Letter From the Editor: Truth, Inc.
By Rob Carroll
First Published in Issue 002 of Dark Matter Magazine, March-April 2021
Storytelling is an illusion. It’s a magic trick played on the mind’s eye that when performed correctly makes the real melt away and the fantasy fill the void that is left behind. Good storytelling is never prescriptive. It doesn’t tell you what to think, or what to feel, or what to believe. It merely tells you what is, real or not, and lets you, the reader, decide the rest. This is because the illusion lies not within the act, but within the mind of the audience. The trick is not making the ball disappear; that’s impossible—and that’s why if your audience is Penn and Teller, the ball will never disappear, it will just forever go up your sleeve. The actual trick is the prompting of the human mind to create from presented information a new reality in which the disappearance has actually taken place. The trick is the prompting of the human mind to create a reality that is based on truth, but born entirely from fiction. It is a respectful and loving ode to paradox.
Since most literary tricks are performed for a knowing audience that is very much expecting and hoping to be fooled, there is never much concern that the creation and subsequent proliferation of these new false realities will result in anything nefarious—even when a panicked populous sometimes suggests otherwise. But what becomes of the world when similar false realities are created for an unknowing audience that is complicit only in the sense that ignorance makes it impossible to be otherwise? Is it really a surprise when the seeds that are sown for such a season result not in harvests, but in plagues? Is it really a surprise that lies told in the name of truth result in harm?
A common theme in Issue 002 of Dark Matter Magazine is deception. Lies are told, people are hurt, lives are destroyed. At times, righteous revenge is had, but instead of cheering, you’ll wonder more about the cost. Masks are a recurring motif.
In these stories, near and distant futures find humans still plagued by selfish denial, fearful demonization, and exploitation of the other. In these worlds, lying to your neighbor is a victory, lying to yourself is a triumph, and any technology that assists in the efficacy of either is a success.
It makes sense that so many artists working today would choose to explore the nature of truth, reality, and the lies that exist in between. Never before has deception felt so central to the challenge of our time—felt so dominantly part of our present, so unavoidably part of our future, and so inexplicably galvanized by the worst mistakes of our past. It seems to flow now from the ground like the most vile of natural resources, and since all resources equal money, we happily harvest it, package it, and sell it around the globe as a precious commodity valued on par with natural gas and oil and all the other things that help make the machine of the world run.
And run it does.
It’s never been easier to spin lies into truths. And the price to do so has never been higher. No lie is too small, no result too inconsequential. Even the tiniest fib has value in today’s marketplace, for if properly reinvested, the compound interest it yields will often amaze.
According to the great thirteenth century poet, Dante Alighieri, treachery is the Ninth Circle of Hell, the “lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven.” It is reserved for those who have betrayed the trust of their families, friends, countries, guests, and Lord. This hierarchy of wrongdoing may feel subjective at first, but in actuality, there is a precise methodology at work. The other sins are deemed to be lesser than treachery because they are predicated on the system of truth. Violence is a violation of the truth that human life is sacred. Lust is a violation of the truth that human beings have a divine agency and that we are made to be more than just fleshy objects of desire. But treachery is a violation of the truth itself. Treachery aims to topple the entire system and in doing so, release all sinners from any accountability.
This is why the shadowy men of history that congregate in dark halls and plot the control of the world work so hard to sell a version of the truth that is anything but. They know that without truth, there is no lie, without right, there is no wrong. But they also know that without either, there is nothing of value to own or control. These figures are not anarchists, they are opportunists. This is why they don’t sell the world on violence and fraud, or the outward acceptance of sin. That would never work. It would be a failed trick. So instead, they sell the world on the lie that all men are sinners, save for them. The wrongdoings they commit never happened. The evil in their hearts doesn’t exist. And just like that, the ball disappears.
It is a cynical and manipulative weaponization of paradox.
There is good news, though. If you treat the truth as a product, you create an industry, and all industries after time must face the same inescapable eventuality as their forebears: adapt or die. And I believe we are finally reaching that point. The cracks are starting to show. The pedestrians that used to whistle and stroll past the Truth Factories are no longer oblivous to the pollutants the monstrosities are pumping into the air. The pedestrians have stopped whistling and have started to look up. They are beginning to see the destruction these factories have wrought. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the factories will suddenly just shut down and give up, but it does mean that their business model is becoming less profitable, and their rent is coming due.
Just like the magicians they base their acts upon, the lying truth tellers will start using every trick in their bag prior to the finale. They will employ clever narratives, subtle misdirection, props, trap doors, and even paid-for audience participation. They will take note of what has failed in the past (prescriptive belief) and pivot to what works for the future (organic co-creation rooted in novelty, transience, and a cynical diversity of ideas). But we must not let them punish us for our refusal to put ourselves before others. We must not allow ourselves to feed into their conspiracies, to perpetuate their lies, or to stand against our neighbor in favor of the petty self-interests they’ve created to divide us.
Read instead the stories in this issue and remind yourself of the cruelties that a world built on lies creates. In this context, the false realities these authors have created for you are more true in many ways than the reality upon which they’re based.
© 2021, Rob Carroll