Best not to believe politicians until we check their facts
14 August 2016
DR JOSEF Goebbels was Nazi Germany’s Minister for Propaganda from 1933 until his death in 1945.
Goebbels (pictured) is widely credited with being the first politician of the modern era to fully understand and utilise the potential of the radio, print and film media to propagate political messages to the masses.
In particular, he understood the power and persuasiveness of relentlessly repeating statements and ideas.
He reputedly boasted that no matter how big the lie, its relentless repetition would eventual convince most people it was the truth.
The psychology behind this thinking is that a lie can be converted into "the truth" provided enough people come to believe it is correct.
Fast forward to now and politicians across the globe have long understood that Goebbels was essentially right.
So politicians everywhere now often rely upon ‘spin doctors’, whose task is to help politicians convince electors that certain ideas or propositions are "true" or "untrue" depending upon what they want people to believe.
Thus politicians will repeat a ‘message’ - a slogan or accusation or proposition - ad nauseum because they know that eventually it will stick in the minds of their target audience.,
There is an adage in advertising that it is not until the target audience is absolutely sick to death of hearing a message that you can be sure it is finally getting through.
This brings me to Peter O'Neill and his collaborators who wish Papua New Guineans to believe that they are living in the best of all possible worlds, notwithstanding evidence to the contrary.
These politicians and their advisers are using the tried and true formula of relentlessly repeating a message, in this case that "the economy is growing strongly and that is obvious to anyone who wants to be honest".
This statement contains two keys ideas: firstly, that “the facts” support the government's position and, secondly, that "honest people” would know this is true.
Of course, the so-called facts which supposedly support the government's position are either not facts at all or they are “half-truths”, partially correct but overall misleading.
As for the issue of honesty, there appear to be no objective sources of data or commentary upon which Papua New Guineans can rely in order to understand how the country's economy is actually performing.
This enables the government to label doubt or scepticism about its statements as dishonesty or political opportunism or an example of "talking down the economy".
Papua New Guineans are not the only people on the receiving end of this sort of Orwellian manipulation of language and ideas.
It is a stock tool of trade in politics, advertising, business and even education.
Consequently, to use a mining analogy, anyone wishing to understand the world around them has to mine and process a lot of ore to find a few nuggets of truth.
However, as a general rule, whatever your government is telling you is highly unlikely to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
We live in an age when a government’s statements about anything contentious or sensitive are more likely to be carefully nuanced interpretations of selected facts, which often fall just short of outright lying. Evasiveness, diversions, ‘plausible deniability’ and waffle are depressingly common as well.
The independent media, or what’s left of it, may or may not be better depending upon their own political biases.
So, the old Roman adage of "caveat emptor" (buyer beware) can be usefully applied to anything politicians say, especially if they have a vested interest in suppressing inconvenient truths.
A true cynic might say that the safest assumption for a citizen to make is that the government is lying until proved otherwise.
I see and read this working very well in favour of the Republican Party in the United States in a more unashamedly manner with their "Mexicans taking up all the job and drug related nonsense policies to mass incarcerate the others mantra. Pitting the people of the lower rung of the ladder against each other whilst the 1% profits happily profits and hide their cash in Panama Paper Paradise.
The Democrats led by their Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, on the other hand is made to smell its own soup, thanks to the WikiLeaks.
In Papua New Guinea, the main cause of financial issues last year and that of this year have been clearly spelled out to the people ......it's a global commodity price related issue. One needs to articulate where Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill is hiding the loot before tying him into all these.
Posted by: Corney Korokan Alone | 15 August 2016 at 04:35 PM
While the Goebbels type figure knowingly distorts the truth, sometimes it seems like the spin merchants, perhaps even the politicians too, actually believe that the lies they utter are the truth. Does that make them less culpable? I don't know.
Posted by: Johnny Blades | 14 August 2016 at 06:48 PM
The above article started life as a comment on the PNG government's attempts to disparage and suppress adverse comment upon its overall performance as an economic manager.
Interestingly, there was a piece published in The Guardian today which covers the same basic ground, albeit from a different point of view.
It can be found at theguardian.com/au under the title "How we let the phoneys take control and debase the language of politics".
Posted by: Chris Overland | 14 August 2016 at 06:04 PM
Tony Bliar appointed Alastair Campbell as director of communications and strategy and Neil Kinnock appointed the prince of the darkness, Peter Mandelson as his communications director.
The Bliar government, with Mandelson and Campbell in the cabinet mastered the art of spin and who can forget weapons of mass destruction, which led to the Iraq war.
I can remember a banner at an anti-war rally in the UK, which read " Tony Bliar - Bushitler"
If you take an opposite stance to what they say, you will be much nearer the truth. George Orwell was so prescient
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 14 August 2016 at 05:34 PM
Hi Chris - Much of what you have written aligns with Mark Latham's introduction in T'he Political Bubble - Why Australians don't Trust Politics'.
Whatever one's views about policy issues, the first responsibility of anyone interested in modern politics is to help overcome the debilitating sickness inside the system.
Left-wing, right-wing and everything in between-ultimately, none of it matters unless people have reason to trust the democratic process.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 14 August 2016 at 02:45 PM