An informal metric for measuring the stability of a society is the distance between reality and the official truth of the ruling regime. The more lies the regime tells, the less stable it and the society over which it rules. Official lies are a good proxy for the degree of authoritarianism within the regime. The degree of authoritarianism is a good proxy for the level of official insecurity. The more thuggish the regime the less support it enjoys, thus the more it needs to lie to the people.
At the extreme end of this metric is a place like North Korea. The regime is deeply paranoid about everything. The Kim family does not trust anyone in the ruling class and no one in the ruling class trusts anyone, especially Kim. The one thing everyone agrees upon is they cannot trust the people. This is why they get images of the tubby Kim in heroic poses or stories of him making ten holes in one playing golf. The regime feels it needs to present him as a god to intimidate the people.
On the other end of the spectrum, you get a place like Switzerland that barely has a government relative to the rest of Europe. Many Swiss residents do not know who is currently holding the position of president. It is a rotating position currently held by someone calling herself Simonetta Sommaruga. The Swiss government has no need to turn her into a rock star or make while claims about her. The official truth of Switzerland is easy for everyone to see, so they have no need to lie.
Obviously, it is an informal metric that is subjective. An extreme case like North Korea is easy to use, but where would France or Germany fall on the scale? They are closer to Switzerland than Ukraine or the United States, but not so close that anyone in France would say they believe their government. In fact, that is the story of the West since the end of the Cold War. Every Western nation has moved down the scale of honesty toward the North Korean pole over the last three decades.
Lying has consequences. One lie begets another lie which then requires more elaborate lying to cover up the previous lies. This lowers trust in the state, but it also lowers trust in institutions and eventually lowers social trust. Step one is the lies erode faith in the ruling class of the country. Step two is people lose faith in the institutions for not having punished the liars. The final step is the people who wake up to the official lies lose trust in those who keep falling for the lies.
You see this with the school shootings. Generations of lying about the nature of crime and the role of guns in these school shooting, have made it impossible to have a civil conversation about the issue. The bodies were not even cold after the latest school shooting and the usual suspects were out in public telling the all to familiar lies about the causes of these crimes. The only thing that comes from this is normal people grow to hate these liars a little more than they did yesterday.
How many people watched President Biden speak about the Texas shooting? The answer, if it was possible to get an honest one, was close to zero. Joe Biden has been a promiscuous liar for generations. Now he is an incontinent zombie barely able to read his script. That script is written by the same collection of sociopaths than have infected politics since the Clintons blew into town. Even the sociopaths have lost interest in the production of these ridiculous theaters of mendacity.
Tragic outliers like a deranged lunatic going on a rampage are just part of the human condition, but can something be done to limit it? It feels like this stuff happens more often now, but who can know? The even bigger question is why are these obviously deranged people ignored by the people around them? The Buffalo shooter was ignored by everyone, despite the obvious signs. The liars fill the space with lies about the subject so that getting a straight answer is impossible.
Of course, the reason the liars exist is they keep people off balance. Official lying has been outsourced in what may be the most cyclical public-private partnership in human history, so that the rulers can just nod along with the symphony of lies. Biden’s script writers just go to one of the websites of the many organizations who exist to produce official nonsense and jot down a few of their lines. The mass media, of course, then blasts this and their own lies to the public.
One of the underrated aspects of Orwell’s Animal Farm is how the pigs used deception to create doubt among the animals. It reached the point where the animals could not trust their own memory. The other day, the Washington Post claimed George Floyd was shot by police. How long before school children are taught that he was hanged by the Proud Boys? More important, how many people will tire of correcting the record and this lie becomes official truth?
The official lies are not just about keeping the public confused. It also serves to keep the managerial class huddled together. On the topic of official lies, the classic Vaclav Havel essay, “The Power of the Powerless” comes to mind. Amazingly, the people who shower the public with disinformation, the official lies, claim to be fighting against disinformation, often citing Havel’s essay. The lying is an important part of their identity as a besieged group defending “our democracy.”
In the final years of the Soviet Union, the general public no longer believed anything said by their government. The people in government were every bit as cynical about the official truths, but they were paid to lie so they lied. What held it together is both sides were sure the other side believed the lies, at least enough of them that the rest dared not question the lies. The collapsed came when everyone realized that no one believed what they were forced to say or forced to hear.
Havel opened his famous essay with this line. “A specter is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called dissent.” He then explained, “It was born at a time when this system, for a thousand reasons, can no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity.” That was almost fifty years ago in a world that is largely forgotten by modern people, yet terribly familiar to us now.
The final sentence of that opening paragraph is, “What is more, the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures.” One paragraph from a dissident operating in an alien system from the past captures the current moment in America. A decade later that system collapsed. That is what the sea of lies from our rulers tells us about what lies ahead. A regime built on lies always ends in collapse.
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