The House of the Lie

Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is, in fact, one of his greatest weaknesses, and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver, even though basically a high intelligence, a broad culture, a constant exercise of the critical faculties, and full and objective information are still the best weapon against propaganda.

Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, p. 111.

Once upon a time, as I sat in my place around the big square table at the Jesus Seminar, my suspicions were confirmed. Was the goal of this think tank really to arrive at the facts about the ostensibly historical Jesus? If you looked at the trees, the answer would be yes. The discussions of individual sayings and stories were certainly attempts to whittle away anachronistic and tendentious embellishments of the Jesus tradition. But if you stepped back to look at the forest as a whole, it did sort of look like somebody had yet to learn the lesson of Albert Schweitzer’s magisterial book The Quest of the Historical Jesus: that Jesus researchers, despite their efforts to cast off the blinders of ancient dogma, had raised from the tomb of the past a Jesus that fit their theological and political preferences strikingly well.

The nature of the cheat in politically correct Jesus scholarship is this: the “dangerous supplement.” Derrida explained how someone proposes to add some insight that will fill a gap in some traditional understanding or institution, as when astronomers corrected the earlier belief that the orbits of the planets were perfect circles, showing instead that the planets journeyed around the sun in elliptical paths. Okay, just a helpful correction. But the “dangerous supplement” turns out to be much more. The suggested “modification” in fact overturns the whole apple cart, supplanting the old way, replacing it. One of the chief forms of this dangerous supplementation/supplantation is the attempt to critique culture in the name of nature: “from the beginning it was not so.”

You saw this, e.g., when anthropologist Margaret Meade criticized the “Puritanical” sexual norms of the West in light of her field studies of primitive peoples in New Guinea, whom she depicted as noble savages practicing Free Love. But it eventually developed that she had reported on these people as she imagined them, not as they were. What had happened (in this as in many other cases) was that culture was not so much being criticized in the name of nature as it was on behalf of counter-culture. Marx’s primal classless society: was it a historical account of the natural state of humanity before private property ruined everything? Or wasn’t it merely a function of his theory? “On my projection (or retrojection), it would have, must have, looked like that.” On and on it goes: was there really a primordial Matriarchy ruined by men, and to which we ought to return? Or isn’t it just mythicizing propaganda?

Historical study of the life of Jesus began in the eighteenth century as a rejection of the hidebound orthodoxy of the Christian churches. No more would biblical critics rein in their research according to what Christians were supposed/required to believe about Jesus (e.g., he was sinless, believed he was the Second Person of the Trinity, performed supernatural feats). They were rejecting “culture,” in this case an edifice of theological speculation, in favor of “nature,” the simple “facts of history.” But instead, they were champions of a counter-culture, seeking to replace the traditional Christology with a new one. You just cherry-pick a different set of gospel verses on which to base your new, improved “historical” Jesus.

I suspected this was what I was seeing in the Jesus Seminar, and finally I heard Bob Funk and others admit that their goal was to come up with a new Jesus figure(head) appropriate to the twenty-first century. I recall Karen King admitting there might be some space between demonstrable fact about Jesus and a Jesus-picture necessary to inspire Christians to engage with the progressive agenda the Seminar espoused. I had to say something. I asked her why that was any better than the fraudulent mythology of Afrocentrism? Face it: the ancient Egyptians were not black Africans, so the attempt to build up black kids’ self-esteem by teaching them such fantasies was building a house on sand. (I’ve always wondered why schools don’t teach about the glorious African civilizations of Songhay, Mali, Ghana, Benin, etc.? I learned about them in Bloomfield High School.

We live in Orwellian times today. The value of a statement is thought to consist in the usefulness of that statement in order to secure some socio-political goal. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is such a false but useful slogan. Michael Brown’s death was not a martyrdom. He did not surrender to police who shot him anyway. But the agitators don’t care about that. It is a useful lie if one’s goal is to undermine the effectiveness and even the legitimacy of the police, a major goal of anarchists. The notorious but phony campus rape cases constitute another major example.

But what these liars forget is that their lies are counter-productive. You remember the fable of the boy who cried “Wolf!” He had a good laugh every time he got all the villagers roused up, but when one day a wolf actually appeared, nobody heeded his call, this time an earnest one. Eventually, people are going to hear accurate reports of police brutality and campus rape and shrug their shoulders. The liars will have demonstrated only that they lie.

Remember the urgent claims that heterosexuals were just as liable to contract AIDS as were homosexuals? It was a lie designed to prod heterosexuals to find a cure for AIDS, which it was assumed they would not bother to do if AIDS were a threat only to (pesky, expendable) Gays. Remember the lies in the 1980s about homelessness? That Middle Class folks were in imminent danger of becoming street people? They weren’t. Street people are mainly the insane dumped out of mental health facilities, and that should have been the problem to attack, not Reaganite economic policies. In any case, AIDS activist and reporter Randy Shilts finally admitted he was inflating his statistics, as did homeless advocate Mitch Snyder.

Frankly, I am utterly baffled that fans of certain political candidates and office-holders who are known to be pathological deceivers are not daunted by their favorites’ penchant for prevarication. Don’t they see the obvious? The liars are not going to change their habits when they gain power. It has already come to the point that one simply cannot believe anything any government spokesperson says. It is just like the Iron Curtain countries before 1990: the people constantly heard glowing progress reports from the Ministry of Truth about economic progress, quotas met, battles won, etc., and not only did the weary populace not believe the propaganda; it no longer even occurred to them that it might be true. Language had lost its informative function and instead become simply a tool to manipulate the hearer. And thus words lose their power even to manipulate. When we hear the next cry of “Wolf!” we aren’t going to look up from our TV screens.

So says Zarathustra.

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15 Responses to The House of the Lie

  1. randy says:

    “…as when astronomers corrected the earlier belief that the orbits of the planets were perfect circles, showing instead that the planets journeyed around the sun in elliptical paths. ”

    To be completely correct, it was not “astronomers” who showed this. Rather it was one astronomer who did so. That person was Johannes Kepler.

  2. randy says:

    “The notorious but phony campus rape cases constitute another major example.”

    How many such “phony” cases have occurred compared to the number of actual cases of rape on campuses? Are you suggesting, by not offering up this comparison, that the number of actual rapes on college campuses is significantly less than the number of false claims of rape on college campuses?

  3. randy says:

    “Street people are mainly the insane dumped out of mental health facilities, and that should have been the problem to attack, not Reaganite economic policies.”

    I’m calling you out on this one. Provide the evidence for this claim. Link to resources that substantiate this claim.

  4. randy says:

    “It was a lie designed to prod heterosexuals to find a cure for AIDS, which it was assumed they would not bother to do if AIDS were a threat only to (pesky, expendable) Gays.”

    Yet another unsubstantiated claim. A true argument includes evidence. Till you provide such evidence what you offer here does not qualify as an argument.

  5. randy says:

    “…AIDS activist and reporter Randy Shilts finally admitted he was inflating his statistics, as did homeless advocate Mitch Snyder.

    What are the sources for these two claims? Without providing a link to some source where it can be verified that either of these individuals actually made the admission you alledge, why should your claim that it is true be accepted?

  6. randy says:

    “It has already come to the point that one simply cannot believe anything any government spokesperson says.”

    I think the evidence clearly establishes this is equally true of even several of your favorite presidents, Reagan and G.W.

  7. admin says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/30/science/how-release-of-mental-patients-began.html

    http://articles.philly.com/2013-04-23/entertainment/38738614_1_aids-policy-flight-attendant-randy-shilts

    http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2001/06/28/lying_statistics/page/full

    “How many such “phony” cases have occurred compared to the number of actual cases of rape on campuses?”

    It is irrelevant to compare numbers. The point here is that there are ANY phony cases being trumped up in the first place. Why is that? ~QP

  8. djkrause says:

    Randy says: “I think the evidence clearly establishes . . . .” And your evidence, Randy, is. . . ?? And the reason we should care what you “think” is. . . ??

  9. leesal says:

    Yes, dear Robert, propaganda has always been ubiquitous, so what’s new? Hopefully, this isn’t a new revelation.
    Of course we all know the propaganda fault lies with those Liberals since Tea Party types only speak the truth. Even “fair and balanced” FOX confirms this factoid, so it has to be true. Of course, the Tea Party types are all born again Christians so they’d never ever bear false witness. So Praise the Lord all true blue Conservatives cause we never prevaricate. Thank you, Jesus!!!!

  10. JimWorkman says:

    The documentation is interesting and helpful, but not needed for the purposes of this article. The issues Randi raised also passed through my mind as I read the article. But, that’s looking at the trees (the danger is perseveration) when the point is understanding the forest.

    Thanks; good forestry.

  11. leesal says:

    PS We all know global warming is just Liberal propaganda. Even if true that NASA and climatologist consensus clearly states that global warming is a reality, we know the real cause. Conservatives tell us the floods in Houston were caused by Liberals committing sodomy and droughts in California is caused by abortion, plus growing lack of church attendance leading to atheism.

  12. bahumuth says:

    “No one believes that they are the product of propaganda, so let me throw out a bunch of right-wing propaganda without any facts to back them up!” If you are not just taking the word of right-wing politicians and Fox News “journalists”, then where are you getting your facts about global warming? Because you certainly are not getting it from any science organization!

    The greenhouse effect was proposed in 1824 and verified by experiment in 1858 by John Tyndal, who himself argued man would make the world warmer a year before Darwin’s book was published. Today, man-made climate change is accepted by the IPCC, NAS, NASA, NOAA, AMS, AIBS, AMQUA, AAP, INQUA, every national science academy in the world, the Pentagon, the CIA, 97% of climate scientists, 84% of total scientists (just 3% less than anti-evolution scientists), Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, the last three popes, the Dali Lama, and Ronald Reagan.

    13 of the past 15 years have been the hottest ever recorded. If you are over 30, you have never seen a colder-than-average month for the 20th century, which itself was hotter than the 19th century. Satellite data proves the world’s ice is disappearing. The famed “Northwest Passage” has since opened up because of ice loss. Countries near the equator have all been going through unprecedented multi-year droughts. Gigantic holes in the earth created by escaping methane released from melted permafrost have gone from theory to reality.

    Thanks to Republican propaganda, I doubt you know any of that. While mythicists will come out and admit they are in extreme minority, liars and propagandists have to pretend that everyone important agrees with them. There are no ties between mainstream scientific institutions and under-developed renewable energy companies but there are plenty of ties between climate denial and oil companies, as well as evolution denial, cigarette carcinogen denial, and even relativity denial. Just look at the history of the Heartland Institute.

    Also, you should know you are losing an argument when even your own side starts changing it’s story to “I’m not a scientist.” A very large number of American conservatives (I say this because only American conservatives have made climate denial a part of their anti-science platform) have lately gone from “There is no warming” to “It’s warming but we can’t do anything about it”, which are two completely different arguments and yet they both come to the exact same political action: do nothing.

    http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/aug/01/lenar-whitney/republican-congressional-hopeful-says-global-warmi/

    http://grist.org/news/if-youre-27-or-younger-youve-never-experienced-a-colder-than-average-month/

    http://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/arctic-sea-ice/

    http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-blogs/climatechange/update-on-sea-ice-and-the-nort/33520485

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/08/01/massive-hole-at-end-of-the-earth-likely-caused-by-methane-gas-release/

    http://bahumuth.bitfreedom.com/the-friesian-correspondence-letter-5-fred-singer-and-the-jihad-victory-mosque

  13. johnor says:

    I’m astonished that a man of such intellectual achievement has been hiding a dark right wing thoroughly propaganda infused side of himself. It really tarnishes your image.

  14. I.B.GodFree says:

    johnor-Bob is stuck in the Never Never Land of Faux News and takes political positions that are inimical to his own economical well being. He is an expert in his field and political science is not his field. He just does not learn to stay away from it. As religiously ill informed Christians stick to their last so do the politically ill informed. Just appreciate Bob’s great insights then avert your eyes. Great men have great faults.

  15. Gene says:

    And yet another awesome article! Thank you.

    I recently had lunch with a good friend and he actually came to tears telling me, while trying not to curse too much, how George W and the oil companies are the only reason everyone does not believe in ‘man made global warming’.

    I have another friend who was in the hospital for a week during the Trevon Martin incident in Miami. After watching CNN that entire week, he came to the conclusion that it would be best to find Zimmerman guilty so there would be no riots. He said he felt ashamed when he realized how easily he had been convinced to throw away the rule of law.

    We do live in an Orwellian society. Symbolism over substance. The ends always justify the means. What is best for the state is what we should all be striving for.

    Liberalism is the state religion here in the good ol’ US of A.

    Religion: A set of beliefs that incorporate a supreme being from whom favor is sought.

    1. Liberalism certainly has a set of beliefs, and just like Christianity and Islam, there are many variations.
    2. The supreme being is the government.
    3. Whether it’s an 8th generation inner city welfare recipient trying to get an upgrade on their Obama phone, a state or local government wanting federal funds for a road project, or a CEO of a fortune 100 company wanting yet another tax break, seeking favor from the supreme being is what Liberalism is all about.
    AND! Liberalism is an apocalyptic religion. If you don’t believe in man made global warming we will all die!
    To quote the apostle Bill Nye the science guy, “Say ‘climate change’ not ‘global warming’ when it’s cold outside.”
    Christians give a bunch of facts and then say, “God did it.” Liberals give a bunch of facts and then say, “Man did it.” Without the necessary faith, both postulates are clearly fallacious and ridiculous.

    Thank you again Dr. Price for your blog. And thank you for the email notification system. That is much appreciated.

    gene

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