C: Gript

Catherine Martin’s new plan: The Ministry of Truth

I’ll introduce this piece by saying that if you happen to enjoy my writing, then you really should be reading Conor Fitzgerald over on substack. His latest piece, published yesterday, addresses the root causes of Ireland’s stifling, consensus based politics.

Go read it when you’re done here, you’ll be smarter for it. And it’s relevant, I think, in the context of the state’s new Ministry of Truth – eh, I mean….. misinformation and disinformation commission:

A group tasked with fighting misinformation and disinformation has been set up by the Government in a bid to reduce the spread of false and harmful material.

The working group will meet this week and will develop the National Counter Disinformation Strategy by the end of the year.

While the group is not the Government’s direct response to recent anti-immigration protests and the spread of anti-immigration sentiments online, it is a part of a state strategy to combat false information as a whole.

The strategy will examine evolving threats, types of misinformation and disinformation, and consider how they can be targeted.

The Government, obviously, cannot be trusted to decide what is, and is not, misinformation and disinformation. That is not, actually, a comment on the people who make up the Government. It is a comment on the vested interest that any Government in a democracy has in shaping the public’s perception of the facts. When the Government spends your money to try and shape your views to match theirs, then there is no point in mincing our words, for that is almost the literal definition of propaganda.

But unfortunately, those of us who oppose the Government spending money on propaganda are unlikely to prevail.

The reason that we are unlikely to prevail has its roots in Conor’s article above: The existence of a dominant consensus view about the world amongst the people who make decisions in Ireland. Not only the Government, but the top civil servants. Not only the journalists and NGOs, but the academic class. To these people, there simply is no reasonable or logical argument to be made against their views on immigration, crime and punishment, Covid-19, transgender rights, or a hundred other things. The consensus is so strong, and so impermeable, that disagreement must mean, de facto, that you have been misinformed. There is, literally, no other possible reason that they can imagine for why you might disagree with them.

The American Political Consultant, Karl Rove, used to say of the American Democratic Party (whose views are widely shared in Ireland) that when they lost, they would always resort to the comforting lie that it was “because we didn’t get our message out”.

No, retorted Rove: You did get your message out. It’s just that people did not agree with it.

We can see that pattern here: Amid slipping support for the Government’s approach to the culture in Ireland, adapting that approach is unthinkable. The only permissible solution is to shout louder and louder a message that people are increasingly rejecting. And to denounce, in ever more strident terms, those who differ as literal thought criminals, spreading their lies and their misinformation and their general villainy. This is how those who rule us now think.

The fascinating thing about it all is how incapable they seem to be of understanding how insulting and high-handed it all comes across as: If you do not agree with us, then you have been misinformed. Fooled. Hoodwinked. By bad actors on the internet – probably people like Conor Fitzgerald or yours truly.

It doesn’t really matter how much money you spend, if the objective of your spending is to tell people that their misgivings about your policy are only because you are too foolish to know the truth about it. Calling people stupid – even if only by implication – is unpersuasive.

The problem for Government here is that Conor is right – the consensus is shifting. And it is shifting against the worldview of the people who run Ireland. They believe that this shift can be halted by simply shouting their opinions louder. And they believe this in a country where their opinions already dominate the media.

It will not work. When people disagree with your policy, you have two choices: Change the policy, or, ultimately, lose the support of the people. The Government will eventually come to terms with that, but not before they’ve raged against you for another while yet.

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