‘Fake News’: moral rhetoric in the face of strategic weakness

The ‘fake news’ happening in the US is interesting.

I’m always caught on the back foot by these things. I know that it’s a general rule that people who desire control over others will seek to control what they read and say, in an effort to control what they and others hear and think and promote their own narrative. And so it doesn’t surprise that the leftards, after realising that they were completely wrong about Trump and that they had both lost control of the narrative and lost the ability to shame others into compliance, are aiming to regain control. What surprises me is the way that they are going about it.

The US has tremendously strong institutions and traditions defending freedom of speech. These institutions have been, and are still, too strong for the leftards to challenge. So what they have done to undermine them is:

  • first, define opinions or even mere expressions and statements that they don’t like as ‘hate speech’, and then asserted – without any grounds – that ‘hate speech’ is not covered by the right to freedom of speech;
  • secondly, in response to the evolution of alternative sources of news and opinion to those which promote and defend the narrative, to define these alternatives as ‘fake news’ which the government ought to suppress.

The hysteria has reached absurd proportions, with claims that those opposed to the narrative are merely, whether witting or not, organs of Russian propaganda. Imagine my surprise, as a person who has always supported maximal levels of political, social and economic freedoms, when I was told that many of the websites that I frequent, and of the commentators whose opinion I value, are propagandists for Putin! Seriously!

The claims of ‘fake news’ are patently absurd. Yet for this reason, they leave me on the back foot, because my mind, which I have for so long trained to always seek reason, has trouble processing them. They are so mind-meltingly stupid, surely nobody could believe them! So why do they receive so much prominence? Why has the media-industrial-leftard complex concentrated itself around them and so loudly promoted them?

I am forgetting the distinction that Vox Day made between reason and rhetoric. The complex is so void of raison d’etre, that it has nothing left than the most absurd rhetorical claims with which to deride and discredit its enemies and promote its interests. This is a weakness of my mind – my first reaction to a claim is to think ‘How reasonable is this?’, which leaves me at a disadvantage when faced with pure, reasonless rhetoric. It doesn’t occur naturally to me, to think that people would be so bold as simply to bullshit me in order to shame or manipulate me and thus gain my submission to their control. This is an important lesson for me to learn and indicates that I have new skills to learn as well.

The complex is on its last legs. And yet it is also now most dangerous. Because it has looked into the abyss: the election has brought home to it its impotence, its loss of power and importance; and it is terrified. But it also still has friends in Congress, and these people do indeed wield power. And, being themselves creatures of power and rhetoric, rather than of reason, they may yet be persuaded to defend the creature by seeking to outlaw its enemies.

Such an effort won’t work, I don’t think. The complex has doomed itself with its own stupidity and arrogance. But it will create trouble and difficulties for those of us who love freedom and disagree with it. Already, the complex is placing immense pressure on media and internet businesses to remove references to pizzagate. What else will they do, what other lengths will they go to, to defend themselves, and to lash out at their enemies?

Much has been written about the ‘fake news’ event. Just two recommendations, from what I’ve looked at in the last few hours: this from Mike Krieger, and this from Chateau Heartiste.

More, I: thinking about this topic, I was reminded of Orwell’s discussion of orthodoxy,

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

More, II: the title comes from the title of a paper by Yanis Varoufakis (yes, that Yanis) which I remember reading waaaay back when I was a Sydney undergrad and Yanis belonged to the economics faculty – long before he became the first and only ‘rock star’ economist. As he says there:

Moralising is a venerable last resort strategy … A third tradition dismisses such rhetoric as the last recourse of the weak (eg. Aristotle, Nietzsche).

I think that’s what is in play here.

Update: some valuable insights into the ‘Fake News’ happening.

From C. J. Hopkins, at Unz:

As I suggested in these pages previously, what we are experiencing is the pathologization (or the “abnormalization”) of political dissent, i.e., the systematic stigmatization of any and all forms of non-compliance with neoliberal consensus reality. Political distinctions like “left” and “right” are disappearing, and are being replaced by imponderable distinctions like “normal” and “abnormal,” “true” and “false,” and “real” and “fake.” Such distinctions do not lend themselves to argument. They are proffered to us as axiomatic truths, empirical facts which no normal person would ever dream of contradicting.

In place of competing political philosophies, the neoliberal intelligentsia is substituting a simpler choice, “normality” or “abnormality.” The nature of the “abnormality” varies according to what is being stigmatized. Today it’s “Corbyn the anti-Semite,” tomorrow it’s “Sanders the racist crackpot,” or “Trump the Manchurian candidate,” or whatever. That the smears themselves are indiscriminate (and, in many instances, totally ridiculous) belies the effectiveness of the broader strategy, which is simply to abnormalize the target and whatever he or she represents. It makes no difference whether one is smeared as a racist, as Sanders was during the primaries, or as an anti-Semite, as Corbyn has been, or a fascist, as Trump has relentlessly been, or peddlers of Russian propaganda, as Truthout, CounterPunch, Naked Capitalism, and a number of other publications have been … the message is, they are somehow “not normal.”

Why is this any different from the shameless smear jobs the press has been doing on people since the invention of the press and shameless smear jobs? Well, hold on, because I’m about to tell you. Mostly it has to do with words, especially binary oppositions like “real” and “fake,” and “normal” and “abnormal,” which are, of course, essentially meaningless … their value being purely tactical. Which is to say they denote nothing. They are weapons deployed by a dominant group to enforce conformity to its consensus reality. This is how they’re being used at the moment.

The meaningless binary oppositions that the neoliberal intelligentsia and the corporate media are supplanting traditional opposing political philosophies with (i.e., normal/abnormal, real/fake), in addition to stigmatizing a diversity of sources of non-conforming information and ideas, are also restructuring our consensus reality as a conceptual territory in which anyone thinking, writing, or speaking outside the mainstream is deemed some kind of “deviant,” or “extremist,” or some other form of social pariah. Again, it doesn’t matter what kind, as “deviance” in itself is the point.

Actually, the opposite of deviance is the point. Because this is how “normality” is manufactured. And how consensus reality as a whole is manufactured … and how the manufacturing process is concealed. Apologies for getting all Baudrillardian, but this is actually how this stuff works.

[C.J. Hopkins also wrote an excellent piece at  Counter Punch about the pathologisation of dissent. He mentions the use of slanders as a means of social control: what is interesting about the recent US election, and what has sent the ruling elite and their mouthpieces into such a tizzy, is that these slanders have stopped working – most likely because their overuse and misapplication to ordinary people has sapped them of meaning and therefore of power; the response is therefore to step it up a level and appeal for laws to prevent thoughtcrime. The pathologisation of dissent is an old authoritarian trick: see Allan Wynn, Notes from a Non-Conspirator, on the misuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.]

From James Kirkpatrick, writing at Unz:

Some perspective: For most of human history, power was rooted in possession of land. After the Industrial Revolution, power lay in controlling in the means of production. But today, the main source of power is control of information.

Having the power to control information (what Steve Sailer calls The Megaphone) gives you the ability to determine what issues will be discussed, what viewpoints are considered legitimate, and who is allowed to participate in polite society. It ultimately allows you to push an entire code of morality on others. And morality is, ultimately, a weapon more terrible than can be found in any arsenal [Weaponized Morality, by Gregory Hood, Radix, October 12, 2016].

The 2016 election was ultimately a battle between the commanding heights of media (newspapers, networks, and web portals) and what we could call the guerillas of media (/pol, forums, hackers, right wing trolls, and independent media outlets like us). The latter lacked power on their own, but they united behind Donald Trump, a man whose brand was so well-established that the Establishment couldn’t ignore him. It was Fourth Generation Warfare–this time over information.

And just as guerillas have been frustrating established armies all around the world on real-world battlefields, so did the online commandos frustrate and eventually overcome the seemingly invincible Fourth Estate.

But this victory wasn’t inevitable. From day one, the MSM tried to destroy Donald Trump, including his business empire, because of his stated views on immigration.

Since that failed, they have started turning on his supporters with three tactics.

  • First, a blatant attempt to pathologize dissent–especially the Alt Right.

  • Secondly, a meme has been invented about so-called “Fake News,” which will be used to shut down dissident media outlets.

  • Thirdly, the Trump victory is clearly leading to increased attempts at outright repression.



About Stebbing Heuer

A person interested in exploring human perception, reasoning, judgement and deciding, and in promoting clear, effective thinking and the making of good decisions.
This entry was posted in Democracy and freedom of mind, Epistemic Rationality, Freedom of speech, Narrative and Taboo, Privileges Rents and Vested Interests, The Mind & Society. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ‘Fake News’: moral rhetoric in the face of strategic weakness

  1. Pingback: Fake News: Sharyl Attkisson’s research | The Stebbing-Heuer Project

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