COLUMN

Why Americans Are Allergic to the Truth

The lies we tell ourselves are such a comfy kind of bullshit

Photo: Jan-Otto/Getty Images

Why us? Over the past few months, I’ve been watching us fall behind practically every other country on Earth in terms of Covid-19 prevention and thinking to myself, Why America? Why are we so vulnerable to misinformation that we have both citizens AND leaders who don’t just ignore the basic truths of the virus, but mock them outright? WHY ARE WE SO FUCKING STUPID?

Given that Donald Trump, a hopeless amateur, is our current president, people like me have had a good four years now to pore over that final question. Yesterday at The Atlantic, Ed Yong published a living autopsy of our pandemic response that highlights the glaring, inherent design flaws in our government, our health care system, our travel bans, our buildings, our prisons and nursing homes, and our wealth distribution that allowed the virus to have its way with us. Yong lays bare the full truth of the pandemic.

I have not been able to read all of it. And that’s because the truth sucks.

Instead of ingesting the truth, I would prefer to close my browser tab, grab a few crackers, pet my dog, look out my window, and pretend that the world beyond is doing just groovy. I don’t like looking at the news anymore, which is negligent because writing about the news is my job at this website. I don’t look at Twitter until AFTER breakfast, because I don’t want my day ruined before food has even passed my lips. Once, long ago, I found psychological catharsis in the truth: the final, healing acknowledgement of things that can no longer be denied. I have not felt such relief during all this. In this reality, there has been only pain, grief, and despair that has no perceptible end in sight.

If you wanna understand why Americans are so hopelessly addicted to lies, you need to understand the unceasing comfort those lies provide.

But that’s been true of America since well before the pandemic. We are a callow nation built on comfortable lies. You see Americans getting cozy with these lies constantly now. Columbus was the progenitor of Native American genocide? Well, okay, but excuse me, he DISCOVERED this country. The Founding Fathers? Yes, they had slaves, but they still built this joint. Slavery itself? Well, we got rid of that (eventually). Racism? Dude, we elected a Black president and then reelected him four years later over the whitest possible alternative.

The police are bad guys? I’m sorry, but I need to know someone out there is protecting me from all the bad people. President Trump is a fascist? Please. That’s just the haters clutching their pearls because Trump had the courage to completely upend a government that every American already despised. They quietly applaud his brashness even if they have to virtue signal some form of tacit disapproval. Why would we elect a fascist? We’re the good guys. Every Spielberg movie said so.

A lot of people in this country don’t wanna hear the truth, and I sympathize with them on a certain level, because the truth, as it stands right now, is fucking unbearable. I can’t live with the truth. Literally. Every scientist says that global warming will render this planet virtually uninhabitable by the time my grandchildren are adults. What am I supposed to do, truly, with the information that our atmosphere has been fundamentally altered and cannot be salvaged unless we quit modern industry forever, and even then it’ll still be a gamble? You want me to LIVE with that information? No, I don’t think I will. I walk outside right now and there are no lava tornados bearing down on me. It looks okay to me.

If you wanna understand why Americans are so hopelessly addicted to lies, you need to understand the unceasing comfort those lies provide, how almost plausible they are if you look at things a certain way. Lies make for easier truths. We’re not simply a good nation—we’re the GREATEST nation. We don’t have universal health care, but buddy, have you seen how long it takes to get your appendix removed in Canada?! No thank you. We should wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but wearing a mask sucks, and therefore it’s easier to believe they don’t work. We should have way more diversity in leadership of every sector, but white guys like me know that would lead to a larger pool of people competing for their jobs, so they instead choose to believe that only people like them are qualified to hold those jobs. And anyone crying foul over it is bitter and uneducated, clinging to “cancel culture” as a cheap way to bring down the Important People. Reports say that our tech giants are sucking our identities dry for profit, but a lot of us have seen Jeff Bezos speak in public. He seems nice enough.

Since the advent of the internet, you have more access to the truth than you’ve ever had. But you also have more access than ever to lies—and, even worse, lies that are easy to swallow. Lies that deftly erase the moral complexity of our history and our present. There are so many of these lies, in fact, that you can easily build a world of them and live inside it forever. And the longer you live inside that fabricated headspace, the more difficult it gets to ever escape it. You’ve invested too heavily in lies to ever desert them. That investment has become tangible policy in America, and it has become more and more robust over the course of decades.

I have lied to my kids. Every parent has. I’ve told them that babies magically come out of Mommy’s tummy, and that I’m not dying anytime soon (close one), and that Santa Claus exists. These are all lies, designed to comfort them and to relieve them of the burden of having to process information that they, at such a young age, are not ready to absorb. These lies are seductive. I’m under no illusions as to the fact that America is falling apart, but man, is it ever tempting to just deny all of that outright: to bask in a warped version of the present that causes me little in the way of stress or perceived future harm. I have resisted that temptation, but it’s not easy. Look at how many of us have become addicted to lies and refuse to quit them.

America is itself a young nation. A brat among its global elders. As such, it has shown a horrifying resistance to maturation, and holy shit, are we paying the price for it right now. We’re allergic to difficult truths, and I hate knowing that. I’d rather just sip some lemonade and believe — no wait, KNOW — that this’ll all blow over. The alternative sucks, but so does contemplating it. I fear the truth, and why shouldn’t I? It’s always knocking at my door, scythe in hand.

Columnist at GEN. Co-founder, Defector. Author of Point B.

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