The Privilege of Self-Deceit
So the question on the table, in the context of the “America’s Not The Greatest Country” speech from S1E1 of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” was:
“Why are we so afraid of reality and truth ?”
The simple fact is that human beings don’t like to be uncomfortable, and we’ll go to incredible lengths to avoid it. Often that includes the flat-out denial of reality and a dogged resistance to truth.
There are of course major problems with that, and those problems tend to come to the fore when you find yourself dealing with addiction – as I have, as Aaron Sorkin has. Those of us who both survive addiction and put our minds back together successfully in the aftermath learn two things very quickly.
The first thing we learn is how to spot a line of BS. We’ve not only used them all but we’ve conceived, designed, engineered, and hand-crafted the world’s finest artisan BS, polished it to a proof lustre and watched as we inevitably discover that no matter how well-crafted, no matter how many people ooh and ahh over it while the polish is fresh, a highly-polished gold-plated turd is still, always, a turd, and the stink always gives it away eventually.
This is why Sorkin’s got such a great mastery of constructing human self-defeat (other than the fact that he’s just got a talent for his craft). He’s done it and done it well himself, and he’s got thousands of friends whose stories he’s heard told honestly and forthrightly who have done it too.
No, I don’t know the man personally; I do know his story, though, because it’s not terribly dissimilar to my own. I’ve heard and lived the same stories he’s heard and lived, and you don’t have to hear and live too many of them to realize that while the characters’ names might change and the set pieces might get moved around, the basic plot is always pretty much the same.
The Price of BS
The other thing we learn is that BS’ing your way through life always, always, always catches up, sooner or later. There’s never been a needle junkie or a coke freak or a crackhead or a drunk who didn’t think they were getting away with something, right up until the moment it caught up with them.
Eventually you crash the car or overdose or have a heart attack or lose the house in a poker game or alienate your mom by stealing her church’s contact list to cold-call them all selling Amway (money is addictive, too) or whatever your problem is, and reality slaps you upside the head like a beach towel soaked in ice-water.
Sorkin got lucky; I got lucky. We lived when we should have died and ended up getting our heads straight. Lots of my friends, and lots of his, just ended up dead or in prison or in a nuthouse. They didn’t get lucky.
That’s what tends to happen when you think you’re getting away with avoiding reality and truth.
This is one reason why I’ve been very publicly open about my own past struggles with addiction – many years ago and long past in case anyone who hasn’t heard the story and might be concerned about it – and other mistakes. There are a few details and specific events that I keep to myself simply because there’s no purpose in hitting people over the head with them, but there’s no serious mistake I’ve made in my life that I haven’t faced up to, faced down, atoned for, and worked diligently to be absolutely certain I won’t repeat.
Next: The risks of avoiding reality and truth, and the rewards of facing them