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The Good Lie

By Vivek A. Banerjee

There’s something about a good lie that you’ve just got to love.

Love like the kind a man has for his friend with a clockwork verbal tick like the staccato snap of a bubble gum snapper. Love like the kind a mother has for her son who’s too old to be feeble-willed and sycophantic and juvenile, but too young to be expected to get it right. Love, which is, at most times, six parts disgust, two parts fear, and two parts devotion. Love like love.

A really, truly insidious lie, a good lie, doesn’t come around that often. And it’s not a slap in the face. It’s more a plasma hot scalpel, which, with some magic, both cuts and cauterizes. A good lie can mold a generation of lying liars, and a good lie of late has done just that.

Charles Taylor in “The Secular Age” wrote that modernity is the condition “where we cannot help but be aware that there are a number of different construals, views which intelligent, reasonably undeluded people, of good will, can and do agree on … naïveté is now unavailable to anyone.” He was right. We don’t have excuses to be ignorant anymore. We’re allowed to not know, but we’re not allowed to say we cannot know, and yet, at the same time, we’re not allowed, ever, to suppose we know it all.

For the most part, this is a great thing. The 1080-point, Lucida Grande banner inscription of our age, and of the millennial generation, says that the rapid increase of information has made us more intelligent, rational, and awesome people. We are probably less violent than we have ever been, and we certainly respect diverse cultures more now than we ever have before.

So we’re not quite as evil as we once were. So what? Is that it? That we’ve transcended some inhumanity, and the resulting gelatinous matter is peachy with a few fungal sites—poverty here and there, hunger here and there, police brutality here and there—that need to be expunged, is that all? That’s not all. We are a little different now in some other ways, but the good lie is that it’s all good.

Conservative pundits and young libertarians routinely pounce on the insistence on political correctness as being the great failing of the millennials. And though they’re not wrong about one of the symptoms, they misunderstand the disease. Political correctness is not exclusively a bad thing. But when it arises not out of a desire to do no harm, and instead because one must both believe that everybody else’s opinions should be respected and simultaneously feel as if one must not take one’s own—or anybody else's—self, art, products, motives, judgments, and actions too seriously, the result is weakness. We’re no longer stupid, but we still get trampled.

Sincerity is a dying disposition. Now, there are no comments without sarcasm, no posts without fearful self-awareness. There is no honesty without insecurity. Satire and derision can be beautiful and biting, but not when they poke sheepishly into everything from the conversation that happens at a McDonalds drive-through to an explanation of a concept in astrophysics to an attempt to earnestly tell somebody about the music that you enjoy.

Millennials shout and whimper and tweet and rail against their generation’s detractors, doggedly defending themselves as a unit, as infantrymen in a brigade that has been scorned by the past, and assailed unfairly by unbelievers and old, deluded fogies whose post-war economies have been eroded down to pixie dust.

Millennials are not unreflective. That’s what their critics get wrong. They are hyper modern. They are so inundated with information, so un-naive, that they’ve become fickle, frenetically sensitive, ultra aware, blank canvas fools.

While writing this piece I vacillated nauseatingly over whether to use the first or second person when referring to millennials. Because I, a fickle lying liar myself, have been conditioned to prefer writing a hollow, self-effacing argument than an honest one, out of the fear that my opinion may not fall in lockstep with the ranks of the unknowing.

This generation doesn’t need a “voice.” It is made up of fragmented half-humans who care more about the abstract other people they do not know, than the fixed realities they experience. It should not believe in generational unity. It does not need another reflection of itself, certainly not in animated or list form. It needs a purpose that goes beyond merely identifying what is wrong with everything in the world and refraining from doing those wrong things.

Today, you can’t love God because God either doesn’t exist or is a soulless algorithm, and because that kind of love has killed a lot of people. You can’t love your country because that leads to jingoism and colonialism, and because that kind of love has killed a lot of people. You can’t love your duties and your abilities, because that forgets the past, Ron Swanson is a fictional character, Ayn Rand is a gorgon, and because that kind of love is killing a lot of people.

What you can love is the good lie. The lie that tells you that somehow what we’re doing now—shackling ourselves to irony, hollowness, and insincerity in lieu of knowing it all—will lead to a different outcome than did the sins of the past.

Good lies are all damned, and they’re damned for good. But you’ve still got to love them.

Vivek A. Banerjee ‘16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House.

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