Belmont Club

The Three Deceits

The fame — or perhaps the infamy — of the ruse de guerre dates from the Trojan War. “Hector, son of Troy’s King, held out until the 10th year when the Greeks tried a ruse de guerre: an enormous wooden horse secretly filled with Greek soldiers.”  And what was unattainable by force of arms fell easily to deception. To this day the words, “Trojan Horse” are a synonym for a “trick”.

What distinguishes a ruse de guerre from treason is that a ruse de guerre is practiced between enemies. There is no trust between enemies to begin with and hence no possibility of betrayal. Treachery by contrast occurs in the context of amity or a truce. It is a violation of trust. The attack on Pearl Harbor was not a ruse de guerre but an act of treachery, a stab in the back. But a third and possibly even more powerful form of dissimulation exists, which one may call the Changing of Words. Through this process one belligerent is made unaware of the existence of the other by manipulation of the language of discourse itself. You never even know you have an enemy until it is too late.

Two great 20th century writers warned of this danger. The first was C.S. Lewis who popularized the idea that the devil’s greatest invention was to convince mankind he didn’t exist. In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis imitates a senior devil advising a junior. He urges the apprentice to portray evil in comic-book terms the better to make it disappear.

I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command.

Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. … I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

The other writer, George Orwell, approached the same idea through the medium of language. The key to perfect invisibility, Orwell argued, was steganography, “the art and science of encoding hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message. It is a form of security through obscurity.”

In his fictional 1984 the Party’s main defense is not the secret police but education; through the artificial official language of Newspeak dark things are hidden in plain sight and rebellion is made impossible to articulate. There simply isn’t the vocabulary for it. Once Newspeak made has made resistance impossible it will be time to move in for the kill and argue that 2+2=5.

Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, uses the phrase to wonder if the State might declare “two plus two equals five” as a fact; he ponders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true? The Inner Party interrogator of thought-criminals, O’Brien, says of the mathematically false statement that control over physical reality is unimportant; so long as one controls their own perceptions to what the Party wills, then any corporeal act is possible, in accordance with the principles of doublethink (“Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once”).

President Obama’s declaration that ‘you can keep your doctor’ and that you ‘can keep your health plan’ is a perfect example of “2+2=5”. The National Journal makes the mistake of thinking that Obama’s lie is unimportant because all it harms is his credibility. “On history’s scale of deception, this one leaves a light footprint. Worse lies have been told by worse presidents, leading to more severe consequences, and you could argue that withholding a caveat is more a sin of omission. But this president is toying with a fragile commodity: his credibility. Once Americans stop believing in Obama, they will stop listening to him. They won’t trust government to manage health care. And they will wonder what happened to the reform-minded leader who promised never to lie to them.”

But they are wrong. The important thing about Obama’s “2+2=5” is not that it is a lie, but that it is a lie uttered in your face. It is a declaration of something, with as “light a footprint” as the Jolly Roger fluttering in the breeze.  The New York Times goes to great lengths to argue that the president only “misspoke”; that he never “lied”.

“We have a high threshold for whether someone lied,” he told me. The phrase that The Times used “means that he said something that wasn’t true.” Saying the president lied would have meant something different, Mr. Rosenthal said — that he knew it was false and intended to express the falsehood. “We don’t know that,” he said.

That is precisely the point which the Times wishes to elide. The president knew it was false and intended to express the falsehood — and we know that. The trick is to pretend that we don’t know that because to admit the fact would be to accept his contempt for us, to see the Boot in our face.

Since Obamacare is a steganograph those in the “know” understand perfectly what it means. According to a report sourced on Kaiser Health News the unions are seeking — and getting — “relief” (strange choice of words) from Obama’s wonderful health policy.

Buried in rules issued last week is the disclosure that the administration will propose exempting “certain self-insured, self-administered plans” from the law’s temporary reinsurance fee in 2015 and 2016.

That’s a description that applies to many Taft-Hartley union plans acting as their own insurance company and claims processor, said Edward Fensholt, a senior vice president at Lockton Cos., a large insurance broker.

One of the singular things about the Obamacare sales pitch is everyone is supposed to want it except for its creators, who are running from their handiwork as from the devil himself. But there is nothing surprising in this when you realize that 2+2=5 contains two messages. They hear the one; we hear the other. It is the equal sign that is the lie.

But of course we are just imagining things. Not only is there no lie, there is no liar either. David Horowitz explains how the Left contrived to vanish with the Fall of the Wall and reappeared in undetectable form.

I paid a visit to the New York intellectual, Norman Podhoretz, who … asked me why I was spending my time worrying about an isolated community on the fringes of politics. I should focus, he said, on liberals not leftists … The massive defeat they suffered in the fall of the Marxist states they helped create had the ironic, unforeseen effect of freeing them from the burden of defending them. This allowed them in the next decade to emerge as a major force in American life. In the wake of the Communist collapse, this left has become a very big thing—so big that by 2008 it was the dominant force in America’s academic and media cultures, had elected an American president, and was in a position to shape America’s future. …

Barack Obama, is seeking to “fundamentally” transform the United States of America. [Horowitz’s book] records the progress of that transformation, documenting the changes of a shape-shifting movement that constantly morphs itself in order to conceal its abiding identity and mission, which, as these pages will make clear, is ultimately one of destruction.

Liberalism is the steganograph of the Left. It’s the pattern that conceals the underlying pattern. But Horowitz may be too late to warn us of its dangers. The real significance of Barack Obama’s 2+2=5 healthcare declaration is that he now feels safe to brazenly utter it; emboldened to the point where he doesn’t care who knows. Because perhaps the serried ranks of those leftist faithful who ‘never existed’ can now impose his will by sheer main force; through direct coercion.

Nor will the leftist faithful balk at their orders. They’ll elect Blasio; they’ll elect anyone who they anoint. Horowitz confirms what I have long maintained: they exist and they are unthinking zealots. They warn about religion to hide the existence of their cult.  Thus, you can never convince a liberal by logical argument; one can only convert them by religious counter-experience. Horowitz describes the inherently religious character of the Left.

Because the left is a religious movement that engages an individual identity at the deepest levels, there can never be a separation between the personal and the political. Members of the faith know very well the implications of doubt: to leave the progressive faith is to invite expulsion from its utopia and the fellowship of its community, and forever after to be shunned as a person morally unfit for decent company.

For that reason 2+2=5 remains valid until the moment it is not. Wikipedia’s article on the psychology of religious conversion notes that rational argument is useless in this department.  People change when they are struck down by the facts as by a rock on the head. They only time they believe in the rock is when it arrives suddenly on their pate.

The classic religious paradigm for conversion is highly dependent on the idea of sudden conversion. The prototypical sudden conversion is the Biblical depiction of the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. Sudden conversions are highly emotional but not necessarily rational. In these instances the convert is a passive agent being acted upon by external forces, and the conversion entails a dramatic transformation of self. Emotion dominates this dramatic, irrational transformation leading to a shift in self and belief, with behavior change to follow. For sudden converts conversion is not a back and forth drawn out process, but rather happens in one single instance and is permanent thereafter. Typically sudden conversions occur in childhood and are exceptionally emotional experiences. Often sudden conversions are the result of overwhelming anxiety and guilt from sin that becomes unbearable, making conversion a functional solution to ease these emotions

Conversion happens when a paradigm breaks and has to be replaced with another. Because there are millions of people who can’t live without paradigms; can’t live without some imposed order to give meaning to their lives. And since they are too smart to believe in God, they believe in Obama.

Therefore the key component of every upheaval isn’t the words of men, but men riding in the wake of God (or Reality or the Creator or History) in what was once called the fullness of time. It’s reality that wakes people up. It may be objected that God doesn’t exist and thus cannot assist in conversion. Well that’s all right, since the Devil doesn’t exist either.

It is possible to imagine the Chairman of the Federal Reserve struck down on the way to the Eccles Building.

As he neared the Eccles Building, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Why, why, is 2+2=5?”

“Are you from MSNBC?” the chairman asked.

“No, I am Arithmetic, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go to the meeting, and you will tell them the sum.”

At the next meeting the other members were speechless; they all heard the sound of 2+2=4 but did not believe their ears. They got up from their chairs, yet could say nothing. So they remained quiet and did not go out beyond the Beltway. For three days they remained reclusive until they gave an interview.

“Two plus two equals four and you can’t keep your health plan. You can’t keep your doctor,” they said.

“What? What?”

Is it so hard to believe that reality will win in the end? Or are we conditioned to hope that if everybody repeats repeats 2+2=4 only then will it finally be true? Well perhaps not, for even if nobody says it, it will be true just the same.

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