Friday, May 26, 2006

Jean Francois Revel: The Flight From Truth

Jean Francois Revel wrote in his 1991 book, "The Flight From Truth":

Chapter 1 On Our Resistance to Information, page 3&4 -

The foremost of all the forces that drive the world is falsehood. More than any before it, twentieth-century civilization has depended on information, teaching, science, culture - in short, on knowledge as well as on a system of government which, by its very definition, seeks to make knowledge availabe to all: democracy. [snip]Those who act have better data on which to base their actions, and those on the receiving end are much better informed about what those who act are doing.

It is therefore interesting to inquire whether this preponderance of available knowledge - with its detail, its abundance, its ever broader and swifter disseminiation - has enabled humanity to guide itself more judiciously than in the past. The question is all the more inportant since the perfecting and accelerating of the techniques of transmission and the steady increase in the number of individuals who benefit from them will make the twenty-first century an age in which, even more than in the twentieth, information will be a central element of civilization.


Chapter 2, page 12 -
No matter how diverse, all civilizations today coexist in some form of perpetual interaction, the combined effects of which affect them more in the long run than their individual particularities. The existence of this interactionin the economic, geopolitical and geostrategic fields is now taken for granted. On the other hand, despite all the loose talk on the subject few persons seem to realize to what extent information has become the principal instrument, the permanent agent and mirror of the plantet's omnipresence for all those who inhabit it, not through the provision of accurate information - there precisely is the problem - but thanks to a continuous torrent of messages, which begins by submerging individual minds from early schooling on... Man has an image of the world and of his own society in that world. He acts and reacts with reference to that image. He accepts its implications willingly, passively, or grudgingly, or revolts against them. The more twisted and distorted the picture, the more dangerous his actions and reactions can become, both for himself and others.


Chapter 3 "On Simple Lies", page 26 -

News agency dispatches, newspapers, radio broadcasts, and even television programs have been bringing to the various publics of the totalitarian and underdeveloped world news and commentaries their governments [ed...and other would be oppressors like Islamists[ would prefer to deny them. However, we should not overlook movements in the opposite direction: increasingly, for example, the propaganda and propagandists of totalitarian countries [ed...and now ecentralized totalitarian, terrorist movements] penetrate without hindrance into the Free World, where they are often accorded a favorable reception


Chapter 3 "On Simple lies", page 28-29

Democracy cannot live without the truth; totalitarianism cannot live without falsehood. Democracy commits suicide if it lets itself be invaded by falsehood, totalitarianism if it lets itself be invaded by truth. With mankind now moving ever further into civilization dominated by information, a civilization that would not be viable if it were nourished and sustained by regularly falsified information. I regard it as indispensible that democracy be universalized and, furthermore, improved. But present customs and habits being what they are, I think it more likely that false hood will triumph, along with its political corollary, totalitarianism


Considering the line of thought I am developing on "information war", this book is extremely timely. I can't believe it's taken me so long to find and read it. I'm sure I will find other books by Revel quite interesting though, 15 years later, I find one or two comments he made that I would disagree with, for the most part, what he writes is true today.

For instance, he mentions the demonization of "neo-cons" and the constant attempts to link them to Neo-Fascism; the great taboo where one is never to mention that Communism and its various alcolytes are just as reprehensible and murderous (if not worse) than Nazis and other Fascist movements have ever been; American Imperialism (but don't dare mention that the USSR was conducting an equal if not more aggressive imperial outreach in developing client nations, invading or providing support troops for communist governments or movements, or involved in some serious subjugation and murder of a lot of "other nationals" and the US was trying to counter it with their own geo-political moves; the USSR and communism is the victim); journalistic dishonesty - a tendency to accept statements from "other" governments and people (particularly, non democratic nations or speokesman for movements) without ready research or verification or cynicism in the face of continued disprovement by facts, but they will imply or directly accuse their own governments, spokespeople or citizens of being liars.

On and on and on. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. I'm only in the fifth chapter and I know that it has brought together some thoughts for me. He even talks about the impending clash with militant Islam. He discusses Russia's collapse and "reform". Particularly that Communism dies very hard. In fact, the "regime" may fall, but the ideology, the people and the government systems often stick around and get called something else. Today, for instance, in Russia they have a "democracy". Of course, Putin is busy shutting down any democratic opposition and NGOs for human rights, democracy advocation and information awareness. We are talking about a state that still owns and controls its television broadcast systems.

Probably the most interesting commentary is about Western self flagellation over perceived ills, how our own angst has created an illusion that Western Democracies have committed acts on par with Nazi Germany or Global Communism, and how falsehoods or "simple lies" can echo throughout our political and cultural awareness for decades and even centuries, effecting our decisions on politics, economy and security for a very long time.

Vietnam. Winter Soldier. Communism in Asia not a threat to US security. It's a war of "independence from colonialism" (the eternal cry of all leftists and the newest charge against the US of neo-colonialism). Iraq. Afghanistan. Imperial America. War for Oil. Baby killers. Mass Murderers. Soldiers dying for nothing.

1991...you can't beat it.

2 comments:

Craig Townsend said...

Jean Francois Revel is one of my favorite authors. I have read almost all his books. His The Totalitarian Temptation is spectacular. I just finished his The Last Exit to Utopia, a true tour de force! I highly recommend him.

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