A new book with selected essays by Hannah Arendt on 530 pages has just been published at Pax Forlag, edited and initiated by Rune Slagstad – titled Politics in gloomy times. In this context, we can look behind a Norwegian public concerned with fake news and mass media characterized by emotions, outrage and entertainment.
Let me pick up the following story from the Middle Ages in the book: A watchman with a sense of humor got bored one night in the city's lookout tower and raised a false alarm that the enemy was approaching – just to give the town's inhabitants a blow. Everyone woke up with horror, then quickly got up on the walls to defend the city. But not only that, the janitor was also moved by the incident, so "the last one to come running was the janitor himself".
When lies, rhetoric or propaganda characterizes the public, one must have a certain strength of character, or peace of mind, so as not to be torn by the crowd. It may be in search of "sinners" or enemies, but also real warriors such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Such people most often face reactions – whether or not it is a joke of a watchman – as they seriously bring out facts about the abuse of state power.
One would think that big politics should be about truth, humanism and facts – but we often find that it is rhetoric and falsehood on behalf of one's own interest. Thus, Assange is so "dangerous" to the United States that they want him extradited and imprisoned as a spy. Lying enough, they denounce his role as a revealing journalist – rather than admitting their own war crimes. Assange's brave fight against great powers has at the time of writing sent him to the English prison's sick bed due to the stresses.
In the 1967 book "Truth and Politics," Arendt writes: "Lies have always been considered necessary and justifiable tools, not only for the politician's or demagogue's business, but also for the statesman's." and facts in a public ruled by myths, populism and entertainment? Arendt asks: "Is it in the innermost nature of truth to be powerless, and in the innermost nature of power to be deceitful?"
With right-wing populists in Poland, Hungary, Austria or the United States it is important to see what such politicians do. Pax was now released at the same time Politics and justice by Carl Schmitt, also edited by Slagstad and provided with a full preface. In the Arendt book, he cites the Washington Post from March this year, pointing out that Donald Trump has made "9.014 false or misleading claims over 773 days." We are talking here about one of several politicians who have a democratic voter majority behind them ...
Does truth matter? Arendt continues: "The chances of factual truth surviving an attack from power are in fact very small." She also mentions Plato's cave parable, where the prisoners chained down in the dark with shadow pictures on the wall sit in "peace and tolerance in their cave as pure image viewers." Maybe today's television viewers? And who wants to disturb the peace to enter the cave with truths, enlightened by the reality of daylight?
It can be experienced as sand in the medial machinery. Over 50 years ago, Arendt wrote of factual truths that, when contrary to "the profit or pleasure of a particular group, are met with greater reluctance today than ever before". Whoever reveals real secrets has always been "considered a traitor" – add Chelsea Manning, Assange and Snowden today. That a public who knows about secrets or critical disclosures "often spontaneously succeeds in making any public discussion of them taboo," we have learned here in the newspaper. The punishment can be harsh, ridiculous and merciless.
Arendt also mentions that in Stalin's Russia and Hitler Germany she knew, "it was more dangerous to talk about concentration and extermination camps, which were by no means a secret, than to express 'heretical' views on anti-Semitism, racism and communism. ".
Already in 1967 Arendt, as we can read in the Pax book, drew attention to "the relatively new phenomenon of mass manipulation of facts and opinions, as has been seen in the rewriting of history, in image production and in real state politics. " She wrote about "the modern political lie" where contemporary history is rewritten right in front of our eyes. Knowing how Lev Trotsky was "wiped out" in photographs with Stalin, she was also aware of image manipulation, writing that "photography is not meant to beautify reality, but to provide a full replacement for it". Are the bulls taking over for reality? Arendt asks, "What is it that prevents these new stories, images and non-facts from becoming an adequate replacement for reality and facts?"
The deeper totalitarian lies in blurring the distinction between truth
We who have immersed ourselves in Arendt's political thinking know that her main concern is that totalitarian. The question we then ask with Arendt is whether it is no longer possible to clearly distinguish between lies and truth. She mentions in Politics in gloomy times especially the cold-blooded liar, who lies to himself and knows it – as the most vicious.
Here we can add the propaganda around Chernobyl in 1986 [see Chernobyl, page 10], where the Soviet leadership was more concerned about the Soviet reputation internationally than the tens of thousands who would die if the unsuspecting were living near the accident site.
Decide for yourself what you would call "lying" – whether it be the NATO arms industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the new control society and terrorists on every street corner, or the many varieties of commercial advertising for products that will make your life better.
The lies show up, as Arendt mentions, where "today's relatively closed totalitarian regimes and one-party dictatorships are of course the absolute most effective actors in shielding ideologies and images from the effects of reality and truth." And this year's Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) in May showed us in its tireless struggle against authoritarian regimes a number of concrete examples exposed to this (see Oslofreedomforum.com).
But both OFF, and many with us, are equally aware that the deeper totalitarian lies in blurring the distinction between truth and falsehood – where criticism and political resistance are virtually impossible. novel 1984 by George Orwell also shows this through the destruction of the language. With mass media and unedited social media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see clearly and rationally what is true.
Arendt mentions Socrates'humanistic statement that' it is better to suffer injustice than to commit injustice '. For how can one live with oneself if one acts against one's own convictions?
Let's look at another Arendt book, The Promise of Politics (2005), the contradictions are the governing of Socrates' thinking, and the poor conscience is the governing of his actions. Socrates himself chose to empty the poison cup in defense of the truth. He was among the few who realized "I know I do not know", that is, he realized that he had no truth for everyone. Such "universal" truths are oppressive. But he confronted the people around him, in dialogue or in small groups, to make opinions and conversations as truthful as possible.
The dialogue, the thoughtful conversation or the more dialectical, often holds something more truth-seeking than the many persuasion attempts we are exposed to today.
Socrates was honored by the Oracle of Delphi for being the wisest of all, "because he had accepted the restriction of truth to mortals."
Arendt mentions here friendship (philia) based on Aristotle's materialism and desire for interaction, in which we humans strive to free ourselves from the harsh necessities of life. And the benefit is great if one's own opinions are kindly corrected in honest conversations with friends. For human reason it can sometimes be fragile or unevenly distributed. With a thought of more anarchic friendship, I quit Politics in gloomy times: "We believe that the joys and rewards of being together are preferable to the dubious pleasures of ruling over others."