By BASIL FERNANDO & AVINASH PANDEY
June 8, 2018
The world has seen a lot of debate over falsehood being spread in the name of facts recently. This, though, is not a chance encounter. There is a very definite method in this madness. Lowering the quality of the conversation has always been a very well working mean of creating an environment of instability and violence.
20th century is full of such experiences in which deliberate degeneration of language and lowering of the quality of the social and political conversations was used as a method of garnering support for organisations creating anarchy, instability and violence. Bertolt Brecht, the great German playwright, once said that it is the (television) antenna that brings the violence to every doorstep.
Now the sophistication in means of the communication has gone far beyond that period of the antenna. Today people having mobile phones and other equipment can participate in debates all around the world even while sitting within the space of one room. Yet, if the quality of these conversations is allowed to degenerate and the kind of conversation that usually belong to the criminal and mafia elements in the society is allowed to become the common language experience of the people; the kind of chaos that would arise could be far worse than anything humankind has seen so far. It might in fact be worse than the worst days of conflict in the 20th century.
Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were all masters of the manipulation of the language in order to create the confusion that they could exploit to achieve their own ends. The kind of lowering of a language was not a result of some natural causes. It was a deliberate work in which political leaders employed highly educated people with the best communication systems of the times. They would relentlessly do things by which meaning of every known word would be put into doubt, every known idea of decency would also be relegated into something of insignificance and every attempt to raise the consequence to higher rational level would be resisted by thousands of means and the conversation. It all was done to pull the conversation down to the level at which these leaders wants the society to engage in the conversation.
Let us clear that we are not merely talking about lies even as lies, of course, play a big role in any attempt of lowering of the quality of the conversations. However, what often appeared in the society was not so much a direct cause for violence. The violence was rather facilitated by the kind of the statements that create considerable doubts about the validity of the ideas that humanity has held as valid for very many centuries. Lowering of quality of the conversation is essentially challenging the collective wisdom of the humanity by irrational means. It was done by investing overwhelmingly into particular channels of (mis)information and then making all these outlets create confusion. It was not aimed at bringing any positive results for anyone, not even the people in whose name such chaos was created and who, in turn, were directly involved. Sole purpose of such efforts was to bring about so much of dissention and conflict within the society that ultimately rational conversation itself becomes almost impossible to pursue.
The gigantic leap in the means of communication has made such efforts far easier and common place nowadays. Now people do not need governments and massive funds to spread falsehoods, they can do it even from within their bedrooms, all by themselves.
The triumph of Donald Trump in the American politics is an indication of the extent to which the lowering the level of conversation can affect politics. It successfully altered the political landscape of the United States itself. The vocabulary of politics in the U.S before trump basically followed the liberal democratic framework, basically a civil engagement even if there were differences of opinion. It was the normal characteristic of the Democratic Party and also to the some extent of the Republicans. It was directed mostly towards the middles classes and particularly more educated section of the middle class. The basic assumption was that these middles classes and their more educated sections in particular ultimately determine the outcome of the elections.
However, Donald Trump abandoned that whole methodology and began to speak to the people who were normally outside the political discourse. He targeted in particular the poor among Whites, the unemployed youth, the lesser paid sections of workers and so on- basically those who were hitherto not taken seriously in the political discourse in the United States.
In order to appeal to them, he chose language and political strategies which did not play much emphasis on truth. Whether he told the truth or if he even wanted to tell the truth in the first place became relevant. Whether the promises he was making could be fulfilled or if he even intended to fulfill at all was also irrelevant to this strategy. Only thing relevant was that a new language was being spoken to new people engaged in political conversation. These ‘new people’ engaged in political conversation had changed the very site of political discourse. They virtually brought down the old vocal political groups and silenced them. All this while, new conversations took place among a larger body of people, conversations which were not meant to reveal the truth or what is really going on or what would be there in future. Truth was dispensable for this conversation. What really mattered was having a language that appealed to those who lived at the margins of the site of political discourse. The chaos it caused is evident today.
Similar situation arose also in the United Kingdom in terms of Brexit and other issues in which truth has hardly, if any, role to play. We can see again that new groups are doing all they can to create newer and newer methods of diverting the political debate into matters which are not really significant but have mass appeal. The attack on the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the issue of alleged anti-Semitism was one such conversation. Most of what was said against him hardly had any truth. However, it did have the emotional content capable of creating a massive conversation in which large bodies of people engaged in, mostly against him.
Closer in Asia, India had its Trump moment much before he got elected to US presidency. The tale of Narendra Modi’s rise to power is in fact also an account of both- lowering the level of conversation and rise of fake news and views. Mr. Modi himself indulged in using language insinuating insults for communities and people. He always referred to Congress government as Delhi Sultanate- a clear insinuation to erstwhile Muslim rulers of India. His supporters also spread other falsities relentless, to the extent that he is often referred to as a WhatsApp PM.
What is common to these three examples is that other than ever increasing fake news and language getting filthier by the day, nothing else was delivered to people in any of them. The jobs promised are nowhere to be seen. The peace is illusive. The economies daydreamed into rapid growth are still moribund. The people are still what they are- discontent and frustrated.
Thus, in understanding as well as dealing with the political crises in our times, it is essential to look into the deliberate modes by which language degeneration and lowering of the conversation has become a highly specialized subject in almost every country. It is only way ahead for seeing futuristically into what positive changes could be brought in.