The Lie Behind Unbridled Capitalism

Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Even what we believe we see with our own eyes is made up from memory. When referring to blind spots in our vision that we do not notice, much of what you see ‘out there’ is actually manufactured ‘in here’ by your brain. Malleable memory, the brain filling in gaps in vision, and the biggest culprit, defense mechanisms, as well as the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain leading to an implicit preference toward a lie, should at least contribute to one realizing thinking cannot be trusted. People want to hear what they want to hear. When two candidates are running and one of them tells the truth and the other says what the public wants to hear, the one who says what the public wants to hear wins the election.

There is not one big reason Trump won. His election promises represented an appeal to popular resentment, to so-called herd instincts. Donald Trump made a string of promises during his long campaign to be the 45th president of the United States. Taking back control of immigration included banning all Muslims entering the US and building a wall along the border with Mexico. He echoed Republicans attacking Obamacare, saying the law imposes too many costs on business, describing it as a “job killer” and decrying the reforms as an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of private businesses and individuals. Under his ‘America first’ doctrine in January, 2017 the president promises his plans will create 25 million new jobs in the next decade. Trump claimed, “We will bring back our jobs … our borders … our wealth, and … our dreams.”

Pierre Charron (1541-1603), the French skeptic, claimed humanity’s essential qualities were vanity, weakness, inconstancy, and presumption. Writing late in the 16th century, Pierre Charron asked his readers to “observe how all mankind are made up of falsehood and deceit, of tricks and lies, how unfaithful and dangerous, how full of disguise and design all conversation is at present become, but especially, how much more it abounds near [the prince], and how manifestly hypocrisy and dissimulation are the reigning qualities of princes’ courts.” Until the French Revolution, the problem of lying and hypocrisy often seemed to be experienced most keenly in the courts of the European elite, those hybrid spaces, both public and private, political and domestic, in which eager courtiers and all manner of hangers-on sought their fortunes. A zero-sum game, fortune hunting required the self-serving courtier to deceive and slander his competitors, to fawn over and flatter his superiors.

Adolf Hitler wrote: The purpose of propaganda is not to provide interesting distraction for blasé young gentlemen, but to convince …the masses. But the masses are slow-moving, and they always require a certain time before they are ready even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses finally remember them… All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. …The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. The fact that our bright boys do not understand this merely shows how mentally lazy and conceited they are.

Leo Strauss rejects all the elements of political morality we associate with liberal democracy as defended by modern philosophers like Locke or Kant. Strauss claimed: The elite must, in a word, lie to the masses; the elite must manipulate them – arguably for their own good. These lies are necessary in order to keep the ignorant masses in line. The Straussian elite see themselves as “the superior few who know the truth and are entitled to rule.” A combination of lies and religion are used to control the people. There is no difference between the fake news, misinformation, disinformation of today – such lies have been churned out for years, but today it is designed to support the plutocracy. There is an orchestrated counter-revolution based on polarization. Trump’s victim politics is a complete fraud, an old trick used by economic elite to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than focusing on processes to counter the plutocrats who are ripping them off.

Valery Legasov, the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster, observes: “What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.” Basically, the more you lie, the easier it is to do it, and the bigger the lies get. Donald Trump merely replaced one swamp with another. He and his henchmen sabotage democracy by creating their own swamp where one cannot tell truth from fiction, where rational debate evaporates as he diverts, distracts, and deflects accountability. Trump has attacked some branches of law enforcement, especially those pursuing white-collar malfeasance, as his allies and former campaign officials are ensnared in various investigations. Facing impeachment, Trump unleashed a torrent of baseless claims surrounding his dealings with Ukraine in the final months of 2019.

What makes social media spread so fast? The “power-law” of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, holds that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings. 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. Populist economic policy claims to design policies for people who fear losing status in society, and those who believe they have been abandoned by the political establishment. The purpose of such activities is to turn the country into warring tribes by creating unyielding one-sidedness and enemies.

A narcissist like Trump is operating from a place of defense all the time. The lie is more of a PR stunt, a marketing ploy rather than a cohesive integrated set of values. The narcissistic personality is more of a store front designed to hide that there isn’t any there, there. Under neoliberalism, lies become an accepted feature of political leadership. The goal is purely to instrumentalize democratic legitimacy, in order to gain the power to make the necessary decisions that ordinary people can never understand or be persuaded of. 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 infects virtually all of us, by one of the poisons – ignorance. 

Truth, much like knowledge, is bound to power and similarly operates amidst the individuals and institutions that generate and sustain it. The economic elite do not hesitate to present their ideology as interpretation of truth. The “truth” the market reveals is never in actuality some eternal, given fact. The market is never a neutral arbiter of truth, so the “truth” it reveals about government practice has always required interpretation. Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception. The truth is that capitalism creates enormous wealth, but it concentrates into oligopolies and monopolies, to the extent the economic elite creates and normalizes a culture of lying to itself leading to its inherent instability.

Republicans are playing Russian roulette with American democracy by supporting the lies of an aspirational authoritarian. They’ll continue doing so by supporting Trump’s paranoid attacks on the electoral process. The false claims repeatedly made by Donald Trump in the months after his presidential defeat to Joe Biden is embraced by Republicans. It is about a system, corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups. Republicans are using the same baseless lies about voting fraud to push a staggering number of laws to scale back voting rights. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: it’s all about retaining power. However, there is more to introducing change than just countering Trump’s lies, there is a need to change beliefs to eliminate this pervasive irrationality in which democracy is equated to unbridled capitalism.

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