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Tell a lie...

Entry 1640, on 2014-03-28 at 22:22:27 (Rating 4, Comments)

They say that if you tell a lie often enough then it becomes the truth. That's a quote attributed to Paul Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister in Nazi Germany. He didn't quite put it that way and in fact he probably didn't say anything like that at all, but it's a good quote anyway.

In fact it might be more revealing to look at the original wording of the quote, which is this: "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself."

That idea that people can start believing their own propaganda is interesting and will be more relevant later in this blog.

But let's look at the real quote all of this stuff came from. It's not from Goebbels but from Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf: "But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success."

Clearly Hitler understood this principle and so do many current political parties and other organisations. Let me give a few examples of repeated lies (or beliefs and opinions based on little evidence) today: "the free market is the best way to manage an economy", "global warming is a left-wing myth and has been proven to be untrue", "Obama is a socialist", "the rich deserve all the money they make because they work hard", and "Jesus saves".

Is there any good evidence supporting any of these contentions? I don't think so. Do we hear these ideas over and over, almost every day? Yes. Are they lies being repeated for some ideological reason? Apparently. So are the perpetrators of these myths (either knowingly or unknowingly) following a Nazi "mind-control" technique? It does seem so, although the idea probably pre-dates the Nazis by millennia.

As I intimated above, the idea of repetition of propaganda is even more dangerous because the originator of the propaganda comes to believe it themselves.

I'm sure that most right-wing politicians genuinely do believe that a free market is always the best solution, even though common logic and simple observation of the facts shows clearly that it isn't. But it's hard to abandon a basic tenet of ideology when you are propagandising yourself as well as everyone else.

And I'm quite sure that most Christians really do believe that Jesus lives and is helping them in their lives, even though it should be totally clear to anyone that it's all a silly myth. If anyone else had made up a story like: "this wise man lived thousands of years ago but he died to save us, then came back, and he lives, although you can't see him, and he'll help you if you ask, but not always", we would laugh at them, right? But the Christian lie has been told for 2000 years and now even the liars believe it.

I have presented cases with an obvious rationalist/left-wing bias here so should I be equally suspicious of lies which support my worldview? Of course. In fact, if I really want to believe a lie I should be even more suspicious of it.

So what lies should I be suspicious of? Anything involving the naturalistic fallacy is popular amongst some who lean to the left politically. So I don't believe that genetic modification is bad, or that nuclear energy should be abandoned, or that natural medicines are better, even though those lies are frequently repeated.

But I do believe the often repeated message that global warming is real. Why? Because every time that statement is made it comes from new evidence which has been discovered, not just from simple, mindless repetition. That's the difference between propaganda and increasingly certain conclusions based on facts. If anyone hears the same message over and over they should ask if it being repeated for a good reason, or is it just the old "tell a lie often enough" trick again!


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