The Misinformation Hoax

A regime desperate for legitimacy destroys it instead.

Everything you are about to read is obvious. That it has to be spelled out is demonstrative of what’s going wrong with America today. 

When it dawned on America’s ruling faction that the digital technology they unleashed on us had risen to a level of dominance and control higher than their own, they were understandably upset. Nobody likes nasty surprises, especially embarrassing ones that take their legitimacy away. But the ruling faction is still unwilling to consider that the digital genie won’t go back in the bottle. Nothing they do can undo the reversal of fortune they brought upon themselves. Now, no single set of human ideas can be powerful enough to impose one unified thought system over all of digital technology. 

This is true at the global level, which is why autocracy and “authoritarianism” are on the rise in big countries with ancient civilizations. But it is especially true in America, where autocracy struggles to take hold because of the irreducible pluralism of our people and its reflection in our form of government. 

Unfortunately, over the last several generations of the pre-digital age, a form of autocracy did claim an important corner of our government. Since the Second World War, the development of technology in America was effectively captured by the military-industrial complex and the intelligence “community” (read: complex). With functionally infinite budgets and no oversight or outside restraint, our masters of militarized technology reorganized American ingenuity around the idea that engineers of sufficient virtue and power should preempt and insulate their actions from political decision-making. 

The initial populist reaction against this usurpation of power incompatible with our form of government came from the Left. The essence of ‘60s radicalism was horror and disgust toward the idea that the logic of instrumental power was fated and inescapable, making all complicit in its march toward the end of political agency. But as Thomas Pynchon among numerous others in the “counterculture” made painfully clear, the populist anti-establishment project rapidly failed as too many radicals were quickly compromised by the intoxicating sensation of absolute power, even at the smallest interpersonal levels. 

What emerged from this disillusioning disaster was a new countercultural ideal, one not of attacking power or escaping power but purifying it. The ultimate purpose of “the long march through the institutions” was to beat the global military-intelligence complex’s swords into plowshares that could redeem the world. Perhaps the uberwaffen of the Bomb was too difficult to discard and repurpose into safely ennobling technology (the logic that led to the highly successful anti-nuclear power movement); but surely the new wonder weapons of the computer and the internet could be turned to good, even utopian, effect. Engineers of sufficient virtue and power could triumph over the darkness and errancy of politics after all…

As the late twentieth century ran its course, the logical workings of the military-intelligence complex began to converge with those of the hippie-nerd complex that its institutional and budgetary sunlight made grow. The thesis and antithesis of global war and global peace yielded a remarkable synthesis, one in which sufficiently “ethical” scientists, engineers, and, increasingly, anyone with a semi-official certificate of expertise were considered ultimately entitled to advance and implement governance decisions without having to run them through the political process our form of government requires. “Politics” became understood as the system by which the powerful educated the people into their system of ethics. 

It became clear over the initial decades of the twenty-first century that the new “politics” required for its exercise a system of communications technology unprecedented in its robustness, its reach, and its instantaneousness. In a country of more than 300 million, where the population count was being juiced through a policy of mass immigration and the range of socioeconomic roles was being substantially reduced by postindustrialization, automation, and globalization, education became increasingly important, not simply as a necessity to ensure the people accepted the new regime, but as a deeper necessity to ensure the people had an eventually lifelong activity to fill their increasingly empty time.  

Foundational to the new politics of mass education into the ethics of established technological power was the “core value” of what we might call authoritarian egalitarianism. This is simply the practical recognition that the effectiveness and legitimacy of the new regime required virtually everyone to believe technological power was (and must be) applied equally by default and equitably where equality had yet to be established. This, in the new “politics”, was what would be meant by “democracy”, transforming the old radical saw of “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” into a sort of internalized compliance algorithm. 

Inevitably, the new politics required a new technological collectivization of consciousness, one that could out-compete efforts to the same effect implemented by the great communist rivals of the Old World. Inescapably, the emergent New World communism of “ethical technocracy” required that the collectivization of consciousness be conducted, internalized, and expressed as education. It would no longer be enough that schooling was expanded from infancy to middle age, or that the school system was progressively technologized, or that the content of schooling became ever more exclusively oriented around the ethics of wielding and distributing established technological power. 

It would not even be enough that the once narrow and amateurish field of teachers became the omnipresent and credentialized system of “educators”, or that more and more of what genuinely struck people as engagement in political activism was simply mimicking and distributing the educational tenets of Ethical Technocratic Thought. 

What would be required over and above all these things was the progressive transformation of the information industry itself into a leading branch of the “education” complex. “News” itself, had to smoothly accept, embody, and disseminate the new “politics”. Journalists had to become, and see themselves as, prestigious practitioners of the new political science of collective education into Ethical Technocratic Thought. 

So, more or less, has it come to pass—despite the colossal hiccup of the Trump administration, and despite the stubborn refusal, so far, of many millions of Americans to accept the new politics on issues ranging from public health to domestic surveillance. The new politics simply cannot function—the regime collapses—if too many people reject the education complex. 

Which is why the regime is obsessed today with “misinformation”, and why it is in a glaring state of discomfort and panic about the treacherous chore of having to define it and stamp it out. Day by day it is ever more centrally obvious to everyone, whatever their ideological bent, that the only information the regime treats as “misinformation” is information that seems likely to strengthen the ability of people who resist collective education into Ethical Technocratic Thought to parlay that resistance into a social restoration of the genuine political activity that sustains and preserves our foundational form of government. Any information that does not seem likely to have this effect, no matter how ludicrous or invidious, is spared the label of “misinformation”, and spared the swarm of “educational” antibodies sent out from the regime’s zillions of communications nodes to “correct” and assimilate. 

It is an open question how long even a regime as nominally powerful as today’s can continue this struggle without destroying the conceptual integrity of its own “ethical” framework. Stomach-tossing horrors like the sitting president’s canned slurs about threats to the regime without parallel since the Civil War lay bare the truth that the regime is actually so weak that it cannot achieve critical mass in sufficiently engineered collective consciousness without advancing what by its own bogus standards is patently “misinformation”. Apex-level institutional initiatives against “misinformation” led by establishment celebrities such as Katie Couric and “Prince” Harry underscore a shocking lack of genuinely authoritative and charismatic figures capable of even acting like “leaders”. The stamina of ventriloquist puppets like Anthony Fauci, who must turn on a dime at the speed of the “news cycle” to contradict yesterday’s official “information” with today’s, is visibly petering out. 

Faltering, now, is even the “nuclear option” claim that anyone who simply bears witness to the unfolding collapse of our regime and its logic is a “racist” or “extremist” or whatever term of abuse becomes official tomorrow. Our regime is hurtling toward the terminal “teaching” that people themselves are “misinformation” which must be effaced, by the ultimate “educators” of the military-intelligence complex themselves, from not only public but private life. 

It is obvious that this is all happening because it is obvious why it is happening. The ruling faction is destroying its own credibility in acting out its sincere belief that humanity’s “last, best hope on Earth” is their own ethical unification of coercive technology and utopian collectivism. Those who renounce this insane project may still find some measure of forgiveness or even respect. Those who do not face an unenviable fate. 

James Poulos (@jamespoulos) is Executive Editor of The American Mind. He is the author of The Art of Being Free (St. Martin's Press, 2017), contributing editor of American Affairs, and a fellow at the Center for the Study of Digital Life.