I have recently been writing a novel with a working title of “Diary of a Seer.” It’s a semi-autobiographical fantasy about a man who finds his life falling apart, makes a new start with an unusual spiritual component, and through a series of experiences discovers he has an exceptionally rare talent in dreaming the future. It is through his dreaming and that of other seers that the human race is saved from self-extinction.
The first part of this – the semi-autobiographical part – has flowed easily.
The second part – the fantasy part – has faltered.
It’s a pretty tall order to plausibly save the human race from self-extinction, even in fiction. I started the story in part to explore different ways in which this might be accomplished, and I’m coming up empty-handed. It’s tempting – perhaps even necessary – to pull out the old Deus ex Machina.
But there is an even deeper issue, more interesting to explore, which is the question of whether the human race should be saved from self-extinction.
We have named our species many things: homo sapiens (“man the wise”), homo faber (“man the maker”), homo ludens (“man the player”). I would suggest that another description is homo mendax (“man the liar”).
Years ago as an undergraduate in physics, I remember the opportunity to ask science questions of a major from a nearby Air Force base as part of a class called Science and Society. This was in the late 1970’s – Nixon had resigned in disgrace, the Vietnam War had ended, and the military as a whole was heavily-criticized and casting about for a reason to exist in its bloated state. We went through a season with a lot of extremely annoying sonic booms in the area, and we were, of course, curious. The F-117 (the Nighthawk “Stealth Fighter”) would have been in research phases, since it made its maiden flight in 1981, so it would make sense that a lot of component testing would have been going on using existing supersonic fighters.
When we asked about these sonic booms, his response was, “The Air Force has no knowledge of any sonic booms in this area.”
A sonic boom is quite unmistakable. There is the sudden “boom” coming from nowhere, loud enough to rattle windows (or even break them if the plane is low enough), followed by the rapidly receding roar of the jet engines. You look for the jet in the direction of the fading sound, but the plane is gone, already over the horizon. I grew up near an air base, as did most of the students at that university. We all knew the sound. Any Soviet spies in the area would have known it, too.
An honest answer might have been, “The Air Force is aware of these. However, I can’t comment on them at this time.” We’d have said, “Well, see if you can get them moved a little further away from the town, pretty please.” He could have responded, “I’ll bring it up with the base commander.” Issue closed, public reassured, we’re all in this together you know.
Instead, we got the Stonewall Lie. The “I’m lying to your face and we both know it, so what are you going to do about it?” lie. What did lying gain?
We were told an obvious lie by an Air Force major because he was an official spokesman of a society that, as a whole, has forgotten how to tell the truth. We tell ourselves that we can’t handle the truth, that we must lie to maintain order and stability.
Are the fundamentals of the economy sound?
Is a good credit score your most important asset?
Is the United States military making the world safer for democracy?
Every time I gain any new insight into life or society, it exposes the depth, breadth, and sheer implausibility of the manipulative lies we are told and accept every day, from birth to death. We are so far from reality, so far from being a culture that values truth in any form, that I begin to wonder if there is any real point to us. You grow weary of dealing with the pathological liar after a while: you say, “Go away; I’m done with you.” When an entire culture is caught in an ongoing pattern of pathological mendacity, telling itself that it is unable to face truth, is there any point to saving that culture? What then of an entire species, homo mendax?
I just read a new book entitled Messages, by Stan Romalek. Stan is a UFO abductee. I spent boring summers as a teen-ager reading UFO books and dreaming about outer space. I’ve noticed an interesting shift in the literature over the years. Like crop circles, which started as very simple things that have grown more and more elaborate over the years, the abductee stories – which have almost entirely replaced the sighting stories – are becoming more complex and more bizarre all the time.
There are different ways to take a story like Stan’s. A lot of people like to scoff. I’ve come to feel that scoffing betrays a deep insecurity and fear. When I think of the scoffers throughout my life, it’s clear that they were desperately afraid of anything that threatened their fragile and simplistic understanding of what was real, or what was right. They would scoff at the idea that women could do a man’s work. Others would scoff at the idea that men and women are different. One would scoff at life after death, another would scoff at reincarnation. Scoffers are people who are afraid to admit they don’t know.
Others are “true believers.” They take what they hear at face value; it is true because someone told them it was true. Only a very few believe everything they hear: most believe according to a rigid prejudice. It’s true if it’s in the Bible, but open to doubt if it’s in a science textbook. Or vice versa. Republicans tell the truth and Democrats lie. Or vice versa. It’s true if my father taught me, but a lie if your father taught you differently. Or vice versa. Truth and falsehood are black and white.
I tend to view all stories as fiction, telling us either what we want to hear, or what the teller wants us to believe. Other members of homo mendax lie to me for their benefit; I, homo mendax, lie to myself for comfort. It is a matter of careful discipline for me to cultivate the desire to hear truth for myself, and not a more convenient lie.
When someone like Stan comes along with a truly outrageous story presented as fact, my first question is not whether it is true as fact, but whether it is true as a story. Does it touch a nerve? Does it speak to an archetype in my soul? Does it, like a dream, illuminate a truth I have been seeking, or does it merely reinforce a lie I have been telling myself for comfort?
At the end of the book, I was left wondering: what am I? Fearfully made, a little lower than the angels. I am left asking questions about my place in the universe, pondering the deep questions of existence and the value of my species. So I don’t care so much whether Stan’s little gray friends exist in this dimension, some other dimension, or merely in his mind. The universe is large, and my opinions about how it works are mostly ignorant. His story, however, is true in the important sense.
Stan makes an interesting comment at one point, a message from the aliens:
“…humans are at a crossroads. They are being judged and they are being guided…some bad, some good.” There are those [alien races] that do not see the benefit to the human race succeeding and there are those that do – and they will argue the point.
This is a truth that many of us feel. It is the central truth underlying my novel. It is my question: should the human race survive?
In Mutant Message Down Under, the aborigines – humans who possess a profound attunement with the natural world, who do not seem to be members of the species homo mendax – say that they have chosen to pass out of the world as a people, as a culture, as a race, largely because of what civilization is doing to the world. In Whitley Streiber’s Nature’s End, humankind faces a decision between life, and death. In any of the recent books about the Mayan Calendar and the year 2012, we face a new Apocalypse; not the traditional Four Horsemen of War, Plague, Famine, and Death, but the more profound Horseman of Extinction. Stan’s book is not alone. This is a theme running through modern speculative fiction.
These are, of course, all stories written in English, intended for American readers. Perhaps they really have no universal importance, and perhaps I should be speaking of homo mendax Americanus. Perhaps these are only myths prefiguring the Fall of the United States. Certainly we can look back at the science fiction of the 1950’s and see the Red Scare writ large. So perhaps the real question is merely the fate of the United States, dramatized as the fate of humanity. Should the United States be saved? Should our civilization continue? Should our lies be preserved?
However, as a writer, I can explore this question symbolically through the drama of the human race as a whole, homo sapiens or homo mendax.
I’m not sure yet how the answer works out in my story. But here is the thought that keeps growing.
When I look at my friends, my neighbors, my family – the people I know – I see mostly good. When I look at the institutions of culture, the governments, the religions, the schools, the media, the corporations, I see mostly bad. I see homo mendax at work in both places, but there is a profound difference in the kinds of lies being told.
I think that what we call civilization has to die and be completely reborn, so that humanity can live.
 Stan Romalek, J. Allan Danelek; Messages, ISBN 978-0-7387-1526-1, Llewellyn Publications, 2009
 Ibid., pg. 219
 Marlo Morgan; Mutant Message Down Under, ISBN 0-06-017192-8, HarperCollins, 1991
 Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka; Nature’s End, ISBN 978-0446343558, Warner, 1987