The hue and cry that continues to echo, reverberate and tremble throughout the caves of political rhetoric, primarily in the U.S., but also to varying degrees around the globe, is burdened with a ironic and tragic history and a legacy of information peddling the depends on lies, even ‘organized lies’ (borrowed from Hannah Arendt).
In an essay entitled, “Organized lying and professional legitimacy: Public relations’ accountability in the disinformation debate,” on journals.sagepub..com, published December 16, 2020, Lee Edwards writes:….’this article argues that disinformation and fake news are well-established tools in public relations work and are implicated in the current crisis….’(O)rganized lying-the intentional systemic dissemination o falsehoods by groups, organisations and institutions—has long been part of political life.(Arendt 1968*) and the tools used to create and promote disinformation come directly from the mainstream stable of promotional tactics, dating back to the days of propaganda and public opinion manipulation. (Bernays, 2005 (1928): Corner, 2007,; Demetrious, 2019; Mayhew, 1997; Ong and Cabanes, 2018; Shir-Raz and Avraham, 2017)…In a [political world driven by opinion formation about the meaning of things, (Arendt) argues that facts, with their ‘intractable unreasonable stubbornness’ (Arendt, 1968:243) are potentially impotent in political debates because they can only reflect the world as it is. Lying, however—defined as the instrumental dissemination of information and/or opinion that has no basis in fact—is always a form of political agency. Lies can readily be used to promote a particular point of view or to encourage particulate forms of action, because of their persuasive power: unconstrained by reality, ‘the liar is free to fashion his ‘facts’ to fit the profit and pleasure, or even the mere expectations, of his audience. (Arendt, 1968:251). Organized lying takes the impact of the lie further. More than obscuring some interpretations of the world, it actively destroys them in service of a ‘major and permanent adjustment of displacement of reality; (Arendt, 1971: Corner, 2007, 674) Such fundamental ontological work requires that these systematic distortions of reality are embedded in the ways in which politics is not only communicated, but also organised, in order that policymakers themselves believes the distortions. Thus organised lying has the potential to replace concern for the common good in political debates with a concern for vested interests, while misrepresenting those interests to both the public and to policymakers as the common good….As Harsin (2019) argues, ‘Both consumer capitalism, deeply embedded in everyday life, and elite liberal democracy…demand deceptive communication. There is a structural incitement to deception…To claim one truth as definitive may be tantamount to totalitarian dictatorship, opening the door to violence and inequality (Mejia et al., 2018: Nelson, 1978)…As Arendt (1968) argues, the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is…that the sense by which we take out bearings in the real world—and the category of truth vs falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed. (p.257)
From a piece entitled, Noam Chomsky Defines the Real Responsibility of Intellectuals: ‘To Speak the Truth and to Expose Lies’ (1967), dated July 18, 2018, on openculture.com we read this:
“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth
and to expose lies,” wrote Chomsky in his 1967 essay. ‘This, at least, may seem
enough of a truism to pass over without comment. No so, however. For the modern
intellectual, it is not at all obvious.’ Chomsky proceeds from the pro-Nazi
statements of Martin Heidegger to the distortions and outright falsehoods
issued routinely by such thinkers and shapers of foreign policy as Arthur
Schlesinger, economist Walt Rostow, and Henry Kissinger in their defense of the
disastrous Vietnam War. The background for all of these figures’ distortions of
fact, Chomsky argues, is the perpetual presumption of innocence on the part of
the U.S., a feature of the doctrine of exceptionalism under which ‘it is an
article of faith that American motives are pure an not subject to analysis.’ Chomsky
would include the rhetorical appeal to a nobler past in the category of ‘;imperialist
apologia’—a presumption of innocence that ‘becomes increasingly distasteful as
the power it serves grows more dominant in world affairs, and more capable,
therefore, of the unconstrained viciousness that the mass media present to us
each day.’…For those who well recall the events of fifteen years ago (2003)
when the U.S. government, with the aid of a compliant press, lied its way into
the second Iraq war, condoning torture and the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of
supposed hostiles to black sites in the name of liberating the Iraqi people,
Chomsky’s Vietnam-era critiques may sound just as fresh as they did in the
mid-sixties. Are we already in danger of misremembering that recent history?
There is a long history of distortion in the theatre of politics, foreign policy, economics, military manipulations, many, if not most of them, generated by some version of the phrase “national interests” of the nation…seemingly the history of the twentieth century’s dive into totalitarianism, was not enough of a red flag to preclude more propaganda manipulation in the administration of George W. Bush. Nor was it an adequate reminder and caution against the regime of lies that now characterize the last American administration. And, where there is power, the seat of power, and the people who sit in those seats, there is an inevitable coterie of men and women whose needs are so great that, like moths to brilliant light, they stampede, and then, just as suddenly and unceremoniously, they die in the shadows of that ‘light’.
Similarly, in the corporate world, lies to protect the public mask of the corporation continue to run rampant on the advertising and public relations engines, themselves complicit in the ‘smooth running’ of the much larger ‘engine of public information. Magnetizing eyes, ears, hearts and minds, for profit, through sales, is the primary instrument/industry that has been merged into the public consciousness as “respectful” and “ethical” and “moral” and “honourable” given that it energizes employment rates, Gross Domestic Product numbers, tax revenues, and those benchmarks that denote a health economy.
Bigness, in military machines, in sales volumes, in DOW indices, in speed and horsepower of autos, boats, airplanes, as well as fighter jets, and ‘McMansions…they all are calculated to evoke/provoke collective “WOW’s from an allegedly amazed citizenry. Having more, too, at the domestic family level, is also considered a societal “good” enhanced only by additional bobbles, and the social reputation that flows therefrom.
Power over, too, is considered, under this epistemological umbrella, to be better than weakness, so, naturally, those men and women and children who have substantially less, or even quite literally ‘nothing’ of the world’s affluence, are considered ‘inferior’ and in North America, those groups include black, brown, Asian, indigenous…all of them also targets of something publicly discussed as racism. Yet, there is an implicit and built-in bias of inferiority, based on house size, wardrobe styles, sport equipment, and even body size….given that taller people are reported to earn more than less tall men and women.
The lies in which we are all ensnared include such corporate distortions that climate change and global warming are a hoax, (perpetrated by the Chinese, just like the COVID-19), the “magic” of trump, (as told in adulation by Senator Lindsay Graham), the stolen election of the U.S. presidency, the imposition of restrictions on personal liberty through required mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccinations.
The penetration of ‘alternative facts’ and the swirling ethos of distortions lies, dissemblings has so “smogged” the culture of the United States, that, like the pandemic itself, and the failure of the world to trust much of the establishment’s utterances, as well as it policies, threatens to render, at least the U.S. as potentially ungovernable.
And the lies are not the exclusive domain of the elite; ordinary people, too, with universal access to cell phones, tablets, the internet and the opportunity to spread their own lies, distortions, gossip, character assassinations, rumours…all with a degree of impunity that leaves them unleashed to their own destructive ‘power’ tendencies.
The issues of reining in the already uncapped ‘pandora’s box of human narcissism, linked to the political and corporate culture of deliberate lies, seems to implicate so many individuals, as well as all demographics, that those actually charged with responsibility for ‘cleaning’ up the cultural ethos, are themselves, first going to have to acknowledge their own complicity in the game. And it is, after all, a game into which we have all been recruited, perhaps ever seduced, and naively succumbed to that recruitment.
Training military recruits in the arts and the science of military action, espionage, weaponry, and then discovering those same men and women, trained on the public purse, to defend the country, have turned their aim on the very nation that raised them, educated them and employed and deployed them is another of the indices that demonstrate the depth of innocence, naivety, and even ignorance among those charged with recruitment. Similarly, however, the Republican Party was unable and/or unwilling to block the candidacy of trump back in 2015, a master-manipulator whose strategy and tactics were well know to all of his opponents in their presidential campaigns as well as the media whose task was to report on that campaign.
Documenting lies, however, as history amply proves, is no guarantee of reducing their production, or their sophisticated chicanery, nor is it a pathway to putting limits to hate speech. Like so much of the rest of the political theatre, it has become another game-box, manipulated by those seeking entertainment, separated from the foundation of provable factual information. And, as actors in a drama whose script is manipulated and controlled by others whose motives are, in a word, not innocent, or focussed on the public good, but rather on their personal and private self-aggrandizement, we are increasingly rendered victims, albeit conscious victims of a game whose rules we no longer set, and no longer have the range and depth of power to change.
If the history of lying in the United States is imitated, even at only a 50% rate by other nations, how can ordinary people come to the place, a very necessary place, where we can breathe relatively easily, with any confidence that those making decisions will make those decisions on publicly available and demonstrable information, and then will subject those decisions to the scrutiny of a dwindling demographic of ordinary people who have and will continue to take the time to become familiar with the truth, in order to better judge and to hold accountable those in public service, both elected and appointed.
A one-hour public lecture on implicit racial bias, on ABC television last evening, while noteworthy, scanned the ways by which we all develop implicit bias. Nevertheless, the lies that continue to confound the body politic, and have for far too long, need much more exposure, and a concentrated initiative among public officials, the media, the academe, the ecclesial hierarchies, and educators at all levels, to discern the fullness of the truth of their/our utterances, and to develop an awareness of the implications of distortions and lies not only on their immediate goals, but on the long-term health of the globe.