The Truth Behind Lies

Everybody lies.

It was a tagline on House, M.D., the television show in which a doctor had to navigate a web of illusions and untruths to diagnose mysterious maladies. Dr. House listened to what patients had to say, but he never trusted it until he proved it himself.

Scientific research has demonstrated that everybody lies. Part of the social contract that keeps society functioning includes a network of small lies, starting with “How are you?” and “Fine, thank you.” We have all agreed to suspend disbelief, to a certain extent, in the context of social niceties.

Additional research shows that everyone lies on the internet especially, and that the more anonymous the online setting, the more likely people are to lie. This is bad news for virtual worlds, which are basically anonymous. Apart from the element of fantasy, for instance making one’s avatar look different from one’s real-life self, the anonymity of the virtual world makes it easy for us to invent stories and conceal truth.

I think about this a lot when I perceive that I am being lied to. I rarely confront someone about it, nor do I let on that I realize they are lying. But I do think about it. Most of all, I wonder: Why? Why are they lying to me?

There can be a lot of answers to that question. Personally, I sometimes lie to preserve my privacy. When writing online profiles I usually say that I live in NYC. I don’t. I live near NYC, and I do spend time there, but I don’t live there. I don’t really want strangers to know where I live. I think that is a fairly smart lie and I doubt many would disagree.

“Privacy lies” like this happen when someone is pressuring you to reveal something about yourself that is actually none of their business. When someone lies to me, I wonder whether the person perceives me to be prying, and is trying to protect his or her privacy. In other words, is the lie basically a way of telling me to back off? I can understand that.

People also may lie to protect themselves from punishment. “Self-preservation lies” may happen when we have done something we weren’t supposed to do, or when we have not done something that we were supposed to do. If someone tells me a lie because they don’t want me to be angry at them, I can accept that. But I am still disappointed that I have been lied to. It indicates the presence of a basic rift in my relationship with that person, and it makes me sad that they do not trust me with the truth.

Then there is the “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings” lie. Sometimes this type of lie is actually compassionate, or at least benign, like when he assures her that she doesn’t look fat in those pants. But this type of lie can also be an attempt to cover up something that is extremely hurtful. It makes me anxious, wondering: what is this thing that would hurt my feelings? Just how hurtful is it?

Although I can forgive many lies, without knowing the reason why someone is lying to me, my imagination has to juggle all the possibilities. It’s exhausting. On one hand, I want to be compassionate if the person has good reason to protect their privacy. On the other hand, part of me wonders whether something hurtful is being concealed. And then I begin to wonder why the person does not trust me enough to be honest.

So, in the end, even benign lies leave me with inner turmoil, hurt feelings, sadness, disappointment and suspicion.

But since everybody lies, I suppose the burden falls on me to cope with it.

 

 

Living with Conflict

I have a dear friend who simply does not understand my affinity for BDSM. Despite countless in-depth conversations, in which I do my level best to explain it to him, he persists in his belief that submission is demeaning and that everyone really prefers freedom.

Believing himself to be an open-minded person, he has constructed an illusion in which he does support submission. He does this by re-defining, in his own mind at least, what submission is; or by inventing a complicated argument that submission is in fact dominance. By clinging to this dubious construct, he can appear to agree with me, while never actually changing his beliefs.

He doesn’t get it. He probably never will. And I must live with that.

The illusion works for him within the limits of a conversation about abstract thought, when his ideas are not put to the test. But inevitably, something concrete will happen that forces the abstraction to materialize into action. Then, his actions do not bear out his conciliatory words. The curtain is pulled aside, and his true beliefs are revealed. And the truth is that he just doesn’t get it. He probably never will. And I must live with that.

It pains me to be at odds with my dear friend over this important aspect of my life. I would love to share my joy with him, but I can’t, because he doesn’t believe in it. While painful, conflict in a relationship is not at all unusual. I think we all find ourselves, at some point, having a major difference of opinion within the context of a close relationship. When it happens, must we choose between winning the argument and preserving the relationship? Is it possible to prove your point without hurting the other person? Is it necessary to capitulate, to keep the friendship intact? Or must we avoid conflict at all costs, agreeing not to mention certain issues, or pretending that the conflict does not exist?

We are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly.

These questions become even more complicated when we consider the fact that humans are inherently irrational – even the ones who most adamantly claim to be rational. Scientists have demonstrated that we are genetically more invested in winning arguments than in thinking clearly. It has been proven countless times that facts usually do not change our minds. We – all of us – experience something called “confirmation bias,” a trait that is hard-wired into our genes. It means that we all tend to embrace information that supports our current beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.

Furthermore, we also have a trait called “cognitive immunization” which means that the stronger our beliefs, the less likely it is that facts will sway us… no matter how true the facts are. The person you are arguing with probably will not be swayed by logic, reason or facts that contradict his or her beliefs. In fact, it is more likely that he or she will just become more entrenched.

Given that this is true, when two people have conflicting beliefs, it seems to me that arguing is pointless.

Given the choice between proving my point, and preserving the health of a relationship, I choose the relationship. Every time.

Given the choice between proving my point, and preserving the relationship, I choose the relationship. Every time.

So, I must let go of my disappointment that my dear friend does not share my understanding of submission. My dear friend is very important to me, and I want him in my life. I find great joy in submission, but I do not wish to wreck a friendship by insisting on winning an argument.

I also suspect that if I chose to associate only with friends who agree with my beliefs about submission, that would be a form of confirmation bias. My friends have many shades of beliefs and opinions about submission and BDSM. It is quite a varied tapestry. Total unanimity on this or any point probably cannot be achieved. And a circle of friends who all think alike could be a little boring.

So, I will accept the presence of the conflict and learn to co-exist with that tension. I will stop trying to convince anyone of the truth of my beliefs. Living with conflict is not comfortable. But there are many, many other things about those relationships that make them totally worth the effort.

Happy 9th Anniversary, Master!

9th Anniversary

A long time ago, in a sim far, far away,

Walter took Camryn as his submissive.

Nine years have passed since that day.

The Force is strong with this couple!

Master, may the Love be with you, always!

Happy 9th Anniversary, Master! Thank you for 9 fabulous years!

To Be Content

A news article I read today — the topic of which is not germane — reminded me of an observation.

I have observed that people who have everything often find it impossible to be content with what they have.

Conversely, it seems that those who have little are much more likely to feel and express gratitude for whatever they do receive.

An old proverb says, “The sated appetite spurns honey, but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.”

Right now, for example, I am grateful simply to be on the internet so that I can write this blog. We take connectivity for granted… until we don’t have it.

I am fortunate.

Add Violence: My Journey With Nine Inch Nails

Challenged by friends, I set out to answer the question: “Why do I love Nine Inch Nails?”

It is a puzzling question, for sure. Anyone who knows me would never guess my favorite band. I am a classical musician by training, and a quiet person by nature. Even more puzzling is why I like Nine Inch Nails, but have never found a single other band in the same genre that I can tolerate. For me NIN is, apparently, unique.

[A note: This is NOT an overview of Nine Inch Nails, or a Greatest Hits compilation. Let me just note that although I am a decent musicologist in my own field, I am 100% not qualified to judge rock music. So I am only offering my own subjective reactions, not opinions.]

First I’ll tell you how I discovered Nine Inch Nails. That will probably reveal some things about why I like this music.

Picture it: Second Life, early 2007. I was a few months old and had fallen in with a community led by an artist and builder named Baron Grayson. Baron’s creativity fascinated me. The things he could pull out of his imagination were amazing. He was sort of Goth, which was a new thing for me. The worlds he created were dark, beautiful and rich with narrative.

Baron Worlds Collage

 

Baron and Trent smallBaron streamed NIN as the background music on his sims. The music was a perfect match. As you can see, he even modeled his avatar after him.

So NIN was the soundtrack of my life in 2007. This also tells you at what point in Trent Reznor’s evolution I joined the stream. It was firmly post-sobriety. I love all music by NIN but for this discussion I’m going to focus on music from 2002 on.

When I first heard NIN, I admit I recoiled from the more violent, screaming stuff. But Baron also played the moody ambient NIN and the acoustic and stripped down songs from the album Still. All the music on Still is pretty quiet, so it was easy for me to listen to.

[Adrift & At Peace – Still, 2002 – 2:52]

I remember thinking how much it reminded me of Arvo Pärt: meditative, hypnotic, and gently repetitive, like a mantra. The gentle repetition gives the music a feeling of stasis, of being suspended in time. At the same time, one can sense a subtle sadness underneath the serene sounds. I think I connected with that sadness, even more than the serenity.

Then Year Zero came out. At the time,  my life was in a place where the album’s message that “the world is fucked” totally resonated with me. All that despair in the lyrics, and the more violent sounds, started connecting with the darker places in my head.

Drawn by the darkness, gradually I found myself more willing to listen to the louder songs. And I was surprised by what happened. It was almost as if the music created a container, and instead of trying to push away my black thoughts and emotions, I discovered I could pour them into this container… and they wouldn’t destroy me.

For example, the last half of this next song just explodes in a violent tidal wave of noise – and somehow I found that instead of shrinking from it, I could fucking swim in it. I felt this exhilarating mix of primitive rage and elation.

[The Great DestroyerYear Zero, 2007 – 3:17]

I can barely tell you how liberating it was, after 50 years of trying to deny my dark side, to finally embrace it.

When The Slip was released the following year, I was embroiled in a really twisted relationship in Second Life. I was massively depressed, and one song on The Slip seemed to have been written especially for me. I played it over and over. Like many of Trent Reznor’s tortured torch songs, it’s very bleak and yet very tender.

[Lights in the SkyThe Slip, 2008 – 3:29]

So that’s the emotional underpinnings of my love of Nine Inch Nails.

But there are also some more objective things I like.

I like that the music sounds transparent, even when it’s loud; the various electronic sounds are separated so that it feels like there’s space between them, and you can hear them, instead of having it all blend into one big soup of noise.

I like how he layers all the sounds, building layers and then stripping them away. If the sound was full out all the time, I would become numb. But he controls the level of intensity, letting it rise and fall so it’s never too much for too long. That actually serves to make the intensity even more intense. It is really true that nothing is so loud as when it is surrounded by silence.

[Copy of aHesitation Marks, 2013 – 5:22]

I like his use of dissonance and distortion, not gratuitously, but sparingly, to make a point, like the pain represented in the opening notes of Hurt, or the distorted bending as the world begins to come apart in the second verse of The Great Destroyer.

I like that he uses motifs that appear in several songs. They are like clues that connect ideas. Sometimes he will invert the motif, or harmonize it differently, sort of teasing the listener into following him into the maze. He refers to it as a “trail of breadcrumbs.”

I like that the music is intelligent. It’s emotionally raw, for sure, but it’s not mindless. It rewards thoughtful exploration.

As a singer, I have a deep appreciation for poetry, and I find his lyrics very affecting.

And I love the energy and the pure physicality of the hard beats. It’s part of what creates the container for my darkness, capturing my body and making me get involved. I can’t sit still while listening to Nine Inch Nails. It compels me to respond.

I’ll stop talking now and simply offer three songs that illustrate these points.

[Less ThanAdd Violence, 2017 – 3:30]

[While I’m Still HereHesitation Marks, 2013 – 4:02]

[Just Like You ImaginedThe Fragile, 1999 – 3:49]

to be continued…

 

in time of

In memory of my beloved friend Mike, 1954-2018

 

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

 

e.e. cummings

 

forego
The mighty Forego, Mike’s favorite horse

 

Living With Ambiguity

The older I get, the more I know just how much I don’t know.

There are countless things in this life that we simply cannot know. The best we can do is guess. What is the best path for my life? What will become of me? What will happen tomorrow? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Who is right? Who is wrong? The answers to these and more questions are obscured by the “cloud of unknowing” of which contemplatives speak.

And that’s okay.

I listen with quiet bemusement when someone explains to me “how things are” with the confidence of someone who has it all figured out. I know better than to contradict them; confident people are usually quite entrenched, and either unwilling, or unable to visualize any reasonable alternative to what they consider to be the hard facts. So I just listen and smile and nod and save my breath.

Certainty can be an impediment to truth.

But I know from experience that very little in this world is clearly one thing or another. Most questions have multiple answers. Two apparently opposite things can both be true. A thing can be wrong and right at the same time. You can love and hate someone in equal measure. You can laugh while you’re depressed. Ideas that we always assumed were fundamental can turn out to be fictitious.

Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to live with.

Our culture is not very tolerant of ambiguity. We tend to admire people who are confident. We are, perhaps, reassured by their conviction that they have everything figured out. It would be a lot easier to think that we know all the answers.

It takes a lot of strength of character to be able to admit that we might be wrong. Especially when we think we have it all figured out. When we are absolutely certain. But that’s the time when it’s most important to take a mental step back, and consider… just consider… the possibility that we might be wrong.

To be willing to live with ambiguity is considered by some to be a hallmark of maturity. I don’t know whether it is maturity or not. But I do know that certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty can be an impediment to truth.

Embracing ambivalence is not easy. To consider a question and see that there might be more than one valid answer is challenging. And yes, sometimes we have to take a stand. But maybe if we admit that our stand is based on a best guess, and keep open the possibility that it might turn out to be wrong, it would create just enough of a crack in our armor to let the truth leak in.