In my younger and more naïve--or was it 'less suspicious'?--days, I tended to assume honesty in all my interlocutors. Why would he/she lie? I would tacitly ask myself, considering the question purely rhetorical. Despite the multitude of mendacious examples that appeared in my life as frequently as Wall Drug billboards along I-90 in South Dakota, I was not yet prepared for the obvious answer. Many years would pass before I began to understand that we lie because we're human, and that lying, like facial cumshots, is something only human beings do. Lying may be our true defining characteristic, the one thing that makes us a species apart. We're not really homo sapiens or homo faber, and not even a megadose of Cialis could turn us back to homo erectus. No, we are homo duplicitus, man the liar. Some of what we once called 'brute animals' are designed to deceive--chameleons being the most obvious example--but that's the Dennettian 'dumb luck' of evolution, not self-conscious subterfuge. The homo difference seems to relate to the development of self-consciousness, another of those crucial factors that set us apart. We can't really lie unless we know we're lying, unless we've evolved a self-consciousness that crouches in our brains like a tiny Bertrand Russell and applies our every statement to a hair-splitting truth meter. Animals (other animals, I should have said) seem to lack this Bertie-in-the-brain. Eagles don't weasel, foxes don't fudge the facts, wolves are more honest than state legislators any fucking day. But men and women will lie anywhere, anytime, about anything. An example:
"How ya' doin', Frank?"
But of course Frank's not fine. Frankly, Frank's pretty fucking far from fine. Frank has a persistent dull ache in his lumbar region, his coccyx hurts like a cocksucker, his left eye is half-blind and his right flooded with floaters, his asshole bleeds when he shits and itches like hemorrhoids when he can't (twice or thrice per month), his teenage daughter hates his chronically aching guts, his silent son stalks about the house as sullen as a serial killer, his wife has been fucking a neighbor three times a week for seven months (Frank has done the multiplication and calculated the total number of cuckolding copulations), and recently Frank voluntarily taught himself what the barrel of his Glock tastes like. So no, our man is not exactly fine. "None of your business because I doubt if you really give a fuck anyway" would've been a more honest answer to his friend's casual inquiry. But a fine lie is so much more polite.*
*An Aesthetic Footnote: As we are the only creatures who lie, we're also the only ones capable of enjoying a good lie, losing our minds (temporarily, one hopes) in the mazy twists of elaborate fictions, in sprawling cities and countries of narrative, from the London of Bleak House to the Albuquerque of Breaking Bad to the skewed Medieval England of A Song of Ice and Fire. Tell us a story; a good one might hold us for years.