Sunday, 28 February 2021
Maybe high pressure lying was inevitable
Suppose we assume that the internet took off in terms of mass popularity about twenty years ago. It doesn’t matter how accurate that is, twenty years is near enough for a backward glance.
Until that time it was still possible for newspapers, radio and television to deceive the great mass of the public by omitting whatever information was deemed unsuitable for general consumption. Outright lies were not usually required when omitting key information or avoiding certain subjects was enough.
There were alternative sources of course. Small circulation publications such as Private Eye provided a cynical and satirical but limited alternative picture of current affairs. Mainstream satire may have told us that all was not well with the world, but generally only in a harmless and comical sense or one where more government was the implied solution.
Then the internet arrived.
It must have become obvious soon enough that lying by omission would eventually become problematic for mainstream media and the political classes. Not so much because lies could be challenged but because omissions could be filled in. Omissions could be anything from missing information to omitted uncertainties to alternative explanations. Too many alternative sources of information were flooding the online public space and the trend was bound to continue.
Yet since that time, lying by omission has remained the main approach to narrative control. It is easier than direct lying, less obviously culpable and numerous shades of crude titillation and celebrity irrelevance are easier to pass off as news to generally incurious audiences. But in an effort to keep lying by omission sustainable it has become necessary to counter those internet sources which fill in the omissions.
As a result, censorship, misinformation, smears and outright lying have become more important to mainstream media and the political classes. Necessarily so as governments and the media fail to deal with the issue by ramping up their integrity and transparency. Easily done but they don’t do it. One problem seems to be that they struggle to attract and keep people with integrity.
The coronavirus debacle tells us that lying by omission blended with outright lying works as an approach. Lies can be inconspicuously corrected later, but even so the approach probably does not work as well as simple omission did before the internet. For example, the ready availability of unofficial information tends to undermine the government position on almost any issue, taking with it any lingering faith in the integrity of the media and government experts.
In spite of intense coronavirus propaganda, its effectiveness is clearly crumbling in certain areas and the internet must be the main reason. In which case, future attempts to project a factually insecure narrative are just as likely to crumble when faced with alternative sources of information. Hence we see frantic attempts at censorship and equally frantic attempts to discredit unofficial sources of information and opinion.
It is as if the internet was bound to usher in high pressure lying to bolster an inherent weakness in lying by omission, especially within democratic societies. However the electronic age and push towards high pressure lying also opened up an opportunity. It slackened off the moral opprobrium of lying and allowed the creation of alternative realities orchestrated by money, technology and political ambitions.
High pressure lying and convincing alternative realities offer democratic elites the possibility of covert switching to totalitarian government while retaining democratic forms of political behaviour. The coronavirus mess offers us an obvious clue as to the future direction of official lies woven into new totalitarian realities. Health has turned out to be the Trojan horse by which high pressure lies and fake realities are inserted into the public domain. It will continue.