Skip to main content

Awhile ago I read The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media by Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by Josh Neufeld (NY:  WW Norton, 2011 ISBN 978-0-393-07779-7), a graphic novel on the media by a media reporter.  In it I found this passage:

"Erstwhile reporter Mark Twain said that concocting amusing lies for money was nothing compared to the 'clammy stillness' of the press when confronting such horrors as, say, slavery.  He called it 'the lie of silent assertion that there wasn't anything going on in which humane and intelligent people were interested...  Why should we help the nation lie the whole day long and then object to telling one little individual private lie in our own interest to go to bed on?  Just for the refreshment of it, I mean.  And to take the rancid taste out of our mouth.'"
It comes from "My First Lie and How I Got Out of It," (http://www.mtwain.com/... ) where Twain discusses the spoken lie, the unspoken lie, and the lie of silent assertion:
I am speaking of the lie of silent assertion; we can tell it without saying
a word, and we all do it--we that know. In the magnitude of its
territorial spread it is one of the most majestic lies that the
civilisations make it their sacred and anxious care to guard and watch
and propagate.

For instance. It would not be possible for a humane and intelligent
person to invent a rational excuse for slavery; yet you will remember
that in the early days of the emancipation agitation in the North the
agitators got but small help or countenance from any one. Argue and
plead and pray as they might, they could not break the universal
stillness that reigned, from pulpit and press all the way down to the
bottom of society--the clammy stillness created and maintained by the lie
of silent assertion--the silent assertion that there wasn't anything
going on in which humane and intelligent people were interested.

From the beginning of the Dreyfus case to the end of it all France,
except a couple of dozen moral paladins, lay under the smother of the
silent-assertion lie that no wrong was being done to a persecuted and
unoffending man. The like smother was over England lately, a good half
of the population silently letting on that they were not aware that Mr.
Chamberlain was trying to manufacture a war in South Africa and was
willing to pay fancy prices for the materials.

Now there we have instances of three prominent ostensible civilisations
working the silent-assertion lie. Could one find other instances in the
three countries? I think so. Not so very many perhaps, but say a
billion--just so as to keep within bounds. Are those countries working
that kind of lie, day in and day out, in thousands and thousands of
varieties, without ever resting? Yes, we know that to be true. The
universal conspiracy of the silent-assertion lie is hard at work always
and everywhere, and always in the interest of a stupidity or a sham,
never in the interest of a thing fine or respectable. Is it the most
timid and shabby of all lies? It seems to have the look of it. For ages
and ages it has mutely laboured in the interest of despotisms and
aristocracies and chattel slaveries, and military slaveries, and
religious slaveries, and has kept them alive; keeps them alive yet, here
and there and yonder, all about the globe; and will go on keeping them
alive until the silent-assertion lie retires from business--the silent
assertion that nothing is going on which fair and intelligent men are
aware of and are engaged by their duty to try to stop.

What I am arriving at is this: When whole races and peoples conspire to
propagate gigantic mute lies in the interest of tyrannies and shams, why
should we care anything about the trifling lies told by individuals? Why
should we try to make it appear that abstention from lying is a virtue?
Why should we want to beguile ourselves in that way? Why should we
without shame help the nation lie, and then be ashamed to do a little
lying on our own account? Why shouldn't we be honest and honourable, and
lie every time we get a chance? That is to say, why shouldn't we be
consistent, and either lie all the time or not at all? Why should we
help the nation lie the whole day long and then object to telling one
little individual private lie in our own interest to go to bed on? Just
for the refreshment of it, I mean, and to take the rancid taste out of
our mouth......

The silent colossal National Lie that is the support and confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairness that afflict the peoples - that is the one to throw bricks and sermons at. But let us be judicious and let somebody else begin.

Poll

Fewer lies of silent assertion?

53%15 votes
17%5 votes
0%0 votes
3%1 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
21%6 votes
3%1 votes

| 28 votes | Vote | Results

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site