The Modern Manipulation of Facts – Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt Discusses the phenomena of the modern form of lying in section IV of her work titled Truth in Politics. Throughout this post, I will discuss the difference between what she calls “the modern manipulation of fact” (308) and the “traditional lie” in politics. Furthermore, I will delve deeper into the consequences of this model of the modern lie as well if Arendt’s description of this form of lying is relevant to the present political situation and sphere of post-truth politics.

    In section IV of “truth and politics,” Arendt delves further into the different forms of lying. The first form of lying is what she refers to as the “modern manipulation of facts”. With the modern manipulation of facts or modern form of lying we are presented with the following: firstly, the modern manipulation facts which we may also call “organizes lying” (308), takes place in the public realm, it is driven by large scale groups such as in totalitarian regimes where there is an immense amount of ideological brainwashing, media which is controlled by a centralized government who possess the capability to then re-write history such as in totalitarian regimes. Although the organized lying which Arendt is focusing on might be very similar to those which took place pre-war, it is the years post the war in places where there is a democracy that she is focusing on. According to Arendt, in the democratic world and society there is a trend or lean to make obscure to us what the concrete division between what is opinion and what is fact, thus making it to be unknown to us. (309)

    When dealing with organized lying or the modern manipulation of facts, the facts which are being altered or re-written are facts that are known to the public and in the public sphere. Traditional lies deal with only particulars and individuals, meaning that the intention is not to deceive everyone as with organized lying but rather to deceive a particular, or a specific enemy. With traditional lies, there is no intention to change the actual context but rather, “tears, as it were, a hole in the fabric of factuality.”(308) As opposed to the modern form organized lying which gives us a different picture of reality. One that is completely falsified successfully by means of combining, organizing, and harmonizing lies in a way that they become consistent and seamless in creating a new reality and context.

    The final difference between traditional lies and modern manipulation of facts deals with what she calls deception and self-deception. Deception takes place within traditional lies, those in the political realm such as diplomats or statesmen are conscious and aware of their own lies, meaning that when they attempt to deceive, they are not lying to themselves in the process. They are aware of their lies and thus do not believe them themselves. On the other hand, modern organized lying is, in essence, a form of manipulation that works on the level of self-deception. These lies are believed by both the ones creating the lies as well as those hearing and consuming those lies. Both the deceivers and the public is deceived in believing a completely new context and reality. According to Arendt, this is in a sense a form of image-making (308) where there is a creation of an image of reality which then by course becomes a full-blown and complete substitution of reality. Furthermore, these images can be simply explained and made in a way that they are easily believed and plausible by those being deceived, but they do not provide the assurance, strength and durability that factual truth does since it provides a stable ground to exist where lies provide none, they are simply imagined. (310)

    The consequences of this modern manipulation of facts deal mainly with the state of “completeness and potential finality”(308). This is due to the danger which is accompanied with organized lying as it holds an extremely polarizing effect. Organized lying leads to intense internal conflicts, since once you have this type of large scale lying that involves strong self-deception, then both those which produce the image aka the deceivers, and those who believe the lies/image aka the deceived group, have an extremely strong interest to preserve it and turn against those who speak the truth and not this substituted version that reality has become. The interest shifts to maintaining this propaganda image, due to the ones telling lies completely lose sight of what is the truth and what is reality consequently making it final and so it will be ever more difficult to find those who may be able to say what is really the truth. People who question this view on reality quickly become the enemy, It is those who speak on actual facts and events which either contradict, show otherwise or “do not the fit the image”(309) which are the real enemies to organized lying, the state, as well as to self-deception. What was once an aim at the opponents of leaders, turns into the reality of people who were deceived by these lies, their very own leaders and thus become consumed by them and no longer see truth. (309)

It is my belief that this phenomenon of organized lying as of 1969 is relevant to the current political situation of post-truth politics. We currently live in the age of social media, one of the most influential platforms in history. It can become, and potentially has already become a platform where organized lying may flourish, where “fake news” spreads like wildfire, and those who ingest it without questioning it perpetuate it by sharing it. The fact that people still actively deny the holocaust and try to rewrite history is proof in itself that this action of lying still attempts and acts in the world to intervene with reality. New technological tools and platforms such as social media are in my opinion, a more sophisticated, quick, and dangerous form of media that allows the spreading of large scale lies. Those who not only participate in this form of organized lying but those who initiate it might look at social media as the ultimate paradise for their form of lying and strategy to work at its ultimate capacity. Firstly due to the enormous scale of information being exchanged, secondly to the masses it reaches and thirdly to the blind acceptance that many on platforms such as Facebook, twitter and so on tend to believe without hesitation or question as if it being written makes it so. Besides this, networks such as twitter allow for those in the political realm such as Donald Trump to voice falsehoods masked as opinion at the click of a button and reach millions upon millions of people, it is an action, it affects people, and people act in effect to what these leaders say, believe them and in turn spread these falsehoods. It is now with minimum effort that making opinions into facts, and spreading propaganda is, dare I say, all that much more common and dangerous in our current state of affairs, the pandemic, and post-truth politics world.

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