasty stuff. If this man is making it all up on purpose, I think it shows some remarkable dedication and creativity. What would possess someone to go to those lengths? If this man is delusional, and only thinks he's telling the truth, then it's equally fascinating that his delusion can be so convincing as to fool him for 20 years and me: an otherwise skeptical person. And if he is telling the truth...

If he's telling the truth, then I can put myself in his position and understand why he would still be trying to get the message across after all these years. If he's telling the truth, then it's a truth demanding of our attention. Most importantly, the insight he offers—the perspective he comes from after all he's experienced (or claims to have experienced, or believes he has experienced)—is worthy of our consideration.

That perspective is really what this editorial is trying to be about. Mike Ruppert feels Americans are living in denial. That we are either unaware of the truth, or we refuse to believe what is true, and the reason behind the refusal is fear. We replace truth with convictions we stubbornly hold onto. We distract ourselves with material possessions we're afraid of losing. Advertisers prey on our fear of balding, bad breath, and boredom, among many other things, to sell us their wares (a footnote giving credit to David Foster Wallace here would be appropriate). The proliferation of conspiracy-minded entertainment caters to our need to dabble in the truth from a safe distance. In short, I think Mike is saying or would agree our society is suffering from a breakdown in honesty at all levels.

I can't speak for the validity of all this as it applies to conspiracies. I can't speak to the validity of any conspiracies. And I wish I could be a bit less abstract and a bit more concise and quite a bit clearer on all of this. But I will say I do believe our society suffers from a breakdown in honesty at all levels. By that I mean we lie to ourselves, we lie to others, and we are lied to by everyone, including and especially by those in power. I think we're headed for an honesty crisis of sorts, with Bill Clinton as the current standard bearer leading the way. I mean, either he's lying or someone else is lying, but let's face it, someone is sure as hell lying, and Clinton's problems are just the tip of our iceberg. We're like children growing up in an alcoholic household. We're hungry for trust. We want to believe. We want the truth to be out there. But experience has made us too cynical to believe anything. We can't believe the government is looking out for our best interests, but we can't believe people like Mike Ruppert are telling us the truth, either. Fundamentally, we're afraid of being duped.

Recently, I came to realize my personal life has been operating under the same conditions, and that fear of telling the truth has done one or both of the following things: killed a long-term relationship, or/and prolonged a relationship (along with my own adolescence) far beyond the time it was right to continue it.

I found the following passage by Brad Blanton, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and Gestalt Therapist, applicable to my current personal crisis, but perhaps, in a stretch, it could be applied to the topic at hand.

"We all lie like hell. It wears us out. It is the major source of all human stress. Lying kills people."

"The kind of lying that is most deadly is withholding, or keeping back information from someone we think would be affected by it. Psychological illness of the severest kind is the result of this kind of lying. Psychological healing is possible only with the freedom that comes from not hiding anymore. Keeping secrets and hiding from other people is a trap. Adolescents spend most of their time playing this hide-and-seek game. The better you are at getting by with playing hide-and-seek during adolescence, the harder it is to grow up. "Important" secrets and all the plotting and cogitation that go with them are all bullshit."

From Radical Honesty: How to Transform your Life by Telling the Truth, Dell Publishing, 1996.

Speaking for myself, I've been one hell of a hide-and-seek player. I didn't, maybe still don't, want to grow up. The idea of doing so scared and scares the hell out of me. Perhaps the thing that scares me the most is I know when I have grown up, I'll be glad I did, and I'll regret having put it off for so long. It's like the adolescent me perceives his demise is near, and he will be replaced by a fully brainwashed pod-person. When, for all I know, the pod-person is the one due to be replaced.

If Mike Ruppert and his fellow conspiracy experts are right, then the CIA and other sinister forces out there, according to Blanton, are suffering from the severest kind of psychological illness. By virtue of contamination, their actions make our entire society dysfunctional.

And by virtue of our refusal to accept, seek or demand the truth, we Americans are locked in perpetual adolescence.

For such a sweeping generalization, I believe there'ís some truth to that idea.