Superman, at least when he was a black-and-white television character in the Fifties, fought for "truth, justice and the American way," in precisely that order. The "American way" is not easy to quantify, though others have tried, but "justice" and "truth" you'd think might be nailed down a bit more precisely.

Then again, this is the age of Convenient Fictions, bits of silliness we cling to without any evidence that they represent anything that actually exists. Atheists might suggest any and all of the world's religions; members of a specific denomination might suggest all but their own. I'd just as soon not get into that sort of thing, so for now, I suggest both camps get an afterlife.

Besides, most of our Convenient Fictions deal with smaller issues than the Very Cosmos Itself. Consider the price sticker on a new car. With the exception of your local Saturn store, there is no place on earth where this little slip of paper means much of anything. Not surprisingly, a whole cottage industry has grown up around the sticker, attempting to interpret it like some twentieth-century Talmud. And if your chosen interpretation is wrong, it will cost you.

For the most part, campaign promises fall under the Convenient Fictions heading; no one believes any of those things anymore. Perhaps no one ever did. With the bulk of campaign rhetoric distilled into worthless (yet expensive) television sound bites, the situation will never improve. As for the speeches made by politicians once elected, they range from implausible to unbelievable to absurd, sometimes within a single speech. Bill Clinton is famous for this, but as President he is heir to a long and mostly-unbroken tradition of dissembling; his own legendary evasiveness is merely icing on the cake.

Then again, why would we worry about "truth" when we have Convenient Fictions? Allan Sherman pointed out years ago that lies are much more valuable: "Have you ever heard of anyone bribing a witness to tell The Truth?" This, of course, gets in the way of "justice", but that's another story. As for Superman, well, at least he looks fabulous in a cape and tights.

The Vent

24 August 1998

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 Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill