Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fascism, marketing and the "confidence trick": why Iain Duncan Smith says "I believe I am right"

I wrote last week about the link between marketing and Fascism, and how these links have been modified to adapt to an age of almost limitless technology. The language of marketing is used to encourage people to give up masses of personal information to their governments, via online companies like "Facebook", who willingly co-operate with the surveillance state.

This is an example of how Fascism operates in the 21st century: where surrendering privacy is transformed by marketing language into an "opportunity" for the individual, rather than a (very real) threat. Mussolini's Fascist state was contemporaneous with the rise of "marketing" as an institution in the West; to an extent, this was then extended after the Second World War in post-war USA, as consumerism was equated with patriotism and helping to preserve the "American way of life"; technological advances in the late '90s and early 21st century have enabled the kind of mass surveillance, with the consent of the individual, that was impossible before.

Politics has always had a difficult relationship with facts, and all politicians are guilty of manipulating the facts for their own purposes, at one time or another. However, the rise of propaganda in politics and the manipulation of language for political purposes occurred in tandem with the rise of marketing as a "science". The manipulation of facts and language for the purpose of propaganda became almost a science, with a philosophy in its own right; although began by Mussolini, Hitler's Nazi regime, under the guidance of Joseph Goebbels, were the real pioneers in manipulating language for political purposes in the modern era.

Using one example, the word "fanatical" became manipulated in meaning in the early days of the Nazi regime; from its previous (widely-understood) negative meaning, "fanatical" was transformed into a positive attribute - Hermann Goering, was described as a "fanatical" animal lover, for example. The Nazi regime talked of "fanatical" beliefs as being a positive asset, rather than a sign of ideological extremism. Al-Qaeda would surely recognise and agree with such a sentiment today, and Political Islam in general shares much of this ideological thinking. In other words, the strength of your beliefs is is manipulated into being more important that the realism of your ideas - this is in the crux of Fascist psychology.

"I believe I am right"

Bringing this up-to-date, the manipulation of language and a disregarding of "facts" is seen in Conservative politicians in the UK Coalition government.
The five most dangerous words that can come out of a politician's mouth are "I believe I am right"; words spoken recently by government minister, Iain Duncan Smith. His portfolio is "Work and Pensions", which includes government policy towards distribution of government benefits for the needy. In spite of him being told by official statistic agency, the ONS, that he is abusing statistics in an dishonest way for political purposes, and that his ideas were essentially lies, his response was "I believe I am right". In other words, faced with the facts, he was able to simply ignore the truth and state that he was no longer bound to reality, and that reality is what he said it was. Such behaviour would easily be found within the Nazi regime.
These five words are so terrifying because it means that a politician can make his own reality, unbound by rules. Hitler also believed what he was doing was "right"; Osama Bin Laden also believed what he was doing was "right". It is the signature of an authoritarian, and a Fascist who uses the language of morality to equate himself with God.

Austerity in the UK and Europe is also explained using the language of marketing and Fascism. Hitler said that if you repeat the lie long enough, people will believe it. Psychologically, the bigger the lie is, the more difficult it is to dispel, because the reality of a "big lie" becomes so horrifying for people that it is much easier not to think about it.
So there is a reason why Cameron says "There is no alternative!". If you repeat this enough times, people will believe it: it is a marketing strategy of carpet-bombing a product's slogan. Also, it gives people an easy answer to having to think of another economic strategy (such as the successful growth-led strategy of the Obama administration, or a long-term production-led strategy of Germany's government).

George Osborne does the same, as combined economic government strategist, and electoral strategist for the Conservative Party. The language he uses is even more nakedly divisive and compelling: that of "strivers versus skivers", implying (without any facts to support it, of course), that the economy's ails are a result of the government giving too much money to the "undeserving" poor. The massive bank bail-out (that effectively created the new concept of "Corporate Socialism") is not mentioned. Neither is it mentioned that by far the largest amount of public spending goes on pensions, rather than benefits on the "undeserving" poor; but the government doesn't want to declare war on the elderly - the defenceless poor are a much easier scapegoat. But scapegoating is a very well-worn Fascist strategy as well.

Confidence is the key to holding power. If a politician appears confident in his beliefs, then regardless of the facts, he has the ability to hoodwink the electorate very convincingly. George Osborne's confidence in the growth of the British economy goes against all the facts, when you compare it to other countries' experiences. But the government has been able to ignore sensible comparison.

David Cameron may be the most incompetent premier that Britain was seen for years, but the fact that he exudes self-confidence, makes people have confidence that he knows what he is doing.

This is why the opposition seem to have an incoherent strategy compared to the Conservatives; it's difficult to be coherent when you're fighting against a self-confident opponent that doesn't follow any rules.

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