Responding to a Society Controlled and Manipulated by Lies

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four doublespeak included: use of euphemisms, jargon, vagueness, intentional omission, misdirection, and idioms in order to obscure the truth and engage in Machiavellian behavior. Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. One of Orwell’s most important messages in 1984 is that language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing. The true value of Nineteen Eighty-four is it teaches us that power and tyranny are made possible through the use of words and how they are mediated. The theme of lies in 1984 is: lying, deception and false appearance is usually connected with the want for power and control, the belief that no one will find out, and avoiding punishment. This is not so dissimilar from the radical right in the lead up to the 2024 US  election.

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind. However much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back. Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (On the manipulation of language for political ends.) “As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis.  We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”1 Nineteen Eighty-four was written as a warning of what could happen if people allowed their governments to obtain too much power after Orwell saw what happened to the people in Nazi Germany.

Albert Einstein’s most famous quote on thoughts and consciousness is: “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” False consciousness is a concept in sociology which states, among other things, that individuals in a society are not aware of what their true interests are, or have an otherwise incorrect idea of what constitute their true interests, because the dominant ideology in society has succeeded in effectively deceiving them into thinking that their true interests are something other than what they in fact are. Why, for example, individuals in a capitalistic society more often than not choose lives of complacency in regards to social hierarchies that continue to grow, leaving the masses poor and a few individuals extremely wealthy. As well, working-class people believing that certain politicians and policies will benefit the working class when they actually represent and benefit the ruling elite.

Society is controlled and manipulated as a direct consequence of the practice of a ‘false consciousness’ and the creation of values and life choices that are to be followed. In ‘advanced’ industrial (countries) societies, hegemonic cultural tools, such as compulsory schooling, mass media, and popular culture, indoctrinate workers to a ‘false consciousness.’  False consciousness denotes people’s inability to recognize inequality, oppression, and exploitation in a capitalist society because of the prevalence within it of views that naturalize and legitimize the existence of social classes. One example of false consciousness is when a person votes in such a way that might actually benefit those of a wealthier class rather than benefiting those in his or her own economic range. Voters need to focus on the roll backs of previous progressive legislation, and not be overwhelmed by the manipulative rhetoric of the various front men for the economic elite.

Both religion and ideology are sets of beliefs or ideas which try to explain how things work in the world and society and based on it create a set of rules people may follow. Both espouse world views that are seen as complete by their followers: as “total” systems, concerned at the same time with questions of truth and questions of conduct. Both consider opposing views as incorrect. Both tend to impact human psychology in similar ways through creating an ‘us and them’ mentality. Louis Althusser argues that religion is a part of the ideological state apparatus. Along with education and the media, it transmits the dominant ideology and maintains false class consciousness. False Consciousness doesn’t mean the working classes are idiots, but it does mean that they have been systematically fed untruth. The challenge today is that the masses are being redirected to the right.

One modern example of false consciousness is the American Dream – the belief that, by hard work, anyone can increase their social status, regardless of the conditions they were born into. Although influential, false consciousness has been criticized for its perceived elitism, authoritarianism, and unverifiability. Yet the idea that every American has an equal opportunity to move up in life is false. Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the first in modern history expected to be poorer than their parents. The lottery of life – the zip or postal code where you were born – can account for up to two thirds of the wealth an individual generates. The growing gap between the rich and the poor, the old and the young has been largely ignored by policymakers and investors until the recent rise of anti-establishment votes, including those for Brexit and for President Trump.

Neoliberalism calls for a government that enables rather than provides. That is, in a neoliberal society the government is only willing to acknowledge a much-muted commitment to look after and be responsible for the well-being of its citizens. Rather the government is tasked with the responsibility of creating enabling conditions that make it possible for all entities, whether they be individuals or complex organizations, to be responsible for their welfare through enterprise and competition in a marketized society. It’s important to realize that we are not being manipulated by a clever group of powerful people who benefit from manipulating us. Rather, we are being manipulated by a deluded group of powerful people who think they benefit from it – because they buy into the basic illusion that their own well-being is separate from that of other people. They too are victims of their own propaganda, caught up in the webs of collective delusion that include virtually all of us; one of the poisons – ignorance.2

Individuals support forms of domination with varying levels of understanding that they are doing so. In many cases, those very structures of domination distort our conceptions of them through mechanisms such as motivated reasoning, implicit bias, affected ignorance, false consciousness, and belief polarization. These various epistemic (relating to knowledge) distortions, in turn, cause social conflict, notably by promoting political polarization. Those worried by social conflict have spent a great deal of energy decrying the increasingly polarized contexts in which we live. However, epistemic distortions in our sociopolitical beliefs also maintain systems of domination, are misrepresentative, and prevent human needs from being met. People turned against each other cannot turn against those responsible. The more we’re thrown into conflict with each other through engineered distrust, the less able we are to unite against those responsible. Trump’s social media use has fueled the fire of extreme polarization, which, in turn, has contributed to the erosion of trust in democratic institutions.3

Self-deception is a personality trait and an independent mental state, it involves a combination of a conscious motivational false belief and a contradictory unconscious real belief. Existentialists observe: We are destined to be self-centered and deceptive unto ourselves. Worst of all we can’t simply stop being reflective and introspective, it’s a part of being! Unfortunately, there is no way out of self-deception while we exist. This is why so many consider Existentialism a philosophy of negative concepts. Self-deception isn’t merely a philosophically interesting puzzle but a problem of existential concern. It raises the distinct possibility that we live with distorted views that may make us strangers to ourselves and blind to the nature of our morally significant engagements. In the philosophy of existentialism, bad faith refers to a state of self-deception. Many of us deceive ourselves about our freedom and about our capacity to change our condition in the world.

Trump’s messaging on January 6 is precisely in line with how he’s historically addressed violence on the part of hate groups and his supporters: He emboldens it. As far back as 2015, Trump has been connected to documented acts of violence, with perpetrators claiming that he was even their inspiration. Trump has continually refused to recognize what’s at the core of this violence: hate nurtured under a tense national climate that he has helped cultivate. Trump’s campaign rallies have always been incubation grounds for violence. His messaging on January 6 is precisely in line with how he’s historically encouraged physical harm against dissenters. On the day that Congress moved to certify the 2020 presidential election results confirming Biden as the winner, Trump encouraged thousands of his supporters to dispute vote counts. He encouraged them to head to the Capitol to support objections to certification of the vote.4

The “narcissism of small differences” was Freud’s 1917 term for his observation that people with minor differences between them can be more competitive and hateful that those with major differences. This concept posits that human nature is essentially egoistic, capable of forming groups only by virtue of shared enemies, a prospect made more depressing because it posits group identities as fictitious, contrived on the basis of denial and distortion. Trump has raised denial to an historical new level. Trump harnessed the social media companies using denial to increase polarization in America. Social media companies do not seek to boost user engagement because they want to intensify polarization. They do so because the amount of time users spend on a platform liking, sharing, and retweeting is also the amount of time they spend looking at the paid advertising that makes the major platforms so lucrative.5

Ideology is a set of collectively held ideas about society, usually promoted in order to justify a certain type of political action. The theory of ideology is an attempt to explain the existence of false consciousness, and false consciousness is a matter of individuals’ acceptance, contrary to their interests, of an oppressive order. In post-truth politics social media assists political actors who mobilize voters through a crude blend of outlandish conspiracy theories and suggestive half-truths, barely concealed hate-speech, as well as outright lies. These “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it, or believe it if told. We now realize the need to control how social media is manipulated by big money.

Selwyn Duke observes: “The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” People lie to have control over you. People lie to manipulate you. Excessive polarization leads people to disregard views different from their own, making it hard to achieve democratic solutions to societal problems. Trump deliberately divides the country, as his way of doing politics focuses on creating divisions. He has signaled that a second term would be more radical and vindictive than his first one. He plans to expand the powers of the presidency that he would then wield against a wide range of groups in America. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.6

1 From Facing Unpleasant Facts Quotes by George Orwell

2  http://neolib.uga.edu/neoliberalism-introduction.php

3  https://sofheyman.org/events/beyond-polarization-epistemic-distortion-and-criticism

4  https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech

5  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/04/26/trump-and-false-consciousness/

6 from Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s Complicity in the Uranium Cartel, by Venturino Giorgio Venturini in 1982.

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