JEREMIAD ON TRUTH
“Wake up sheeple!” is déclassé but you still want to say it. Hence, HyperNormalisation.
That’s not a comment on the film, it’s a comment on the use of it. Normally it’s silly to trade in audience reactions as though that defined the art; guilt by association and Hitler ate Boca Burgers, etc. But HyperNormalisation takes “media and its effects on the individual” as a primary theme, so it’s meta by design. That the audience has taken this (one) theme as the primary one, and then spread that through media is meta^3, ~6 Becketts on the Pirandello Scale. It also opens up the entire problem of modernity and truth.
Here’s a review of the film: HyperNormalisation is good. Adam Curtis is probably the best working documentarian. Neat. Moving on.
Let’s talk about truth.
Google Image displays the zeitgeist better than either articles or blogs, because the internet moves through image and hieroglyph. The above was #8 for “HyperNormalisation”. The top were title screens, i.e. zombie ponytail, and (of course) Trump. I’m not going to talk about the “film” much, then, because reviews are boring and should be written by people who know art. I’m much more interested in audience reaction, which is all in the hieroglyph above. Because the internet is about sharing, we can phrase it stronger: It’s what they take to others. “Everything is fake, wake up!” Chem-Trails and Ponytails, or: an album I would like to pirate.
Unsurprisingly, journalists have encouraged this. [So Woke] relays:
“You were so much a part of the system that you were unable to see beyond it,” is the line that sticks with you, and Curtis is to be applauded for making a documentary that, in creating deliberately disorientating world narratives, those in power are trying to prevent.
Sure, Putin probably wants to machete half the world’s journalists, but that’s a given. What fascinates me is that for [Woke Journos], the largest-broadcaster-in-the-world, uk.gov-arguing-for-it, Royal-charter BBC (producers of HyperNormalisation), is not considered part of “those in power.”
I would say that’s a neat trick, “Look over there at that media, not we media”, but it’s not a trick. I think he actually believes it, as do other members of the media. This is terrifying, and what looks like the real problem (ingroup/outgroup, BBC are our guys) is masking the much deeper one. I don’t care if the BBC is a propaganda wing, so are Archie comics. I care that journos and filmgoers seem to think that, a) the power elites are running the show through media manipulation, b) a BBC special is actually exposing the truth and thus, c) somehow the fucking BBC has no power and is the target of the elite.
Blubbering “cognitive dissonance” is easy, boring and almost always incorrect (and its own bias, but w/e). People are more consistent than we like to think, they just don’t show their work. The beliefs they’re hiding here, the values they’re subbing in, have nothing directly to do with Curtis films, but the films do highlight some of them. This is unintentional: Curtis works with themes of truth and power, and the hidden line of value is all about truth and power. But those beliefs have almost nothing to do with who has the truth/power, and everything to do with what we (as a culture) think “truth” is.
Indeed, “fake” is taken to be the emotive center of the hieroglyph above, as one of the principle implications is that this truth manipulation is uniquely modern, or at least more pernicious. I’m afraid that I have to disagree with that. I think it’s the opposite.
The problem with our age is that we have become too truthful.
Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning: why is Power lying bad?
Strawmen don’t talk, so I’ll have to answer for them: Because it keeps the populace from revolting against Putin. Also Brexit and Trump. Fine, I also don’t like Trump, he’s a goon, something something and [clever zinger about oranges here]. Vlad is also a goon, Brexit is shenanigans, etc.
This assumes that “truth” has some kind of power. I mean, if lies do, then truth definitely does. Use truth in exchange, enough of it will slay the demon.
It won’t, truth has no power, this is 90% of the problem. Truth, a rote pile of facts and neato information, results in nothing. It’s torpidity, properly considered a paralytic. All motions have been accounted for, and thus there is no room to make suggestions. A collection of data points strewn across the collective subconscious isn’t meangingless per se, but will never result in real world change, because facts say nothing about how you should act.
“Is/Ought” problem for you nerds, but jargon also means nothing. The fact that 18% of Americans think the sun moves around the earth has no motive force behind it. What do you do with it? 82% of you will mock the dumbasses, and 18% will not get why they’re being mocked. Those are different responses, in case you weren’t aware of that, i.e. this simple truth doesn’t have any inherent action underlying it.
You might think political facts are somehow more motivating, but why would you? Look above and reapply: the things that make you act have nothing to do with truths, but what you do with information, how you weigh it. These used to be called “values”, but we don’t really have many of those anymore, especially not the elite. We have (count it) one left, the value of “truth” in itself, a faith in the motive force of “fact”. Ironically, we tossed out the rest of them because they were based on things that were “untrue” (myth, religion, w/e). Snake eats its own tail, swamp of despair, etc.
Implied in “truth” is the belief in an action because of what is true. Truth has become correspondence theory + implied interpretation of it = agitation based on that. Simply showing someone a fact, a data point, is taken to be indicative of a certain belief or motivation therein. For instance: [controversial data point here]. “Woah, didn’t know you were a nazi.” I have good news for anyone who comes across an “inconvenient truth” and bad news for those hoping to spread them: none of them mean anything.
Every political party is desperate to prove not that their side is not merely right morally, or ethically, or [loosething], but “true”, i.e. backed up by science or economics or [datathing]. Someone is going to bring up “But the fundamentalists!” but, no, wrong. See: creation science. Have you never asked why that exists?
They (want to) believe what they believe not because it’s “good”, but because the facts are on their side. Factual accuracy is the main arbiter, the judge of worth. These can’t all be correct, so it often winds up as a bizarre game of Utils and Ladders, but that doesn’t change the valuation. Everyone wants to argue that Alex Jones is “wrong” but he expects this, because we only argue over facts. To really blow his fucking mind, go on InfoWars and admit everything. Fish people, Illuminati, Bush-11, all true. And then say, “So?”
Now, I believe that the earth goes around the sun, and that this is beyond dispute. But I chose the Copernican Revolution for a reason. You instinctively feel better than the 18%, right? Because you know the truth. What you’re feeling there is the same vague faith in truth’s motive force that [sheeplewakers] have about HyperNormalisation. That you somehow “are” better, with all the acting better implied in that being better.
But frankly, I bet that 18% is like everyone else, i.e. bland but fine and occasionally even nice. What, do you jump-start the neighbor’s car because of heliocentrism?
What this says about us is not good. Worse is our insistence that “lying” specifically is a “modern” problem.
Long before he became Augustus, Octavian began the Imperial Cult. Julius Caesar was reinterpreted as a Deity, and prayed to as such. How are we to interpret this if “lie becoming truth” is characteristic of modernity? I think, although I’m not certain, that Octavian did not believe Caesar to be an actual God. I’m positive myself that Julius Caesar is not a “God” as I interpret that word.
I also know that oblation, ritual, metaphysical belief, is more important in daily life than whether Gaddafi is our ride-or-die chick. If the fear is that “lies become normalized, and hyperreality takes over,” then this is a much stronger example of it. It’s even less “true” when taken as fact – Gaddafi being a dick or not is a much weaker factual statement than whether a human being can be fucking apotheosized.
There are a million similar examples, because “lies” aren’t new. Stronger: power creating an alternate reality which overtakes the material one isn’t new. Even stronger: that’s been the norm of human history. Pharoahs are sundisk gods, that dairymaid is a witch, Napoleon is a Republican, etc.
Adam Curtis knows this, of course. He has a British accent and I have an American accent, something I’m reminded of each time I have to write Normalisation instead of Normalization. Since we’re in the realm of cinema, this trope points to him being 50% smarter than me, and 150% better read. I’m a dumb Yank and I know what a sundisk is, so Curtis can probably read sundisk theology in the original Egyptian. But if “shit being unreal” is not unique to modernity, what is? Why do these critics harp on their own powerlessness in the face of Big Pixellated Lies?
Short answer: we’re flattering ourselves.
We all know that we’re really the kind of people who “would rise up, if we just had the chance.” I’m a revolutionary, you’re a revolutionary, we would have saved [group] the last time there was a [massacre] and also assassinated [figure] while telling a [fantastic one-liner]. We know that we’re this kind of person, the good sort. And yet we haven’t acted on it, we haven’t become that person in reality, so there must be some opposing force making us not be heroic.
If our only value for action is truth (see above), then that must mean that the counter-force is countering truth. Only TrueFacts do things, so what else could it be? Hence hyper conspiracies, that mass-manipulate everything, so that no one knows the truth.
Step one: Truth makes people act (how I want them to).
Step two: But the people are not acting (how I want them to).
Step three: They must not have the truth, because of […].
The easy critique of “speaking truth to power” is that power already knows the truth, they just don’t care. I like that critique, but it’s not my point here. I mean to say that hiding behind “speaking truth to power” is a game, a desperate dance to hide from “the truth” because “the truth” is too horrifying to imagine.
“The truth” is that there is no conspiracy. There might be several, but they’re competing with each other, i.e. they blast each other instead of your mind. We have access to more information (facts, truths), and more people have access to that information, than any group of humans beings in history ever has. This is despite propaganda, despite all efforts to shut down the information, despite every self-serving lie you tell yourself about what kind of person you are. We are flooded with “true facts”. And still nothing changes. Which means the real “truth” is that truth will not save you.
What you call “truth”, i.e. a bushel of factoids, leafed together solely with the pithy twine of your self-regard, doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t make people act, it doesn’t make them think. Assuming that it does is madness, as though properly manipulating a syllogism will finally make “change” “occur”.
Even though facts fail to do this, we retain our faith in that value. It was the only one we had to fall back on, and better death than the collapse of our identities.  Because we believe, subconsciously for the most part, that truth has a motive force, we assume that anytime people get it but fail to act, then what they received must not be true. We didn’t question whether “truth moves people”, we assumed it, and then moved on to assume that they must not have really gotten “the truth” now.
Are you getting it yet? We know this. We know that facts are abundant. But we also recognize that nothing is changing. Reexamining how you value truth is outside the window of possibility, so there must be someone making lies. You define truth as facts, but facts are so abundant that you don’t just need an antagonist now. You need the biggest, baddest antagonist ever. Only that can save you, because you’re the kind of person who rebels, and if you aren’t rebelling, it must be because something is stopping you. You need someone so good at lying and distorting that they can annihilate the entirety of the internet, and of public education, and of…
I think truth is good, defined as facts or something else. I’m a partisan of it, I like it, etc. I think simulacra are mean and bad and everywhere. I admit that technological control has exacerbated the ability of the rulers to manipulate reality. We do live in hyperreality, I have no idea what is real and what isn’t, etc. etc. You caught me.
I’m not saying that truth is relative. I’m not saying that “emotions” outweigh truth. I’m not saying that lying is more powerful. I’m not saying that we don’t live in a hyperreality.
I am saying that all of the beliefs you just attributed to me come directly from this naive esteem you hold of truth’s motive force. And I’m saying that you’re making it worse.
HyperNormalisation doesn’t just make the claim that leaders are lying, that’s crude. It’s about people spreading lies and truths and [general disinformation] to the point where no one can tell what counts as real and what doesn’t. It’s that fundamental uncertainty that leads to false realities, and that’s what leaders pounce on.
But by far the strongest influence in that direction comes not from rogue states and RT, but from us, we the people, ourselves.
If tomorrow the simulacra disappeared, everything was suddenly true and real, then today’s crusaders for truth would immediately begin constructing a new one entirely of lies. . This will happen because when it all is revealed nothing will have changed, people will not act differently. And so it can’t be “real”, because definitionally “real” and “true” things make people act. “Huh. Must still be a lie swarm.” Truth’s partisans will create an entirely false world because the horror of the real one is that nothing moves.
You want people to act, but you assume that has to do with truth. Indeed, that’s your only trick. Hence, you frantically manipulate syllogisms, add data to the pile, all the while thinking it’ll translate into the world, somehow. This is the act of a crazy person, because people already know the truth. “But politicians lie!” hisses someone who just shared a HyperNormalisation meme. And?
“Politicians lie” is the little truth that every [wokeonaut] thinks they’ve discovered, but everyone knows that. That statement is older than God. Still every month some investigative journalist (I know these don’t exist anymore, but humor me) publishes an exposé, the shit-eating grin worn as though she’s caught them. Then nothing happens, and the elites assume, “Wow, the people really are dumb and apathetic, aren’t they?” But the people already “knew” the bigger truth, i.e. politicians lie. It didn’t make either them or you get to the barricades, it didn’t even change the voting patterns. What else did you add to the party? One more verification?
“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back!” A thing about camels with broken backs is that they have a hard time moving.
One could easily construct a genealogy of the entirety of post-modernism based on this. PoMo’s whole thing is basically “truth is merely the interpretations and reification of what power wants.” I kind of love academics, because they say this shit so earnestly, as though they’ve finally seen The Man and the whole ruse is about to come down.
“Truth is lies of power” is nothing but the inverse of our above proposition. It still dumbly, unquestioningly believes that “truths” or their cousin “lies” make people act. And when one notices that people aren’t “acting” how one wants them to, but can’t quite handle the revaluating bit, they frantically build an entire philosophy around how it must not really be true, then, it’s just power lying to them and so…
From this comes the sesquipedalian monster that is “cultural relativism”, which, indeed, posits the exact same thing. “Ooooh, people act different, it must mean that like… their truths are different. Which is why they act different!” Goosebumps, honestly, but truth still doesn’t do this.
I’m not done. Truth as power that makes people move doesn’t come from no where. It’s a defiantly modern judgment, one that misunderstands everything about the world even as it better “explains” it than anything before. “Better explains?” But –
“Truth is power” parrots and Cultural Relativism mimeographs both think that they’re against empiricism. Sam Harris is literally the devil, STEMbros just don’t get it, the moon is a cultural construct, I know. But here’s the thing: truth as “power” doesn’t come from Foucault, or Deleuze, or Baudrillard or [continental not-neckbeard]. It comes from empiricism.
Empiricism’s dictum is that “truth” is manipulability and prediction, i.e. a series of facts that have power. Empiricism is really the first school that separates “truth” from some deeper metaphysical meaning (unlike, say, rationalism or scholasticism), and that attaches (or assumes) a sense of action and urgency to it. See also: utilitarianism, which presupposes that a series of true facts are “useful” in themselves.
Many of you are invested in the above schools. You’re shaking your heads. “No, it’s not about that, see, if people knew…” Yeah, wake up, sheeple.
Can it be that the entirety of post-modernism is just… too empirical? That it believed too deeply in naive truth, had a misplaced trust in the essential empiricist project? That it got burned and now has to act rebellious? That, at its core, it believes more deeply in the ultimate values of the empiricists than Dawkins, than Dennett, than Harris, than its fiercest enemies?
Oh, you naifs!
PoMo thinks that it’s mostly composed of revolutionaries. So do the New Atheists. They have that in common. Neither party is (also that), but they do share certain traits of revolutionaries. The primary one is the trait of Elite Going to the Great Revolt, i.e.: fight for the plebs while you despise them. Plebs are stupid, the elite know what’s best for them. Of course elites know the truth, that’s definitional. They’re elites, duh.
They’d, like, totally join in on the cause (revolutionaries, remember?), but the fucking rednecks won’t do anything. “What’s the problem with Kansas?” The [outgroup] must be getting them to vote against their own interest by lying. “They” must have not have the truth, because having the “truth” means that you will act in…. some way.
The point of this is that most of these critiques are not aimed at the elites, but at the so-called herd, i.e. go ahead and blame the poor. Every parvenu in history has, after all.
This is a problem because only elites are stupid enough to both buy the lies of other elites and powerful enough to make life worse for us all.
Journos and academics assume that everyone thinks like them. This is wrong. Most of the world doesn’t even gather information in the same way.
People don’t receive their news directly from the government outlet, no matter the wails of propaganda. I’m not saying that that isn’t the original source, just that most people see it filtered. This is because most people spend 1/3 of the day sleeping, 1/3 working, some ~hour commuting, and the whatever-time filling the gaps: domestic spats/calming the children/drinking yourself stupid/gazing out the window and wondering how this void filled the once all-bright world. They catch the news in between that.
Here is how they catch it: 10% actually reading the things likely to contain prop, 60% talking to co-workers and deplorables, 30% facebook/twitter/socnet commentary. The actually-reading thing also includes all the time taken to post it, along with angry commentary, i.e. more time misunderstanding than understanding it, then sharing their misunderstood version of with coworkers. Have you never played telephone? Do you have any idea just how muddled the message gets in those hours? People believe crazy shit, and it may come accidentally from the government but has nothing to do with the government wants them to think.
That’s not even to get into, again for the millionth time: facts have nothing to do with action. Fuck, North Korea has probably the most effective political apparatus in the world for restricting citizen information. The only facts people have come directly from the state, and these facts are insane. Note that the state still can’t stop people from smoking meth and watching cowboy flicks.
The problem with elites is that they’re smarter than the average rube, and they know it, which is why they’ll never get the point. They’re smarter because they do read the journals the periodicals and the magazines. They’re “informed”. But being informed means no filter, i.e. direct from the prop machine. Which means that they are prime propaganda territory, not Joe the Plumber.
If you are an elite (you are) I want you to sit and think about that last line very hard, possibly for forever, and if you don’t understand it then never ever try and have any more power than you already do, you will fuck this world up otherwise.
HyperNormalisation uses Brexit as a data point. Here is mine, same subject, relayed by one of its architects. Read the whole thing, but:
Since losing many inside the IN campaign now talk dejectedly as if they could never have won and tell rationalising fairy tales. They are wrong. They almost did win. Some have latched onto the idea that they were overwhelmed by an epic, global force of ‘right-wing populism’. Mandelson defends himself by saying 48% looks ‘like a miracle’ given the populist tide. Most have latched onto the idea that their ‘complex truth’ was overwhelmed by ‘simple lies’ and they are happy with their comforting ‘post-truth’ sobriquet – a delusion that leaves them very vulnerable to being shocked again. Many have even argued that they lost because they could not persuade Corbyn to make more speeches.
These stories are psychologically preferable to the idea that their own errors caused defeat (just as it is for some of those in Hilary’s campaign) but should not be taken seriously.
Life is more quotidian than you want it to be. A conspiratorial web of lies is not destroying modern politics. Systematic incompetence is modern politics, which is why it’s going badly for you.
Almost everything you see right now is the narcissistic rage of the elite.
This takes us back to the beginning. Journalism.
Of course the journalists think that they’re powerless. They keep expecting factoids to move people to act like they want them to. But people don’t work like that.Confronted with this fact, the best they can come up with is “post-truth”. “Oh wow, guess the herd is dumb and emotive,” says the fucking socialist. “Truth is powerless against better lies.”
Wrong, coward. Despairing of the lies and “post-truth” is exactly the same belief in the power of truth. “Lies”, non-facts, have precisely the same motive force as facts = zero. The difference is that the people who will lie generally don’t waste their time on facts. This leaves them with wiggle room to work on things that actually make people act. But their lies didn’t get them their, something else did.
Are you not seeing it? You could have had that power. And it wouldn’t have been gained by lying, it could have been gained with truth. This would be better. A world with more truth would be better. Stop taking that from us.
The problem with facts isn’t that they’re bad, it’s that they aren’t enough. You need “facts + x” doesn’t matter to me what x is for you, but you need it, or else you cede the playing field to people willing to use x and only x. But instead of recognizing that, you narcissistically threw your hands in the air, and so you let the monsters in the gate.
The keyword in our starting image is not “fake” but “lost”. And we are lost. We’re stuck in the woods. A guide would be nice, but our supposed psychopomps are waiting for ents, for the trees to part on their own. When the ents don’t come, they sit down and wait, dumb-struck, for the trees to move on their own. Worse: they pass the time trying to convince everyone that the ents are coming, that we just have to give them a moment.
I have some truly sorrowful news for you: ents aren’t real. There’s your fucking “truth”.
Let me repeat the above, because “actionable” and “what’s the point?” etc.: facts + valuation, get it? Not lies, nor x, nor lies + valuation. Truth + valuation.
Lies aren’t good and truth isn’t relative. Both of those philosophies come precisely from the naive interpretation of truth. And, indeed, confuse what is and isn’t “real” better than anything Power could’ve cooked up on its own.
The Imperial Cult was much more “post-truth” by your own definition of truth (facts) than anything we have now. We live in a hyper truthful world, one where everyone accesses the facts and everyone already knows them. All our of branches of learning ignore this, and their frantic scholarship and historical revisionism is based on the opposite, as though if we finally “got it”, corrected the date here or there, then the people will suddenly rise.
They will not. I admit that it looks like people are reacting emotionally, probably because they are. We react to information based on values, and lacking these, we react to it emotionally. currently, we’ve replaced all values with this misplaced faith in the certainty, the motive force of factoids is what we have in modernity. What did you expect when you remove all of what made people move before and replaced it with desultory data points? Of course they’re moving on Feels Not Reals or whatever. So are you. “We took Job and replaced God’s every line with a Snapple fact. Verse 17 will amaze you!” This world is appalling, and it’s your fucking fault.
Nihilism is the period at which our highest values become unsustainable. It doesn’t look like bombs and leather jackets. It looks like ashen-faced, Serious Men puking trivialities and staring slack-jawed when this fails to provoke anything. And it then looks like the serious “thinkers” of society declaring that this failure proves either a massive, impossibly efficient conspiracy or that everything is a social construct, man. And then it looks like everyone thoughtfully nodding along, as though they just said something, like it isn’t a child farting into a trumpet to announce the end of days.
Adam Curtis almost certainly knows all of this. He’s, after all, British and therefore smarter than me (see above). I’d be very interested in what he thinks truth is. Sadly, we’ll probably never get that film, because artists (good ones, that is) like to hide and sequester.
By his own admission, Kissinger was not a realist but an idealist. He was an idealist, and so he acted. We still want to have faith in “facts” so we assign him to the realist camp. This is wrong. Only Hamlet was a realist, and he stopped being one the moment he chose to create.
Misunderstand this and you lose both the world and your soul.
1. “Truth” here is considered as a series of facts. This is the common conception of truth, and the one we’re examining, so that’s how I’ll use the word in this essay. Heidegger BTFO until I can make my point. ^
2. This is, actually, the one thing keeping us from total, balls-to-the-wall nihilism, so I’m sort of fond of it. It’s a shame that it is ultimately nihilistic, and so must be destroyed. ^
3. Indeed, there’s some reason to believe this is already happening, but that’s a different article. ^