In “Would You Dye a Lake Blue?” I explored the strange case of people trying to achieve aquatic landscape perfection by dumping gallons of blue ink into their ponds. Was this absurd fakery just a problem for angst ridden landscape owners? I don’t think so.
Fake is a central fact of our social existence.
Fake is everywhere. You are fake. I am fake. We live in a fake world.
It’s easy to understand why one person fakes, and keeps their fakery hidden. People lie. We know why.
Far stranger is when two people lie to each other, and they both know they are lying, and they both know that they know that the other is lying. Yet they do it anyway. They consciously choose to create a fantasy world.
You’ve probably already done it today.
“Hey, how you doing?”
One, two, three, done. You could’ve been anywhere from manic to suicidal and you still would have said the same thing. I’m fine. You’re fine. Everything in the universe is just fine. Except that it isn’t, and you both knew that.
It’s not just greetings.
Laze a while on the manicured lawns of your best friend’s Facebook profile. Is that really them? Or is it no more real than a lake full of blue dye? Take the phenomena of “Finstagrams” – fake Instagram accounts were people go to escape the fakeness of real Instagram accounts. Yet even they struggle with the omnipresent demand to be fake.
How about your boss? The chummy one. That matey, handshakey, pat-on-the-back, let’s-get-a-drink boss. The boss that hates you because you don’t do things the way he would. The boss that you hate because he is underpaying you. The boss with whom you act out a charade of friendship.
Our fakeness has even earned itself a title: the Social Fake. The art of the white lie. The secret to keeping everyone happy by pretending you give a shit. Which you don’t. But you don’t need to tell them that. They already know.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
So why are we living all living in a self-inflicted fantasy?
I suspect the fake is camouflage.
First, like the white lie, it covers the ugly truth. Fake is the product of an arms-race of lying. A war of social conformity. Each step up in illusion creates ever greater demands to conform to an impossible standard. The only way to keep up is to invest in thermonuclear levels of fakery.
Yet the fake hides another even more brutal truth – everything we do is fake. We are all actors. All the time. We are permanent fantasists.
The truth is: the social world is a constructed world.
No law of nature demands that you listen to police officers. Physics did not decide that the tastes of the rich are more desirable than those of the poor. God did not decree that the money you strive for has any true value. We made it all up. It only exists because we say it does. And because we made it all up, a lot of our social world is soul-achingly absurd.
The illusions are the bed-sheets that cover the naked truths of our relations. Imagine what would happen if we tore the sheets away…
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“I’m going to kill myself.”
“Good. Saves me a job.”
“Oh look, there’s a photo of Sally getting fired. Sad face! That’s her at rehab. I remember those needles – like! And that’s both of us getting arrested for public urination. Ah, good times!”
“Hey Phil, when I was last stealing office supplies, it occurred to me that no one here’s had a pay rise in ten years….”
“Yeah, I know. I’m doing it on purpose. You see, I really want to get promoted out of this shit-hole, which means I have to keep costs super-duper low so that the Fat Cats can pay themselves ginormous bonuses. Oh… and that cheap printer ink I made you all switch to – it causes cancer.”
“Oh, gee Phil, I guess I’m going to go start a riot now. Mind if I fire bomb your car?”
While I’m no fan of the noble lie – the idea that we need to be deluded – if we stripped away the fake then a lot in this world would be forced to change. A revolution or two at least. Maybe society would collapse into anarchy? Maybe Facebook would implode in a frenzy of unfriending? Maybe you would get divorced and move to Tibet? Or, maybe we’d learn to build a world that’s more true, more authentic, and doesn’t screw you over while asking you to smile.
Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:
Learn more about Finstagrams in “On Fake Instagram, a Chance to Be Real” in the New York Times. Here.
It get’s weirder still. People fake looking authentic. “People Fake to Look Real on Social Media” on ScienceDaily. Here.
Got kids with special needs? Try “Phoney Baloney” the game that teaches them how to do the Social Fake, or more bluntly, how to manipulate people’s emotions by lying to them. Here.