The confusion that favors tyranny

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

The disinformation industry at the service of regimes of force does not need to build credibility, it just sows widespread discredit

In an article published on March 11, 2022 in the newspaper The Washington Post, columnist Margaret Sullivan has exposed with uncanny clarity one of the most insidious tactics of authoritarian leaders. Specialist in media and press, topics of her columns in Post, the journalist demonstrates that, for autocrats like Vladimir Putin, there is something more valuable than making people believe in them: this something more valuable is making people believe in nothing and nobody else. Summarized like this, the formula seems counterintuitive. How, after all, can a tyrant rally popular support if he does not earn the unrestricted trust of the crowds?

Before answering, let us remember that we, here in Brazil, are familiar with this type of command. At this point, let's move away from Margaret Sullivan's line of argument. Let's look at our country and we will understand the contradiction. We don't have a perfect look-alike here in the tropics for Vladimir Putin, but it is undeniable that there is a character walking these lands who aspires to become Putin when he grows up. Well then: how do these guys add followers?

Now the answer is easy. They don't win wild hearts and clouded minds by posing as trustworthy, upstanding, bona fide citizens. This is definitely not how they present themselves. They lie, and they don't need to hide that they lie. They lie, everyone knows they lie, but as their lies – sometimes cynical, sometimes perverse – have a destructive potential, it is with themselves that the resentful phalanxes close ranks.

Leaders like Vladimir Putin (and his imitators) need not be unrestrictedly credible. They do not need to build bonds based on truth and honesty of the word - it is enough that they show themselves brutal enough to destroy all the institutions of knowledge and knowledge that flourish in democracy (such as the University, science, justice, the arts and the press), because, as they never tire of repeating – and their worshipers fervently believe – these institutions are nothing more than a pile of lies. Lying in the name of fighting the lie, they round up their followers.

For tyrants, the priority is not to conquer the credulity of the unwary, but to ensure that the greatest number of unwary people do not deposit a single iota of trust in any institution of democracy. They came to destroy. Their most passionate appeals rest not on affirmative, positive, constructive projects, but on the promise to devastate any resistance they encounter. It is true that these appeals are often camouflaged in apparently edifying rhetoric around magical entities such as the “Fatherland”, “Great Russia”, “God”, “family” or any Shangri-la that symbolizes idyll or virtue (your fantasy of future is always the restoration of a mystical and military glory that would have existed in the past), but, deep down, what leads societies to surrender to these demagogues of brute force is the passion for decimating what, in democracy, has a part with the truth.

Let us now return to journalist Margaret Sullivan. She reminds us that the philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) had already alerted us, in an interview given five decades ago, to this evil trick of authoritarian leaders. In her article “Russia's new control tactic is the one that Hannah Arendt pointed out about 50 years ago”, she retrieves a most illuminating phrase from the German thinker: “If everyone always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one else believes anything.”

That is why the disinformation industry at the service of forceful regimes is not ashamed to spread fallacies and fraud. It doesn't build credibility at any point, it doesn't need to, it just sows widespread discredit. To the fake news they serve precisely to incinerate the access routes to the factual truth. The very concept of the truth of facts is being lost. The currents supporting the President of the Republic do not speak of facts, but only of “narratives”. For them, the truth of facts does not exist, only versions exist. In the creed of virtual militias, there is no longer any difference between judgments of fact and judgments of value (between facts and opinions). In place of objective thinking and rational debate, fanaticism enters the scene. Thus, the disinformation industry manages, little by little, to make, in the words of Hannah Arendt, “nobody believes anything anymore”.

That's it: there is the ideal seedbed for fascist-inspired models to flourish. “With a people like that”, said the philosopher (as we read in Margaret Sullivan's article), “you can, then, do what you want”. If the people are convinced that every statement that had the status of factual truth is reduced to imposture and manipulation, they will acclaim the first criminal madman who promises to set fire to everything.

Therefore, preachers of tyrannies need only produce confusion and more confusion. The rest will follow as a result.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of The superindustry of the imaginary (Authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.

 

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