The year is 2045, and the Performance Hall of the venerable Calgary Central Library is full to the rafters with citizens come to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Return of Hope. Others know this occasion as the Defeat of the Vortex of Lies. It has become an annual tradition to gather and to hear the story of the rise and fall of the Vortex. This being the 20th anniversary, there is special excitement. A famous journalist, who in her brash and youthful days spent time in prison for refusing to lie, is this year’s teller of the tale.
“All people, all genders, welcome! The purpose of the story I’m about to tell was originally cautionary, lest we fall back into the ways that very nearly destroyed us. But lasting peace and steady improvement means the story becomes more joyful with every telling.
“It begins in the United States in 2016. A candidate for their presidency ran with lying as his strategy, and won. The US president had long been recognized as leader of the free world, so having a committed liar in that post sent a ripple around the planet. This president continued telling lies, about 10 a day. He had told thousands by the end of his first term.
“The spread of lying began, then, in politics. The first copycat election took place here in Canada: a provincial election in our most populous province. The candidate with the platform of lies again won handily. Because the original American liar was right-wing, and the first Canadian copycat liar was also right-wing, lying as a strategy was seen for a time as a right-wing phenomenon. But it was not long until centre and left-wing politicians felt they must lie as well, to remain competitive.
“Lying soon jumped the berm into every sector and walk of life. It certainly wasn’t as if lying had not existed before, but lying became the standard way of competing for social position and of doing business. A best practice, shall we say. Sociologists, psychologists and educators all reported dramatic surges in the amount of lying. It wasn’t long until everyone was lying about everything—about where they were last night, about why their essays were late, about what they ate for lunch—even about where they were born and with whom as parents. People lied when the truth would have been more advantageous.
Science lost credibility. With no verifiable truth, universities, research facilities, news media—all had no further purpose. Banks toppled. Markets followed.
“Were there attempts to stem this tide of lies? Yes, there were. But those who fought lying were ridiculed: seen as prigs, as impractical, as losers. Most people in positions of authority climbed on the lying wave, and those who still believed it was wrong fell silent, hoping it was a fad they could outlive.
“Having the shortest route to travel, corporations were quick to adopt lying as their way of doing business. Most had been less than truthful with tax authorities in the past but now were blatantly so. We made no profits, they said; only tax-deductible losses. They told stockholders there had never been a better time to invest. Bouncing paycheques led workers to insist on cash-only. In retail, computer-rigging and under-recorded sales were the norm. Governments declared an absence of revenue.
“As lying became the norm, science lost credibility, and to say one was a scientist was received as a joke. Scientific debate became impossible. Scientific claims were everywhere—and thus nowhere. With no verifiable truth, universities, research facilities, news media—all had no further purpose. Banks toppled. Markets followed.
“The first nuclear conflict was occasioned by one side lying about having destroyed its nuclear arsenal while the other lied about checks and balances that could keep a lunatic leader from pressing the nuclear button. Countries that claimed to be nuke-free nuked their enemies.
“Leading up to 2016, earth’s climate had been deteriorating steadily. Droughts, floods and fires were the backdrop against which the world’s social and economic collapse played out. People everywhere insisted that what was happening wasn’t happening. Charges of lying and counter-lying were meaningless when truth was as bygone as a Beatles haircut or Lone Ranger lunch kit. Religious leaders everywhere declared the Apocalypse well underway—but of course no one took them seriously.
“As factories fell silent; as blackouts became common; as automobiles thinned on roadways and ships stood at anchor; as homeowners warmed themselves with friction, an amazing thing occurred. Who knows how she survived, but a credible scientist emerged and declared that global temperatures had ceased to rise. By tiny increments, the continents and oceans were cooling. The world, it seemed, was saved.
“That’s right, my friends; ironically it was global warming that finally saved the world. Just when hope had come to seem as ludicrous as truth, there was hope. Some liars claimed it was really lying that had saved the world, but no one believed them.
“So, all of you, let us once again raise a glass of cool water, and give thanks as we annually do. To Truth! To the Future!”
Fred Stenson’s most recent novel is Who By Fire (Doubleday). Other books include The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.