These attitudes poison useful discourse and retard progress the world over. Popping back to the US for a moment, it’s worth noting how many states have seen huge organised opposition in recent years to building things like improved water mains, electricity networks, new highways, etc.. Is this because of environmental concerns or budget considerations? No, it’s because of Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a set of best-practice recommendations produced by a team of experts funded by the UN for the construction of infrastructure in developing countries. It basically brings together current knowledge on how to build infrastructure in a useful and productive way, and avoid wasting money on projects that are useless before they’ve finished due to other developments or something like that. It’s just a nice useful handbook that has been turned to for guidance by many a developing nation, particularly in Africa. Idiots in the US reckon that Agenda 21 is a “UN plot” to “take over” the United States. Therefore they oppose anything which Agenda 21 suggests. Agenda 21 suggests roads, so they’re against roads. I’m not overstating this. I’ve read transcripts from debates in state legislatures. These guys often WIN. The infrastructure of several southern states is crumbling as a result. They need an enemy to fight, so they’ve invented one. Two seconds of investigation of Agenda 21 or even of what the UN actually is and what it does would render their ludicrous conspiracy utterly impotent, but they don’t care. They don’t care about protecting sovereignty as they claim; they just care about having a fight.
Several years back, the “G8+5” had a historic summit. They wiped off 3rd world debt. This is possibly the single most positive action that has ever been taken from the perspective of helping the developing world. Bob Geldof, everyone’s favourite anti-poverty campaigner, was thrilled, and indeed was deeply involved in the process, delivering one of the key closing speeches. The only thing that stopped this being celebrated or even heard about that much was the unfortunate fact that the 7/7 London bombings occurred partway through the summit, and somewhat dominated our news-stream in the UK. The capital portion of these debts was colossal, but the real boon to the 3rd world came with the eradication of all the interest payments that had been crippling their economies for decades. This was a meeting of world leaders explicitly for the purpose of doing something multilateral in order to make a huge impact on world poverty. It was a wonderful moment.
And yet, perversely, the event was besieged constantly by protestors. It was pretty much a holiday season for regular protestors from all over the UK. They converged on the conference location in Scotland in droves, boasting placards and banners proclaiming their opposition to the evil shenanigans going on at the summit. The objectives of the summit were well-publicised. Geldof took care of that. The goings-on were not secret, and the agreements reached were fully and proudly public. However, throughout and after this historic summit in the long drive towards the eradication of poverty, leftist and anarchist groups protested doggedly. Their logic, as far as I can derive it, is that because these people were democratically elected leaders of rich and successful countries, they must, by definition, be scheming new ways to screw over the workers and the developing world. Information that proved conclusively what was actually going on in that summit was simply rejected because it did not fit the romantic image of men in suits being generally evil that forms one of the central pillars of the twisted worldview of these nutters. They would prefer that world. They would prefer that the summit were really some kind of evil scheme to kill poor people, so then they could happily gather round and play protest songs on acoustic guitars and be the good guys, without having to really study any issues or think about anything nasty and complicated.
The list goes on. All over the world, people who present themselves as campaigners against gross injustice will distort reality, lie by manipulating statistics, or just outright ignore the facts in order to present an image of the world that is far worse than it actually is. They will dishonestly maintain a paradigm under which they can justify extreme actions, and excuse themselves from rational debate or analysis of their position in order to maintain a crusade against a romanticised absolute evil. Such an attitude displays a complete lack of genuine concern for the issues or people in question. The only motive for such lying is the abandonment of all real concern to fight a political war. When the political war is placed above the real world issues, something has gone horribly wrong. When actual results, facts, and the reality of the lives of real people on the ground are all sacrificed or simply used as useful data to be exploited if possible, manipulated if necessary, and ignored if beyond reconciliation to the cause, then all that is occurring is a pointless and logically vacant fight between groups vying for their own slice of power.
Finally, a word on gaslighting. Gaslighting is the process of ignoring someone’s actual argument by questioning their motives or mental integrity. It is essentially circular, because in order to question someone’s mental integrity as a method of working out how they could be so wrong, one has to have already concluded that they are wrong. That does not mean that such discussions are irrelevant (indeed that’s what this whole post is about), but rather that they cannot be used to dismiss the arguments of the people about whom we are talking. If someone is preferring the nightmare in a conversation, it’s not enough just to point out that they are preferring the nightmare and therefore must be placing the fight above the cause, because doing so skips the step where you actually work out whether they are in fact distorting the truth or lying. It’s important for me to make clear that this blog post is about such people and their arguments, not to them. I have, in each case, explained the nature of these people’s distortions of reality, in order to convince the reader that they are distortions, but that is not the main point of this post. I’m not writing this to disagree with such people and point out how they are distorting the facts – I’m writing it to explain that they are doing so and investigate why. It is imperative not to jump the investigative step and go straight to the mental analysis; that would be gaslighting. It is for this reason that I’ve selected the most extreme, the most obvious, and the most appalling examples of outright lying or distortion that I have come across first or second hand, in order to write this post. Nobody in their right minds believes that the UN is taking over US sovereignty, or that a drop in unemployment doesn’t count unless it’s at least a million strong. Such opinions are only promoted by those who are deliberately lying to further their interests, or have no interest in the truth of what they are saying, only in fighting a romanticised war. They will not be convinced by one more person (me) explaining the most obvious of facts. This post is intended to explore the motives behind such lying, and expose the true priorities of many who claim to be freedom fighters or activists for an invented cause.
These people are, as Lewis says “fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred”. Slipping into this mindset (as opposed to deliberately propagating lies for one’s own benefit, as some do) is a matter of degrees. I have felt the emotional appeal of the black and white fight against injustice tug at the corners, or even sometimes the heart, of my thinking. A firm commitment to fact-checking, a rigorous defence against confirmation bias, and a constant re-evaluation of opposing viewpoints is absolutely necessary to avoid the tempting world of fighting pure, romanticised evil. Slipping into that world feels better and better, as less and less good is actually achieved. It is absolutely paramount to avoid the transition in one’s mind of opponents into enemies, the morphing of the misguided and wrong into the evil. This is not to say that nobody is truly evil. Some people do have the worst of motives – these are generally the people who wilfully propagate the lies that originally well-meaning people fall for and then get sucked into the circular world of extremism. But this is comparatively rare. Establishing this takes a lot of evidence and rigorous analysis of the person in question – and far too often rumours, lies, and distortions form the basis for the assignment of an “enemy”. In some parts of my own world of the British Left, this becomes nothing more than McCarthyism repackaged, with strongly emotive and extreme words like “fascist” bandied around to denote anyone with whom a minor disagreement has been found. “Enemies” are then denoted, put up on pedestals, and reviled, just like “communists” were during the McCarthyan witch-hunt.
If we are to be genuine fighters for real causes, we must avoid this toxic mindset at all costs. It destroys politics and political activism, turns causes into mudslinging, debate into polemic, and, most insidious of all, turns real causes into phony wars between rival groups vying for political power. It is everything that can be bad about politics and activism, and it is the most dangerous trap of all – more dangerous than any individual warped ideology against which we can fight.