Thursday, April 07, 2005

Brave New Nineteen Eighty-Four

I'm sometimes so happy to have some blogs on my blogroll.

For example, Under The Same Sun, written by a leftie whose care for the Third World involved actual work there (whom earlier praised for her take on outsourcing, similar to mine), departed from the usual "hypocritical religious extremists vs. science and the husband who first tried everything" B/W script, and dug deeper into the Schiavo case, finding more issues of general importance.

Then there is Billmon, somewhere at the border of the US centre-left, who shared many mainstream-ish assumptions (was also unenthusiastically pro-Kerry) but also had independent thought. Last summer he suddenly stopped posting, then returned with posts containing only quotes. He recently explained what happened:

What happened, roughly, is this: Last summer I got off a boat after a week [...] the real trip wire was coming out of radio silence and finding both the blogosphere and what we had then not yet learned to call the “MSM” immersed to the tops of their pointy little heads in the Swift Boat Veterans for Lies campaign – last year’s version of the vegetative patient story; the patient, in that particular case, being American democracy.

Now this was only a few weeks after I had concluded, rather rashly, that it would be virtually impossible for the Rove machine to pump its usual tanker load of slime all over John Kerry’s war record, based simply on the word of a brigade of Jane Fonda haters led by a Nixon-era retread who has made destroying Kerry his lifelong personal ambition. Surely, I argued, such an absurd ploy wouldn’t get beyond the usual right-wing echo chamber pots – and would quickly be dumped in the same sewer of right-wing delusions that holds the murdered corpse of Vince Foster.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. . . oh my yes. It is amusing to recall what a naive idealist I was back then. What I hadn’t learned was that the eyes of brain-dead people, like your average MSM journalist, will still track the movement of shiny objects when they are waved in front of their faces. Involuntary reflexes. Lower brain stem activity. The Rovians understood this perfectly well, even if I didn’t. So it didn’t take them long to organize a full-scale chorus of media vegetables, all making vaguely articulate grunts and other mouth noises about Cambodia, the Christmas of 1968, purple hearts, after-action reports, etc.

And that’s when it hit me – as if, to quote Col. Kurtz, I’d been shot in the forehead with a diamond – that Kerry was almost certainly going to lose the election, that the American people really were going to ratify torture and murder as instruments of state policy, and that all the facts and all the rational arguments and all the moral outrage in the world weren’t going to persuade them otherwise.

What I finally had to confront was the fact that truth alone is impotent in the face of modern propaganda techniques – as developed, field tested, refined and deployed by Madison Avenue, the Pentagon, the think tanks, the marketing departments of major corporations, the communications departments of major research universities, etc. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, the peculiar vulnerability of historical truth (which means political truth) is that it isn’t inherently more plausible than outright lies, since the facts could always have been otherwise. And in a world where the airwaves are overloaded 24/7 with the mindless babbling of complete idiots, it isn’t very hard to make inconvenient facts disappear, or create new pseudofacts that reinforce whatever bias or cultural affinity you want to cultivate – particularly if the audience is already disposed to prefer your reassuring lies to discomforting truths told by strangers.

This rhymes with some of my more pessimistic thoughts. I believe progressives of different couleurs (especially liberals and socialists) often underestimate the power of propaganda, versus people's ability to recognise and enforce their own best interests.

I mean, first, some don't realise their own vulnerability. Truth is often buried under multiple layers of lies from different sources, with differing agendas - for example in the Iraq mess it is below the pre-Gulf-War Reagan & Bush I admin's, the post-war Bush admin's, the Clinton admin's, and the Bush II and Bliar admin's multiple pre- and post-invasion neo-con and StateDep etc. versions; depates on energy policy are tainted by long-running, often-opposed campaigns by the oil, coal and nuclear industries; and even among stark opponents of capitalism; and just how twisted is the usage of economic terms like productivity, GDP and its growth, etc. (and how intended that is) is lost even on many opponents of capitalism. Second, some others who did recognise and overcame their own vulnerability, deceive themselves about others' chances (chances, not ability) to come clean. There is the frequently quoted but false more that you can't deny reality forever. (You can, all you need is to replace worn-out lies with new ones.)

As referred to in my very first post already, I came to see the American Empire (its core, dominions, and also both its geographical and mental sphere of influence) as an emerging marriage of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. A postmodern dystopia where seduction by and addiction to the superficial compete (and mix) with totalitarian control and repression and war psychosis as the means of induced self-deception.

Via histologion (another blog I'm so happy about having enrolled), I found an article [pdf] by Varda Burstyn, who had similar thoughts, and points to a lot of little-noticed developments that can further enhance this, in the author's words, Janus-faced dystopia. Some of the more phantastic-sounding stuff in both visions is already with us - and so are stuff emerging from their fusion. Have you heard about BrightHouse and CEO COM LINK? Read about what the Carlyle Goup is up to recently? Heard of ICT and militainment? Of the NanoSoldier Institute?

Burstyn's analysis also goes where neither of the two visionaries have gone, and for that matter many idealists haven't gone, beyond human society: it deals with environmental destruction.

And ends with a glimmer of hope.

UPDATE 10/04: Billmon, linking to me and histologion, also comments on Varda Burstyn's article; and I'll shamelessly put up his photoshopped illustration:


At 10:32 PM, Blogger FransGroenendijk said...

Hence my oneliner "save democracy from direct elections"

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