Insofar as we have a national sin, it is the preference of comfort, often padded by self-righteousness, over truth.
In our infantile clutching at those narratives that flatter, swaddle, and comfort us, an observer might feel both compassion for the universal childlike longing for consolation and the horror of seeing such a gesture indulged in by an adult, whose clutching, kicking, and defending of said narrative blanket entails real harm and violence to other humans, unlike an infant's.
Arendt traces it back to the development of the advertising industry as a major economic and rhetorical force, but before that, in 1892, Ida B. Wells was exposing "the old threadbare lie", for which she was hounded out of Memphis; and several thousand years before that, in the heart-truths of myth, Cassandra tried to save her city by speaking the truth, and was imprisoned, then brutalized and murdered, for her pains.
Considering the long sweep of history, it seems to me that the greatest enemy of the truth is not the lie but the compromised and infantile heart that longs to be lied to, that will do violence to truth-tellers in order to preserve its own comfort, that desires ignorance, that sells its freedom to the liar for the cheapest of stories. Rarely does the liar himself carry out the bulk of the violence, after all. Rather, it's accomplished by those who embrace his lies.
With such a heart, and particularly with such a gathering of hearts, the presence of a liar is sometimes not necessary; nor is the explicit expression of the lie; it is understood intuitively, as birds learn to flock, what unspeakable, unbearable damage a truth-teller might do to that shoddy blanket fort of a story that such hearts hide under, and depending on what is permitted in that society, the penalty ranges from insult and ostracism to death.
This has always been so.
And that's all the consolation I get, on this blisteringly hot night with no breeze and no air.
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