14 February 2023

Best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

Edward Snowden, traitor to some and hero to others, a whistle-blower who blew the lid off the National Security Agency of the USA in 2013, had an interesting observation of ‘system’ or ‘THE system’ which of course you can interpret as you will:

“The whole system revolves around the idea that the majority can be made to believe anything, so long as it is repeated loudly and often. And it works.”

It pays then to have control over what gets said or what can be said, which again implies the power to quash alternative views, especially those which, with substantiation, debunk the ‘truths’ peddled by media-puppeteers. One could sum it all up with a four word example: ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Weapons of mass destruction owned by Iraq, that is. A claim made by the USA. Non-existent. A non-existence which was proven beyond a shadow of doubt at the cost of destroying Iraq and murdering hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

It was a claim. No substantiation. Repeated over and over again. A lie happily embraced by Washington’s client states in Europe. Some people believed it. Whether the majority did, we don’t know. We do know that as of today, no one believes the fib about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction at his disposal.

The lie-machine has not stopped, though. When one has no shame, it’s easy. We see the same machine churning out narratives about Ukraine, carefully leaving out the years of brutality and racism of the Zelensky regime, leaving out also the role of Victoria Nuland in covering up blatant human rights violations perpetrated by the Washington-friendly regime even as it tosses out those words (which mean nothing to Washington) to vilify Russia (democracy, self-determination, human rights etc.).

Loud. Often repeated.

Does it work? Well, human history testifies to the stellar success of the strategy. For a while at least. The ‘while’ could be as long as a decade, a century or a millennium. Or longer. Just think of the portrayal of Jesus Christ as a white Caucasian man with blond hair and blue eyes. That’s not derived from the Bible, but it is accepted by many is it not? We see it in Christmas cards, church iconography and other forms of visual representation, do we not?  

It takes a while for things to get declassified and if and when this happens, the liars are either dead or have insured themselves against litigation of any kind.

So we have lies. Big ones and small ones. Some are big enough (or indeed, small enough) to alter the course of history, reduce cities to rubble, send populations to graveyards or turn them into  mendicants. The truth, when revealed, is hotly contested, in and out of court, and again those who have control over narrative-generation own the inside track in such affairs.  Think about the entire discourse on reparations demanded from the British and other Colonial powers. Some cursory apologies, expressions of ‘sincere regret’ but the loot and the wealth generated by the loot over several centuries does not get returned. 

It is also, let us not forget, an everyday thing. Big lies and small lies. Lies agreed upon to subdue ‘errant’ leaders and countries, untruths peddled for relatively petty profiteering. It is all around us. The same method is used: Loud and Often.

The question is, how do we unpack such narratives so that truth is separated from falsehood? How to we ascertain the real dimensions of claims? In short, how do we learn to read between the lines? 

A man who lived 2,500 years ago made an observation about such things. He recommended a fairly decent strategy of insulating against the lie and to lay to rest doubts. It is not improper, he said, to be uncertain. Doubt does this. There’s a way to deal with this condition, he said.  

‘Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.” When you yourself know: “These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,” abandon them.’

It is useful to be thus armed, intellectually, when confronted with ‘news’ and when encountering claims and the touting of all manner of solutions to a myriad of problems, big and small, personal and national in character and dimension.

Siddhartha Gautama advised the Kalamas thus. It’s a lesson that could empower and insulate one and all in these times of information overloads and grand claims screamed out at us over and over again. 
['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road