Summary: Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations. It is a secret that explains much of modern American history. We have become gullible, seeing the false beliefs of others but credulously believing what our tribal leaders tell us. The avalanche of “fake news” is the logical response by our ruling elites.
“in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
— A saying for our time, although not by Orwell.
We caused the rising tide of fake news
After WWII our ruling elites have grown increasingly bold in their lies (see the Big List of lies by our government). They have seen how we credulously believe even the most implausible stories, and that we inflict little or no penalty when their lies are discover (even Bill Clinton’s conviction of contempt of court and disbarment for lying under oath didn’t dent his popularity among Democrats).
The rising tide of fake news naturally results as awareness of our gullibility spread among our ruling elites. We see the lies of our foes but remain delusionally ignorant about the lies of our tribe. This is comically obvious on comment threads, where attacks on tribal truths are brutally repulsed, but politically pleasing and outrageous lies go without contradiction or protest.
The Right muttered about Obama’s missing birth certificate while describing Obama as a radical leftist anarchist commie Muslim Nazi. They believe that cutting income taxes usually increases tax revenue, that torture produces reliable answers (it doesn’t), and that foreign armies usually defeat local insurgents (they don’t). Their websites overflow with lies about gun rights, about economics, about history, and scores other subjects.
The Left is no better. The IPCC was the “gold standard” description of climate science research — the most reliable statement of climate scientists’ consensus. By 2011 activists were saying it was “too conservative”, which became a widespread response to the release of AR5 in 2013 (e.g., see Inside Climate News, The Daily Climate, and Yale’s Environment 360). Propagandists like Phil Plait misrepresent or even hide the science.
For fifty years Leftists doomsters arouse the faithful with fake stories, and still the Left eagerly believes the next one. For years their articles and comments casually mentioned destruction of humanity or even the biosphere. They believed that 30,000 species go extinct every years. Now they casually discuss the imminent collapse of the Republic, with gulags and no election in 2020. They look at Team Trump’s collection of right-wing politicians, CEOs, and billionaires but seeing fascist revolutionaries.
The secret about fake news: it’s logical
“Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”
— From Robert A. Heinlein’s novella “Gulf” (1949), later published in Assignment in Eternity
Each year our diet of fake news becomes more professionally designed and executed. It is what we should be fed. If you address an audience of dogs, would you read to them from Plato?
Just as Mao brought fourth generation warfare to maturity, so that foreign armies seldom afterwards defeated insurgents, Campaign 2016 brought fake news to maturity. Trump learned that the Right prefers exciting lies to hard truths. Clinton weakly responded with the I’m Not Trump – Anything But Issues campaign. In defeat the Left did what they accused Trump of planning: attempting to delegitimize the election. Their attack is the epitome of fake news, laughably weak evidence that Russia hacked the election by telling Americans hidden truths.
This is 21st century America. Ignorance is our nature. For more about this see…
- The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions.
- We cannot agree on simple facts and so cannot reform America.
- American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly.
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda.
A prophet began our troubles
“All this was inspired by the principle … that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.
“Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”
— From Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (1925).
The big lies that dominate our news, like so much of our world — for good and ill — have their origins in Nazi Germany. That is the driving force behind Godwin’s Law.
The logical reason that we love lies
America isn’t falling like the Roman Empire. It’s falling like Rome’s Republic. The Roman people grew weary of self-government, of carrying its burden of responsibility and self-discipline. Civil wars determined who would place the bridle on Rome’s people and rule. Christian Meier’s Caesar: A Biography vividly tells the story of the Republic’s last days.
We follow in their path. America’s middle class (its managers, small business-people, and professionals) has become an Outer Party. They want simple stories of good guys and bad guys that explain events. Cheer our team! Thrill at tales of the bad guys’ dastardly deeds! They want stories that provide entertainment and catharsis plus a sense of belonging to a community (more accurately a virtual tribe). Politically ineffectual, they want to believe themselves engaged. So they consume information (becoming well-informed). They are fans cheering and booing political actors, writing fan fiction.
With relentless efficiency, America’s free market machinery provides what they want. Being without a sense of responsibility, the Outer Party whines about the results of getting it.
For more about this see Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
— Attributed to Otto von Bismarck.
Self-renewal is an inherent characteristic of humanity. Lawrence of Arabia tells us that “nothing is written” (in the 1962 film). We can still forge a different fate for us than that of Rome. The machinery bequeathed us by the Founders remains idle but powerful, awaiting only our energy to set it in motion. Each of us has the ability to start the reform of America.
- Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America. About “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”.
- We live in an age of ignorance, but can decide to fix this – today.
- Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance.
- Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America.
- Ways to deal with those guilty of causing the fake news epidemic.
For More Information
- Is the American Republic dying, as in the last days of the Roman Republic?
- Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.
- The 1% build a New America on the ruins of the old.
- American politics isn’t broken. It’s working just fine for the 1%.