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If a Martian were to make judgements on the peoples of the Earth based on their responses to polled questions, that Martian might possibly conclude that the average US citizen has an intellectual ability somewhat below that of a concussed baboon and that the average Israeli would like to see all Palestinians strangled at birth. But, the people of the United States, Usanians, and the people of Israel are just that – people. Sure, there are extremists (more than in most countries I dare say) but average people are by definition just average people. Why then, do polls continually show that Israeli’s favour extreme policy positions which amount to poorly disguised genocide? Equally, why do polls suggest that people in the US hold beliefs suggestive of extreme mental degradation? Are they reacting so violently against the very concept of evolution that their genes, in response, are sending them back the other way?
I’m not really interested in rehearsing the well-covered topics of US anti-intellectualism and its political uses, nor the equally well-covered ground of Israeli extremism and its strategic utility. In this commentary I will discuss the following: 1 – how US mass miseducation fuels an elitist delusion of a broader strategic stupidity in US leaders and institutions (which is a form of apologism); 2 – how Israeli Hasbara (or public diplomacy) creates a hermetically sealed information environment; and 3 – what the current state of mass and elite delusion tells us compared with (say) Soviet era propaganda.
Part 1: Stupid “Americans”
The subject of the widely alleged stupidity of US Americans is one close to my heart. When reading analyses of major US interventions in Korea, Indochina and Iraq there are a few analysts who claim that the US acted out of a genuine security need; there are others who say they did it to make money. Both of these are demonstrably untrue as these interventions cost money and created insecurity not just at the macro level, but as a policy tendency almost without exception in every arena from waste disposal, to aerial bombardment, to international diplomacy. Most, therefore, explain matters in the only other way that their teeny-tiny brains can cope with – “Americans” are just plain stupid. The stupidity and arrogance attributed to the US is sometimes characterised as misguided attempts to bring “democracy” to people. Thus, although it was the US which prevented unified elections in Vietnam and gave support to blatantly rigged RVN elections, many authors see US idealistic attempts to bring enlightenment and democracy as arrogant because they were dealing with people who were culturally (or racially) indisposed towards freedom and human rights. Equally, even though Bremer’s CPA tried to prevent elections in Iraq, many people see US intervention in Iraq as a misguided crusade to spread democracy. Yeah, right.
The alleged naïve and/or arrogant stupidity of US people is exactly the same excuse for violent deadly imperialism as the “bungling” of the British who acquired an empire “in a fit of absence of mind”. In the US case analyses of policy are replete with words such as “unintended”, “reckless”, “heedless” and “misguided”. The US doesn’t commit aggression it gets “sucked” into “quagmires”. Often in many perfectly well respected analyses by pillars of the academic community, there is the cunning oriental figure of a local such as Syngman Rhee or Ngo Dinh Diem that (shock! horror!) “uses” US military might for their own domestic agenda! Even Ahmed Chalabi has been cast in this role. Yet each one of these gentlemen was the creation of US intelligence without whom they could not wield even the smallest amount of power.
Very few empires in history are characterised by equilibrium, and the US empire is most emphatically not one of them. Most empires are pathologically expansionist. They expand and at some point begin to rot from within because imperial elites have interests as distinct from those of the centre as they are from those of the periphery. At some stage the expansion stops and they either collapse quickly or go into a fitful death-spiral. The expansion, however, does not happen without the will and intention of powerful individuals. The separation between structure and agency is somewhat of a delusion in any respect, but imperial expansion requires both. For an empire to expand the extent and depth of its power and control requires that powerful individuals desire that outcome. In the US they will often make clear such designs in journals or white papers and, not uncommonly, right in the open in mass print media (broadcast media less so). Yet when the prescribed actions are actually undertaken, very, very few people characterise the victims of the resultant mass violence as being assaulted, maimed, and murdered by those who had openly advocated an extension of imperial power which, of necessity, could only be achieved through the very mass violence in question. Instead they seek answers elsewhere in the rhetoric of idealism or in the impersonal “structures” of a deterministic economic model. Either way exonerates the perpetrators, and the tendency to exonerate on the grounds of idealistic intent should be of no surprise.
It shouldn’t surprise us that people see US aggression as botched attempts to do good, because the very first thing that an imperialist sets about doing before enacting mass violence in the pursuit of imperial expansion is to find a cover story that is a) emotive and b) morally righteous. This is normal, it is what those who would wage war do, even those who in the very next breath might be extolling martial prowess, expensionist destiny, and the racial superiority of their people.
This is where we begin to return to US stupidity and Israeli extremism. You see, for a long time (as far back as Thucydides) people aware of the insincerity of professed idealism among aggressors have taken it as evidence that all polities will maximise the power they wield in their own self-interest regardless of the cost in blood and pain to others. I think the reasoning is something along the lines of: If Athens did it, if Rome did it, if Britain did it, and France, and the US – if these epitomes of human advancement act like rabid mass-murdering psychopaths then it must be inevitable that all polities will if given such power. (That was actually a major component of the Nazi rationalisation of their own imperialist genocides). This ignores, of course, those polities which do not, at any given time, harbour imperial ambitions and acts, yet again, to exonerate the imperial agressors. It also misses the more important lesson to be drawn from the practice of lying in order to enact aggression. That lesson is that the lies are necessary. Not only are the lies necessary, but it is necessary that a reasonable portion believe the lies.
You might be able to see where I’m going with this, but let’s just pause to reflect on what sort of lies I’m talking about. In a recent commentary I discussed atrocity propaganda, such Nayirah al-Sabah’s tearful testimony about brutally killed Kuwait newborns. That is typical, but unsophisticated. Going forward in time 12-and-a-half years Colin Powell used his sobriety in exactly the same way that Nariyah used her tears – but that wasn’t the real lie. The lie of the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation (i.e. phase 2 of the Iraq Genocide) had to be more enduring. The real lie of the Bush and Blair governments was that they believed their own lies. It was known very early on that they were consciously attempting to deceive and, presumably as a fall back after being found out, they simply caused the media (by whatever mechanism) to emphasise over and over again Blair’s innate sincerity, the neocon’s fanaticism, and, not least, Bush’s stupidity. Somehow, in a rather scary feat of thought control, they managed to actually sell the idea that these people had consciously created a systematic deception and then, through some unmentioned but clearly bizarre mechanism, had become victims to their own lies.
You have probably already guessed that I am going to suggest about poll results which show, for example, 57% of voting age US citizens believe in demonic possession; or that ever increasing numbers think that Obama is a Muslim; or polls showing that 84% of Israelis supported the latest assault on Gaza and 70% opposed the ceasefire (in a country that is 20% Palestinian); or polls that show that most Israeli’s believe that they are practising apartheid and most support apartheid policies, (leading Gideon Levi to write “Israelis themselves … are openly, shamelessly and guiltlessly defining themselves as nationalistic racists“). Of course, I believe it is because of the informational environment in which these populations live their lives that they develop such notable opinions.
You might be beginning to wonder: Am I suggesting that the whole thrust of mass miseducation in the US is to produce such a convincing appearance of national stupidity as to provide cover for any and all conceivable war crimes and crimes against humanity? Would I suggest that? Nope. Not at all. It’s just a serendipitous circumstance. It is very felicitous, from an imperialist point of view, because the people that you have to convince that US leaders are stupid include those wilfully responsible for the miseducation of the masses.
63 percent of Republican respondents still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003. I can’t find any polls on whether people in the US think that Iran is making a nuclear weapon, only ones that say what they think the US response to an assumed nuclear weapons programme. In October 2012, 56% of respondents said they favor Washington taking a “firm stand” with Iran, while 41% said it is “more important to avoid military conflict.” Some people actually claim outright that Iran is building a nuclear weapon, such as Netanyahu who predicted an Iranian bomb by 1997 back in 1992 and hasn’t let up since that time. Most, however, know that they can’t make such a claim but they like to act as if it were established truth and by nuance and implication can give an audience or readership that impression. What faith is it that causes them to promulgate as truth something for which they have no evidentiary basis? The faith that peace-loving, enlightened, noble and Nobel-worthy US leaders have a problem with Iran its either because they have secret knowledge of the real Iranian plan which may not involve nuclear weapons but must involve something equally bad – like terrorism! or genocide! or nuclear terror genocide! or militant network cyberspace nuclear terror genocide AGAINST THEIR OWN PEOPLE!
The real secret is that if the masses are stupid, then the educated classes are incredibly goddamned stupid, and then some. I would bet, for example, that whilst the uneducated may either believe or disbelieve claims of Syrian chemical weapons threats, it takes considerable education to swallow Leon Panetta’s claims that the latest intelligence indicates that Syria has in some way slowed its threat to use chemical weapons against it own people. The funny thing is that Panetta never explicitly said anything so silly as Syria has slowed some sort of Sarin gas production line or something, he merely used that tried an trusted method of vagueness hinting at certain things being unsayable, and the media outlets did their job with headlines like “Panetta Says Chemical Threat has Slowed”. The media employees responsible for this are not of the Great Unwashed masses.
Famously, it was found viewers of Fox News were more likely to hold three misperceptions than viewers of other news sources. I believe that the right questions would yield similar results for the New York Times, or for the BBC, or for The Economist. Further, I believe that the right questions would point to the same thing for university graduates. Two of the questions asked of Fox viewers were realting not to reality directly but to what had been demonstrated or established. Try for example, asking people whether there is direct historical evidence that North Korea fired first in the Korean War. Even if the “don’t knows” are the majority, if they were excluded I guarantee that the more educated the group asked, the greater percentage who will answer wrongly. In a similar vein one could ask people about the first Tonkin Gulf incident and the more educated the respondent, the more inaccurate their response is likely to be.
[Typically, “education” acts to problematise the unproblematic, creating the same sort of fallacious “balance” which permeates the mainstream media. It creates a sense of privileged knowledge which is a channel through which officialdom can reveal the sort of things that the proles wouldn’t really get. Victims of this form of miseduction are liable to counter assertions with a clear moral implication, such as an accusation of aggression of genocide, with a haughty “Well, actually…” followed by received wisdom imparted by someone whom they consider to be unimpeachably prestigious and possessed of secret erudition. For some that might be Samuel Huntington, for others (who might completely revile Huntington) it could be Juan Cole. It all looks the same to me.]
Part 2: Fungal Societies.
On the On Genocide blog I recently posted footage from the Electronic Intifada website of a right-wing counter-demo in support of Israel’s attack on Gaza where, among many words of obscene vitriol, the entire group danced while chanting “Death to Arabs!”. I also posted testimony from a former member of the Israeli Occupation Forces where he described how his comrades “enjoyed seeing the misery” of the impoverished Palestinians whom they were brutalising. This is a frightening level of hatred and dehumanisation. These are scary, scary people with very deadly weapons, but we should really be asking what forces have created them.
Military personnel are a very special case. I won’t deny that there are those in the military who take honour very seriously and I won’t deny that military personnel are ordinary people who, in one way or another, have consciences just like the rest of us. What I will point out is that the most grotesque acts of violence in this world are almost exclusively carried out by military personnel. We may have been conditioned to look for religious fanaticism or primitive tribalism as a cause of brutality, but if one were to take almost any given atrocity, such as killing babies and toddlers, then the number one predictor will inevitably be prior military indoctrination, with current serving status just behind.
To get a sense of what can come from the combination of training to kill and a military culture of chauvinist superiority and exclusiveness, combined with a healthy dose of nationalistically informed racism, simply read Neil Shea’s Afghanistan: A Gathering Menace. There isn’t room here to discuss the multitude of important aspects to current processes of indoctrination which, whether successful or not, are best understood as ways of turning military personnel into murderers. What is worth contemplating is that it was found a veteran batallion stationed in Colorado Springs had a murder rate 114 times that of the surrounding community. That is a dramatic example, but I think it demonstrates quite well that the line between allegedly lawful killing, as soldiers are trained to commit, and murder is not that distinct.
(The distinction between killing and murder exists both at a level of personal morality and at a legal level. However, modern US and Israeli military practice is to attempt to efface moral judgments and replace them with a formalism with regard to what is claimed to be legitimate under given rules of engagement. In many instances this is quite blatantly in contravention of international humanitarian law and these are clear cases of murder from a moral standpoint.)
Depending on the manner of measurement, Israel is either the most militarised state on the planet, or the second most (after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Military personnel aren’t just more violent than civilians (as a whole) they are also more misinformed. Military personnel are the original archetype of those referred to figuratively as “mushrooms” – kept in the dark and fed bullshit. Among those US military personnel serving in Iraq in 2006, for example, a poll found “85% said the U.S. mission is mainly ‘to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,’ 77% said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was ‘to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.’”
Israel and the US have both been turned into fungal societies. I guess that in the US we cannot be surprised in some senses given that of their news media only a select few organs are reputable enough to be compared with Soviet-era Pravda and it has become ever more acceptable to devote greater and greater space to editorialising in the midst of news and current affairs reporting. In Israel, though, it is often pointed out that they are the media are less constrained and more balanced. A cynic would point out that this alleged freedom seems to be concentrated in Ha’aretz rather dispropotionately. A cynic might also point out that having 1 million Palestinian citizens and being extremely proximate to the occupied territories, it would be impossible for the Israeli media to be as one-sided as the US media has traditionally been.
It is, therefore, a little hard at first to understand how the country of Amira Hass and Gideon Levy produces individuals such as the young Israeli who approached me about 18 months ago. In her world, everything was the opposite of what I understand to be true. Every week in Israel, people are killed by Gazan rockets. Palestinians kill their own people in front of news cameras just to make Israelis look bad. Israeli, the only democracy in the Middle East, embodiment of all that is liberal, moderate and tolerant expends great effort in curtailing extremist settlers – even ripping them from their homes in Gaza in a great sacrifice in their yearning for peace. The entire UN was in the grips of a monstrous Jew-hating fervour and intent on destroying Israel. As was Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and any other group or individual I mentioned as criticising Israel (a nice piece of circular logic – the reason for criticising Israel must be hatred of Jews, hence the evidence of anti-Judaism is the criticism of Israel). She also claimed that the Vatican was run by a Nazi thug – but even a stopped clock tells the right time twice each day.
The Israeli spoke quite effectively, delivering everything as matter-of-fact. She soon realised that she had approached the wrong people, but the fact is that had we not had a pretty firm historical grounding we would have had the worst of the discussion. Everything in current events that we could offer she could gainsay and she could additionally claim the superiority of direct knowledge. I found this Israeli puzzling, and it certainly occurred to me that she had received training for just such an occasion. After all, she had very good English and it is fairly common for young Israelis to travel after completing military service. As indications of popular Israeli extremism continued to grow since then, however, it occurred to me that, trained or not, she may have believed most of what she uttered. It occurred to me that most people don’t actually read the newspapers much and most young people don’t even watch the television news. Their views tend to be more rumour oriented, more likely to be influenced by some sensationalist piece on youtube.
Part 3: Into the Heart of Hasbara-world.
For some people, no doubt, Israeli hasbara is a very familiar concept – an intimate part of the reality of the struggle for Palestinian freedom. Others are probably not familiar at all. Hasbara is translated as “public diplomacy”. This refers to the deliberate manipulation of public opinion commonly referred to as ‘perception management,’ but also described as the “theatre of power”. Public diplomacy has evolved far beyond merely the work of public diplomats, to the extent that in NATO Review Lieutenant Colonel Steven Collins included the bombing of broadcasting stations as an act of “public diplomacy”. Collins differentiates between public diplomacy, PSYOPS (psychological operations such as staged demonstrations), public information, and deception and covert action. But this separation is totally unsustainable, suggesting, for example that somehow public diplomacy, PSYOPS and “public information” do not involve deception. Indeed, though PSYOPS may serve tactical purposes they are also an increasingly used tool of public diplomacy. In fact we are in a world where, for the developed states, the difference between a publicity stunt and a military operation is non-existent. Of course, this can lead to some pretty weird situations, such as is currently the case with regard to Syria. For the record, if I were Syrian I have no doubt that I would oppose the government and I would have been one of those who opposed the reforms offered by Assad over a year ago. I say this with some chagrin, because the forces now arrayed against Assad are aligned with Western powers who would like nothing more than to inflict the same genocidal destruction and bloodletting on Syria that they inflicted on Iraq. That said, however, I would just like to point out that the PSYOPS driven propaganda is going both ways in this war and I am no less unconvinced by footage of “Islamist terrorists” killing rabbits with gas and slavering “this is what we will do to the infidel pig!” than I am unconvinced by people staging photo ops with carefully hand-buried “cluster bombs” which are obviously a couple of decades past their use-by date.
The most visible part of public diplomacy is “public relations”. The phrase “public relations” was invented by propagandist Edward Bernays as a replacement for the term “propaganda” which had taken on negative connotations. In other words, “public relations” is the propaganda term for “propaganda”. But as with the Syria propaganda war, to understand hasbara one must understand that it is public relations drawing on PSYOPS and other covert action.
You see, the US information environment (indeed that of all Western states) is a big amorphous thing wherein people are subliminally induced to make political judgements based on the imagery of the entertainment media. The heroes are the US military and the CIA. The West are the Good Guys. They are noble, wise and powerful vulnerable only to: tricky underhandedness; unfathomable fanaticism; and (less so now than in past times) subversive brainwashing (we should probably thank George Romero for appropriating the trope of brainwashed mindlessness and turning against the establishment). The point is, however, that the power of this form of self-righteous Western chauvinism is that when matters of fact are reported or analysed – the reporter or analyst will as a matter of course try to fit the facts to the narrative that their “gut” tells them is right, and if they should be tempted to stray from that there are many around them who will enforce compliance, or failing that punish dissent and prevent repetition.
So in the West the backbone of the system is not deliberate misinformation, though of course political actors (including government agencies and private corporations) do spread misinformation whenever they can get away with doing so. In Israel, however, it is apparently insufficient to submerge the public in a collective arrogance and the Israeli public must be drowned in actual lies. Further, these lies must be given substance by PSYOPS. In this manner Israelis can live (albeit rather wilfully) in a kind of magical land of opposites. It is the same as our own beloved Orwellian system of doublethink and newspeak, but given more substance.
Take, for example, Pallywood. Pallywood is the idea that Palestinians create fraudulent visual evidence of victims of Israeli violence. It began with an accusation made in 2005 that the Palestinians had been running an incredibly sophisticated propaganda system of media manipulation dating back to 1982. There are two things that I think are worth noting about the Pallywood claims. The first is that there are faked images of Palestinian casualties, some presumably by misguided but well-meaning Palestinians wanting to drive home the reality of suffering by visual representation, but some is clearly likely to have been faked by Hasbara agents in order to exploit the Pallywood discourse. The second thing is that the entire thrust of the Pallywood phenomenon is not to appeal to reason, but rather to block emotional reactions which are threatening to the fragile rationalised sense of righteousness which seems to sustain most Israelis.
To take the example of a recent video report entitled “Photo Fraud in Gaza”, the entire purpose is to inoculate the viewer from the emotional effects of seeing the results of violence. They do not claim that Israel does not kill children they try to induce in the viewer’s mind a doubt as to the veracity of visual depictions of those dead children. At one point they even cite the Palestinian Center for Human Rights as an authority with regard to 4-year old Mahmoud Sedallah, whose corpse was kissed on the forehead by the weeping Egyptian Prime Minister. The video report claims that Mahmoud is a Hamas rocket victim whose death is wrongly attributed to an Israeli airstrike. A very quick peruse of the PCHR’s website, however, would reveal a long, long continuing catalogue of Israeli violence and human rights abuses that includes the killing of children in the latest 8 day assault on Gazans. The fact that the PCHR, unlike CNN and Reuters, did not attribute Mahmoud’s death to an Israeli airstrike without proof only illustrates the reliablity all of their other reports of children killed by Israel. But that is reasoning, and this hasbara is not meant to function on the level of rationality. It is designed in an economical and parsimonious fashion to give Zionists exactly the ammunition they need to maintain a delusion of righteousness, and no more. It is not designed to counter the ever more statistically overt fact of Israel’s slow genocide, it is designed to allow people to dismiss statistics as unreliable.
Strengthening the irrational narrative of Israeli righteousness is the prophylactic protection provided from dissenting opinions coming from the outside. This is achieved by accusing international organs and bodies of anti-Israeli bias which is implicitly or explicitly attributed to an underlying hatred of Jews. There is much general accusation of media bias against Israel, but then there are those who claim the opposite. Both sides point to omissions and distortions, but only one side can cite the systemic bias of subtly distorting language repeated hundreds of times over and of the privilege (in objective quantified terms) of one nationality over another. The BBC, for example, is subject to very serious and sober criticism for its pro-Israel bias, based on quantitative criteria. In fact the accusations of anti-Israeli bias on the BBC’s part, based on discreet instances, simply cannot stand up against the countervailing accusations which are not only based on more numerous instances, but have a coherent profundity lacking from the discourse of anti-Israel bias. In other words, just as is the case with the child victims of Israeli violence, one can rightly or wrongly make emotive accusations of bias in individual instances of reportage, but a comprehensive and rigorous survey shows exactly the opposite. Nevertheless one can see that for Israelis it is almost an item of faith that the BBC hates Israel in comedy sketches such as this and this.
A similar perception of hostility applies to the United Nations. The British 1939 White Paper on Palestine committed Britain to creating a bi-national state of Palestine. Rescinding that to create a Zionist state would have left the UK as being responsible and culpable for the deprivation of fundamental rights to Palestinians. So they handed it over to the United Nations to do that job. The 1947 UN partition plan (UNGA Resolution 181) gave 54.5% of mandate Palestine to the Zionists to create the state of Israel. This 54.5% would have been a majority Palestinian State, which tends to illustrate how perverse this whole process was especially from a body which enshrines “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” in Article 1. So in order to create a “Jewish State” the Zionists were already obliged to commit ethnic cleansing, but the fact that they pre-empted the UN does not absolve that body of responsibility for a “just and lasting solution.” At the recent New York hearing of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine Vera Gowlland-Debbas explained the UN’s inevitable responsibility ( and
) after which Susan Akram described the regime under which Palestinian refugees fall .
When I write of the UN, I’m not referring to any UN body or bodies, but rather the United Nations which is constituted of “member states” just as the name would imply. It is fair to say that the UN has not lived up to its obligations to Palestinians as a whole or Palestinian refugees in particular. For 64-and-a-half years they have failed to live up to their obligations to Palestinians while generations are born, live, and die in a situation of enforced statelessness, oppressive occupation and illegitimate material deprivation. The UN has not remedied this situation which is the most clear-cut and longstanding issue with regard to the UN Charter (including issues of threats to the peace) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UNGA and the UNSC have both authorised and called for action from member states on many many occasions. Member states do not act and the only underlying reason (even if the immediate reason may be fear of retaliation) can be that fulfilling the obligation to restore inalienable Palestinian rights would harm the Zionist state of Israel. You cannot possibly get more pro-Israel than that.
That, of course, does not prevent organisations like UN Watch from accusing the UN of anti-Semitism or “the aiding and abetting of anti-Semitism through an infrastructure of manifestly one-sided and irrational UN measures designed to demonize the Jewish state.” All attacks on Zionism are defined as anti-Semitic because they are attacks on the Jewish nature of Israel.
Of course, forcefully telling Israelis over and over again that almost the entire world is against them is probably rather harmful to their mental health, especially when it is presented as coming from an irrational hatred of Jews. Imagine believing that the majority of the world actually hated your entire ethnic group, believing that billions of people just hate Jews for some unfathomable reason. There are dissonant notes though: The proximity and humanity of Palestinians and the visibility of those things that keep them invisible; the undeniable and undeniably unjust material inequity; and the creeping annexation of Israeli settlements. None of these can be reconciled with the narrative of Israel’s righteousness, nor Israel’s persecution by a hostile hateful world. But cognitive dissonance only fuels stridency and ever more desperate nationalisation.
Of course this is all fragile and unsustainable. The ever more extreme positions taken by Israeli people are symptomatic of a failing ethos – a failing society. The more that Israelis display animus the more they alienate international opinion. What might happen next I cannot say, but this phase is nearly over. In the current international regime, it is only a matter of time before Israel is officially ostracised and sanctioned, and staving off that day would require a moderation which it seems Israel is no longer capable of exercising. Israel may have found a way to hold its own on the demographic front by settling ultra-orthodox Jews in the West Bank, but the ideological front is crumbling. As the cliché goes: Things that can’t go on forever don’t.
Part 4: The End
I probably make more references to Orwell’s 1984 than I should. People get obsessed with that book, but I don’t think that it is entirely unreasonable to be so. It is not in any way ultimate, nor omniscient. It is in fact quite little, but word-for-word it contains the most useful analysis of politics that I am aware of. You see, it is not akin to Huxley’s Brave New World but rather adopts the guise of dystopian fantasy for its satirical effect. Orwell deliberately says to the reader – if you want to misinterpret this work here is how you may do so and he actually mocks them for that simultaneously. Perhaps he was serving his ego better than he was serving humanity at this point, but who can say what his real motives were. It is not as if he hadn’t made himself plain (if less comprehensively and powerfully so) in other writings. The point, however, is that 1984 described contemporary Western society, not some possible future Soviet style totalitarian society.
Putting aside the science fiction ephemera, 1984 described a society in which the manipulation of the meaning of words and language produced a fundamental utilitarian distortion of information which was aiming (with the perfection of Newspeak) to become limitless, meaning that it would no longer be constrained by any form of external reality. Orwell didn’t suggest that that was the case, nor that that was even possible (in fact he strongly implies that it is completely unnecessary) but he makes that the ultimate aim of Newspeak. As a journalist his central character is both a primary victim of and a significant promulgator of Newspeak. The central fact is, though, that in 1984 direct lies are allegorical. They are meant to represent the way in which we in the Party, meaning the more educated part of the population which inevitably includes journalists and academics, miscontextualise in order to create lies without having to actually say those lies until they have become too commonplace to question.
In our society there are instances where the sophistication of deception and doublethink exceeds Orwell’s model. But, increasingly, our propaganda organs are sinking below the level of Orwellianism. Increasingly leaders simply lie and stenographers convey those lies to the public. I’m not talking about the “Big Lie” technique, which has never gone out of fashion. I’m talking about simple routine falsities which are completely reliant on the assumption that no one is going to actually be rude enough to point out the lie. Just look at Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. One researcher counted 533 lies and points out that media fact-checkers catch him out repeatedly without seeming to make any difference. What he fails to point out is that every time the media treat Romney as a reliable and respectable source of information, rather than confronting him with his record of dishonesty every time he makes a claim, they are themselves perpetuating a lie and, incidentally, perpetuating every lie that that Romney has made that the audience has not specifically seen debunked. The result does not look like Orwell’s depiction of 1948 Britain, moral inversions and blind emotion were used to tailor facts to fit a predetermined model of significance. It looks more like 1944 Germany (or 1984 East Germany, for that matter).
Does this mean that Western Imperialism, like Zionism, is nearly at an end? And if so, is the failure of the propaganda system a symptom, or a cause, or both? I don’t know. I do know that writing off the US Empire, which people have been doing for at least half a century, is really dumb. Maybe the empire has run its course, but US imperialists are not stupid and they didn’t run the world for the last 70 years or so without knowing a thing or two about propaganda and mass psychology. You see, if the blatant lies seem sub-Orwellian, they are existing alongside that which is Orwellian and that which is super-Orwellian. Looking at the Top 25 censored stories just released by Project Censored, one can see all types in action. The blatant lies, that surely can’t be suppressed for ever, include the US working with Al Qaeda in Syria, and the true extent of the Fukushima/Daichi disaster. You could take these as signs of a decaying system, and I tend towards that belief. But maybe it is people like us who are deluding ourselves, whilst the vast majority of our fellows human beings (particularly in the most powerful countries) are too busy with their ipads and 3D blockbusters. Maybe the blatant lies are because some people in the political and corporate landscape really think they have broken through that barrier that external reality places on their use of Newspeak. We’ll see, I guess.
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