Earlier this week, I was reading about British actor and podcaster Russell Brand’s interview with American actor Tim Robbins. Robbins has become an outspoken critic of the government’s COVID-19 policies, at least insofar as the way some Americans chose to react to those policies.
“(T)he results those doctrines, that policy, had on us as human beings (were) not good. We turned into tribal, angry, vengeful people … we start demonizing people that don’t agree with our particular health policies and turn them into monsters; turn them into pariahs, say that they don’t deserve hospital beds … This turned into ‘You should f—king die because you have not complied.’ That’s incredibly dangerous.”
In a different interview with Substack writer Matt Taibbi, Robbins contrasted Americans’ reactions to disagreements over COVID-19 policies with our attitudes toward each other in the nation’s past: “Your neighbor would be sick and you’d bring over some soup. It didn’t matter what their politics were, you’re their f—king neighbor.”
Robbins is well known for his left-wing activism, so these comments were remarkable. But his concerns are shared by millions, and increasingly, those concerns have turned to outrage as we discover that so many of the things we were told about the pandemic — its origins, its lethality, the efficacy and risks of the experimental “vaccines” people were forced to take, the availability of inexpensive drugs to treat the virus’ symptoms — were not true.
And those who told us the falsehoods knew it.
Whether Robbins recognizes it or not, what he was describing is the public’s reaction to political propaganda. Propaganda works by creating and/or exploiting fear, uncertainty, suspicion; deceiving millions — tens of millions — and encouraging them to turn on their families, friends and neighbors; to become shock troops for a relative handful of powerful people who thereby become even more powerful.
Every oppressive regime in modern history has used this technique, regardless of “left-wing” or “right-wing” political definitions. America has been resistant to it, not because Americans are “special” but because power has — at least historically — been diffused, spread between a federal government constrained by constitutional limits and 50 state governments; further balanced by a free market that permits anyone with the desire to launch a business, countless numbers of which have grown and created incomparable and widespread prosperity. Power on all fronts was to be checked by a free media that saw itself as a champion for truth and a bulwark between the powerful and average citizens.
Much of that has changed. Too much. And not for the better. The federal government is too large. It is too powerful. Large corporations curry favor with the government and use the legal system to crush competition. The media see themselves as mouthpieces for political parties. Social media has been colluding and conspiring with federal law enforcement to censor and suppress speech, especially speech that contains truths the government does not want Americans — or anyone — to know.
But propaganda’s strength also reveals its weakness; it only has the power we give it. In other words, if we reject it, if we question, if we demand proof of what we are being told, we significantly erode propaganda’s power of persuasion.
Every individual can help with the efforts to cleanse America from the propaganda that is corroding our country. Just as the lies are spread one by one, so too can they be stopped.
What can you do? Stop taking statements by “officials” at face value. Don’t rely on mere credentials — experts can be wrong, too. You needn’t be a “conspiracy theorist” — just ask for proof. Remember that mere repetition isn’t “proof.” And in the absence of proof maintain a healthy skepticism.
Do not trust those who silence other professionals questioning their conclusions. If you want to support “science,” defend real scholarship, including those challenging the “settled” status quo. That is the way real scholarship and real science work.
Do not trust anyone asking others to give up things they themselves aren’t willing to. Do not blindly follow those who don’t live by the principles they would force on others.
Trust those you know personally — family, friends, co-workers, the parents of your children’s friends — before you trust people you’ve never met who may very well have a vested interest in deceiving you and profiting from that deception.
Give other people the space to live their lives and raise their families as they see fit. Stop insisting that everyone live by your definition of virtue and that every cultural institution — government, schools, churches, businesses — reflect your personal values. It’s obnoxious, oppressive and ultimately results in utter destruction. This too we have seen throughout history. A culture can survive some of its members being “wrong.” It will not survive its insistence that everyone be “right.”
Demand more of political leaders. If they betray you, if they are personally enriched while those they profess to serve suffer, give them no second chance — throw them out of office.
Believe in your ability to solve problems at the local level. Indeed, that is the only way most problems are ever solved.
Work to keep government small. Humans will always be fallible. A crime can be committed by a single individual, but corruption requires a system. The bigger the system, the more corruptible it is, and less accountable the criminals are — especially when they run it.
During the holidays, we often hear that the best gifts are those not bought with money.
In that spirit, the best gift we can give to each other as Americans is to reject propaganda and the politicization of our society, in favor of restrengthening the personal relationships and professional integrity that helped build this country.
It will cost us nothing. But the rewards we will reap will be beyond measure.
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