“Lies and Deceit” Part 1

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“Lies and Deceit” Part 1

Creating Doubt and Ignorance as Forms of Control and Manipulation.
Things Christians Need to Know and Avoid.
(Opinion Piece)

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

(Matthew 24:4 [KJV])

Agnatology

The neologism “Agnotology” was conceived in 1995 by Robert Proctor and Iain Boal and explained as: “A Missing Term to Describe the Cultural Production of Ignorance (and Its Study). (Proctor 2008)1Proctor, Robert N. & Schiebinger, Londa (eds.) (2008). Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford University Press Stanford, California. p. 1 available at https://philpapers.org/archive/PROATM.pdf This cultural production of ignorance manifests itself in the manufactured uncertainty in the epistemic agent,2 Epistemic agent is defined as an agent capable of taking epistemic stances towards epistemic elements. These stances must be taken intentionally, that is, based on a semantic understanding of the epistemic element in question and its available alternatives, with reason, and for the purpose of acquiring knowledge Patton, P. (2019). Epistemic Tools and Epistemic Agents in Scientonomy. Scientonomy: Journal for the Science of Science3, 63–89. https://doi.org/10.33137/js.v3i0.33621 that is experienced as not knowing.

In a 2016 article he is cited as describing it as a:

study of willful acts to spread confusion and deceitusually to sell a product or win favour.

Robert Proctor.3cited in Kenyon, Georgina. The Man Who Studies the Spread of Ignorance. 6th January 2016. BBC.com

Dr Proctor gives us an example of Agnotology in action: “Media analyst Sut Jhally in I99I made head-lines when he found that people were misinformed about the Gulf War in direct proportion to how much TV they had watched on the topic.”4Sut Jhally, Justin Lewis, and Michael Morgan, “The Gulf War: A Study of the Media, Public Opinion, and Public Knowledge” (Research Report. Centre for the Study of Communication, Doc. #P-8, February 1991). quoted in Proctor, Robert N. & Schiebinger, Londa (eds.) (2008). Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford University Press Stanford, California. p. 6 available at https://wp.unil.ch/serendip/files/2018/10/Agnotology-Ch-1-Proctor-2008.pdfWhy is this so shocking? There is an “implied” correlation between the level of ignorance induced in epistemic agents by trusted information sources, that is directly proportional to the volume of information absorbed by that agent (the epistemic agent being in this case an epistemic community [given by the words public opinion and public knowledge in the title of the study]). The scandal is that television as a media outlet and trusted source of information has either misinformed or disinformed (or a combination of both) their audience, having left their “fingerprints” all over the “scene of the crime”.

It seems that the traditional sources of authoritative information are increasingly being questioned as to whether they promote factual content. “The widespread and growing distrust among Western publics in institutions of the press is an inescapable reality: in the United States, overall confidence that news media report the news “fully, accurately and fairly” has fallen steadily since the 1970s, reaching an all-time low in 2016 prior to the presidential election, after which the measure has sharply polarized”(Gallup, 20195Gallup. (2019, September 26). Americans’ trust in mass media edges down to 41%. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/267047/americans-trust-mass-media-edges-down.aspx [Google Scholar] cited in Deen Freelon & Chris Wells (2020) Disinformation as Political Communication, Political Communication, 37:2, 145-156, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2020.1723755).

Propaganda

A catalogue of new terminology regarding lies and deceit in the public sphere such as: conspiracy theory, fake news, junk news, alternative facts or (“altfacts“) information disorder, misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, infodemic, information laundering, weaponised and counterfeit narrative, has recently entered into the daily vernacular. This new glossary of terms, creates the impression that the problems faced by the information environment in the twenty-first century are unprecedented. It would be reasonable to argue that historically, the totality of the above labels would have been covered by the single older blanket term of traditional propaganda. This is no longer the case as propaganda does not have a single agreed upon meaning. Consensus is lacking as to (a) its scope, (b) its intent (malicious or otherwise), and (c) what constitutes a propagandist. Jowett and O’Donnell propose the definition as: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”6 Jowett, Garth S., and Victoria J. O’Donnell. Propaganda & Persuasion, 6th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014. cited in Korta, Samantha M. Fake News, Conspiracy Theories, and Lies: An Information Laundering Model for Homeland Security Naval Postgraduate School (U.S.). Center for Homeland Defense and Security (2018) p.41 available at https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=811312

Figure 1. The Jowett and O’Donnell Purpose Model of Propaganda 7 ibid

Information Disorder

Lies and deceit have largely been pathologised and relabelled into the more (paradoxically) psychologically sanitised term of “Information Disorder” and described by the acronym MDM signifying; Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation.

Misinformation: False information not intended to cause harm.

Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created or disseminated with the express purpose to cause harm. Producers of disinformation typically have political, financial, psychological or social motivations.

Malinformation is genuine information that is shared to cause harm.

Claire Wardle, PhD and Hossein Derakhshan.8Wardle, C. & H. Derakshan (September 27, 2017) Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making, Council of Europe, https://rm.coe.int/information-disorder-toward-an-interdisciplinary-framework-for-researc/168076277c

Although the presence of intent in communication cannot be denied, the problem is that, human intent is a volatile phenomenon and is difficult to pinpoint with any measure of certainty at a specific moment in time.

Types of Information Disorder” graphic by Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Newspeak

Agnotology as described by danah boyd, (not a typo but how she represents her name. “?!”) articulates around “purposefully and intentionally seeding doubt to fragment society” She continues: “Some terms are strategically created to achieve epistemological fragmentation. In the 1990s, Frank Luntz was the king of doing this with terms like partial-birth abortion, climate change, and death tax. Every week, he coordinated congressional staffers and told them to focus on the term of the week and push it through the news media. All to create a drumbeat.”9Boyd. Danah. Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation. Apr 26, 2019. available at https://points.datasociety.net/agnotology-and-epistemological-fragmentation-56aa3c509c6b

Strategically created expressions may remind the reader of Orwellian “Newspeak” defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings”.10 “Newspeak.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/newspeak. Accessed 19 Sep. 2022.In 1984, Orwell writes: ” Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought” 11Orwell, George.  (1954).  Nineteen eighty-four : a novel.  Harmondsworth, Eng :  Penguin in association with Secker & Warburg In his essay, “Politics and the English Language” Orwell notes “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. Orwell thus warns the reader how entities that create language and mandate how it is used, can “control the minds” (or more accurately, inject thoughts into the minds of persons in order to suscitate a desired behaviour) of people within their sphere of influence. It must be mentioned that, the idea that thought and language exist in a dialectical relation with one another is a contended one. As limitations of space and focus prevent us from thoroughly reviewing this contention, it will not be investigated in this piece. He concludes his essay: “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell argues that politically, the use of language in order to formulate lies, forms a close association with cover-up and rationalisation. “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible” defined as “arguments which are too brutal for most people to face”. 12George Orwell: ‘Politics and the English Language’ First published: Horizon. — GB, London. — April 1946. Available at https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/

Doublespeak is a neologism coined out of the words double-talk and newspeak from Orwell’s 1984. It basically resembles a form of sophistry. It is language that is at variance with its real or purported meaning in an act to mislead, distort, deceive, inflate, circumvent, and obfuscate. “Alternative facts” a phrase conceived by Kellyanne Conway becomes a case in point 13the story can be read here https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/22/us/politics/president-trump-inauguration-crowd-white-house.html The term was used in rebuttal to an “Emperor has no clothes” claim made by Chuck Todd during an interview regarding the number of attendees to president Trump’s inauguration speech which had been demonstrably falsely inflated. Todd remarked ” “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”14Blake, Aaron (January 22, 2017). “Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump’s team has ‘alternative facts’. Which pretty much says it all”The Washington Post. Conway later rationalised her choice of words by conflating the definition of alternative facts as “additional facts and alternative information”.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue;
And they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

(Proverbs 18:21 [ASV])

Sophistry

Lies and deceit in the public sphere is not a new phenomenon. In the 12th-century John of Salisbury, Bishop of Chartres, uses colourful language to recount that the royal and ecclesiastical courts of Europe were frequented with every sort of “deceiver and falsifier, with timeservers and wheedlers, gift-givers, actors, mimics, procurers and gossipmongers.” 15Denery, Dallas G. “The True History of Lying.” The Irish Times. The Irish Times, January 28, 2015. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-true-history-of-lying-1.2081531.These terms have their modern monochrome humanistic equivalents in today’s vocabulary.

Historically the Sophist is the earliest recorded “propagandist” who goes back two and a half millennia to ancient Greece. Their set of doctrines or teachings go by the Greek term, σοφιστική “sophistike” for which word does not exist in the English but might be translated sophistics (noun) and not sophistry16Specious but fallacious reasoning; employment of arguments which are intentionally deceptive.”sophistry, n.”. OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/184769 which has other connotations in today’s language. “The open society of Athens, nurtured on the notions of equality and freedom, attracted a group of sages called the sophists: a new breed of teachers advocating the premise that truth is inherently relative. One of these teachers was a friend of Pericles, namely Protagoras, who coined the famous homo–mensura theory:
Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not.
According to this principle, man arbitrates on the existence and non–existence of all things. In modern terms, the totality of human experience, both practical and symbolic, all things material and immaterial are relative to human apprehension. Needless to say, this statement is anti-fundamentalist, and it is so understood by present day proponents of cultural pluralism. Protagoras thought that the oppositional notions of good and evil are relative in virtue of the fact that what for some is good, others may consider evil. Moreover, his followers claimed that what may be beneficial for some may also bring harm to others. If the philosophy of the sophists laid the foundations of European pragmatism, utilitarianism and ethical conventionalism, it is also deeply relativistic.” (Mielczarski 2018, p. 148-9)17Mielczarski, C. (2018). Rhetoric: A Theory of Political Lie or The Essence of Politics? Reflections on the Thought of the Sophists, Hannah Arendt, and Jacques Derrida. ORGANON, 2018, 147-163. doi:https://doi.org/10.4467/00786500.ORG.18.007.9501This rather long quote from the work of Mielczarski suggests affinities between the sophists and postmodernism.

The sophists taught (for profit) a curriculum of oratory and rhetoric18 a. The art of using language effectively so as to persuade or influence others, esp. the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques to this end; the study of principles and rules to be followed by a speaker or writer striving for eloquence, esp. as formulated by ancient Greek and Roman writers. “rhetoric, n.1”. OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165178?rskey=Q0wASs&result=1 ., and many sophists claimed they could teach both thesis and antithesis. A fragment of Giorgias of Leontini’s (l. c. 427 BC) work On the Non-Existent is preserved in the writings of Sextus Empiricus. This quote exemplifies (B.S. [Brilliant Speech] baffles brains) sophistics: “More specifically, the nonexistent does not exist; for if the nonexistent exists, it will both exist and not exist at the same time, for insofar as it is understood as nonexistent, it will not exist, but insofar as it is nonexistent it will, on the other hand, exist. It would, however, be entirely absurd for something to exist and at the same time not to exist. The nonexistent, therefore, does not exist. And to state another argument, if the nonexistent exists, the existent will not exist, for these are opposites to each other, and if existence is an attribute of the nonexistent, nonexistence will be an attribute of the existent. But it is not, in fact, true that the existent does not exist. <Accordingly>, neither will the nonexistent exist.19Gorgias of Leontini. On the Nonexistent. Sextus, Against the Schoolmasters vii 65-87. Gorgias of Leontini began from the same position as those who have abolished the criterion, but did not follow the same line of attack as the school of Protagoras. In what is entitled On the Nonexistent or On Nature he proposes three successive headings: first and foremost, that nothing exists; second, that even if it exists it is inapprehensible to man; third, that even if it is apprehensible; still it is without a doubt incapable of being expressed or explained to the next man.

Plato has Gorgias suggesting that rhetoric (as the art of persuasive speech), is the source of power in an all encompassing sense (Plato, Gorgias 456a)

Gorgias
So whenever there is an election of such persons as you were referring to, Socrates, you see it is the orators who give the advice and get resolutions carried in these matters.

Socrates
That is just what surprises me, Gorgias, and has made me ask you all this time what in the world the power of rhetoric can be. For, viewed in this light, its greatness comes over me as something supernatural.

Gorgias
Ah yes, if you knew all, Socrates,—how it comprises in itself practically all powers at once! 20Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 3 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967.

The Sophists were closely associated with deceptive eristicism  (from Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord). The Encyclopedia Britannica gives: “eristic, (from Greek eristikos, “fond of wrangling”), argumentation that makes successful disputation an end in itself rather than a means of approaching truth. Such argumentation reduces philosophical inquiry to a rhetorical exercise.” 21Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “eristic.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 22, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/eristic.

Aristotle comments on the Sophist: “……it belongs to Rhetoric to discover the real and apparent means of persuasion, just as it belongs to Dialectic to discover the real and apparent syllogism. For what makes the sophist is not the faculty but the moral purpose. But there is a difference: in Rhetoric, one who acts in accordance with sound argument, and one who acts in accordance with moral purpose, are both called rhetoricians; but in Dialectic it is the moral purpose that makes the sophist, the dialectician being one whose arguments rest, not on moral purpose but on the faculty. Aristot. Rh. 1.1.14 22 The essence of sophistry consists in the moral purpose, the deliberate use of fallacious arguments. In Dialectic, the dialectician has the power or faculty of making use of them when he pleases; when he does so deliberately, he is called a sophist. In Rhetoric, this distinction does not exist; he who uses sound arguments as well as he who uses false ones are both known as rhetoricians. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 22, translated by J. H. Freese. Aristotle. Cambridge and London. Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd. 1926. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0060

Conclusion

The cultural impact and complexity of lying, has probably been historically addressed in all ages, since the existence of language, or at least since we have historical records. Yet I would like to speculate that there is something that has changed in the methodology of manufacturing falsehoods in the information environment, in the age of internet and social media. “Following Floridi (2010), we can then define the information environment as “constituted by all informational processes, services, and entities, thus including informational agents as well as their properties, interactions, and mutual relations” (p. 9).(Röttger and Vedres 2022)23Röttger, Paul, and Balazs Vedres. 2022. “The Information Environment and Its Effects on Individuals and Groups an Interdisciplinary Literature Review.” https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/online-information-environment/the-online-information-environment.pdf

Online communication is capable of spreading disinformation in a fast, cheap and pervasive manner globally, where virality favours false and emotional messages. Previous to the advent of the internet and social media one had to create a believable “piece” of information that was false, in order to deceive or persuade ones target. The availability of time allowed the evaluation of the veracity of a given piece of information before coming to some conclusion, or taking some action.

In a weaponized information environment, the public sphere is purposefully saturated with false information by malevolent actors who are deliberately trying to create the conditions where the truth becomes so difficult determine that people give up trying to discern what’s true and what’s false to decide what they believe. Being constantly besieged and beleaguered by such social conditions is potentially compromising our thought processes. In the West most humans look to maintain the target of thinking clearly about objective truth and reality, either in a form of rational argument or deep assessment of the facts as they stand. Certain sectors of the information environment are constantly being assaulted by a barrage of wilfully distorted, misleading, inaccurate, news reports and messaging (by significantly more orders of magnitude greater than previously experienced, by the addition of the social media platforms). The expenditure of effort required to discern what’s real or fake using “rational” methods may be too great that they find themselves capitulated over to other more primitive, simpler mechanisms and heuristics such as ones based in identity and emotion. In other words “Information overload leads people to take shortcuts in determining the trustworthiness of messages.”24Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews, The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model, Santa Monica, Calif: RAND Corporation, PE-198-OSD, 2016. https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” 

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism25Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Limited, 2017.

Grappling with how human beings should live in a world full of deception is something Christians especially apologists should be engaged in. Humans live and act in a real world, transactional processes mediate between human experience and observations, and its environment (“not purely subjective phenomena”). Locke, K., Golden-Biddle, K., & Feldman, M. S. (2008). 26 Locke, Karen, Karen Golden-Biddle, and Martha S. Feldman. “Making Doubt Generative: Rethinking the Role of Doubt in the Research Process.” Organization Science 19, no. 6 (2008): 907–18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25146228.. Belief represents “the current organization of our experiences and observations……Doubt indicates the breaks and breaches in that organization”. 27ibid.Earnestly contend[ing] for the faith (ὑμῖν παρακαλῶν ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι τῇ ἅπαξ) Jude 1:3, navigating truth and falsehood, and belief and doubt, have always been some of the battlegrounds of the apologist.

“The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Humans acquire an understanding of the world by establishing conceptual relations to it. If those conceptual relations are based on falsehoods, then we are no longer observing reality and our understanding of the world has been undermined.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

(II Corinthians 13:14 [ASV])

Featured Image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Footnotes

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