“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

— H. L. Mencken

“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”

— Joseph Conrad

“I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief.”

— Immanuel Kant

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”

— C. S. Lewis

“No one has the right to destroy another person’s belief by demanding empirical evidence.”

— Ann Landers

“Every villain has their belief system that makes perfect sense to them.”

— Patty Jenkins

“Faith: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.”

— Ambrose Bierce

“The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.”

— Max Born

“Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.”

— R. Buckminster Fuller

What happens in our world is not based on facts. Beliefs and stories actually determine situations, events, and outcomes. What we think of as facts are mostly based on our perceptions, which in turn are based on what we are told, our personal feelings and biases, and our beliefs. Stories, often agenda-driven, shape much of what we believe and trust.

I read so much about how addressing our crazy world using “facts” and reason can succeed in fixing whatever may be broken. I don’t believe this wishful thinking for a second. The fundamental problem is that, in most cases, nobody really knows the “facts”. Facts in practice are personal perceptions – so everyone happily can have their own “facts”, contrary to popular wisdom.

This inconvenient reality was the subject of a recent post.

Our beliefs are strongly shaped by what powerful people and organizations tell us. This is often called “propaganda”, but it seems so often instead to be deeply held beliefs – and even agendas, if you can imagine such – of very sincere people. What we may see as “propaganda” may be what they see as their strong, honest beliefs, and understandings. Or at least where they place their trust.

So much of our interactions with medical professionals is based on trust and beliefs, not facts.
So much of our interactions with medical professionals is based on trust and beliefs, not facts.

Perception, belief, trust, and faith

In the absence of facts – objectively verifiable data, we must rely upon what we see and feel, believe and trust, or simply where we place our faith. These facts-in-practice are not the same, despite their common use as roughly equivalent:

Perception is what we see and feel. It is completely personal and subjective. Each of us probably perceives a given thing or situation differently. What we perceive may or may not be fact – i.e., objectively verifiable. It is just what our cognitive and emotional machinery tells us. It is our input data.

Belief results from our mental processing of all kinds of perceptions. It may be formed unconsciously, and probably reflects who we are as much as what we think. A belief is our personal truth.  From Wikipedia:

“A belief is a subjective attitude that a proposition is true or a state of affairs is the case. A subjective attitude is a mental state of having some stance, take, or opinion about something.”

Trust comes from an external input – such as a person, group, organization, or document. We trust the perceptions or beliefs of others rather than, or in support of, what we perceive and believe. Trust is generally established over time based on experience with the external inputs. Trust may be lost while our related beliefs remain, perhaps changed to some degree as a result of the trusting experience.

Faith is a belief based not on our own perceptions but on unquestioning trust of an external source. Faith is not based on our experience with interactions with another, since typically the “another” is not available or does not exist (e.g., an idea). Faith can be strengthened or lost based on general testing by whatever the world (or our world) may be doing.

All four of these are not real facts unless we can objectively verify them in some manner. Pretty clearly then, most of what we “know” comes from our perceptions, beliefs, trusts, and faiths, and not from facts.

This situation makes us highly susceptible to external inputs and influences.

Facts mostly don’t matter

Facts – assuming that they are discoverable, verifiable, and objective – are often neither readily available nor trustworthy. Consequently, such facts mostly don’t matter. What does matter at any point in time is what large groups of people believe to be “facts” – their facts. And these facts are typically woven into powerful narratives – stories – that can be completely false, based on serious misunderstandings and limited knowledge, or factual only in part. They are intended to create and maintain beliefs.

In the ultra-messy world of human affairs – social, political, economic – facts in general are unknowable. My facts are “bigger and better than your facts” seems to be a common argument on both sides. Who really knows the truth about these facts? Perhaps both sides are completely or largely wrong.

Beliefs and perceptions, especially if strongly-held and emotionally-invested, are extremely difficult – and often impossible – to change. These become facts in effect to the person holding them.

This means that it is so often useless to attempt to persuade or influence people using one’s own set of beliefs and perceptions. There may well be no real facts, objectively verifiable, on any side.

Modern communications mechanizes propaganda

Of course, this situation is nothing new. It has been going on since people were invented. During the past century, this battle has been greatly influenced by the work of a master – Edward Bernays. From Wikipedia:

“Edward Louis Bernays (1891−1995) was an American theorist, considered a pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, and referred to in his obituary as ‘the father of public relations’.”

“Of his many books, Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) gained special attention as early efforts to define and theorize the field of public relations. Citing works of writers such as Gustave Le Bon, Wilfred Trotter, Walter Lippmann, and Sigmund Freud (his own double uncle), he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct—and he outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desired ways. Bernays later synthesized many of these ideas in his postwar book, Public Relations (1945), which outlines the science of managing information released to the public by an organization, in a manner most advantageous to the organization. He does this by first providing an overview of the history of public relations, and then provides insight into its application.”

“Bernays was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the twentieth century by Life [the magazine].”

“Bernays touted the idea that the ‘masses’ are driven by factors outside their conscious understanding, and therefore that their minds can and should be manipulated by the capable few. ‘Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.’ Propaganda was portrayed as the only alternative to chaos.”

Communications technology developed and spread after WW II put Bernays’ powerful concepts into hyperdrive. The internet and global communications systems developed over the past thirty years have made these concepts an integral and primary tool for various flavors of world fixing and domination.

Ed Bernays in 1917. Probably busy bringing order – his order – out of chaos – our chaos.
Ed Bernays in 1917. Probably busy bringing order – his order – out of chaos – our chaos.

Living in a fact-free world based on perceptions, beliefs, and stories

This is our world today. To the majority, real facts are either unavailable or unacceptable. Unacceptable because they are contrary to our strongly-held beliefs and stories, which in turn arise from some combination of our perceptions and by our trust in others.

“Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” — Groucho Marx

Sadly, very many people believe what they are told rather than what their own “lying eyes” are telling them. Perhaps we are gifted with inborn trust of authority or power – part of our human nature. Could this be a residual from humanity’s tribal days (assuming that tribal days are truly past)?

Authority (from experts, officials, celebrities, rulers), however defined, shapes much of what the majority believes and trusts. Power also conveys authority that can attract believers or intimidate some folks into believing. Some believers submit to power to survive, while others embrace power to thrive.

And what is “power”? Power is what and where people believe it is. Not what and where it may actually be, should such be at all determinable, but simply belief-based among its mostly-willing subjects.

Believers are created and sustained by narratives – stories – and intimidation or coercion. If these stories are effective, a power base of true believers can develop. Longshoreman Eric Hoffer, a moral and social philosopher and author, wrote about such people in his book The True Believer (1951):

“Hoffer states that mass movements begin with a widespread ‘desire for change’ from discontented people who place their locus of control outside their power and who also have no confidence in existing culture or traditions. Feeling their lives are ‘irredeemably spoiled’ and believing there is no hope for advancement or satisfaction as an individual, true believers seek ‘self-renunciation’. Thus, such people are ripe to participate in a movement that offers the option of subsuming their individual lives in a larger collective. Leaders are vital in the growth of a mass movement, as outlined below, but for the leader to find any success, the seeds of the mass movement must already exist in people’s hearts.”

Development of mass movements – behavior of masses, crowds, mobs – has been written about extensively since Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), and Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895). More recently, this narrative has been picked up and popularized by Belgian psychologist Mattias Desmet in his “mass formation psychosis/hypnosis” concepts. Desmet found that 20-30 percent of a population readily became “true believers” of some sort. For more on this subject, see my posts here, here, and here.

Everyone has beliefs, but some have beliefs so strong that they become True Believers.
Everyone has beliefs, but some have beliefs so strong that they become True Believers.

Propaganda seeks to develop and retain crowds of true believers

Our ability today to reach and communicate with enormous numbers of people is unparalleled in history. Most of the 8+ billion inhabitants of our small planet now have access to many forms of electronic media and interactivity. Needless to say, much of the content being communicated is propaganda. From Wikipedia:

“Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence or persuade an audience to further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented.”

“Primitive forms of propaganda have been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists. The Behistun Inscription (c. 515 BCE) detailing the rise of Darius I to the Persian throne is viewed by most historians as an early example of propaganda. Another striking example of propaganda during ancient history is the last Roman civil wars (44–30 BCE) during which Octavian and Mark Antony blamed each other for obscure and degrading origins, cruelty, cowardice, oratorical and literary incompetence, debaucheries, luxury, drunkenness and other slanders.”

To “influence and persuade” means to create beliefs and believers. It is not about truth or facts in general, but about the source’s agenda. Truth and facts are not relevant or even permissible in most cases. Sources may even try to censor or destroy the credibility of competing stories and beliefs, if you can believe such a thing.

Fight propaganda with better propaganda

It is distressing to read so much these days about responding to the various factions’ agenda-driven propaganda with “objective” facts and logic. Or at least what the competing groups think are facts and logic rather than just their personal perceptions and beliefs. Beliefs and narratives battling beliefs and narratives.

How can we tell which set of beliefs and stories to believe and trust? Maybe everything out there is largely or completely untrustworthy. On all sides. Picking any of these to support (or battle against) is effectively signing up for the underlying agenda or cause. We must convince ourselves that our choice is in some manner “right”, “worthy”, and “credible”.

People often make this choice by supporting a leader or cause that appeals to them emotionally. This requires both a belief in the leader or cause and trust as defined above. The leader leads or rules through the emotional beliefs of followers and supporters.

Today, we have a very impressive list of causes from which to choose what and who to believe:

  1. Climate change
  2. Pandemic protection and prevention
  3. Medical treatments of many flavors
  4. Russia and China
  5. Digital money (CBDCs)
  6. Digital IDs
  7. U.S. hegemony

… and many others.

Each one has an array of leaders and ruler-wannabes that often greatly affect our choice of causes. Each cause has an array of arguments, evidence, enticements, and other goodies that are in effect propaganda. Believers can be “bought” by such intangibles, provided that the story is clear, powerful, credible, and attractive.

It is the story that sells, with the leadership being of secondary or less importance. For example, climate change is a huge deal today, but who are its leaders and champions? A few visible folks like Bill Gates, while the rest are unknowns or who-cares. And who are the leaders of the opposition? Who knows, or cares?

The effects of climate change according to some agenda-free folks at NASA.
The effects of climate change according to some agenda-free folks at NASA.

What are the moral and ethical concerns in using propaganda?

Propaganda, or more generally narratives and stories used to promote an agenda and attract supporters (and to counter naysayers), quite often crosses the lines of “honesty” and “fairness”. Few seem to be outright lies in the sense that they clearly contradict known and objectively verifiable facts. Many are just ad hominem attacks. Most are “fact-light” or “fact-biased”, offering incomplete stories. How far can one in “good faith” pursue such propaganda staples?

Can anything be done in “good faith” to effectively counter a truly nasty array of propaganda while presenting a moral and ethical propaganda alternative?

Must we get down in the dirt with adversaries who do not deal in morals, ethics, or “good faith” truths? Adversaries who want to win no matter what?

We have today so many instances of such battles. Climate change. Pandemic protection and prevention. CBDCs. … long list. These are in effect context-specific wars in which truth is the first victim. Assuming that truth exists and is objectively verifiable. Or must we simply throw our truths – beliefs and perceptions – at their truths – beliefs and perceptions? Especially responding in kind, which may be extremely nasty and distressing.

What in practice are “ethics” and “morals”? One definition:

“Ethics and morals relate to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ conduct. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different: ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.”

Morals are personal, internal. Ethics are social, external. Such is my understanding here, at least. At any rate, this definition greatly complicates things in practice. People are different, and situations are different. Almost infinitely. How can any general rules or guidelines apply?

The answer is that they can’t. Each person or group facing their particular situation must develop and apply their own morals and ethics. Scope of relevance is situation-specific and participants-specific.

While we can’t mess much with the social ethics of our various situations, we can perhaps employ some flexibility in the personal morals we are willing to act upon. Flexible morals!!! I can just hear the howling from quite moral folks I know. Flexible morals are no morals, they are likely to respond.

Umm …

Flexible morals in dealing with moral-free propaganda?

I don’t know about you, but I too have some serious problems with “flexible morality”. Morality is a person’s principles regarding right and wrong, good and bad. Not much wiggle room here for most of us. While our morals may not be unchangeable, changes mostly occur over time based on experiences and learning. They generally can’t be adjusted short term to deal propaganda-wise with a current situation.

But, as with so much in life, the question is a lot more complex. The “flexibility” that may be required could be in just a few areas where one’s fundamental principles are not affected. Let me try to think of an example.

How about climate change, a currently hot topic and one being pursued aggressively by many powers-that-be-and-wannabe. These folks are even talking about another COVID-type lockdown – martial law in effect. Much of their story is blatant, obvious fear-mongering. We can’t respond here with “facts” and “reason”. This issue is deeply emotional and involves strongly-held beliefs. On both sides (just two for example purposes).

One side is clearly aiming at increasing government control over, well, almost everything. The other side is … aiming at what? And using “facts” and “reason” as weapons. Facts and reason (that may actually be just beliefs and stories) against strong emotions and beliefs of true believers almost certainly won’t work.

Opponents of the-powers-that-be (TPTB) may see exaggerations and outright lies being used aggressively – at least so they believe – but simply calling TPTB “liars” probably won’t do much more than anger and further motivate TPTB and supporters. This isn’t an effective battle strategy. So, what are we to do?

My justifiably-humble thought here is to try reframing the climate change story in terms of helping people deal with the ravages of weather (or “climate”) in some positive ways. This would surely be propaganda, but presented as a noble cause and urgent matter. For example, declare a war on power costs and availability.

Aggressively promote modular power sources that can quickly be installed so as to alleviate hot weather brownouts and high power costs (a serious consumer pocketbook threat). These can be relatively simple gas-powered plants or more complex small modular nuclear reactors. This decentralizes power generation down to the very local level.

“Easily installed in only 12 days: the new Modular Power Plant.”
“Easily installed in only 12 days: the new Modular Power Plant.” Source.

The bigger question is who leads the charge here. And who are the “generals and officers” leading this particular war effort? Small power plants have costs within the resources of even smaller communities. But it takes strong, committed leadership. Nothing is easy.

What is the “flexible morals” aspect involved here? It seems to be, to me at least, framing this war within the dubious context of climate change. Yes, we have “climate change” (or not), but let’s address it constructively and quickly with, say, modular power. If it turns out that the climate changers can’t do much about either climate or weather, then it won’t matter because we would have a functioning near-term solution. We would not be fighting what we might regard as an immoral attack on our freedoms directly, as a crusader would, but instead using an alternative quick-solution that may well weaken their whole climate change story.

Sorry, but while this idea/example might be rather lame, there are many knowledgeable and creative leaders out there who can surely come up with something much better.

Leadership as always is the greatest problem

I have addressed leadership weaknesses in past posts, as for example this one. Unless strong dedicated leaders step up to respond creatively, not reactively, to the climate change hysteria, the climate-changers will prevail. And nothing will happen to either weather or climate.

Kit Knightly via The Burning Platform describes the current situation on climate change: “The ‘War on Climate Change’ is coming…again”:

“Last week, a senior member of Parliament for the UK’s Labor Party went on television demanding the UK – maybe even the entire world – be on a ‘war-like footing’ to combat climate change.”

“The campaign isn’t isolated to the UK, in fact it kicked off on the other side of the Atlantic, with the Inquirer running an article headlined ‘President Biden should address the nation and declare war…on climate change’ on July 16th, which argued:”

“Biden and his aides need to grab that metaphorical bullhorn and call the TV networks to announce a prime-time address from the Oval Office that will declare a national emergency — in essence, a state of war — to fight climate change. Joe Biden himself called climate change an ‘existential threat’ on July 27th.”

“The invocation of metaphorical war is of course nothing new. ‘War’ is a very important word in the world of politics and propaganda. It has – or is assumed to have –  an immediate effect on the collective public mind; an instant connection to generations of shared memories, that promotes feelings of conformity and solidarity. Some psychological study or focus group clearly figured this out decades ago, and as such the word ‘war’ is frequently used to control narratives.”

So, like it or not, we are today effectively in a climate-change war based on beliefs and stories. The climate-changers are the-powers-that-be-and-wannabe, and they are very powerful, with enormous resources and global reach. Opponents seem largely invisible, and still relying mostly on (their) facts and logic so far as I can see. Which won’t work.

Opponent truths based on their facts and logic are up against climate changer truths, emotions, beliefs, and rabble-rousing – all with proven effectiveness. The latter will surely win, absent an effective response from opponent leadership that uses emotions, beliefs, and rabble-rousing just as effectively.

Otherwise, the world system will resolve things – the hard way, as usual

Large complex systems are inherently fragile, as I have argued in past (see for example, here). They inevitably and ultimately collapse as the result of small, random impacts that eventually hit a critical point of system weakness. Great pain and suffering will result, now globally.

It may well be that the inhabitants of our complex fragile world system will not succeed in stabilizing it, and most likely will only make things worse. The ability to fix world-scale things is not evident today or historically. This suggests to me that whatever happens will result from system weaknesses, and not from its rulers or subjects.

Bottom line:

What happens in our world is not based on facts, but instead on perceptions, beliefs, agendas, and stories based on beliefs and agendas. Various wars are being fought with stories battling other stories. Some people, however, try to battle stories with facts and reason. Almost never works. Stories are rooted in perceptions, emotions, beliefs, and agendas, while facts and reason are heavily dependent on intelligence and wisdom. This is why propaganda works so well.

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”  — William J. Casey, CIA Director (1981)

This means that propaganda-based wars such as we have today must be opposed with similarly-effective propaganda, not facts and reason (alone). We are in an entirely new age of warfare where information and communications are the primary and most powerful weapons. The-powers-that-be-and-wannabe know this, and are currently winning most of the major propaganda wars.

“Board-certified internist and biological warfare epidemiologist Dr. Meryl Nass issued a disturbing warning that the Pandemic Treaty being pushed by the World Health Organization (WHO) is going to take over the jurisdiction of everything in the world. During the International COVID Summit of the European Parliament held in Brussels, Belgium in May, Nass said that the health authorities will use the treaty to impose the idea that climate change, animals, plants, water systems, and ecosystems are all central to health.”

“According to Nass, the Pandemic Treaty will remove human rights protections currently embedded in the International Health Regulations (IHR), enforce censorship and digital passports, get rid of freedom of speech, require governments to push a single ‘official’ narrative and dictate which drugs should be prescribed in every country. ‘We’re undergoing a soft coup,’ she alerted.”

“She also pointed out how the organization is moving to create a whole new set of laws and ignore the existing human rights laws under the pretext of pandemic preparedness and the biosecurity agenda. Nass divulged how it is working on binding states so there are no longer recommendations, providing a liability shield – for vaccine manufacturers and public health officials – getting rid of intellectual property rights, and moving supplies from one country to another.”

“The doctor from Maine added that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus would be able to declare pandemics at the mere threat of a public health emergency of international concern. He can also call for a world lockdown for declared climate change emergencies as per the treaty.”

“President Joe Biden appears to be facing increasing demands to declare a climate emergency, like the one declared for the COVID-19 pandemic that had a devastating impact on the country, warns a top advocate for the U.S. oil and gas industry. ‘They’re leaning to that direction,’ U.S. Oil and Gas Association President Tim Stewart recently told Just the News. ‘If you grant the president’s emergency powers to declare a climate emergency, it’s just like COVID.’”

“The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity issued a non-exhaustive ‘legal guide’ saying that Biden, under an emergency declaration, could:

  • End crude oil exports
  • End all offshore oil and gas leasing
  • Restrict U.S. fossil fuel exports and end hundreds of billions of dollars in overseas fossil fuel investments
  • Dramatically accelerate a transition to clean energy

Stewart also warned that declaring an emergency could result in the censoring of those disagreeing about a climate crisis, like critics of so-called COVID mandates on masks and vaccines were.”

“The world economy should have collapsed in 2008 were it not for a massive Hocus Pocus exercise by Western central banks. At that time, global debt was $125 trillion plus derivatives. Today debt is $325 trillion plus quasi-debt or derivatives of probably $2+ quadrillion.”

“By 2030, debt could be as high as $3 quadrillion. This assumes that the quasi debt of global derivatives of $2 – $2.5 quadrillion has been ‘rescued’ by central banks in order to stop the financial system from imploding.”

“First we will obviously see major pressures in the on balance sheet credit market. Corporate bankruptcy filings are increasing in most countries. In the US it is on a 13 year high for example, up 53% from 2022. Moody expects global corporate defaults to keep surging as financial conditions tighten.”

“The US banks are grappling with deposit flight, higher rates and major risks in the property sector.”

“The pressures in the commercial property market and in housing will lead to a wave of defaults necessitating further money printing. S&P reports that 576 banks are at risk of overexposure to commercial property loans and surpassing regulatory guidelines.”