Guardian

Lies, Big Lies and Comment is Free


The concept of the Big Lie is nihilistic. Formulated and first set out by Hitler in Mein Kampf in 1925 it is a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. Thus Hitler set out that there was no objective truth, that repeating the Big Lie would establish the truth as set out by him.

This sort of moral relativism which fostered Big Lie-type thinking styles which in turn led to the Jewish genocide is alive and well in the world today. We seem to have learned nothing from the consequences of of the Nazis’ egregious behaviour.

Indeed, so entrenched is the Big Lie philosophy in the blogosphere that even intelligent people are unaware that they are being manipulated by it. Nowhere is there a better exemple of the blurred distinction between truth and outright falsehood, between objective reality and opinion expressed as fact, than in the Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free (CiF).

Big Lies abound on CiF, aided and abetted by the philosophy of its editorial team and their writers. A vital aspect of the effectiveness of the Big Lie is its perpetuation by regular repetition. The reiterative posting of the same lies on CiF makes one suspect that they are all gathered from the same source – the intellectually challenged who post them even use identical or similar phraseology again and again and again.

The first and most obvious Big Lie which CiF promulgates is that Palestinians are the only victims in the Middle East. True, the unremarkable Seth Freedman wrote one article about Sderot in 2008 (and Sderot has been under almost daily rocket fire since but he has not written about Sderot since), but instead of concentrating upon the psychological and other trauma of the residents who were under almost continuous rocket fire, we were presented with criticism of the Israeli government for failing to take adequate care of them.

Elsewhere on CiF readers are continually treated to variations on the Big Lie theme about alleged ill-treatment of Palestinians by Israel: that Gaza is variously being strangled or being starved, or is the object of systematic genocide.

It matters little to those who persist in this vein that the population of Gaza is growing, or that reliable evidence is posted that Hamas confiscates the aid provided free to its people and sells it back to them at extortionate prices.

The most intractable aspect of the psyches of the Big Liars on CiF is their imperviousness to reasoned argument. Time and time again responding posters provide evidence of Israel’s help to the Palestinians in Gaza, of Hamas’ brutality towards its own people – pace its treatment of Fatah before Hamas came into power and after Cast Lead, as well as the stealing of aid for its people which I have already mentioned.

However, so uncomfortable are the CiF Israel haters made by such disclosure that they entrench ever more deeply into their distorted views.

One explanation for such an ingrained belief in lies – big or otherwise – even where there is evidence to prove them to be what they are – may be that this is a defence against cognitive dissonance.

Leon Festinger (1954) described this as “the feeling of psychological discomfort produced by the combined presence of two thoughts that do not follow from one another.”

Festinger (1954), and Harmon-Jones & Mills, (1999) argued that the desire to reduce cognitive dissonance is greater in people who are made most uncomfortable by the contradictory thoughts they hold. This is often evident in the comments made to articles on CIF.

The theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that if people feel pressured to act in ways contradictory to their beliefs, then they will tend to change their beliefs to make these more consonant with their actions (or vice-versa).
We have seen that the anti-Israel posters on CiF hunt in packs, reiterate the same terminology and faulty reasoning in their attacks on Israel’s people and policies. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that they feel pressured to follow the herd mindlessly in this manner.

The very rigidity and imperviousness of their beliefs, and their implacable opposition to the opposing arguments as expressed on CiF, may indicate that at some unconscious level these posters are nervous about them, that they cause emotional discomfort and even that they cause the Israel-haters to waver in their beliefs.

The dissonance becomes plain and worsens when these posters are confronted by facts which refute their rigidly held views – that the alleged deliberate bombing of the UN school in Gaza was a lie, that Hamas itself steals food from the mouths of its own people (and therefore that it, rather than Israel, is responsible for any starvation that might ensue); that it behaves barbarously towards its own people by killing and torturing them in front of their own families.

This dissonance is further exacerbated by carefully-constructed opposing arguments and, as the dissonance increases, we can see that the posters become more and more uncomfortable (because in spite of their furious disagreement with them, those opposing arguments actually register) and they post more contributions in quicker and quicker succession as if to overwhelm with volume of words what they cannot carry by dint of reasoned argument.

Such people seem to have no means to soothe themselves. They have lost all contact with reality: for them, CiF is no longer merely a blog, these are no longer mere words – rather, each measured disagreement with their arguments, carefully crafted and backed up by evidence, is construed as a personalised attack.

Of course, incensed anti-Israel posters are nothing new and indeed CiF relies upon them for ‘hits’. The sting in the tail, however, is that the arguments, the Big Lies, continue to be repeated until they become common currency and accepted as truths if they fall upon receptive ground.

We have seen variations of this effect in the increasing acceptability of Jew-hating discourse on CiF and the minimising of antisemitism there.

What to do? Careful, reasoned fact-based argument works – we see it daily in the obvious discomfiture of the CiF posters whose arguments are emotion-based rather than fact-based and are countered accordingly. It is possible to undermine the equilibrium of such people. Of course, CiF stacks the cards heavily against reasoned argument or the right to reply to the more off-the-wall examples of hatred – but that need not put us off.

We none of us know the far-reaching effects of what we may write. A casual surfer, not filled with hatred or otherwise compromised by the emotional rollercoaster of defending against cognitive dissonance, may happen on what we write and be encouraged to learn more about both sides of the argument – rather than only one.

In this way, albeit slowly, we may impact on closed minds.

19 replies »

  1. Interesting article Medusa. As I read your comments I recognise the kind of posters characterised by you. There is one in particular who clings as to a life-raft to the mantra that Hamas has moderated its stance to the extent that it has published a new Charter. All requests for a location are fruitless and ignored and the poster returns to his theme as a dog to his vomit (a purposely sickening image).

  2. An interesting and thought-provoking take on what might be going on at CiF, Medusa.

    And I think you are right – once CiF gets the “Israel is evil” bit between its teeth then there seems to be no stopping it. It will bend and twist and delete posts to make it seem that the majority people are agreeing, below the line, with the most outrageous nonsense published above the line – Seth Freedman’s articles are a case in point.

    I like that you have highlighted the notion of the Big Lie and have explained how CiF uses it. It is high time someone did. I know that another article here mentioned the Aftonbladet’s variation of that in its 21st century blood libel.

    Israel/Jew hating CiF takes advantage of the intellectually challenged below the line – ie those who lack the facility to think critically about what they are reading – by presenting authors’ opinions about Israel as if they were facts. Of course said intellectually challenged can’t tell the difference but then again, from what I have read of CiF very few authors there seem to be aware of the difference between fact and opinion anyway. The obvious animus above the line feeds the hatred below it.

    Israel is all grown up and has defended herself against worse enemies, but it is disturbing to me how quickly criticism of Israel at CiF (and it is rarely reasonable and often seems to be a reinvention of the wheel) descends into hatred of Jews which, as per the Freedman article about the Aftonbladet blood libel, is quickly minimised – “the Jews are making a fuss again.”

    So thank you for writing this. It needs to be spelled out. Perhaps finally scales will begin to fall from eyes.

  3. What gives you the right Medusa to make judgements about CiF? It’s a very popular blog and many people all over the world think so.

    So what if it seems a bit preoccupied with Palestine/Israel.

    Somebody should.

  4. Hi, Sceptic

    Firstly, just because a blog is popular and many people all over the world read it does not necessarily make it correct in everything it prints, does it?

    And if you count up the numbers of threads devoted to Israel/Palestine over any one month, I think you will realise that “a bit preoccupied” doesn’t even begin to describe its fixation with the I/P conflict – indeed, “a bit preoccupied” is the understatement of 2009.

  5. If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

    Indeed, at one time “everybody knew” the earth was flat, blacks were intellectually inferior, and Jews were self-centred and greedy.

    The ultimate example, of course, is that at one time millions of Germans were convinced the Jews were vermin.

    Sometimes the truth has been inversely proportional to the number of people believing a claim.

  6. In our post-modern world, every one has his own truth. Your version of it is no more correct than of others. By that reasoning, who is to say Aftonbladet is wrong? After all, it depends on one’s perspective. Only if one believes in objective truth or in the existence of universals, can one say the Swedish newspaper is wrong, period.

  7. NormanF you may have a point, but you are stretching that when you suggest that Aftonbladet may be right “in our postmodern world.” It is presenting opinions which are likely to increase Jew hatred as facts which it admits it cannot prove. And is it really a valid “perspective” to say that something criminal happened when there is no objective proof that it did?

  8. No, NormanF, there is no such thing as “your truth” or “my truth”, only “your view of the truth”. Truth IS absolute, though often difficult to define. The opinion of a person who has examined a subject IS more valuable than that of one who has not. Equally, an objective opinion IS more valuable than a subjective one and deserves more kudos. An intelligent observer is certainly entitled to judge Aftonbladet to be wrong, especially if he/she has looked for evidence [and found none] and the writer in Aftonbladet can cite none.

  9. This applies to all major news outlets including the dispicable CBC in Canada, almost all of their broadcasts include a story about Israeli perfidy and Arab victimhood (Phonystinian) . I have not heard trugth in any of their broadcasts for about 15 years now.

  10. There is certainly, on CiF, an anti-Israel mob mentality which is indistinguishable from classic antisemitism. There are at least a dozen regular posters who have been around on the Guardian long before Comment is Free, on Guardian Talk, where Israel is always the favourite whipping boy, along with America. It’s been the same since the early days of the Usenet newsgroups where debating was drowned out by spamming and copy-pasting of texts full of racism and propaganda.

    I suspect many of the worst perpetrators have little to do all day except voice their frustrations with the ‘shitty little state of Israel’ which is the source of all their daily ills – lack of career, friends, money, looks – you name it. Paranoid and full of self-hate, their condition is beyond treatment. Maybe CiF affords them a little release, or maybe it becomes like a drug they can’t give up.

    The other side of the coin is that one sees a number of intelligent pro-Israel posters spending an inordinate amount of time ( yours truly included ; ) trying to counter some of the propaganda and make a case to more fair minded readers. I’ve come to realize that it’s simply not worth the effort, most of the time. The best strategy is to mock them occasionally and leave them to wallow in their slime. Starved of feedback, they will look stupid and slink away in shame.

    Well done for starting CiF Watch! Here at least, the moderators are on our side.

  11. Micha

    Thanks. I too have watched with admiration the pro-Israel posts on CIF – peopkle like AKUS and MoveAnyMountain but there are plenty more. You have to admire their knowledge not to mention their patience!

    Petra Marquart-Bigman is a special hero(ine).

    We will always consider guest posts if you feel moved and if you see something on CIF that we should be writing about please let us know. The more CIF Watchers the better.

    We too have concluded that the best strategy is to leave the idiots on CIF to it, most of the time – not least because of the appetite of the Mods there for deleting our posts while leaving the offending ones there.

    But sometimes what appears there cannot be left unrebutted.

  12. One of the many points that I have hammered at over there with regard to Sderot is to put it in the pespective that they use.
    Thousands of rockets directed at a small town that is more densely populated than Gaza.

    The other being that Jews and/or Israel did not stand in the way of an Arab country being established alonside Israel, something we well know yet it is totally swept aside.

    Yet the biggest lie that is put forward by the Guardian and the various coloumnists is that somehow it is up to Israel to solve “the problem”.
    If only Israel did this or that presto!!! problem solved.
    No Jews, No Israel, No problem.

  13. Micha, your reply is interesting, particularly in what you write about CiF haters:

    “…Paranoid and full of self-hate, their condition is beyond treatment. Maybe CiF affords them a little release, or maybe it becomes like a drug they can’t give up…”

    Medusa, I believe that this, rather than an attempt to achieve cognitive consonance, is what keeps the haters beating on the same old drum.

    The rush of emotion from extreme mindless hatred can be very like the rush from a drug. There may often be a sexual element in it or it may be a substitute for sex. Both are self-reinforcing.

    The sort of hatred evidenced from what these people write may, I believe, be the main aspect of their lives which makes them feel alive (like you, I believe that the majority of the hate-filled contributors have little to do all day. Such people also often have a unreasonable dread of being bored).

    Some may even believe (and this is evidence of real craziness) that they are performing a service for mankind, but no, the main function of this hatred of Israel/Jews may well be to stop them from feeling dead inside.

    If I am right, what sort of sorry individuals feel well and truly alive only when they hate? And what sort of organisation takes advantage of that twisted mentality?

  14. Yvonne, thanks for your interesting input. Your hypothesis (and that of Micha) that the Israel/Jew hatred on CiF is to stave off the feeling of deadness from boredom, and that it is addictive, may well be valid.

    It’d be interesting to test it out, but how?

  15. Micha – re: ’shitty little state of Israel’ –

    AKUS has several times noted that one of the things that seems to get the anti-Israeli mob really upset is israel’s size. When its a big country – the US, China, Russia – they shrug their shoulders and agree there’s nothing to do about something they object to. But when its a ’shitty little state of Israel’ they are furious that it insists on doing what it thinks is in its own interest.

    It feeds off the idea of the world-wide Jewish conspiracy. The only way “they can get away with it” is because Jews control Congress, the money, the press, the Internet (the endless references to GIYUS), etc. etc. Rather than accept that Israel is involved in a deadly and aily duel with those who wish to at the very least kill as many Israelis as possible, if not destroy the country, they seek out reasons that go back to old anti-Semitic stereotypes and, recenly, blood libels.

    I think this obsession with Israel’s small size and its apparent “ability” to thumb its nose at world opinion may be due to a problem in their childhood, where abusive parents forced them to obey “big people”, and they have grown up assuming that “little people” or “little countries” must obey their parents or the big countries.

    An example of this by an contributor (an Israeli, no less!!) was on the Gordon boycott thread, where he clearly stated that he dislikes China’s polices but they are too big for a boycott to be effective – however, with Israel, he believes its small size makes it an ideal target.

  16. John Brown, thanks for your input.

    re: Israel’s tiny size, yes this adds to the cognitive dissonance of the Arab nations who believe that, being the chosen of Allah, they should have been able to wipe it out before now. The dissonance occurs because of their over-simplistic and linear thinking, along the lines of:

    “Israel is small and puny therefore the might of Islam will easy vanquish her” (Note the “big talk” and the certainty here, and see my reference to “comical Ali” below)

    and when it hasn’t:

    “The nefarious Zionist entity must have some secret which helps them triumph against us”

    and then the whole “Hidden Hand” conspiracy theory lunacy kicks off because, after, all Allah would never let his beloved be triumphed over by infidel Jews, would he?

    The Arabs are the chosen of Allah therefore they believe they cannot lose. Nevertheless they have and more than once. Therefore “something else” (not their lack of intelligence, might, foresight, impulse control, their inability to collaborate even with each other, or anything else real and testable) must be in play against them. Enter stage left the USA and anything else you might think of, including GIYUS, which is the last resort of the CiF haters when they are bested by reasoned argument.

    As regards the possible childhood origins of this, you may be right, but I believe that it’s far more likely to be rooted in other Arab/Muslim childhood upbringing practices. Arab children are often subjected to corporal punishment and are kept in their places by being shamed if they do anything wrong. Arab cultures are shame and honour based.

    Children reared in these circumstances tend to be terrified of being shown to be wrong or of being shamed in public. As adults they tend to be rigid thinkers who are controlling and defending always against shame, and they can never, ever admit even the possibility that they may be wrong, even to themselves. The mere existence of Israel, in spite of their alleged superiority, shames them, and they may defend against the shame by making outrageous claims.

    A prime example of such a mindset (and of the “big talk” syndrome by which the users of it invariably succeed in fooling themselves so as to defend against cognitive dissonance and shame) was that of Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf (aka “comical Ali”) during the Iraq war:

    Al-Sahhaf saved his best performance for the moment American tanks rolled into Baghdad.

    “There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad,” he declared to journalists on the roof of the Palestine Hotel as gunfire echoed across the city and tanks fired from the banks of the Tigris just a few hundred yards away.

    As the audience of bemused reporters pointed out the fierce firefight across the river, he continued: “There is no presence of the American columns in the city of Baghdad at all. We besieged them and we killed most of them.”

    “Today, the tide has turned,” he continued confidently. “We are destroying them.”

    And after an American tank shell hit the hotel, killing two cameramen, he moved to reassure the world’s press corps. “We are not afraid,” he proclaimed, adding paternally “And don’t you be afraid”.

    Asked on Tuesday whether Iraqi soldiers should surrender, he said: “They [the Americans] are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.”

    see also http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Sky-News-Archive/Article/20080641086736

  17. Medusa thanks for your very interesting article and for reminding us about “comical Ali”, who should have been awarded a Masters in Deluded Thinking for that performance.

    I think such people are stuck at about age three. A three-year-old has magical thinking and believes that just because it says something that it is true.