If you’re one of the millions of human beings who, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, still believe there is such a thing as “the truth,” you might not want to read this essay...
Seriously, it can be extremely upsetting when you discover that there is no “truth” ... or rather, that what we’re all conditioned to regard as “truth” from the time we are children is just the product of a technology of power, and not an empirical state of being.
Humans, upon first encountering this fact, have been known to freak completely out and start jabbering about the “Word of God,” or “the immutable laws of quantum physics,” and run around burning other people at the stake or locking them up and injecting them with Thorazine. I don’t want to be responsible for anything like that, so consider this your trigger warning.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at how “truth” is manufactured. It’s actually not that complicated. See, the “truth” is … well, it’s a story, essentially. It’s whatever story we are telling ourselves at any given point in history (“we” being the majority of people, those conforming to the rules of whatever system wields enough power to dictate the story it wants everyone to be telling themselves). Everyone understands this intuitively, but the majority of people pretend they don’t in order to be able to get by in the system, which punishes anyone who does not conform to its rules, or who contradicts its story. So, basically, to manufacture the truth, all you really need is (a) a story, and (b) enough power to coerce a majority of people in your society to pretend to believe it.
I’ll return to this point a little later.
First, let’s look at a concrete example of our system manufacturing “truth.” I’m going to use The Guardian‘s most recent blatantly fabricated article (“Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy“) as an example, but I could just as well have chosen any of a host of other fabricated stories disseminated by “respectable” outlets over the course of the last two years. The “Russian Propaganda Peddlers” story. The “Russia Might Have Poisoned Hillary Clinton” story. The “Russians Hacked the Vermont Power Grid” story. The “Golden Showers Russian Pee-Tape” story. The “Novichok Assassins” story. The “Bana Alabed Speaks Out” story. The “Trump’s Secret Russian Server” story. The “Labour Anti-Semitism Crisis” story. The “Russians Orchestrated Brexit” story. The “Russia is Going to Hack the Midterms” story. The “Twitter Bots” story. And the list goes on.
I’m not going to debunk the Guardian article here. It has been debunked by better debunkers than I (e.g., Jonathan Cook, Craig Murray, Glenn Greenwald, Moon of Alabama, and many others). The short version is, The Guardian‘s Luke Harding, a shameless hack who will affix his name to any propaganda an intelligence agency feeds him, alleged that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, secretly met with Julian Assange (and unnamed “Russians”) on numerous occasions from 2013 to 2016, presumably to conspire to collude to brainwash Americans into not voting for Clinton. Harding’s earth-shaking allegations, which The Guardianprominently featured and flogged, were based on … well, absolutely nothing, except the usual anonymous “intelligence sources.” After actual journalists pointed this out, The Guardian quietly revised the piece (employing the subjunctive mood rather liberally), buried it in the back pages of its website, and otherwise pretended like they had never published it.
By that time, of course, its purpose had been served. The story had been picked up and disseminated by other “respectable,” “authoritative” outlets, and it was making the rounds on social media. Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, in an attempt to counter the above-mentioned debunkers (and dispel the doubts of anyone else still capable of any kind of critical thinking), Politico posted this ass-covering piecespeculating that, if it somehow turned out The Guardian‘s story was just propaganda designed to tarnish Assange and Trump … well, probably, it had been planted by the Russians to make Luke Harding look like a moron. This ass-covering piece of speculative fiction, which was written by a former CIA agent, was immediately disseminated by liberals and “leftists” who are eagerly looking forward to the arrest, rendition, and public crucifixion of Assange.
At this point, I imagine you’re probably wondering what this has to do with manufacturing “truth.” Because, clearly, this Guardian story was a lie … a lie The Guardian got caught telling. I wish the “truth” thing was as simple as that (i.e., exposing and debunking the ruling classes’ lies). Unfortunately, it isn’t. Here is why.
Much as most people would like there to be one (and behave and speak as if there were one), there is no Transcendental Arbiter of Truth. The truth is what whoever has the power to say it is says it is. If we do not agree that that “truth” is the truth, there is no higher court to appeal to. We can argue until we are blue in the face. It will not make the slightest difference. No evidence we produce will make the slightest difference. The truth will remain whatever those with the power to say it is say it is.
Nor are there many truths (i.e., your truth and my truth). There is only one truth … the official truth. The truth according to those in power. This is the whole purpose of the concept of truth. It is the reason the concept of “truth” was invented (i.e., to render any other “truths” lies). It is how those in power control reality and impose their ideology on the masses (or their employees, or their students, or their children). Yes, I know, we very badly want there to be some “objective truth” (i.e., what actually happened, when whatever happened, JFK, 9-11, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Schrödinger’s dead cat, the Big Bang, or whatever). There isn’t. The truth is just a story … a story that is never our story.
The truth is a story that power gets to tell, and that the powerless do not get to tell, unless they tell the story of those in power, which is always someone else’s story. The powerless are either servants of power or they are heretics. There is no third alternative. They either parrot the truth of the ruling classes or they utter heresies of one type or another. Naturally, the powerless do not regard themselves as heretics. They do not regard their “truth” as heresy. They regard their “truth” as the truth, which is heresy. The truth of the powerless is always heresy.
For example, while it may be personally comforting for some of us to tell ourselves that we know the truth about certain subjects (e.g., Russiagate, 9-11, et cetera), and to share our knowledge with others who agree with us, and even to expose the lies of the corporate media on Twitter, Facebook, and our blogs, or in some leftist webzine (or “fearless adversarial” outlet bankrolled by a beneficent oligarch), the ruling classes do not give a shit, because ours is merely the raving of heretics, and does not warrant a serious response.
Or … all right, they give a bit of a shit, enough to try to cover their asses when a journalist of the stature of Glenn Greenwald (who won a Pulitzer and is frequently on television) very carefully and very respectfully almost directly accuses them of lying. But they give enough of a shit to do this because Greenwald has the power to hurt them, not because of any regard for the truth. This is also why Greenwald has to be so careful and respectful when directly confronting The Guardian, or any other corporate media outlet, and state that their blatantly fabricated stories could, theoretically, turn out to be true. He can’t afford to cross the line and end up getting branded a heretic and consigned to Outer Mainstream Darkness, like Robert Fisk, Sy Hersh, Jonathan Cook, John Pilger, Assange, and other such heretics.
Look, I’m not trying to argue that it isn’t important to expose the fabrications of the corporate media and the ruling classes. It is terribly important. It is mostly what I do (albeit usually in a more satirical fashion). At the same time, it is important to realize that “the truth” is not going to “rouse the masses from their slumber” and inspire them to throw off their chains. People are not going to suddenly “wake up,” “see the truth” and start “the revolution.” People already know the truth … the official truth, which is the only truth there is. Those who are conforming to it are doing so, not because they are deceived, but because it is safer and more rewarding to do so.
And this is why The Guardian will not be punished for publishing a blatantly fabricated story. Nor will Luke Harding be penalized for writing it. Luke Harding will be rewarded for writing it, as he has been handsomely rewarded throughout his career for loyally serving the ruling classes. Greenwald, on the other hand, is on thin ice. It will be instructive to see how far he pushes his confrontation with The Guardianregarding this story.
As for Julian Assange, I’m afraid he is done for. The ruling classes really have no choice but to go ahead and do him at this point. He hasn’t left them any other option. Much as they are loathe to create another martyr, they can’t have heretics of Assange’s notoriety running around punching holes in their “truth” and brazenly defying their authority. That kind of stuff unsettles the normals, and it sets a bad example for the rest of us heretics.