The Human Condition:

Big Lies – December 12, 2021

Puppet master

Telling big lies and expecting them to be accepted as true is a political expediency—and it’s on everyone’s mind these days, from Trump supporters to followers of the mainstream media, and always blamed consequentially on the other party.

It was none other than Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who took the nomme de guerre ‘Lenin,’ who said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Well … Lenin was a liar.1

My firm belief is that truth is a thing that exists separately from the mind of human beings. It may be shaded by perception. And certain things a person may hold to be true are the product of his or her own desires and imagination. But there is also such a thing as objective reality, a state of affairs or of nature that can be discovered, examined, and proven to exist regardless of anyone’s belief in its existence.

Still, political parties, from the government ministers surrounding a failed monarch or floundering oligarchy, to the revolutionaries attempting to overthrow such a state—Lenin again, and his Bolsheviks—to the opportunists intent on capturing an already crumbling society—Hitler, Goebbels, and their Nazi cohort—have used outright, fabricated, manipulative deception, lies by any other name, to attain their ends. The question is whether the strategy really works.

Sure, for some people. There are those who will believe anything that is popular or persistent. They are either too lazy or otherwise engaged in everyday life to put effort into questioning, researching, weighing arguments, thinking through probabilities, and determining the nature of reality for themselves. These are the blindly political and the stupidly apolitical, people who don’t know or don’t care.

But most of us do care about the nature of reality, pay attention to the news and the political climate, and try to think for ourselves. For us, the Big Lie will only work under two conditions: first, total repression of the truth, and second, total control of the population and its culture. That is, make the truth inaccessible and then make seeking it either dangerous or uncomfortable.

Societies where the Big Lie has gained a foothold have eliminated all independent media outlets—newspapers, radio, television, and now the internet and its spawning channels—and replaced them with those under government control. This requires either a priori censorship, where the ministry of information and propaganda establishes guidelines for what it considers “the truth” and demands prepublication review of all journalistic and artistic content, or a government shutdown of all dissenting sources and promotion of those that are friendly to its purposes. But even in countries where there are only a few official, government-friendly sources, dissenting views do get out. The Soviets had to deal with samizdat—hand-copied and clandestinely distributed literature, music, and other independent influences—for most of its existence. While nobody knew what was really going on, it seems that everybody knew.

And so, societies that depend on the Big Lie also need to erect and maintain a police state, invest in forces to track down and punish dissenters, establish prison systems into which they will disappear, and pretend that all their people wear happy, smiling faces. The Soviets had their Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, which morphed into the NKVD, which took on international counterinsurgency, followed by the KGB, which grew to control both internal and external espionage. In the same way, the Nazis had their Gestapo, and the Imperial Japanese had the Kempeitai. But even when knowing and speaking the truth could get you caught, internally exiled, and perhaps killed, all these systems did was to shut people’s mouths. They couldn’t stop people’s brains.

Many people in such a society keep quiet in the presence of the Big Lie because it is safer not to question. Some will speak it aloud because that way they can attain more certain safety, promotion at work, advancement in the party, or other material benefit. And some will challenge the lie, either quietly to themselves, or among family and close friends, or by smuggling samizdat, because they cannot turn off their minds and become willfully blind or stupid.

Which brings us back to this country, America today, and its current divisions. The Republicans and conservatives—who include a solid core of “Never-Trumpers”—as well as the Trump supporters themselves, and the Democrats and progressives, who are hardly a monolithic presence but vote together for strength, as well as the establishment media that mostly include their true believers, would all like to think that they hold onto the one, true reality and that the opposition has fallen to the Big Lie. And this is amusing right up to the point that people start burning cities and killing each other.

But the certainty is, technology has outrun the concept of the Big Lie. Gone are the dim, dark days of the 20th century, when you could shut down two national newspapers and three radio stations to control the flow of information. The internet has put an end to all that. And much as governments—the Chinese Communist Party, of course, and certain people in our own Administrative State—would like to control the internet for their own benefit, they can’t even keep down the amount of digital sabotage, “dark web” conspiracies, and free-spirited public anarchy flowing through the system, let alone compel the people toward truth and stop the spread of outright lies.

And even if there weren’t this flowering of information resources, true or not, this country still doesn’t have effective secret police—or not a force that people actually fear. The FBI has been running counter-intelligence programs for years, mostly against the whack-a-moles they identify as organized crime, drug and gun runners, and coercive religious cults, often involving elaborate sting operations, and it hasn’t done much good. So nobody in the Bureau has time to go after everyday speech offenders. The progressives in academia have been trying to enforce “hate speech” rules and a culture of “political correctness” for years without much more than laughable effect. Out of politeness, the rest of us try not to be crudely offensive, but we still have our own nest of thoughts.

America has always been an unruly place, full of scofflaws—if you doubt this, go drive the California freeways sometime—and independent thinkers. We are more cynics and skeptics than true believers. And most of us are just involved with the everyday business of living.

1. The Big Lie theory has also been attributed to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, but it appears he never actually advocated for nor admitted to it. That was probably good strategy, because the Third Reich rose to power on a wave of pervasive, all-encompassing lies and a series of staged misdirections, including the Reichstag fire and the Kristallnacht disturbances.