Conspiracy theories have long been used to maintain power, writes Peter Pomerantsev in “This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality.”
They replace “ideology with a mix of self-pity, paranoia, self-importance and entertainment.”
Pomerantsev believes leaders like Donald Trump use conspiracies, or at least hint at them, to explain events in order to maintain control.
“In a world, where even the most authoritarian regimes struggle to impose censorship, one has to surround audiences with so much cynicism about anyone’s motives, persuade them that behind every seemingly benign motivation is a nefarious, if impossible-to-prove plot, so that they lose facility in the possibility of an alternative,” wrote the former Russian TV producer who is now a visiting fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics.
“The net effect of endless pileups of conspiracies is to overwhelm the typical citizen into thinking that he or she is powerless to change anything. For if you are living in a world where shadowy forces control everything, then what chance do you have to turn it around?
“In this murk, it becomes best to rely on a strong hand to guide you ‘Trump is our last chance to save America,’ is the message of his media hounds. “Only Putin can raise Russia from its knees,’ say Trump’s Moscow counterparts,” writes Pomerantsev.
"This Is Not Propaganda" also takes a shot at explaining the lure of “Make America Great Again,” which Pomerantsev calls an appeal to “restorative nostalgia.”
He writes: “So the politician who makes a big show of rejecting facts, who validates the pleasure of spouting nonsense, who indulges in a full, anarchic liberation from coherence from glum reality becomes attractive.
“That enough Americans could elect someone like Donald Trump with so little regard for making sense, whose many contradictory messages never add up to any stable meaning was partly possible because enough voters felt they weren’t invested in any larger evidence-based future.
“Indeed, in his very incoherence lies the pleasure. All the madness you feel, you can let it out and it’s okay. The joy of Trump is to validate the pleasure of spouting shit, the joy of pure emotion, often anger without any sense.
“And it’s no coincidence that so many of the current rulers are also nostalgists. Putin’s Internet toll armies sell dreams of a restored Russian Empire and Soviet Union; Trump tweets to Make America Great Again,” writes Pomerantsev.
PublicAffairs, which is part of Hachette, published "This Is Not Propaganda" last month.
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The book is a survival guide to our chaotic super-abundant information world in which propaganda, disinformation, misinformation and influence operations run amok shape our relations with political leaders, each other and America’s ties with the rest of the world.