Belmont Club

The Perils of Editing History

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

Newsweek back-edited its own 2015 story to support its contention that Tom Cotton was pretending to be an Army Ranger. According to a National Review story:

Cotton attended the Ranger School, Salon reported on January 23, “but in the eyes of the military, that does not make” Cotton “an actual Army Ranger” because he didn’t serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. But when Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest graduated from Ranger School in 2015, bipartisan congressional resolutions and many media outlets hailed the two women as the first female Army Rangers. Newsweek was one of those news outlets, but after Salon posted its article attacking Cotton, Newsweek went back and changed its 2015 article to strip the two women of that title. …

When Newsweek edited its 2015 story, it appended this correction: “This article has been changed to note that completion of the course allows one to wear.the Ranger tab, but does not make one a Ranger.”

The media likes to hold people to comparisons with a curated past. They compile a dossier based on college yearbooks, old social media, etc. The story of teenager Mimi Groves is a recent example.

Upon getting her learner’s permit, Mimi Groves sent a three-second Snapchat video to a girlfriend boasting, “I can drive, n—.” It was 2016….

Someone sent that old video to a classmate, Jimmy Galligan, sometime during the 2019-2020 school year. He and Ms. Groves were now seniors. He is biracial. He and Ms. Groves were friends, but he decided to wait for a strategic time to release the video. …

By May of this year, Ms. Groves was a varsity cheer captain who’d just been accepted onto the cheer team at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the reigning national champs. …

And that’s when Mr. Galligan released the n-word video from her freshman year. The social media explosion involved threats of violence at UT-Knoxville. She immediately lost her cheer team spot, was pressured to withdraw from the university altogether and ended up at a community college this fall.

“Just deserts,” some might say, because the facts are the facts. But imagine if the media could go back in time and rewrite the Narrative any time it chose, as Newsweek did. Then the question would not only be “who is safe from his younger self?” but “what is true?” The most famous treatment of the record as a source of power is in Orwell’s 1984.

O’Brien was looking down at him speculatively. … ‘There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,’ he said.
‘Repeat it, if you please.’

‘”Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present
controls the past,”‘ repeated Winston obediently. …

O’Brien smiled faintly. ‘You are no metaphysician, Winston,’ he said.
‘Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?’

‘No.’

‘Then where does the past exist, if at all?’

‘In records. It is written down.’

‘In records. And—-?’

‘In the mind. In human memories.’

‘In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we
control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?’

It is at this point that O’Brien crushes Winston Smith because he knows that the Party, with its apparatus of torture, can make the single human memory conform to the Narrative. But it is in this same passage where the brilliant George Orwell commits his single greatest logical error. There is a “somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening.”

That place is reality.

Even after the last record has been edited and the last memory recanted under duress, the artifacts of the truth are preserved in the natural world. Suppose we wanted to defactualize the COVID-19 outbreak. It would hardly suffice to change the human record; the virus has altered the biological profile of nature. According to the CDC:

We know that cats, dogs, and some other mammals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but we don’t yet know all of the animals that can get infected. There have been reports of animals being infected with the virus worldwide. …

Several animals in zoological facilities have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, including large cats and great apes. Several lions and tigers in a New York zoo, a puma in South Africa, tigers in a Tennessee zoo, snow leopards at a Kentucky zoo, and gorillas at a California zoo tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after showing signs of illness. It is suspected that these animals became sick after being exposed to zoo employees with COVID-19, despite the staff following COVID-19 precautions.

Reality keeps records. We can change our memories but only at our peril. Whatever the fact-checkers say, the DNA is out there. “By looking at the patterns of SNPs in mitochondrial DNA, scientists can trace maternal ancestry back hundreds of thousands of years,” a technology that may have ruined Elizabeth Warren’s chances of becoming president.

Even the human record, so limited in Orwell’s day, is becoming increasingly difficult to alter. Activity is now logged in so many places—security cameras, cell phone towers, network traffic, even satellite imagery—that it is becoming increasingly expensive to consistently “vanish” so much as a single fact without risking that somewhere, someplace a trace remains. Think of the Hunter Biden laptop or the Anthony Weiner emails.

The expense of changing all related records and all subsequent related records is the principal protection provided by blockchain technology. To fake one thing, it is necessary for the faker to alter everything associated with it. That is a task that proportionately increases with time and propagation through the network.

The principal menace of the Narrative-keepers is not that they will actually control reality but that they will lose track of it. Records, after all, are not made to tell reality where it stands but to remind us where we are in relationship to the truth. Those who would back-edit the world are not strong but weak. They can’t keep their story straight and things keep happening that shouldn’t. As a 1941 movie, made at a time when slick propagandists (including Orwell’s socialists) believed they would rule the future, put it: Lies contain the seed of their own destruction.

You will never rule the world… because you are doomed. All of you who demoralized and corrupted a nation are doomed. Tonight you will take the first step along a dark road from which there is no turning back. You will have to go on and on, from one madness to another, leaving behind you a wilderness of misery and hatred. And still, you will have to go on… because you will find no horizon… see no dawn… until at last you are lost and destroyed.

Take a step along the path of the lie and it only draws one deeper into the quicksand of self-deception. For Winston, the correct adage is: “Who accepts the past can face the present. Who faces the present can have a future.”

BooksUnmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy — Andy Ngo’s book on the “Idea” that burned cities and perhaps much else.

Follow  Richard Fernandez at Wretchard.com