- It is not easy to escape the black hole of power
Prominent global leaders, who are praised for their vision and brought into power for their impulsive nationalist aggression, seldom get good advice from their entourage in the post-truth era. Notable author Yuval Noah Harari comprehensively discussed this in his book 2018 book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” in which he recalled a “disappointing” meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu. When he joined the Israeli prime minister for dinner expecting an inspirational session, all he noticed was about 30 people around him trying to appease the master. “It was the fault of the gravitational pull of power,” he suggested.
Things seem no different in Pakistan where one all-powerful supreme leader replaces another while the cabinet, by and large, leaves no stone unturned to blindly trust the group instinct. Providing a bulk of authentic information to those in power can hardly improve matters. This is because any bid to bombard people with facts and debunk their individual ignorance is likely to backfire since the group thinkers prefer loyalty over rationality, according to Harari.
Take PM Khan’s U-turn remark, for instance. When he said, “The leader who does not do timely U-turns is not a real leader,” every PTI minister, even the president and his governors, rallied behind the premier’s authority and defended his not-so-convincing argument. From the breed of journalists who admire him as a charismatic leader to the PTI tigers and tigresses, almost all came in Khan’s support when he ‘admitted’ his U-turns and compared them with the failures of Hitler and Bonaparte in the Russian wars.
Hitler believed that even the most brilliant propaganda technique can only be productive if one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly: it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Either intentionally or unintentionally, Khan’s kitchen cabinet has, till now, followed the Mein Kampf tip quite religiously as did the yes-men before them. Just after the premier was quoted as saying, “Leaders should always be ready to take U-turns according to the requirement of their duties and best interests of the nation,” his band adopted the unannounced policy of proving how U-turns are the essence of exceptional leadership.
While some PTI ministers were smart to point out which context the PM referred to, others listed a number of possible synonyms, like reconciliation, to rid the perception of the ungraceful attribute. There is hardly any confusion about the use of this specific connotation in politics but, as they say, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
Calling Homo Sapiens a “post-truth species”, Harari promotes the argument that human power depends on creating and believing fictions
In this post-truth era it is terrifying to realise that entire histories of nations might be framed and faked, but is this new? Leaders of the past had to do very little to manufacture favourable opinions about them and their regimes, and the low potency of the message had a limited effect. Today, entire teams of PR practitioners are working to create good images of the guardians to be. Thus, it takes no time to convert a slur into compliment, and vice versa.
Presenting a superficial account of the history to convince resenting followers is one thing but seeing PM Khan clarifying his policy deviations tells how much he wants to avoid introspection and adopt the already set precedent of the doctrine of necessity. He may not be the first leader in this country to do so but, after all, it was him who convinced his voters that his government will not repeat the same mistakes.
It is not easy to escape the black hole of power. Those with distorted and self-convincing worldviews struggle to attain reformed knowledge. Socrates observed it over 2,000 years ago when he said that the best one can do under such conditions is to acknowledge one’s own individual backwardness.
Calling Homo Sapiens a “post-truth species”, Harari promotes the argument that human power depends on creating and believing fictions as only mammals that can cooperate with hundreds of strangers because only they can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. Every human living in a group setting remains a conformist to cooperate effectively as long as he or she believes in the same fictions and obey the same laws. No wonder thousands of ‘informed’ people believe in made-up fake news for months without challenging their veracity.
However, whenever people try to address their individual ignorance and break from the group thinking, they discover new knowledge. The human quest for truth eventually succeeds, though it may take centuries of disbelief.