Monday, March 24, 2014

Living With Lies

When the actions of political elites are contrary to the interests of the masses, they are justified by lies. In failing states, such as the Soviet Union, lies become the standard coin of government communication.

Lies work in the short-run, but the public becomes cynical when they are told lies without end. In Russia, during the Soviet era, it was said that  in the state-owned newspaper Izvestiya (Russian for "news") there was no Pravda (Russian for "truth") and that in the state-owned newspaper Pravda there was no Izvestiya.

Today, the same lack of truth and significant information applies to, say, the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are not state-owned but, appropriately, in a plutocracy, largely or wholely owned by, respectively, Carlos Slim, one of the World's two or three wealthiest men, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

And as in Soviet Russia, the American public today has become cynical of government pronouncements. Thousands in Alaska have petitioned the White House for union with Russia, President Obama's approval rating in America is barely half that of President Putin's in Russia, and the British currently have a higher opinion of the Russian Federation than their own European Union.

But the American elite aren't giving up.  Crass Sunstein, former Obama information Tzar, husband of Samantha Power, America's UN envoy who recently auditioned to join the well-known Russian porno group, Pussy Riot, has a plan to keep the dolts deluded.

In his 2008 paper 'Conspiracy Theories' written with Adrian Vermeule, he proposed the following eminently reasonable measures:
  1. Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.
  2. Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.
  3. Government might itself engage in counter-speech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories.
  4. Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counter-speech.
  5. Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help."
But so far, nothing much has been done. And still people just don't believe half what Western governments tell them, whether it be about 9/11, the Sandy Hook Massacre or the Neo-Nazti coup against a legitimate democratically elected government in Ukraine. This stubborn skepticism has prompted Sunstein to further rumination, the unstated premise of which seems to be the one thing that the public at large does not accept: namely, that whatever the government says must be true.

From that assumption, the challenge is not to distinguish truth from falsehood in the public pronouncements of government, but merely how to treat the mental condition of conspiracy theorists. And to do that, says Sunstein, one must be wary about efforts to establish "the truth" as they may increase suspicion, which obviously will be the case if by "efforts to establish 'the truth'", one means banning conspiracy theories, taxing conspiracy theories, etc., etc.

But the good Harvard professor suggests something new: a means to manipulate the conspiracy theorist by "affirming, rather than attacking, their basic values and commitments," i.e., engaging in deception, since clearly the party attempting to force the government's line down the doubter's throat, and the truth be damned, does not share the doubter's basic values and commitments.

What eludes the Harvard professor apparently, is the idea that the truth is best assessed by honest and open debate, and on the basis of facts that governments often seem anxious to conceal. In that connection, Kevin Barrett has an interesting proposal for Sunstein: a public debate about 9/11.

Dear Cass Sunstein,

As one of the “purveyors of conspiracy theories” you want the government to “disable,” I am writing to invite you to “cognitively infiltrate” my radio show and “disable” my 9/11 conspiracy theories by arguing against them using logic and evidence.

I have a large audience interested in the topic; my Press TV op-ed published last July may be the most-read article ever published on conspiracy theories. By conspiring to do a radio show, we could get a lot of attention and sell a lot of books. So if you turn me down – keeping in mind that this is my third interview request – there must be a nefarious explanation ; – )

Seriously, I think we have more common ground than meets the eye. I agree that conspiracy theories seem to be spinning out of control, and that the “everything’s a conspiracy” mind-set is a threat to rational discourse and democratic institutions. But your proposed solution – a government conspiracy to suppress conspiracy theories – would just make the problem worse.

A better solution: Radical transparency, starting with an American Glasnost campaign to expose every secret ever held by the post-WWII national security state, featuring a truth-and-reconcilation commission to deal with the malefactors, followed by a radical redesign of our institutions.

American Glasnost could begin with a no-holds-barred official effort to fully expose the truth about coups and false flag events, economic and actual hit men, UFOs, etc. Then we could re-tool our democratic institutions and mandate hand-counted paper ballots, transparent public currency rather than privately-printed Fed funny-money, rigorous enforcement of antitrust laws with extra rigor for big media, and a much-scaled-down and largely secrecy-free national defense sector.

Douglas Rushkoff, an author you should be familiar with, has eloquently explained that new communications technologies undermine secrecy and mandate transparency. For example, when American officials conspire to illegally overthrow governments, as recently happened in Ukraine, Putin can intercept the conversations, post them on the internet, and create a PR disaster for the conspirators.

The rise in “conspiracy theories” is driven by this kind of widespread dissemination of information about the misdeeds of the powerful, and there is no way to turn the clock back and restore a culture of official secrecy, short of a brutal totalitarian lockdown on information.

Your program of “nudging” the public away from both real and fanciful conspiracy memes just won’t work. My friends and I can nudge the public toward fact-based conspiracy memes more effectively than you and your co-conspirators can nudge them in the other direction, even if you outspend us by billions of dollars. Truth is the great equalizer.

Since you are an illustrious law professor, I am sure you can argue ably against the positions outlined above. Please do so – by joining me on my radio program and getting your message out to the audience you want to convince. Stop preaching to the choir – go straight to the conspiracy theorists and explain to us why we are wrong!

I await your reply, and look forward to speaking with you.
Such a debate is something to look forward to. But what odds would a rational person offer on the chance of it happening?

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