We, the People, are continually dismayed and wrong-footed by two erroneous assumptions:
- The assumption that the powers-that-be (the politicians, parties and their puppet masters, the bankers and corporate interests) are the slightest bit interested in our well being. They aren’t. They are interested only in our acquiescence in whatever self-aggrandising or self-enriching scheme they have got going.
- The assumption that political utterances or media utterances are telling the truth. They aren’t. Lying is used to bring about (1) above.
Neither of these two points are new. The game is very very old.
Nevertheless, it is worth reiterating them here, lest we forget or we assume in some burst of naivety that by some miracle the current generation of politicians and the media have suddenly and spontaneously become honest and worthy of our trust for no particular reason.
Some useful rules of thumb that might protect us from having the steel wool pulled over our eyes are:
- If it is in the media, it isn’t true – even when what is being uttered appears to agree with our own point of view to some degree.
- If what is being uttered puts forth “reasons” we should abandon our own sense of brotherhood with one another or harm or oppress one another, the utterance is a lie and the source of the lie is a criminal.
- If we heed and follow the “advice” of such people we will inevitably wind up in the soup. ALWAYS.
- No “ism” that advocates the oppression of the human community, in whole or in part, is in the best interests of the broad membership of the human community.
- Help is senior to and more pro-survival than harm.
- Humanity is ONE COMMUNITY, fractured, split, divided and placed into internecine conflict with malice aforethought to make it look as if we aren’t. This divide-and-rule caper is the method by which entire planets are enslaved.
- YOU are an important member of the human community.
Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism
How did the minority party of Hitler and Goebbels take over and break the will of the German people so thoroughly that they would allow and participate in mass murder? Post-war scholars of totalitarianism like Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt asked that question over and over, for several decades afterward. Their earliest studies on the subject looked at two sides of the equation. Adorno contributed to a massive volume of social psychology called The Authoritarian Personality, which studied individuals predisposed to the appeals of totalitarianism. He invented what he called the F-Scale (“F” for “fascism”), one of several measures he used to theorize the Authoritarian Personality Type.
Arendt, on the other hand, looked closely at the regimes of Hitler and Stalin and their functionaries, at the ideology of scientific racism, and at the mechanism of propaganda in fostering “a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism with which each member… is expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders.” So she wrote in her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism, going on to elaborate that this “mixture of gullibility and cynicism… is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements”:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
Why the constant, often blatant lying? For one thing, it functioned as a means of fully dominating subordinates, who would have to cast aside all their integrity to repeat outrageous falsehoods and would then be bound to the leader by shame and complicity. “The great analysts of truth and language in politics”—writes McGill University political philosophy professor Jacob T. Levy—including “George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel—can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is…. Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism.”
Arendt and others recognized, writes Levy, that “being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless.” She also recognized the function of an avalanche of lies to render a populace powerless to resist, the phenomenon we now refer to as “gaslighting”:
The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.
The epistemological ground thus pulled out from under them, most would depend on whatever the leader said, no matter its relation to truth. “The essential conviction shared by all ranks,” Arendt concluded, “from fellow traveler to leader, is that politics is a game of cheating and that the ‘first commandment’ of the movement: ‘The Fuehrer is always right,’ is as necessary for the purposes of world politics, i.e., world-wide cheating, as the rules of military discipline are for the purposes of war.”
“We too,” writes Jeffrey Isaacs at The Washington Post, “live in dark times”—an allusion to another of Arendt’s sobering analyses—“even if they are different and perhaps less dark.” Arendt wrote Origins of Totalitarianism from research and observations gathered during the 1940s, a very specific historical period. Nonetheless the book, Isaacs remarks, “raises a set of fundamental questions about how tyranny can arise and the dangerous forms of inhumanity to which it can lead.” Arendt’s analysis of propaganda and the function of lies seems particularly relevant at this moment. The kinds of blatant lies she wrote of might become so commonplace as to become banal. We might begin to think they are an irrelevant sideshow. This, she suggests, would be a mistake.
The above article is from Open Culture. Visit Open Culture for many more great articles
UK Reloaded (home based in England, UK) where the article above originated is a TLB project website.
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