Disinformation, propaganda and the origins of totalitarianism.
“What if life is a lie, and death is the truth, that we find out in the end.”
The denial of life’s substance and the interpretation of the tangible aspects of existence as day dreaming, while death is affirmed as the ultimate reality is one of the strongest aspects of human existential aridity.
As a matter of fact, the substantiality of life and the veracity of reality have been questioned and doubted since the dawn of the human intellect.
“Cogito, ergo sum.”
I think, therefore I am.
“And finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is, at that time, not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be something; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the Sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.”
René Descartes – Discourse on the Method – 1637.
I think, therefore I am?
Well, no matter how thoughtful and good intentioned René aimed to be, the logical result to his existential anguish —“but immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be something” — is : I AM
I AM, therefore I think, therefore I doubt.
Therefore introducing a logical consequence not an inevitable result, since many living beings ARE but do not think.
Therefore, from “cogito, ergo sum” we shall conclude that there was really some method to his madness and plenty of madness to his method.
⇒ And “What if life is a lie, and death is the truth, that we find out in the end?”
Honestly, I didn’t even waste my time researching the real author of this pearl, since the logical result to “if life is a lie”, turns to be: also is death.
Life and death are inherent aspects of the same phenomenon, you can only have death if you have life.
This, indeed, seems to be a very convenient approach for an immature and escapist psyche, since the denial of life and its tangible aspects implies relief of existential suffering and avoidance of the responsibility of building up a better reality for oneself and the next.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that the abstraction and even denial of practical life exerted an overwhelming influence in human philosophy, religiosity, psychology and arts, and that some mad cartesianism, as well as a blunt positivism greatly contributed to the development of the scientific method.
“The only real life is the collective life of the race; individual life has no existence except as an abstraction.”
But, what does it all have to see with disinformation, propaganda and totalitarianism?
The machinery of unverified information
In recent years, a profusion of terms used to describe the propagation of false or misleading information has flooded broadcast-news, social media channels, academic lectures and talks, books, scientific papers and so on — disinformation, misinformation, malinformation, fake news, rumours, hoax, made-up stories, lies, propaganda, fish tales.
It does have importance the differentiation between some of these terms, but it would also be too technical, tiresome and unproductive to specify all of them. Our purpose is to understand the machinery of unverified information and how it affects your daily life, your every-moment decisions and its historical, social, political connection with the loss of freedom in totalitarian states.
The machinery of unverified information works with the picture that you do not have the possibility to access facts, events or experience reality at first hand, and in case you have, that your natural tendency to doubt the perceived reality or your mental laziness in checking information can make you slide away from the truth.
You have already seen how it is easy to get trapped in sophistry and to be tricked by false argumentation or erroneous concatenation of ideas, and now you understand the goal of our introduction.
Hannah Arendt, one of the most significant humanist thinkers of the second world war period and studious of the totalitarian rule reveals through observation that:
“The ideal subjects of the totalitarian rule are the people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”
“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of men who can fabricate it.”
“Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.”
Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism
Basically, according to Arendt, the weapon of totalitarianism is manipulated information promoted through propaganda. It is the precise modus operandi for absolute, centralized control over a country/nation, and for the subservience of its population.
Hannah Arendt – sketch
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
“If all others accept the lie, which the party imposed, if all records told the same tale, then the lie passed into history and became truth.”
George Orwell – 1984
Actually, not only distorting reality and manipulating information, but also narrowing the range of abstract thought and reducing the complexity of the speech.
“His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right.”
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?”
George Orwell in his fictional novel, 1984, narrates the struggle of the individual against the oppression of a prototypical totalitarian state.
Maybe now we are able to grasp the structural frame of what is PROPAGANDA.
And let there be PROPAGANDA
Propaganda is the use or the misuse of information to influence an audience and to induce it into a desired pattern of thought, behaviour or action.
How does it take place in the human psyche?
The intellective functioning of the mind is achieved through a wide network of neural pathways which can be created, reinforced by repetition or atrophied by lack of stimulus, all of them modulated by endogenous chemicals that enable neurotransmission.
The widest your neural network, the greater your ability to learn, to solve problems, to adapt, to elaborate, to abstract, to create, to express, to question, to doubt.
One of the hidden aspects of propaganda is that, through subliminal messaging or repetition, it creates or reinforces specific neural connections, invisible associations of ideas and conceptual links in your brain; associations and links that normally do not correspond to the truth as the reality lived and observed by the individual.
Propaganda is not about reproducing the reality, propaganda is about creating invisible associations of ideas, conceptual links and neurochemical responses that induce you to a desired behaviour or action. This is the kernel of what propaganda is. This is how propaganda persuades, induces, manipulates you.
And it all starts with the speech, and with the information that feeds your nervous system.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell – 1984.
In a close, attentive observation of the speech you can notice the design of this neural network, if it is wide or reduced, patterns of thought, repetition of words, free associations of ideas, conceptual links, confusion or linearity, prolixity or objectiveness, content and tone.
I use to say that someone can tell you everything without being asked any question; and, actually, we find out that these associations ARE NOT FREE. There is a lot of cultural bias and PROPAGANDA.
People are not free thinkers, THEY ARE CONSTRUCTED.
PROPAGANDA, which to be effective doesn’t need to be authentic, legit, or true to the facts. It doesn’t even need to be GOOD OR ETHICAL.
PROPAGANDA IS AMORAL. It is not attached to any sense of morality, ethics or truth. Mischievous propaganda also works very well.
“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.”
Carl. G. Jung – Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
For propaganda to be effective it just needs VISIBILITY and TIME OF EXPOSURE to the eyes and the ears of the public; the more it inadvertently involves you, the more effective and profound it is.
Sometimes the aim of propaganda is not even to create or reinforce specific neural pathways but to reduce your thirst to diversify them, to create your own pathways, to think by yourself.
“That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything.”
Sometimes the aim of propaganda is to create a state of permanent surveillance and fear, that is taught and reproduced to the next generations.
A CCTV display using the facial-recognition system Face in Beijing (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2018/01/07/).
“Surveillance is permanent in its effects even if it is discontinuous in its action.”
Sometimes the aim of propaganda is to confuse, to exhaust, to distract.
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
And the most nefarious aspect of PROPAGANDA is that the created associations of ideas, conceptual links and neurochemical responses, or even the atrophy of neural pathways, have their origins or roots lost in time and space.
In few years, days or even hours you won’t know or remember where it came from, you will simply repeat or reproduce it, and the obvious will become intangible, obscure and indecent.
Here, we are not only talking about propaganda, these are the sustaining pillars of misinformation, disinformation, also of the creation of all belief systems.
“The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.”