The power of lies

Hanna Arendt, born 1906 and died 1975, was a German-born Jewish American political theorist. In a 1974 interview she said the following regarding the power of lies:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

It’s a chilling insight into Donald Trump’s strategy of attacking the media, including his recent pronouncement via Twitter. Trump’s use of Twitter to “reach his supporters” is characteristic of Arendt’s idea of constantly changing lies.

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

 

A New Yorker article expands on this theme.

Philip Roth, on Donald Trump

In the January 30, 2017 edition of the New Yorker, write Philip Roth says this:

“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

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The beginning of the end

…of times as we knew them.

I keep asking myself why Donald Trump got elected President of the United States. And I can’t find an answer. It seems I’m not alone in this, as two months after the election, and two weeks before the inauguration, I’m still reading news articles trying to figure out “what went wrong?” or “how did this happen?”

But I keep looking for an answer and I may have found it, at least in large part, in a March 2016 (yes, that long ago!) article in the Washington Post reporting a conversation with Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. Scott Adams predicted a landslide Trump victory eight months before the election. The article makes for very interesting, and pretty compelling, reading.

One thing Adams talks about is rationality, and how humans are basically irrational, (and emotional.) As a member of the academic/intelligencia minority, I recognize I live and work in a bubble. Within that bubble things make sense to me, and all the other people inside the bubble seem reasonable to me. When I talk about Trump with them, there’s understanding, sympathy, and empathy. It just reinforces my failure to understand how Trump was elected. The world inside the bubble is rational, but the world outside the bubble is just the opposite.

A world dominated by irrational people cannot, by definition, be understood by people using theories and models of rational human behavior. I’ve spent nearly all my life trying to make sense of the world around me (like most academics), and I’ve been somewhat successful. But I’m about to give up and concede that it’s all just a random mess, an unpredictable morass, a hopeless errand. I’ll just take a seat and watch from here…

Happy 2017

Most reviews of 2016 described it as one of the worst years in history (which is a very myopic and modern take on history, since surely 1914-18, and 1929-44 must take the “worst years in modern history” prize, and some of those years before 1900 sound like they really sucked). But back to the present, and yes, 2016 was pretty bad in a global sense, what with the Brexit vote, and the election of a prize dickhead to the US Presidency.

Still, it’s traditional, and perhaps mostly in a hopeful way, to wish others a Happy New Year, even if you see little evidence of widespread happiness, or much new on the horizon. New horrors more likely. So Happy 2017!