Technology and Truth: Reflections on Russia, America, and Live Not By Lies

DURING the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Washington told the world that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. While the Bush administration had no real evidence to support this claim, it did not stand in the way of proceeding. The necessary evidence was fabricated and conflicting evidence firmly suppressed. The following example is instructive. José Bustani, founding director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (opcw), was making persistent efforts at the time to admit Iraq as a member of the opcw as this would have enabled thorough inspections, and Bustani fully expected that these inspections would confirm, what his own chemical weapons experts had already told him: that all of Iraq’s chemical weapons had been destroyed as early as the 1990s after the Persian Gulf War. The Bush administration’s response to Bustani was quick: then-Under-Secretary of State John Bolton gave him twenty-four hours to give up or face the consequences. For the Bush administration, the overthrow of Iraq was far too important to let the truth get in the way.

REMEMBER THE opposite course that John F. Kennedy took during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis itself began when US spy planes photographed Soviet nuclear-grade SS-4 missile sites installed on Cuban soil. In obvious contrast to Iraqi chemical weapons, these weapons of mass destruction were real, not invented. Despite this factual evidence, and despite the insistent advice of his military, Kennedy refused to go to war. Refusing to invade Cuba, in all likelihood saved the world from Armageddon.

But there is an even more instructive comparison between the two cases: Kennedy’s efforts to understand the Soviet Union evolved after the Cuban Missile Crisis. His speech from American University in June 1963 demonstrated the President’s efforts to understand both the motivations and the complex reality of the Soviet adversary. Kennedy’s description that both sides are equally caught in a “vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side creates suspicion on the other,” suggests a mind influenced by Homer Iliad. He praised the Russian people “for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in courageous deeds”. He admitted the massive losses suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II. Instead of dehumanizing America’s opponents, he did the opposite; he emphasized our common humanity: “We all breathe the same air. We all value our children’s future. And we are all mortal. ”

The contrast between the level of thought that Kennedy achieved during his speech at American University and the banalities and lies that have been uttered so regularly by American presidents since then could hardly be more dramatic. What happened? How has the quality of American thought and leadership deteriorated in such a steep way?

In his eight volume History of the United States, Page Smith repeatedly returns to the competition between what he calls a classic Christian and a democratic secular consciousness throughout most of American history. Almost from the start, Smith said, the second outweighed the first. Although the historian’s multi-volume study ends with the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, I would argue that it was Kennedy who briefly opened up the possibility of an America that incorporates at least some important elements of the classical Christian perspective. With Kennedy’s assassination, that possibility closed. By the time George W. Bush and Dick Cheney became the White House residents, classic Christian consciousness, with a few unconvincing rhetorical flourishes, was already a distant memory. American politics, culture, and society had become thoroughly technocratic. A secular consciousness that was present from the start had changed; Or rather, when the technocracy, which has always been part of the secular idea, came to fruition.

In technocracy, reason, even rationality, is no longer given any intrinsic value. You no longer oblige our consent. On the contrary, they are now themselves subject to our autonomous will. Nature is like cement in the hands of technological man: In fact, one can no longer speak of “man”. The actors of the technological society reject such an imposition. From now on, you yourself will decide technologically what and who we “are”, right down to the core of our biological existence.

America’s cultural milieu has two aspects, two scales of action. On the one hand we have the “left” revolutionaries and crash course quotes from Karl Marx and Michel Foucault, a surprising number of which recently stormed from American colleges. And then on the other side we have the surprisingly large number of global corporations and especially all the big social media giants that have embraced this “revolution” as a group. The latter in particular help discipline public speech in order to bring it into harmony with the new ideology.

Rod Dreher’s latest book, Don’t live with lies, provides a useful introduction to this awakened new world. Dreher’s methodology is based on a comprehensive comparison of the United States and the USSR / Russia. Even with these comparisons, Dreher occasionally falls, if unintentionally, into the trap of technological thinking. Nonetheless, his analysis is instructive. It indicates how these awakened corporations and awakened foot soldiers are expressing one and the same thoroughly technocratic “civilization”.

DREHER TAKES the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites as a paradigmatic case of a political order based on lies. What “lies” does he have in mind?

Especially atheism. For Dreher, the key is the denial of the truth of the Christian faith by the Soviet system, a denial made necessary by his Marxist-Leninist creed of dialectical materialism. The central point for Dreher is that a system based on atheism is already based on a lie for this very reason.

However, he pays great attention to the moral challenges that believers face in a society that regards the faith itself as dangerous, or at least something entirely past. In such a society it is difficult, and sometimes even dangerous, to live one’s faith openly. In the 1920s and 1930s, when many thousands of Orthodox priests and believers were carried away and perished in Josef Stalin’s gulag, it was fatal. Although the situation in Russia gradually went through important changes after World War II and Stalin’s death in 1953 that made life much easier for believers, it was true that for most of the Soviet era, open manifestations of faith were at least a career killer.

Dreher’s second example of “living out of lies” relates to the Soviet system’s demand for ideological conformity. Dialectical materialism was the dominant ideology, and the communist party apparatus made known which interpretation of this ideology was to be regarded as authoritative at a given point in time. Under such a system, writes Dreher, the party itself has become “the only source of truth”. Schoolchildren had to express what ideology asked of them instead of reflecting in their papers what they honestly thought.

Building on these two themes, Dreher draws a series of parallels between what he calls the totalitarian Soviet empire and the “soft totalitarianism” currently being installed by “bright” revolutionaries. The latter share with the early Bolsheviks what could be termed a sociological fallacy. Both divide people into categories of oppressors and oppressed. For the Bolsheviks, the oppressors were the wealthy bourgeoisie and the oppressed were the poor, the peasants and the factory workers. For America’s revolutionaries awakened, the oppressors are now white, male, heterosexual Christians, while the oppressed are sexual minorities and colored people.

Such thinking according to sociological categories brings with it a failure of reason. Although Dreher does not use the term, it also includes the embrace of moralism. Dreher states that for a generation nurtured by Marx and filtered by Foucault, there is no such thing as objective reason. Rationality is no longer seen as being equally available to all. Reason is no longer decisive. What matters is one’s position of power, and power is seen as a function of the category (oppressor or oppressed) to which one belongs. The resemblance here to the early Bolsheviks is very striking indeed. From the perspective of today’s practitioners of social justice and other awakened ideologies, Dreher notes, arguments cannot be argued with the enemy. The enemy can only be defeated. Those who oppose the revolutionaries ‘imposition of new doctrines “practice’ hatred” “.

While the ideological conformity of the Soviets was largely top-down, in the American case it is more distributed. Conjuring themes reminiscent of Russian theater directors Konstantin Bogomolov’s controversial essay “The robbery of Europe 2.0”, Dreher writes:

today [Western] Totalitarianism requires adherence to a number of progressive beliefs, many of which are inconsistent with logic – and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is less enforced by the state than by the elites who form public opinion and by private corporations, which thanks to technology control our lives far more than we would like to admit.

The social media giants of Silicon Valley are compounding the totalitarian threat. Citing Edward Snowden, Dreher notes that the state now has permanent access to everyone’s communications, and if the government wants to target someone there is no longer any reason to expect the law to be a haven. The result is the spread of “surveillance capitalism into areas that the Orwellian tyrants of the communist bloc could only seek” and the emergence of what he calls soft totalitarianism.