Victor Davis Hanson’s essay, The New Age of Falsity, vividly describes the new requirement of the modern age. It is the requirement to lie.
The requirement is imposed by the circumstance that many institutions are already built on falsehoods. In order to keep things ticking even honest newcomers must resort to the “maintenance lie” which can be defined as the affirmation of legacy falsehoods to prevent an institutional meltdown. This is without taking into account what can be called the “capital investment lies”, which are entirely new fibs uttered for the purpose of usurping new powers.
Hanson convincingly argues that meanings in public discourse are now routinely reversed in the Orwellian sense simply to keep it self consistent. For either the lie must be contradicted by the truth or all the truths must be perverted to match.
We live in an age of falsity, in which words have lost their meanings and concepts are reinvented as the situation demands. The United States is in a jobless recovery — even if that phrase largely disappeared from the American lexicon about 2004. Good news somehow must follow from a rising unemployment rate, which itself underrepresents the actual percentage of Americans long out of work.
At the same time, we are supposed to be relieved that we are in a contracting expansion, where fewer goods and services are proof of a resilient economy. In our debt-ridden revival, borrowing $1 trillion each year is evidence that we don’t have a spending problem.
“Minitrue, Minipax, Miniplenty, and Miniluv (Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, and Ministry of Love, respectively – all ministries of the active government in Nineteen Eighty-Four” — are upon us. The system can no longer survive without a systematic inversion of the truth. To his credit, defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is holding back from making the “capital investment lie” by “refusing to detail foreign funders and disclose other necessary financial information to the Senate Armed Services Committee.” He was asked to provide it. He refused.
Hagel maintains that he has a “fiduciary duty” to keep “confidentiality” of his and his organization’s donors … The aide details, “Committee members have specific concerns with regard to foreign contributions to the Atlantic Council by Saad Hariri (or the Hariri family), Dinu Patriciu, Kazakhstan, Bidzina Ivanishvili (his supporters/network) – and the nexus between Chevron’s investments in Kazakhstan and their involvement with Hagel at the Atlantic Council.”
There’s a kind of old school but dark nobility about that. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” Perhaps that is all we have left; what passes for integrity these days of the facile lie is where only the most honest pirate ships sail under their own flags.
But lying, however expedient, has its own unavoidable costs. It undermines the most important asset of governance: trust. Fewer and fewer believe. The number who buy its bluffs dwindles steadily. Finally lies reduce confidence in the currency, in the fairness of the administration justice and even the faith in the loyalty of its leaders. Eventually lying corrodes trust to the point where the system doesn’t work any more and then the consequences are incalculable.
Judge Andrew Napolitano observed the key problem with giving President Obama, or any of his designated representative the power to accuse, judge and kill an American by drone is this: “The core of the argument is ‘trust us.’ That’s an argument that the Supreme Court rejected because it doesn’t trust a single individual to kill”.
Trust us. But what happens to government when trust evaporates? When lies drain out the last reserves of faith?
One small example of what happens when trust is gone is represented by the murderous rampage of former LAPD cop Chris Dorner, now hunted throughout Southern California. Dorner’s online manifesto may by now have been read by millions. It has been described by the media as “rambling” yet though it may be the work of a deranged mind, it is clearly the product of an intelligent one. There is a method to his madness and he is probably using the manifesto itself to misdirect his hunters and to throw a smokescreen on his real plans.
Our interest in the manifesto is in how it uses falsehood to advance Dorner’s program.
Dorner knows where the weak points of the system are. The mistrust of the police, especially the LAPD is his starting point. He utilizes what hides beneath the veneer of political correctness and plays every race card he can think of. Black vs white vs brown vs yellow vs … did I miss anything?
He knows that every bureaucracy will reflexively protect itself. And therefore he salts his manifesto with references to going after the police hierarchy. And he gets the predictable results. Law enforcement is fully mobilized protecting itself and probably a hundred other celebrities in the vast state. It is paranoid too. Recently two innocent civilians were shot by cops who probably feared for their own lives.
He knows about the region’s obsession with celebrity and fame and mentions dozens of personalities in his manifesto. Anderson Cooper has announced he’s received a bullet riddled coin from Dorner, something the ex-cop devoted time to sending. Why did he do it? Because the LAPD dare not protect celebrities. Dorner understands the way the liability system works. There will be hell to pay and someone’s job will be lost if any of the myriad celebrities he has mentioned in his screed sees hide or hair of him.
Together these are tying down thousands of cops.
Worse, he is employing the exaggerations of the system against itself. Dorner announced in his manifesto that he has the ‘high powered magazines’ and ‘assault rifles’ which the public has been scared into regarding as the next plague on earth. Jesse Jackson recently described these as able to “blow up railroads” and shoot down airplanes. He said “semi-automatic weapons are not just about gun control, they’re about national security,”while appearing on Fox News. A Notice to Airmen has been issued for the area around Bear Lake, where Dorner was last spotted, and the whole resort town is in lockdown, what with a man on the loose armed with what Piers Morgan described as “incredibly powerful” weapons.
They are now hoist on their own hyperbole.
Although Dorner will probably fall in the end he is demonstrating how easy it is to exploit the mistrust and paranoia of the system. He is beating the system over the head with its own falsehoods. Many people are willing to believe the worst about the LAPD or eager to embrace the most vile possible construction on events, not because they are necessarily true, but because the system is no longer quite so trusted. And even when Dorner is finally cornered he will go down in certain circles as some kind of rebel, instead of as a kook.
Hanson hit the problem squarely on the head. His piece on falsity, written before the Dorner manhunt, anticipates many of its weak points admirably.
Our elites in academia and the media have some culpability. Thirty years of nihilist postmodern relativism — no absolute truth, just constructs based on race, class, and gender privilege — have finally filtered down to the popular culture. An obsession with celebrity also has meant that we increasingly worship the antics of the wealthy and famous and decreasingly worry what they had to do to obtain or maintain both.
In the new progressive age, the exalted ends of equality sometimes require that the means of achieving a place on the public stage should remained largely unexamined. If there is no consistency, no transparency, no absolute standard, then it is because the task of fairness is hard and occasionally requires extraordinary sacrifices for the greater good. And to the degree that someone is deemed cool, then cool trumps most everything else: Google executives don’t outsource. Rappers are not misogynists. Green apostles don’t have conflicts of interest. And men in camouflage with assault weapons don’t just kill less than 1 percent of those Americans lost each year to gun violence, but account for all sorts of vastly more evil things that we cannot even begin to describe.
This is not the world as it is. It is the world as the media pretends that it is. And we are dying inside that world. It is founded on maintenance lies. It is extended by capital investment ones, as in “never let a crisis go to waste”. Now we and the public enemies exist in that corrosive context. The elite has poisoned the chalice. And now it is drinking from the poisoned cup itself.