Saturday, April 30, 2011

Whew, I wasn't duped!



About six months ago, I picked up Three Cups of Tea from a local used book store. I confess to buying books by their covers; I am a sucker for the pictures, if they are interesting, I will often buy the book and that is certainly no guarantee to how good the book will be. This book lay around for a month or so and then I picked it up to read. About half way through, I quit. I don't like to quit on books, I figure I should at least finish them before making a judgment on the book. But this book bored me, it was tedious. And not convincing; somehow the main character Greg Mortenson lacked the qualities necessary to do the kind of work he was talking about. Anyone who can give up a good part of their life to such altruistic work is usually quite a disciplined person,, someone who can put others before himself. Mortenson didn't strike me that way, anything but in fact.

So I feel rather vindicated to find that he has been caught out to be a total fraud. His organization CAI serves to fund his lifestyle, and half of the schools he claimed to found don't actually exist. Plus he simply lied. Claiming to have been left alone with Mother Teresa's body after her death, when he actually has the dates two years off makes one wonder what facts you can believe.

A good article to read on this is Do We Want to Be Fooled? by Bruce Bawer.
I think Bawer asks the important question of why do we get deceived by people like Mortenson. In this culture that deifies celebrities, we should ask ourselves why we get taken in?

In recent days many commentators have lamented that it is dismaying to know that Mortenson’s a phony. No, what’s dismaying is that so many people were taken in in the first place. What’s dismaying is that so many people don’t seem to recognize a huckster, a con artist, a flimflam man when they see one — and, by the same token, don’t seem to recognize authentic virtue, selflessness, and humility either. Have we become so coarsened by celebrity culture, so accustomed to slick showbiz packaging and self-promotion, so habituated to feeding the ravenous narcissism of the famous, that we’re no longer capable of detecting what Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof called “a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity”? Hemingway said that the one thing a writer needed most of all was a foolproof “bullshit detector”; are twenty-first-century Americans’ bullshit detectors hopelessly out of whack? Have the glossy, streamlined, highly polished and tidily ordered versions of human reality served up on all too many “reality” programs and Oprah-type talk shows destroyed our very ability to separate the genuine from the bogus, the real article from the counterfeit, and even caused us to turn our noses at the imperfect, unprocessed, clunky, smudged, and pockmarked real thing? Do we want to be fooled?

Some might suggest that the elevation to the presidency of Barack Obama, an empty sales pitch in a snappy suit, answered these questions definitively. Others might point to cases like that of Al Gore, who despite his Mortenson-like fondness for private jets and his humongous carbon footprint (he’s used “more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year”) is still somehow getting away with his absurd environmental-hero act. One thing that has particularly stunned me in the wake of the Kroft and Krakauer revelations is the readiness of many of Mortenson’s longtime fans to react with a “Yes, but….” Yes, they say, Mortenson may have lied, cheated, stolen, leveled false accusations, and so forth — but he’s also done some good. Right — and Mussolini made the trains run on time. One can only hope that the shock of so many of these fans over the exposure of Dr. Greg’s perfidies will in time translate, in at least some cases, into a somewhat diminished credulity, a hesitation to embrace personal narratives that seem just too good to be true, and an increased willingness to approach every truth claim in a spirit of (dare one say it?) critical judgment. Admittedly, it’s a slim hope — but then Easter is the season of hope, isn’t it?

Read the entire article here

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