Saturday, December 31, 2016
Gaslighted: What We Got for Christmas in 2016
We’re now on the very cusp of a new year, and there’s one thing about the passing one that I can say with certainty: THE news story of 2016 is that a huge swath of the American public, stretching from left to right, deeply distrusts both 1) establishment candidates from either party and 2) corporate media. That’s the news story of the year. Period.
But look what our political class and media are up to here at year’s end. For weeks now they been frantically trying to fill that media, both print and TV, with: "The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! They’re bombarding us with fake news!”
As a diversion tactic from the true Big Story, you’d have thought they could come up with something better.
To give bite to their claims that “fake news” determined the election, which is absurd on the face of it and absurd down to the bone of it, our leaders last week even passed actual legislation designed to cast doubt on alternative news organizations, legislation that is almost literally state censorship. In America.
What in hell are they up to?
To give yet more bite to their claims, the Obama administration two days ago kicked out thirty-five Russian diplomats, promising yet further reactions to the Russian “aggression” we’ve suffered.
This is major stuff, sure to grab headlines and keep the talking heads talking. Which is just what it is meant to do. Because at present Washington elites’ most important task is to keep us the citizenry from catching our breath and thinking clearly about the year’s real news--namely our widespread and reasonable disgust at these same elites’ decades-long systematic betrayal of our interests in favor of Whatever the Corporations Want.
And here I have to watch non-comatose, intelligent friends on Facebook and elsewhere still debating the question of whether Russia hacked the DNC or, if not, who Wikileaks’ source was. It's depresseing. Because it's irrelevant. It is a diversion from our real story, a strategic diversion that sadly is almost working.
Consider: What if the Russians did hack us? Really--what if? Would there be any surprise in that? Hacking is an integral part of intelligence work. We, the Chinese, the Russians--it's what we do, year in year out. And? If the Russians hacked us, the whole story should be on improving cyber security, not on the question of how evil the Russians are, and certainly not on the question of whether alternative media sources are trustworthy, which is an issue entirely unrelated to cyber security.
In fact the Russian hacking meme was launched in reaction to the abject horror Washington elites felt face to face with the unthinkable. Their chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost. Which is not supposed to happen. They thought they were doing so well. And she lost.
In a breathtakingly hypocritical move, the hacking meme was launched simultaneously with the "fake news" meme. Note how these two were rolled out as virtual twins. The clear intent was to create a generalized impression in the public mind: “If we Americans didn't vote for Clinton, it was because the Enemy is manipulating our media!” Which notion is entirely false of course, and doesn't even logically follow from the premise of hacking. Though there may be some evidence of hacking, in fact there is no evidence Russia seeded our press with fake news. (The Washington Post, ever eager to please its masters, did its best to establish a link between the two memes, but failed miserably, as Glenn Greenwald demonstrates. The article is a staggering exposé of just how far journalistic standards have fallen among our corporate media.)
Our leaders prodded these two memes (“Russian hacking”; “fake news”) onto the stage simultaneously in order to make them sing as a duo. That the connecting logic is lacking, that they are not in fact a duo, is unimportant when it comes to manipulating public perceptions. We Americans are being subjected to a sophisticated gaslighting campaign; and frighteningly, to judge by how much media and mental bandwidth space it’s taking up, this campaign is near accomplishing its goal.
Gaslighting, if you aren’t familiar with the term, describes a particular style of psychological manipulation. It seeks to confuse the victim by overwhelming him/her with an ersatz version of reality, a version presented so aggressively and in such an offhand manner that the victim begins to doubt his or her sanity, or at least feels suddenly on unfamiliar ground. The gaslighter befuddles the victim by swiftly changing the focus of attention, and making her argue irrelevant points or swallow illogical givens so as to wear her out. Gaslighting originally describes sociopathic behavior in the context of relationships, but the concept is being used more and more in recent years to describe sophisticated state propaganda techniques. There are many useful articles on the arsenal of gaslighting techniques (here’s one for instance) and if you aren’t familiar with this arsenal, it’s well worth getting up to speed.
In this current instance, which we might call the Great Christmas Gaslighting of 2016, the clear purpose is to obfuscate and confuse the public on five fundamentals:
1) Americans rejected Hillary Clinton because she was the establishment candidate, and Americans had had enough of this kind of politics under the current president. Further, that the mainstream media so clearly sided with Clinton proved to many that she was not to be trusted. Ditto with her and the DNC’s treatment of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. That Clinton could lose to Donald Trump proves just how deep this distrust was.
2) If the Russians hacked the DNC, that in itself did not cause Clinton to lose the election. She lost, again, because Americans didn’t want another corporate-bought Washington insider in the White House.
3) The origin of the data Wikileaks received is not the main issue for most American voters, regardless of what the media says, and in fact it is almost as likely the data was received via a leak from within the Clinton campaign. But again, in relation to the real news story of 2016, whichever is true matters little to most Americans because . . .
4) No one has credibly disputed the authenticity of the emails Wikileaks published, and those emails, without any “fake” elaborations on their content, were already enough to prove collusion with the media, a conspiracy against Bernie Sanders, and pay to play.
5) The “fake news” scare is itself hollow. “Pizzagate”, the only fanciful conspiracy theory resulting from the Wikileaks releases, was not an elaborate piece of Russian disinformation, but merely the product of a conspiracy-hungry western blogosphere. Westerners don’t need Russia to concoct conspiracy theories, and such theories have always been around. Some elements of the public are always vulnerable to BS claims, but that in itself is no excuse, in America, to support programs of state censorship. Yes, we’re looking at you, Mr. Obama. It will be nice to see you go.
And so: What connection does fake news even HAVE to Russia? There is no connection, even though our establishment pundits are babbling overtime to imply one. I guess they know on which side their bread is buttered.
With the level of public disgust at Washington Business As Usual, our government and corporate media elites are now in panic mode. They are, after all, a class of many thousands of individuals whose very lucrative careers are at risk if they lose public trust, and they see they are losing it fast. Their goal at present is to dominate the conversation with an ersatz version of reality and hope the public changes its focus. They turn to gaslighting as a tactic.
1) If they see the public doesn’t trust them and their own political leadership, quick--Point to the leadership in Moscow as a dangerous threat that needs to be dealt with.
2) If they see the public doesn’t trust the media they use to direct public opinion, quick--Concoct a “fake news” epidemic to make the public return to trusting to only mainstream media.
3) Do this all at the same time so that the public will get the vague impression that Russia is behind the “fake news”.
So what did we Americans get for Christmas this year? We got gaslighted. And we’re still getting gaslighted, more so with every passing week, because gaslighting depends on bombarding the victim with false claims, repeating them so often and so fervently that the victim starts to repeat them in his or her sleep.
That the concept grew out of the study of unhealthy relationships with sociopaths is perhaps helpful. The American public has long been in a relationship with a lying sociopath, and that sociopath is the corporatocracy in Washington. For decades, our leaders in both executive and legislative branches, from both parties, have allowed corporate interests to outsource our jobs, military-corporate interests to drag us into one unnecessary war after another, and Wall Street elites to rig our financial markets so as to make us, the population, the big losers whenever those markets crash. And if we react in a sane way, by flatly rejecting more of same, we seem them now battering us with 24/7 propaganda about how our real problem is in Moscow.
Under this constant and systematic abuse, if we are to keep ourselves sane, and keep struggling for a functional democracy, we must not forget the real news story of this year. And so I’ll repeat my first paragraph:
THE news story of 2016 is that a huge swath of the American public, stretching from left to right, deeply distrusts both 1) establishment candidates from either party and 2) corporate media. That’s the news story of the year. Period.
At the start of the new year, then, our questions should be: WHY has this distrust grown so deep and what are we going to do about it? Has it grown so deep because of “Russian operatives”? The suggestion is laughable. Are we going to return to trusting the mainstream media and mainstream politicians, are we going to shun “fake news” sources that don’t look and sound like Anderson Cooper? We’d be insane to do so. So HOW shall we proceed to ensure that we’re not systematically manipulated over the years to come by the same band of corporate predators and fake progressives (Hello, Hillarack Obinton) that have been playing us since the 1990s?
Whatever we do, we must keep thinking and talking about our REAL story. It is only on such solid ground that we might think clearly to change the dynamic that has brought us to where we are. Which is not the best of places.
But at least, as 2017 begins, the establishment is in panic mode. Let’s keep it that way.
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