The Bob Dylan line, “to live outside the law you must be honest” is one that comes to mind often–a favorite. For one thing, it scans beautifully, so it’s a pleasure to run the mental fingers over. The sonics are satisfying. But more than that it’s evocative of that space outside the bounds of the expected — not just outside the law but outside what thought habitually contains. That invitation to step beyond the expected is a heartbeat of poetry.
“Outside the law” generally is taken to mean “dishonest” because we have a programmed tendency to believe that “the law” is not only the defender of honesty, but its container — that being lawful is synonymous with honesty.
I say “programmed” because anyone who thinks about that assumption and looks at it at all closely immediately must notice that it is far from universally true and often the opposite is true. The law serves to protect dishonesty as much as to protect anything resembling truth. Witness lawyer jokes; witness so many cases at court gone awry and athwart justice. (I mean no offense to anyone practicing a profession here; I am merely stating something that is true. There are lots of good and honest people doing work in less than perfect fields of endeavor. Like, oh, poetry for example.)
But what about “to live outside the law” requiring honesty? Tossing aside the whole notion of “honor among thieves” which is as patently false as the notion that lawfulness synonymizes honesty, and just looking at “to live” I’d suggest that the assertion has to do with survival. To live outside the law is inherently dangerous, obviously, because the forces of law are rich and well-weaponed, and out to get you. So “to be honest” means, basically, “don’t lie to yourself”. Stay out of denial. Be constant in looking directly at the truth without flinching.
I’d bet this is a big reason many outlaws get caught. We humans don’t like truth that well, because so much of it is scary, or unsavory at least. We protect our hearts, our tender parts, with a nice layer of pretense. It takes training and practice, dedication, to become honest. It takes a damn good reason to remove that protective layer, the comfortable wool over the eyes.
Maybe that’s what’s happening now, why we are having such a tough go of things. Maybe some pretense is being eroded and, yow! That hurts!
I’m not arguing, by the way, that truth itself is inherently harsh or ugly or anti-human. I think the opposite but I also think there have been stacked eras of power-serving lies we’ve been given with our babyfood…and it’s not at all easy to change that diet.
Time will tell, whether I’m right about this. Meanwhile, there are better ways to protect our hearts, while the big changes roll on relentlessly.