Australians were justifiably shocked, appalled and embarrassed by the ball tampering our test cricketers attempted last month in South Africa. Somehow, better was expected of them. After all, they were playing the gentlemen’s game – cricket – where any cheating was simply ‘not cricket’.
Why then are we not even more disgusted by the truth tampering our politicians perpetrate day after day? We ought to be! But we seem to accept it as the norm. We allow them to lie to us with scarcely a murmur of protest.
The motive behind their tampering is the same: an insatiable desire to win, win, win at any cost; to utterly defeat the enemy. 2353NM expanded on this theme in his insightful piece: A Winning Culture.
Truth tampering is ubiquitous. It occurs in all walks of life and all occupations. Political officiandos are acutely aware of truth tampering in the political domain, not just in the words and actions of politicians, but also in the words and actions of those associated with the political process: lobbyists, advisors, commentators, journalists, even social media users who tamper with the truth on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’s App, and all the others. Sometimes they perpetrate untruths out of ignorance, but often they deliberately lie to make a political point. Sifting ‘the truth’ from the mountain of lies is a daily torment for social media users. How can we trust the political process? Simply, we can’t.
While many who tamper with the truth do so inadvertently because their source is unreliable or just plain wrong; some do so knowingly, following the Joseph Goebbels dictum that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Adolf Hitler added a rider that the message must be simple: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”
Goebbels amplified his dictum: ”The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Profoundly important words.
Whether politicians are aware of the Goebbels maxim and use it knowingly, or whether they are innately aware of its clout, we may never know. But we do know they use it reflexly and often, and do so without a skerrick of remorse – it is simply part of their armamentarium.
I could fill a dozen pieces cataloguing political lies, so I’ll use just a few illustrative cases. Where do we start!
Let’s begin with the master of truth tampering: the President of the United States of America. He not only tampers with the truth every day, many times a day, he tampers with the lies he has already told. More sinisterly, he tampers with how his lies are transmitted and entrenched into people’s minds. I cannot imagine he is familiar with the work of cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff about how repeating assertions, true or false, alter the neural circuits in the brain until the assertion is entrenched and unshakable. More likely he is aware of the Goebbels dictum and its political power. But even more likely it is simply the rat cunning he has acquired from his past life that drives his truth tampering.
The culture surrounding Trump's habitual truth tampering was exposed in a recent article in The New Daily
titled Axed FBI chief James Comey’s book: Donald Trump is the mob boss in a White House of liars
, which quotes from Comey’s recently released memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership
“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,”…
The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty, put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
Let me give you an example of how Trump tampers even with his messaging:
All though his election campaign he repeated the words; ”Crooked Hillary”
over and again until his supporters believed it. He not only tampered with the truth, but also with how it was transmitted. He repeated it at rallies, during debates, and through the media. And to twist the knife further, he added “Lock her up”
, which his followers chanted lustily. And it worked in his favour. Goebbels used the same strategy against the Jews. We know where that led!
That technique is not confined to President Trump. How many times have you heard Malcolm Turnbull say: “You can’t trust Bill Shorten”. He will say it again and again throughout the upcoming election campaign as part of his ‘Kill Bill’ strategy, and hope it works as well as ‘Crooked Hillary’. How many times have you heard him, and his Daleks Morrison and Corman, recite the anti-Shorten mantra: ‘Bill Shorten will increase taxes, rob retirees of their super (the pensioner share grab), and stifle growth’? Alan Tudge went even further on Q&A last week
with this bucket load of rhetoric:
‘As we get closer to the election the people will focus on the alternative…$200 billion dollars of taxes, a tax on your home, a tax on your job, a tax on your small business, a tax on your investment, and more recently…a tax on your retirement savings’.
That must take the gold medal for truth tampering. If you can’t believe that he would use such language, the video is here
Turnbull likes to add spice to his oratory. In answer to a question in the House, he bellowed: “There never was a union leader who tucked his knees under more billionaires tables than the leader of the Opposition; he lapped it up!” For good measure, he labeled Shorten’s behaviour as that of "a simpering sycophant" and “a parasite". Yet he still insists that Shorten is beholden to the unions and particularly the CFMEU. So he’s a sycophant of the wealthy and a puppet of the unions at the same time. Figure that out! Only truth tampering could lead him down that twisted path. You can see and hear Turnbull in full flight in this video
Of course, some might say this is simply an example of the exaggerated rhetoric that we have come to expect from politicians, so accustomed are we to their truth tampering. It’s not as obvious as ball tampering, but it’s just as reprehensible.
Before giving other examples of politicians tampering with the truth, let’s look at the truth tampering by a well-known organization, the Business Council of Australia. Recently, it prepared a draft of a public statement strongly supporting the proposed $65 billion of corporate tax cuts, adding that this would result in the growth of jobs and higher wages. This draft was leaked, so we know its original wording. But in finalizing the statement, the Council had a change of heart; when the definitive statement appeared there was no mention of jobs and wages, no commitment to pass on some of the tax savings to those lower down the food chain. Truth to the Council was unimportant; it tampered with it with impunity.
Indeed, the most flagrant truth tampering has arisen over the proposed corporate tax cuts. From the mouths of advocates comes the assurance that the cuts will enhance competitiveness, encourage investment, increase jobs and improve wages, the latter always with a rider: ‘in the long term’, or ‘eventually’, good old ‘trickle down’ nonsense. Balanced analysts take a more sober view. Read Jessica Irving’s well argued analysis in The Sydney Morning Herald
. She quotes Monash University economist, Professor Stephen King:
As for the benefits of reducing the company tax rate: "My response would be that it depends. It depends on a whole range of things. Yes, in theory it can boost the economy, but in practice it becomes an empirical question. I suspect every economist would say in theory it would help, but in practice they really can't say.
“Ultimately, King is also cautious about Australia joining the global race to cut corporate taxes, likening it to a global trade war, where countries impose tariffs on imported goods to protect domestic workers.
"Would a unilateral tax cut improve the Australian economy? I think that's ambiguous. Would a global tax race of beggar thy neighbour by cutting company tax be good for Australia? The answer clearly is no. The best thing that a country like Australia could do is to try to use our influence on the international stage to make sure that doesn't happen. It's best to stop it."
But in such a world would Australia be advised to join the corporate tax cut war? According to King: "That's a bit like asking the next lemming should you jump off the cliff as well."’
The article abounds with examples of how truth tampering distorts debate on this contentious issue. By tampering with the truth one can argue in almost any direction.
Scott Morrison told Fran Kelly on the ABC’s RN Breakfast that the Abbott/Turnbull Govt had halved the deficit since coming to power. Although Walter Dixon tweeted ‘that is the biggest whopper I have ever heard’, Jacob Greber, writing in the Financial Review
a recognized Coalition spear thrower, agreed with Morrison. Read his article here.
Whom do you believe when analysts tamper with the truth so disconcertingly?
Last week’s Four Corners exposed the nasty machinations of the ATO. In response the Tax Office denies the accusations and accuses the Fairfax ABC investigation of gross misrepresentation. Who is truth tampering?
Political parties and their advocates tamper with the truth all the time, but here’s just a few examples of truth tampering by individuals:
Jacqui Lambie insisted that there were over a million 457 visa holders in Australia. There are less than half those numbers.
Sally McManus said that one in 10 workers in Australia were on temporary work visas. That is unsubstantiated.
Tony Burke asserted that the new citizenship test would demand a university-level standard of English. Coalition members ridiculed him accusing him of distorting the truth. But the RMIT ABC Fact Check showed he was correct.
Tasmanian Treasurer Peter Gutwein said that Labor's policy of removing poker machines from pubs and clubs would cost around five thousands jobs. The RMIT ABC Fact Check says: ‘Wrong’.
Truth tampering once more.
Overseas, our TV screens expose the evidence of a chemical weapon attack in Douma in Syria: children gasping, others being hosed down to cleanse them of what is suspected as chlorine gas contamination, yet the Russian Ambassador to the UN denies any such attack occurred, and the Syrians insist it was “fake news to cover up terrorists”. Even the use of nerve gases is suspected. Make up your own mind by playing the video in this article from The Independent
and ask yourself who is tampering with the truth.
I’m beginning to wonder why I ever started this piece about truth tampering. It’s like writing about individual mice in a mouse plague. I could give you hundreds of examples and bore you to distraction. So let’s wind up this piece by reasserting that truth tampering is rampant. We are in the midst of an unbridled pan-epidemic of truth tampering, a pestilence that has ravaged rational political discourse for eons, and will continue to do so forever. What can we ordinary folk, who look for truth, reason and fairness from our political leaders, do to immunise ourselves?
Here’s a therapeutic suggestion. Be aware of Goebbels dictum. Remember George Lakoff’s contention that untruths, as much as truths, repeated endlessly, alter the neural networks in our brain until they are utterly entrenched and irremovable. Be sceptical about any assertion a politician makes because they tamper with the truth habitually. Nothing they assert ought to be taken at face value. Read Fact Check sites for a sober analysis of the veracity of any statement. Call out through blog sites and social media any truth tampering you find. Don’t let politicians lure you into the trap of believing their truth tampering.
Welcome to the uncomfortable world of doubt, uncertainty, untruths, and confusion.
Sadly, that’s politics, now, and for eternity!