Larvatus prodeo - I advance wearing my mask (Nietzsche)
“It meant that there was a dual reality in British politics – the reality of what actually happened, and the reality of what was reported. By a classic postmodern inversion, the real became false and the false became true.”
Peter Oborne, The Triumph of the Political Class
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“You’re the man who squats
Behind the man
Who works the soft machine.”
Mick Jagger, Memo from Turner
Across the world, an interesting profession exists for which there is not really a name, at least not one any dare speak. The job with which these co-workers are tasked is to take raw material and turn it into something else. It sounds quite appealing and fulfilling, doesn’t it? An artisanal, useful occupation like working with a loom or being a chef or a carpenter. And it is appealing, and extravagantly rewarded, for the particular personality type drawn to this profession that dare not speak its name. But it is not productive, not in any real sense, unless you consider the manufacturing of falsehoods, evasions, distractions, inaccurate denials, false statistics, spurious accusations and outright lies to be representative of production, at least, the production of anything worthwhile.
These people are, of course, the fabricators of reality. Their job is not uniform. Some are dedicated to the task as a professional requirement, some are tangentially connected to the falsification of facts. The second category of deceivers are to be found in the media and the ‘entertainment’ industry, but it is the first category, the dedicated professionals, that concerns us here.
In the United Kingdom – a baffling title nowadays – the government employs, using taxpayers’ money, gentlemen and gentlewomen known colloquially as ‘spin doctors’. It’s rather a clever construction. A doctor is a benison, a thorough-going good thing. A doctor is there to help you, to improve your health and cure your ills. It rather takes the heat off the ‘spin’ part of the epithet. It’s a little like when a famous breed of dog was re-named in Britain back in the 1970s. ‘Alsatian’ sounded bleak and remote. ‘German Shepherd’ held far more appeal. If you ignore the Deutsche half of the name, whoever read a book in which a shepherd was the serial killer or fraudster or basic bad guy? The Bible excepted.
The job description for the profession that dare not speak its name is simple and as follows.
1. Obey your masters.
2. Change facts, news stories, opinion pieces, advertising, TV drama, and any other medium or message that might affect the behavior of the electorate and is within reach of your arm. Continue this until you are in accordance with requirement 1. (See above).
3. Use any means at your disposal to effect requirement 2. (See above).
I know. I rather cribbed that from Asimov’s famous trilogy, beginning with I, Robot. A great title, in passing.
Spin doctors, then. Also known as ‘Special Advisers’ or ‘SpAds’, to use the snot-nosed adolescent text speech that passes for much of contemporary political discourse. Their job is to process facts, events that have occurred in the world, and make them palatable for a general public already distracted by other ephemeral concerns, like a kitten chasing a flashlight beam across a linoleum floor.
I am fascinated by one possibility among many. Do any of them ever think, shall we just tell the plebs the truth and have the rest of the week off? Does it not play on their consciences to be the author of lies? Or is conscience, for these creators of illusions, a vestigial concern, like and appendix or coccyx?
There is, of course, a long tradition of a ruling elite keeping the truth from the great unwashed. The ordinary people. The real people. As my mum says; “You know. People like me”. The seminal scene is Plato’s Republic, with its ‘noble myth’ or ‘noble lie’. Of course, there has been endless wrangling over translation, but the necessary or noble falsehood is made explicit by Plato;
‘[I]t looks as though our rulers will have to make considerable use of falsehood and deception for the benefit of those they rule.’ [459c, Stephanus numbering system].
The problem, of course, lies in the notion of nobility. Give a ruling elite, anywhere in history, the idea that it is acting spuriously from noble motives, and the route to a reign of terror is clear and unobstructed.
But there is no nobility to be found among the modern web of malevolent technocrats. Their concern is an amalgam of power, self-importance and, the irreducible kernel of the Leftist Progressive, control. And controlling reality by controlling information is, as Orwell makes clear, the ultimate aim of this cadre of trickster gods. There is but one fly in their murky ointment; dissent.
As is well known, a clandestine literature existed in the former USSR. Samizdat, as it was known, derives etymologically from roots which essentially mean ‘self-publishing’. It is not difficult to make the connection between this clandestine information flow, this underground river of banned inquiry, and the dissident internet. It is also the work of a moment to realise, as I have consistently pointed out, that the weavers of lies we have already noted have as their mission statement more than just the production of an alternative reality engineered to please their masters. As well as this constructive aspect of their Mephistophelean work, there is also a destructive side. They must eradicate dissent.
And so it is that these deceivers coalesce in the form of groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre and the Anti-Defamation League. They purport to hound and close down so-called ‘hate’ sites, but in actuality they, and their growing British counterparts, are doing the work of censorship governments are not keen to be seen doing themselves.
And so this is one of the mainstays in the ceaseless production of a false reality; the silencing of those who would speak the truth. Returning briefly to the Republic, I have written elsewhere about the real meaning of Plato’s myth of the cave, which I believe to be political, as opposed to the ontological reading which has passed into philosophy, such as that discipline now is. We recall, too, the escaped prisoner, the one looks at the sun and returns to tell the other prisoners, who then wish to kill him. Humankind, writes the Eliot of the Four Quartets, cannot bear very much reality.
But the one possibility that may thwart these malevolent spinners in darkness, these callous Penelopes, is that the real world will be too strong for their deceits. This is why resistance – not the pathetic anti-Trump rhetoric that goes by that name – and dissent are vital if reality, to paraphrase Dickens in Hard Times, is to take a wolfish turn.