The big lie

by fp on May 26, 2010

in Propaganda

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.

The “big lie” is simple to frame but difficult to untangle. The “big lie” is about us and them. It’s about creating the illusion that there are two sides to an issue and then creating the distinction that “our side” is right, and “their side” is wrong. Our side is good, and their side is downright evil. The big lie is a lie of such monstrous proportion that it is beyond comprehension that anyone could assert such a thing if it were not true. The big lie probably reflects a mundane aspect of cultural framing. For example, in Germany, in the Great Depression, antisemitism was common. It had been for a thousand years or more.

Adolf Hitler said:

…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

Has the big lie become the lynch-pin for American politics, the device without which the wheels would fly off? The question is academic, finding the answer a job perhaps for historians. It’s pointless to speculate. In today’s world, the ex-governor of Alaska (“Drill baby drill!”) criticizes the Obama administration for being too cozy with the oil industry. In itself this is not a big lie. It’s more the pot calling the kettle black. The big lie is the framing around which such bickering is built.

Frank Zappa gestures toward the class of larger fabrications in When the Lie’s So Big:

They got lies so big
They don’t make a noise
They tell ‘em so well
Like a secret disease
That makes you go numb

With a big ol’ lie
And a flag and a pie
And a mom and a bible
Most folks are just liable
To buy any line
Any place, any time

When the lie’s so big
As in Robertson’s case,
(That sinister face
Behind all the Jesus hurrah)

Could result in the end
To a worrisome trend
In which every American
Not “born again”
Could be punished in cruel and unusual ways
By this treacherous cretin
Who tells everyone
That he’s Jesus’ best friend

Hitler’s big lie challenged the world. It succeeded despite its obvious implausibility. It succeeded because it was an extension of a millennium of prejudice and persecution of Jews in Europe. The mind-numbing enormity of the holocaust, of the evil emergent from the big lie, was obscured by the fact that it came from German “leadership” and appealed to the popular prejudice.
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A couple of links you may find relevant…

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{ 1 comment }

Zo May 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I always thought the internet/twitter/blogger etc would be the realization of John Lennon’s Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for …

I mean, take Ocarina, (on the iPhone) where you can watch tootles from all over the globe. When these kids are grown—are people from other countries going to be so terribly Other?

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