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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

The death of the truth (transcript)

Published December 3rd, 2016

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Howdy. Boy howdy. What howdy. Howdy doody. Hail up, hail up, hail up and greetings. A slightly congested Michael Phillips here, THIS IS NOT A TEST there, and in between – is you I guess. Stuck in the middle again, back on the chain gang, it’s morning in America and all that. Sure. Hmm. Well, whatever could we talk about today. I hate these slow news months. Nothing ever happens in November.

Well, okay, here comes the inevitable. But this is not about the presidential election, necessarily, or the president elect or the Alice Cooper song Elected. It isn’t about those things necessarily or specifically, but of course it is about them and everything around them, and this kind of governed world that we live in. It’s about who really governs, and as you might also suspect, there will be nothing new here. I won’t be able to tell you anything that someone else hasn’t probably already said somewhere at some time, probably very recently. But when I stand here in front of this microphone and push the red button on the recorder I have to say something, and it seems like it would be silly to talk about anything else today.

A lot of people, half the people in the country, apparently, are at a loss to explain how someone like Donald Trump could be elected president. I was one of those people who thought that his many obvious failings as a man – his pettiness, thin skin, braggadocios egomania and general troll-clown persona – would prevent him from being elected. But I really should have seen it coming. We all should have seen it coming. A lot of people feel disenfranchised. So much so that they are willing to overlook, or even embrace, all of Trumps many flaws. But that feeling of disenfranchisement was fueled and amplified by a lot of other things, things that have been done over time and very purposefully by those on the right side of the political spectrum. The real story here is the death of the truth, and we should probably talk about how it died. We can start and end with the truth, because its death is what set the stage for Trump’s election.

The truth is everywhere, or it used to be. The absence of truth is now everywhere, and where you most see or notice the horrible effect of the absence of truth is in politics, and the political system. Not just here in the United States, but this is where I live, so this is what I know, so yep. I’ve never cared much for politics or politicians, the idea of holding any of them in very high esteem seems insane to me. But politics is all wound up in the lives of people, and I am interested in people, so I suppose I am interested in politics. As far as that goes. If we’re reaching for connecting straws, as we usually are here. If I may mash up two phrases.

But the truth – well, we used to know truth. We haven’t always known it. As a species, or as a society. When the church ran things in Europe, scientists and explorers and inventors were thrown into dungeons if they said or wrote or did things that went against the teachings of the church. The church was the powers that be, you dig, and they used that power to keep people from straying too far from the party line. The church was the first killer of truth, because when you suppress or work against knowledge and progress, you’re fighting the truth. When your aim is to keep people ignorant so they will continue to hand their money or livestock or land over to you, you’re on the side of darkness. Using darkness to your advantage. And it’s no coincidence that the bible was written during a period that came to be known as the dark ages.

But then, you know, some people realized that there was something other than the darkness, so there was a movement in the 1600s and 1700s, an intellectual movement, one that said, hey, you know, what about reason? What if instead of accepting the church as the great societal authority, we instead choose reason. And while we’re at it, how about we separate church and the state, or the governing families or what have you. That movement was called The Enlightenment, and it was a turning point for big chunks of the world, of the Western world or whatever we’re calling it. And when those nuts came here to America, some of them brought those Enlightenment ideas with them, and wrote things like, hmm, what were they again? Oh yeah, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Now if you run around waving the American flag, I’m going to assume you dig the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. That’s what that flag stands for, right? The flag stand for intellectual reason. For the separation of church and state. For human rights. Okay, well, it’s never really stood for human rights, it’s stood for the rights of wealthy white men, but let’s assume for a minute that you’re one of those white men, maybe not wealthy, probably not wealthy, but you’re waving the flag. I just want to be clear what that means, and what it means to be patriotic and love your country. It means loving the founding principles, doesn’t it? The principles of the Enlightenment. This country wouldn’t exist without them.

Okay, good. We’re on the same page. It’s important to find common ground in a discussion like this. It used to be in vogue to question authority. To question everything. And one of the great tricks that has been played in the last few decades in America is getting people to believe that they are questioning authority by supporting an even more repressive and destructive authority. And the main weapon in that trick has been the killing of truth. So how do you kill the truth? How do you go about killing facts and turning reason on its head?

Well, to start we have to understand or realize or accept the idea that 99% of the killing was done by corporations and corporate interests propping up politicians who are sympathetic to their goals. I know that sounds wacky already right? The “evil corporations,” but bear with me. There’s a clear line from here to there. The politicians are sympathetic to the goals of corporations because they benefit directly when the corporations profit. And for a lot of corporations to profit, they have to do things that are not exactly in the interests of people or the environment that people all have to live in. So the first thing that has to be done is they have to convince you that taking corporations to task or questioning their motives or actions is stupid.

You do that by mocking anyone who questions the corporate interests. You ridicule and demonize anyone who talks about “evil corporations,” right? Right. People who are anti-corporate can be a little…enthusiastic in their criticism. Maybe even a little misguided. So there’s an easy angle or tactic to deflect from the truth: using those kinds of people’s hyperbole against them. A lot of things corporations do are evil, we’ve seen clear evidence of that for 100 years. Go Google “robber barons.” But if you get too wound up talking about the “evil corporations,” you can sound a little crazy. a little paranoid.

So it’s easy for the corporations and the whole world that’s been constructed around them, that’s propping them up, to say, “Yeah, right, the evil corporations! Sure. Ooh, we’re so evil! Come on. Look at these puppies! And we paid for the water for that 5k Breast cancer awareness Consciousness Raising fun run. We’re obviously not evil.” And the next thing you know, your rational argument that leads to the inevitable conclusion that most corporations are evil has been defused forever because the extremists who also champion the idea have opened themselves up to ridicule. Now your rational argument is defused, defanged and discarded, and now you have to start over.

So you’re already at a disadvantage when you want to get to the truth about the corporate and political world. You already have one hand tied behind your back. But that’s probably not enough to really turn the tide toward corporate interests, so they came up with a bunch of other methods, and when you pile all of these methods on top of each other you get to where we are today. Where the people who are really suffering because of the actions of the large corporations are actively arguing that those corporations should be given even more power.

Well, strictly speaking, corporations and politicians didn’t come up with these methods and tactics. Their use of “up is down,” “right is wrong,” “freedom is slavery,” that kind of mindfuck thing has been used by people to control groups of people probably since the dawn of time. You can look around now and in the 20th century and see these tactics played out in exactly the same way and to exactly the same end by cults. A group like Scientology or The Unification Church, The Children of God, The People’s Temple, Heaven’s Gate, Branch Davidians – all of those groups use the same methods to get people to act against their own best interest while they sincerely believe that they’re saving the world.

But as far as what we’re talking about, politics and corporate interests and all that, those tactics have been wrapped up in what’s known as the culture wars, which we’ve talked about here before. Like, you know, just last month. But let’s talk about how you make a culture war – which is really nothing more than a war on the truth – let’s talk about how you make that work. And by the way, you might think these tactics require a great deal of nuance or clever disguise – they don’t. You can carry them out quite blatantly and boldly. In fact it’s probably better that way. You’re going to think, “Oh no, this is too obvious!” but it’s not. Just keep going. And you don’t have to do these in any particular order, murder is murder.

Okay, so the first thing you’ll want to do is villainize science and scientists. You’ll want to call everything they do or say into question. The bible is a handy tool here, since it’s a book, or a collection of books written by a bunch of people in the dark ages who didn’t know shit about science, so it’s chock full of what they present as “true events,” all of which contradict science, biology, and the entire world as we know it. I mean it’s right there in black and white, the plain and obvious fact that the earth was created 4 or 6 or 10,000 years ago. You know, one of those numbers. That’s obviously and undeniably true if you believe the bible is wise and holy and all-knowing.

So any scientist who claims the earth is four and a half billion years old is clearly insane, right? If not insane, an enemy of religion. And that’s the important thing here, and it’s the thread that goes through all of these. In addition to villainizing these people or institutions, we’re going to conveniently, at the same time, cast them as enemies of religion. Or more precisely, enemies of Christianity, since everyone knows that’s the only real religion. So yeah, just assume from now on that the side effect of all of these attacks on truth is that there’s also an added threat to Christianity built in to them.

Science, yeah, what a load of shit, right? Obviously God created the stars so you’d have something to look at at night. A 12 day old human fetus isn’t just a bunch of cells, it’s a living person with a soul! Carbon dating is only a theory. Evolution is only a theory. They are only theories so you are free to discount them, throw them out with the trash where they belong, because they disagree with your bible and your good, heartland, working class American common sense. Now what science means when it says “theory” isn’t that the subject is theoretical. When science says something is theory they mean it’s a tested and confirmed explanation of some thing or concept. In fact it’s been tested many times by different scientists, and they’ve all come to the conclusion that the idea is true.

Ah, truth. Well, fuck the scientists anyway, because evolution is only a theory. Global warming is only a theory. And anyway, this scientist here, quoted in this article printed by some right wing joint that no one outside of the Nazi party or Rush Limbaugh’s target audience has ever heard of, this article by this scientist says all the other scientists in the world and throughout history are wrong. Which leads us to another side effect of this war on the truth, and that’s that it has been going on for so long now, decades, that people who were indoctrinated at an early age have now had time to go to college and get degrees. But of course their deeply held beliefs are in opposition to all the science and truth they were bombarded with in college, so now they are doctors and scientists and they’re out there saying, wait a minute, all this other science – I don’t agree with it.

So that’s how you discredit science, you get other freshly-minted scientists to disagree with it, or you just say that none of this science means anything, and you’re free to disagree with it. In fact, if you love Jesus and hate the elites, you’d better disagree with it. You might ask yourself though, who works against science? Why would someone or some organization actively try to convince large numbers of people that science is all worthless and maybe even a fraud purposely forwarded by liberals and intellectuals and the elite? Well, that would be anyone who is profiting from something that is detrimental to people or the world people live in. Like oil fracking or coal burning or dumping factory chemicals into a river, or any of the other thousand things that contribute to creating a wonderful toxic soup like those they currently enjoy in China and India.

If you profit from an industry that contributes to that, obviously regulations that are in place to protect everyone’s health are not good for you. So you want to weaken those or eliminate them completely and replace them with something that says you can dump all the god damned sludge you want into the Allegheny river because that’s progress and that’s business which is good for the economy and jobs and flags and all that. Well you can’t do any of that if those pesky scientists and their scientific facts are standing in your way. Just discredit those scientists and getting what you want will be like shooting fish in a barrel. Politicians can make whatever laws they want to favor you and the people will applaud.

The rest of the things we want to villainize all fall in to the same basic template that we just talked about. So when we want to discredit higher learning or knowledge or philosophy, we simply discredit and villainize intellectualism. It hurts my corporation to have all these studies done that work against us and all of these policy papers and think tanks and assorted propeller heads telling the world we stink, so let’s knock the legs out from under them. Sneer when you say “intellectual,” like it hurts coming out of your mouth. Like it’s something to be mocked and scorned and have shit thrown at it. Shit that you’ll be able to pick up from the open trench running in front of your house when you’ve successfully killed all the truth.

Create resentment against intellectuals. Look at them there in their ivory towers and expensive east coast liberal colleges. You can’t afford that, you can’t send your kids there. They think they are better than you, they are elitists. How does that make you feel? You want to be on their side? They say oil fracking is dangerous and wasteful and unnecessary, do you believe that? Of course you don’t, because they are intellectuals! Burn the witch.

And speaking of ivory towers, let’s kill education while we’re at it. All the way down to kindergarten or preschool let’s kill it. Let’s burn it to the ground like a harvested field so we can grow something wonderful in its place. We’ll use something like, hmm, I know: school vouchers, which make it possible for you to take your kids out of those ungodly public schools run by the liberal elites in the government that you didn’t elect who think they know how to parent better than you do. Let’s get them out of that horrible environment and put them into good, neighborhood Christian schools, run by people we know, friends and neighbors and people from our church who aren’t going to fill the children’s heads with a load of liberal nonsense.

The answer to the question of who works against education should be pretty obvious. The same corporate and political interests who work against science. And for the same reason. Ignorance is a wonderful thing to have in a populace that you want to manipulate. It’s really difficult to manipulate a lot of those educated types. They always want proof of things and explanations that would make us uncomfortable. It’s a lot easier to convince someone who is uneducated or who has been brought up in a religious education system that taught them to accept things without question. It’s a lot easier to convince them to cut their own throats. They’ll smile and thank you for handing them the knife.

Once you’ve killed science and intellectualism and education there’s only one thing left to conquer in your quest to put the truth to death, and that is the free press, and by extension, free speech itself. Killing the free press may be the easiest of all of these little deaths. It’s easy to convince people that the press is corrupt, and that they can’t trust the press, because “the press” often disagrees with the agenda that the corporations and corporate politicians want to advance. Never mind that half the press, and maybe more than half of the television “press” come down firmly on the right wing, politically. It’s that other press we’re talking about. The left wing liberal media. Those shitholes like the New York Times and CNN. They cannot be trusted. The liberal media, the liberal media, the liberal media.

They’ve been chanting that for decades, the liberal media, and you just saw the end game of that murder of the truth when Trump was elected. Someone who has been more over the top anti-media than anyone who’s ever run for national office. When the polls disagreed with the story he wanted to advance, they were just more liberal media lies. When all the polls disagreed with his message, all the media was thrown into the same dumpster. They were all worthless, corrupt, rigged, full of shit, or the ultimate Trump insult, unsuccessful. Or Failing. That’s the worst thing on earth in Trump’s eyes, so when he calls you unsuccessful, to him that’s the ultimate putdown. The greatest page of the Trump burn book.

But it’s been decades of people with a little more restraint and a few more brain cells than Trump – but not many more – it’s been decades of those people setting the stage for Trump. because without all of that groundwork being laid, Trump’s anti-press tirades would have been seen as the unhinged and insane babblings of a lunatic that they were. Or are. But no, the table had been set, so all he had to do was pull his chair up and start shitting onto all the plates and everyone just said, “He’s right!” Okay, not every paper or news outlet is a bastion of objectivity, truth and bipartisanism. Newspapers historically have been extremely partisan. But there is an underlying ideal at work at legitimate news organizations, a concept that is constantly in play, and that is: things have to be true. They have to be verifiable.

But what’s happened now is only those news sources that care about the truth actually take steps to insure they’re giving you the truth. Which leaves everyone else free to do and say whatever the hell they want. And the honest and reputable news organizations that oppose them, the organizations that they want to discredit, well they lose the fight because they’re the only ones bound by any ideals or messy inconveniences like facts and the truth. That disadvantage makes them easy targets. So there you go, viola! The death of the “liberal” media. Liberal meaning focused on fact and truth. And again, it’s the same crowd that wants to push the idea that no “mainstream,” “liberal” – in other words, honest – press can be trusted. That they should all be discounted and ignored. The same corporate and corporate-political interests.

If the CIA or British spooks or the Russians carried out an assault on the truth like we’ve seen here in America, but they did it in a small country somewhere, it would be called destabilization, an attempt to call the legitimacy of the government into question. But isn’t that what just happened? We’ve seen plenty of elections where a large group of people don’t like the results, and they grumble and protest and make noise for a while. Or until the next election. And each side slowly chips away at the things that are beloved by the other side. But we’ve never seen anything like this, where it looks like Trump is drafting an all-star Aryan Nation team that will have to look up words like “subtlety” and “finesse” in the dictionary so they can laugh at them. Well, people wanted someone who isn’t a politician, well, you got one. Now you’ve got to choke it down. Bon appetit.

While I’ve been pondering the shortcomings of our president-elect I’ve been thinking about our pal George W. Bush, and wondering if Trump is dumber than he is. I’m not sure, but it almost makes me think that we’ve survived this before. An idiot president. Though W. did have normal sized hands. But we haven’t survived this before. Trump is not just a dumber George Bush with smaller, tiny hands. W was a politician, from a political family. He may have been as stupid as a bag of cow shit, but he knew the rules of politics. That you don’t just stomp into the presidency like Godzilla, you use finesse and misdirection, and once in a while you even compromise, so that people don’t start calling you a dictator. The president-elect has no such knowledge and no such filters.

You may remember the half dozen times I’ve said here that Trump doesn’t have a chance in hell of being elected. Last time we were here together I might have said, “what’s really going to happen is Clinton will be elected President and you’ll wake up the day after she’s sworn in and it will be a day just like every other day. No one’s beliefs will be changed, the phony culture war will continue, in fact it will be invigorated by its loss, and the sun will set and rise again in the morning.”

The last part of that is still true, but I wonder if Trump’s election might hurt the culture wars. The false ideas they perpetuate really require an opposing power to lash out against. If Republicans control every part of the government, who do they blame for everything still being shit, or more accurately being worse shit, four years from now? That’s got to be weighing on the minds of the alt-right, AKA the neo-Nazis, who are otherwise as giddy as wedding night virgins right now. If they’re thinking this through they have to be worried about how they’re going to keep the message going. How they can continue to position themselves as victims while they’re dismantling the country.

It felt odd when Wolf Blitzer said that CNN was projecting Donald J. Trump as the winner of the presidential election, didn’t it? because that couldn’t happen. Not in a real and sane world. But there’s the rub, isn’t it, believing this is a real and sane world. That’s the first mistake. But I did walk around for a few days feeling like I was in someone else’s movie, and usually I’m walking around directing my own movie, like we all are, so it was disconcerting. Discombobulating. Disingenuous, disgusting. Dystopian. Dis-dis-dian.

What’s disappointing to me, but what I should have also seen coming, is everyone just talking about this as if it’s normal. Half the country is usually disappointed in the president anyway, so I guess we’re used to saying, “Well, I don’t like it, but it is what it is.” It is what it is. God, that’s an annoying and ridiculously overused phrase. Not to get too Internet-y on you, not to come off like a troll making a specious comparison, but that’s what most Germans thought in 1933 too. “Well, it is what it is. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Nothing we can do about it now anyway.” Yes, I know it may not make sense to compare Trump to Hitler – yet – but the national mind set is the same.

And you see the same thing in England, the way they talk about “Brexit.” They’ve normalized the racism and xenophobia behind a lot of the pro-exit types and have legitimate discussions around their ideas and feelings. Well, guess what, those ideas and feelings are wrong. Tough shit if you feel threatened by anyone with skin darker than yours – which for British people is everyone else on earth. Sorry you don’t like it, but that’s the world, mate. And you live in the world. Or do they? A lot of the Brexit and Trump voters – which are the same people, just in different countries – have invented a world in their heads that’s never existed, but they’re convinced they can “return” to it. And here we are.

But this isn’t really my America. And I don’t mean that in a secessionist kind of way, I mean I’ve never lived in Trump America. I grew up in Minnesota, which had a reputation as being progressive in the 60s and 70s, and I left there when I was young and moved to Southern California. So I’ve always lived in places that are known as being liberal, or whatever liberal used to mean. But my family was never well to do. My dad worked doing manual labor his entire life, he was a mechanic. He’s retired now and lives in Wisconsin, and he’s exactly the type of person who voted for Trump. Only I talked to him a few months ago and he said he thought Trump was an asshole and he wasn’t going to vote for an asshole. On the other hand I can imagine my mother and sisters and brother voting for Trump, but I don’t ask because I don’t want to know.

The point being, I have always lived in an America that was at least trying to be progressive and inclusive, even if it never really has achieved that, and I’ve always been sympathetic toward a Democratic party that I remember from ye olden days, one that was on the side of the worker and the people who didn’t have anything. But the right hasn’t just accused the left of being elitist, the left has actually become elitist. Democrats turned their backs on working people a long time ago in their quest to become more conservative and rope in more corporate dollars. So they fucked themselves and now they’re confused and angry, and they’re learning how half the country has felt ever since they’ve been abandoned by what used to be the Democratic party.

But I’m not an idiot. I mean, not as far as this is concerned. I’ve traveled around this country and this world, not as much as Miley Cyrus, but more than the average bear, and I know, and am friendly with people who have every kind of belief or political leaning you can name. So I know that the United States that I live in, the liberal, groovy one, is only one facet of the United States as a whole, as a thing. And obviously my United States, my America is at odds with the other America. But honestly, it’s always been that way, for me anyway, because I don’t tend to go with any majority. It’s a character flaw or some kind of mental illness I suppose.

So here we are in a country that we’re always told is horribly divided, but all you have to do is talk to someone who you disagree with on almost every political and social level and you find that ultimately everybody wants the same thing. It’s like the song says, “Nobody likes to ask for money, nobody likes to play the clown, nobody likes to wait in a long line, nobody likes to be pushed around, everybody wants their family protected, they want to express themselves, everybody wants to live forever…”

Ah well. La de da and whatnot. Now some people are agitating to lobby Republicans in the electoral college to flip and not vote in Trump. A couple of weeks ago I would have practically expected that to happen – I think I mentioned it in a recent podcast – but now with the normalization of the idea of “President Trump,” with everyone talking about it as if it’s just another sane and normal occurrence, any electoral flip seems about as unlikely as…as Trump winning in the first place! Ha.

But the electoral college was kind of sort of established to address situations like this. Or it was established so that situations like this wouldn’t happen. Or it was established just to protect slave owners, you can interpret it a lot of ways, and now everyone is becoming an expert on it, so ask your barber, they probably know more about it than I do. But the problem with the electoral college is every member was nominated by a political party, or by the politicians that are prohibited from being members themselves, so it’s safe to assume that it will not be used to decline to elect the president now, or probably ever.

So whatever you think about it, and whatever you say or spray paint or shout as you march down some main street in some city or town somewhere, Donald Trump is really going to be president. I mean, for real. So that happened. What happens next might not be very good, but I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be boring. It’ll be like turning back the clocks in the Fall for daylight saving time, or because it’s the end of daylight saving time, or however that works, who fucking knows, only instead of turning our clocks back once a year, we’ll be turning them back an hour every day. Day is going to be night, up is going to be down. Freedom is slavery, baby. You best believe.

Well, this has been kind of all over the place, hasn’t it? Or maybe it hasn’t. It’s hard for me to tell. But if up is down and day is really night, then it doesn’t matter, does it. I don’t know if any of it matters, if any of anything matters. Everything seems to matter less and less, but I don’t know if that’s just me getting deeper into my don’t-give-a-fuck years or some other change going on out there. I don’t see much change out there, and I think that’s definitely a side effect of age, because it becomes more and more difficult to bump up against something you’ve never seen before. So here we are, in this Groundhog Day movie, trying to get a plate of food or catch a nap, and what else matters in the long run? Don’t ask me, baby. Okay, come get with this next time, ya hear?