We get the term “postmodern,” at least in its current, philosophical sense, from the title of Jean-François Lyotard’s 1979 book, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.” It described the state of our era by building out Lyotard’s observations that society was becoming a “consumer society,” a “media society” and a “postindustrial society,” as postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson points out in his foreword to Lyotard’s book. Lyotard saw these large-scale shifts as game-changers for art, science and the broader question of how we know what we know. This was a diagnosis, not a political outcome that he and other postmodernist theorists agitated to bring about.Another thinker, Jean Baudrillard, developed the concept of the “simulacrum,” a copy without an original, that leads to the “hyperreal,” a collection of signs or images purporting to represent something that actually exists (such as photos of wartime combat) but ultimately portraying a wild distortion not drawn from reality... By the 1980s, conservative scholars like Allan Bloom — author of the influential “The Closing of the American Mind” — challenged postmodern theorists, not necessarily for their diagnosis of the postmodern condition but for accepting that condition as inevitable... Unlike so many of today’s critics, Bloom understood that postmodernism didn’t emerge simply from the pet theories of wayward English professors. Instead, he saw it as a cultural moment brought on by forces greater than the university... Bloom was particularly worried about students — as reflections of society at large — pursuing commercial interests above truth or wisdom. Describing what he saw as the insidious influence of pop music, Bloom lamented “parents’ loss of control over their children’s moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it.” He called the rock music industry “perfect capitalism, supplying to demand and helping create it,” with “all the moral dignity of drug trafficking.”.. Kimball called “Tenured Radicals,” in his 1990 polemic against the academic left. At the heart of this accusation is the tendency to treat postmodernism as a form of left-wing politics — with its own set of tenets — rather than as a broader cultural moment that left-wing academics diagnosed... it treats Lyotard and his fellows as proponents of a world where objective truth loses all value, rather than analysts who wanted to explain why this had already happened... If you’re going to claim that Trumpism and alt-right relativism are consequences of the academic left’s supposition about what was happening, you must demonstrate a causal link. But commentators looking to trace these roots play so fast and loose with causality that they could easily be called postmodernist themselves... It is certainly correct that today’s populist right employs relativistic arguments: For example, “identity politics” is bad when embraced by people of color, but “identitarianism” — white-nationalist identity politics — is good and necessary for white “survival.” But simply because this happens after postmodernism doesn’t mean it happens because of postmodernism.. figures such as “intelligent design” theorist Phillip Johnson and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich cite the influence of postmodernist theory on their projects. Yet, as McIntyre acknowledges — and documents extensively in his book — right-wing think tanks and corporate-backed fronts — like tobacco industry “research” — had already established an “alternative facts” program for the right, long before creative misinformation entrepreneurs came around... because reading postmodern theory is so notoriously difficult — partly because of how philosophical jargon gets translated, and partly because so much of the writing is abstruse and occasionally unclarifiable — an undergraduate (as in Cernovich’s case) or a layperson will almost inevitably come away with misreadings... Hannah Arendt’s 1951 “The Origins of Totalitarianism”: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction . . . and the distinction between true and false . . . no longer exist.”.. “The deliberate falsehood and the outright lie used as legitimate means to achieve political ends,” writes Arendt in her 1971 essay “Lying in Politics ,” “have been with us since the beginning of recorded history.”.. Fredric Jameson’s reflections on conspiracy theory (“the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age”) aren’t what’s convincing people to believe that climate change is a hoax or that the Democratic Party has been running a pedophilia ring out of a Washington pizza parlor.
.. Likewise, the claim that the Trump-Russia investigation is — as Trump said on national television — a “made-up story,” an “excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election,” is not a postmodernist critique of the evidence the Mueller investigation has gathered. So it’s a massive category error to call Trump’s post-truth politics “postmodernist.” It’s just the say-anything chicanery of the old-fashioned sales pitch... it’s clear that the real enemy of truth is not postmodernism but propaganda, the active distortion of truth for political purposes.Trumpism practices this form of distortion on a daily basis. The postmodernist theorists we vilify did not cause this; they’ve actually given us a framework to understand precisely how falsehood can masquerade as truth.
#Antifa and #Berkeley were hot topics last weekend in America — and in Russia
In the case study below, I describe how the narrative surrounding Berkeley was picked up and shaped by Russian-linked influence networks, which saw a chance to drive a wedge in American society and ran with it. Next, I look at the individual accounts and users that were identified as top influencers on Twitter, and explore what they were posting, how they worked together to craft a narrative, and the methods they used to amplify their message. Finally, I look at how news coverage of the events in Berkeley was shaped by the skewed narrative that emerged on social media.
.. Three of the top 10 most frequently shared URLs within the Russian-linked influence network were related to Antifa or the Berkeley protests
.. these trends show that users in the network of Russian-linked influence operations wanted to exploit unrest in the U.S. and “amplify alt-right alarmism about the left-wing Antifa (short for anti-fascist) movement.” For several consecutive days this week, the most-tweeted link in the network was a whitehouse.gov petition seeking to declare Antifa a terrorist group.
.. Once it started trending, the ‘alt-right’ made a concerted effort to flood the hashtag #Berkeley with negative posts about #Antifa in an attempt to saturate the hashtag, as well as to mix in some misinformation and disinformation to muddy the waters. The purpose was to create and then establish control of the narrative, skew perceptions of the event and those involved in it, and influence mainstream media coverage by boosting the visibility of certain content.
.. the hashtag #Antifa looked quite different. Nearly all of the top influencers were ‘alt-right’/far-right Trump supporters, including
- Mike Cernovich,
- Paul Joseph Watson,
- Irma Hinojosa,
- Mike Tokes,
- Nick Short,
- Bill Mitchell, and
- Dinesh DSouza.
.. Only two of the top 30 influencers were not part of this ‘alt-right’/far-right group
.. Notably, a fake Julian Assange account was the most influential contributor to the #Antifa hashtag (as measured by engagement), and both Roger Stone (bottom row, far left) and Nigel Farage were also among the top influencers (bottom row, last on the right).
.. A final noteworthy observation: The third most influential contributor to the #Antifa hashtag was one of the many fake Antifa accounts (BevHillsAntifa) created in the spring and summer of 2017.
.. Antifa is not an organization
.. Other dominant themes included a concerted effort to connect Antifa to the Democratic party and to smear the name of Black Lives Matter, as well as to shift the focus from the surge of right-wing extremist violence to the individual actions of “leftist” protesters.
.. you can see the narrative surrounding #Antifa really start to take shape. The dominant themes all involved presenting an exaggerated threat and promoting right-wing alarmism about that threat. These themes included labeling Antifa as a terrorist organization, trying to link Antifa to George Soros, presenting Antifa as the aggressor and far-right extremists as the victims, and trying to portray Antifa as the “real” fascists. Both-siderism was also a common tactic used, often in attempt to equate hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan with Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
..Repetition is one of the most important elements of successful propaganda dissemination. Even when information is not true, being exposed to it repeatedly and from multiple sources boosts its credibility and increases the likelihood that an audience will internalize and believe the message. Repetition also increases the likelihood that any given person will be exposed to the message, while simultaneously drowning out alternative messages and perspectives.
.. When people see that other individuals with similar ideological viewpoints are propagating a certain message or position, they’re more likely to adopt that perspective themselves. Additionally, perceptions of widespread support can make extreme ideas seem more acceptable and “mainstream” —a key step in the process of normalization. These social normative factors make social media ripe for manipulation, as it’s easy to create false impressions of support using automated accounts (“bots”), cyborgs, and orchestrated hashtag campaigns.
..The methods used by these “alt-right”/far-right figures to shape the narrative surrounding #Antifa and #Berkeley may look familiar, as they mirror the methods used by authoritarian states to manipulate public opinion and skew perceptions of reality
..The experimental psychology literature suggests that, all other things being equal, messages received in greater volume and from more sources will be more persuasive. Quantity does indeed have a quality all its own. High volume can deliver other benefits that are relevant in the Russian propaganda context.
- First, high volume can consume the attention and other available bandwidth of potential audiences, drowning out competing messages.
- Second, high volume can overwhelm competing messages in a flood of disagreement.
- Third, multiple channels increase the chances that target audiences are exposed to the message.
- Fourth, receiving a message via multiple modes and from multiple sources increases the message’s perceived credibility, especially if a disseminating source is one with which an audience member identifies... By focusing on the isolated fights and outbursts by individual actors, a handful of Twitter accounts (amplified by bots & cyberborgs) shifted the focus away from the widespread, ongoing, and orchestrated activities of groups like the
- Kyle Chapman, (aka “Based Stickman”, leader of FOAK),
- Gavin McGinnes (leader of the Proud Boys),
- Nathan Damigo (leader of the white supremacist group Identity Evropa),
- Joey Gibson (leader of Patriot Prayer, and the organizer of Saturday’s canceled rally in San Francisco),
- Mike Peinovich (aka Mike Enoch, founder of the racist and anti-Semitic website “The Right Stuff”),
- Milo Yiannopoulos,
- Tim “Treadstone” Gionet(aka “Baked Alaska”, former Buzzfeed editor and current “Internet personality” who manged the speaking tour of Yiannopoulos),
- Jack Posobiec(formerly of Rebel Media), and
- “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer, among others.
.. For months, these “alt-right” and far-right extremists have been traveling to liberal cities and showing up at rallies wearing helmets, goggles, and body armor, and often carrying shields, flagpoles, and weighted sticks. While they’ve gotten (somewhat) more discreet in recent months, their plans for violence — including directions for making weapons to get past security, instructions for making improvised explosive devices, and discussions about the best gear for battle — are often made out in the open, reflecting just how emboldened these groups have become.
.. They carry this out under the guise of buzzwords like “free speech” or “patriotism”, but their intent is clear: They want to provoke violence.
.. They use these so-called “free speech” rallies as recruitment events to increase their membership, and they know violence sells. They also know that increasing their size and consolidating power requires more mainstream support, and a quick way to get that support is by portraying themselves as brave martyrs fighting against a supposed uprising of “violent leftists” — represented by Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and anyone else they can fool the media into demonizing.
.. By traveling to liberal cities where they know they’ll encounter resistance, they can then frame their violence as a defense against “intolerant leftists” trying to “shut down free speech.” This, in turn, gives mainstream conservatives and right-wing figures a reason (or, in some cases, an excuse) to support their cause.
.. Violence sells. Mainstream news outlets know this, too, which is why they often prioritize sensationalism over context. As Shane Bauer warned in his account of the events in Berkeley, “reporters shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture: Fascists and other far-right extremist groups in America are visible and organized in a way that they haven’t been in decades.” Only this time, they’re harnessing the power of social media to increase their visibility — and Russia is helping them do it.
Mr. Trump seems to have concluded what many other conservatives did about the tragedy in Charlottesville, Va.: As tragic as it was, it was incited by a small, unrepresentative group of bigots purporting to speak for the right whose antics would be exhaustively covered in the news.
.. “They think there were 300 or so racists who showed up to a rally, and who got exactly what they wanted: Violence, and violence in a way that inspires the nation’s elite to double down on iconoclasm in a way they hope grows their movement,” said Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, an online magazine.
.. Mr. Trump and conservatives have pointed to several recent episodes as evidence of the left gone mad.
- They include the comedian Kathy Griffin’s posing for a picture with a fake severed Trump head, and
- a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that featured a Trump-like actor as the emperor who is fatally stabbed onstage.
- Some seized on the shooting that seriously injured Representative Steve Scalise
- One recent web video from the National Rifle Association accused liberals of attempting to “bully and terrorize the law abiding” as it implored Americans to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
.. Of at least 372 murders that were committed by domestic extremists between 2007 and 2016, according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League,
- 74 percent were committed by right-wing extremists.
- Muslim extremists were responsible for 24 percent of those killings,
- and the small remainder were committed by left-wing extremists
.. the emphasis for many conservatives is not on statistics that indicate who is the more violent offender. Rather, he said, the point is about the general tenor of political debate, which people like him believe is weighted against them.
.. “You don’t have a ton of reporters banging on the doors of Democrats asking them to denounce Antifa,” he said, referring to the militant Marxist-inspired group that rioted at Mr. Trump’s inauguration and often shows up looking for confrontation at sites where conservative writers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos are scheduled to speak.
.. Mr. Trump is no mere bit player in the discussion of political violence. At various times, he has offered to pay the legal bills of supporters who get in brawls at his events and stated, without offering any proof, that paid agitators were responsible for protests against him.
.. Alex Jones .. said people who protested the white supremacists over the weekend were probably actors
.. Mr. Jones played down the significance of the violence, saying it was likely staged by “Democratic Party activists” who are looking to “overdemonize” whites and “put chips on the shoulders of the so-called minorities.”
.. Demographically, blacks are 12 times more likely to attack whites for no reason,” Mr. Jones went on, providing no evidence for his claim. “It’s a fact.”
.. He then recounted his own experience watching a Nazi rally he said was attended by Jews posing as Nazis, evident by their “curly hair, and you know, dark eyes.”
.. Mike Cernovich, a conspiracy theory peddler, was gleeful as he posted on Twitter about the violence on Saturday. “Civil War is here!” he wrote.
.. There is also a new political term to describe the circular firing squad in which right and left have blamed the other for the country’s degenerating political debate — “whataboutism.”
.. Guy Benson, a conservative writer and an author of the book “End of Discussion,” which argues that the left has tried to shut down political debate by declaring certain topics off the table, said he sees a “whataboutism overreach” among some conservatives.
.. “Round and round we go with this one-upsmanship of who’s worse,” Mr. Benson added, “and that’s a really terrible way to argue.”