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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Nothing is True and everything is Possible

On February, Friday 13th the thoughtful commentator and journalist, Ben MacIntyre, wrote a piece in the Times extolling the virtues of a book: Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev. He uses the book to highlight the flaws of the Putin regime. I'm in no position to defend the Putin regime. I'd simply be walking from one cultural airlock to another, but much of what MacIntyre writes has a haunting familiarity. To quote:

"...amidst the smoke and mirrors of disinformation and deception, Russians have been inducted into distorted reality in which the decadent West is plotting to destroy Holy Russia, and confusion, conspiracy and corruption are endemic.
Pomerantsev paints a surreal portrait of counterfeit democracy ruled by television, where all the trappings of freedom are present - elections, an opposition, a functioning judiciary, a free media - but little of the reality.
The regime itself adopts multiple disguises and shifting identities… a strange and effective concoction of propaganda, disinformation and entertainment. As one Russian television celebrity observes chillingly: "We all know there is no real politics…Politics has got to feel like a movie." MacIntyre sums up Putin's government as "a  regime in which propaganda reigns as truth"

And as I said at the start, reading the article brought to mind three words: pot, kettle, black. What are we supposed to do about the Russian disinformation bubble in which ordinary Russians live? Shake our fists and pull faces from our own disinformation bubbles? I'm conversant with American politics, the vast wealth of a few families and the power of corporative media, but I don't live there so lack sufficient knowledge to pontificate. (Though that rarely stops me) As William Blake wrote, "To to generalise is to be an idiot." I'm not too sure he's entirely right, but its a useful warning, and so I'll limit myself to saying Americans inhabit their own disinformation bubbles as we do ours. 

We don't use ugly words like 'regime' when we refer to our respective governents. Regime. It has such a negative feel to it. Lesser cultures are governed by 'regimes'. No, we have 'Establishments,' a far nicer word but with much the same flaws that MacIntyre criticises in Russia. 

We are more practised; our disinformation is all pervasive and shimmers with subtly but essentially our respective 'Establishments' play much the same game as Putin's Russia with its fake choice of electoral candidates from the same monied elite. 

When the Russian commentator said: "We all know there is no real politics…Politics has got to feel like a movie," it resonates here, a reason perhaps why the elites, in order to give themselves the trappings of legitimacy, are making noises about state funding of parties and compulsory voting. And, in the meantime, our respective media play much the same game as the Russian media in terms of managing news, highlighting 'the message' and deselecting anything more inconvenient. 

So over here, too, there are 'counterfeit democracies where propaganda reigns as truth. It may be the best we can manage in a complex and selfish world, and ultimately stability trumps everything as Syria, Libya and Iraq have found to their cost - and which China understands. Thing is just don't be hypocritical and look for the splinters in other people's eyes and ignoring the plank in our own.


Maria Zannini said...


In dictatorships (religious or political) another kind of bubble exists. Rather than orchestrating a teleplay, dictatorships function by insulating and isolating its people so there is nothing but the ruling body's information.

North Korea would have collapsed long ago if it hadn't controlled the internet so completely.

In the US, I believe the reason Obama won the election was due solely to his PR people. They didn't just pump social media, they owned it.

It's sad that people are more swayed by 140 characters rather than in depth analysis, but it's not surprising. Human beings are lazy by nature and prefer to be fed rather than hunt for their information.

Mike Keyton said...

Maria, it's why it's so important to fight to retain the few checks and balances we still have. At present we live in a relative 'golden age' but apart from the checks and balances actual 'democracy' is pretty much pretense.The only comfort is our relative prosperity that allow the pretense

Anonymous said...

Shades of Airstrip 1. Yep. We have problems, but the antique media are losing their grip on the information cycle.

LD Masterson said...

Sadly, even if all truth was available to be seen/heard/read, people still tend to seek out only what confirms the views they already hold and dismiss anything that offers the other side.

Mike Keyton said...

Air strip One. I like it. Not too sure I'm as optimistic - long term - over the new media/information cycle. It lends itself too easily for disinformation, distrust, organised twitter mobs, and, judging from noises offstage the pressure to control it in the guise of terrorism/paedophile/ or whatever suits 'protection' I've no real problem with Intelligence monitoring traffic. I just have a problem with governments closing down what doesn't suit- public opionion having first been souped up.

Mike Keyton said...

Linda, you're right. Getting back to my previous response to Crash, the internet closes as much as it opens minds. Those who read only what suits their preconceptions are like flies caught on flypaper. It's part of the subtle manipulation of mind in both old and new media which is why it is a bit rich for us to be calling the Russian kettle black.