“It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” George Costanza, Seinfeld.
In these times I am always brought back to Edward Bernays, the “father” of modern public relations. He was responsible for mainstreaming cigarette smoking, particularly among women. By the time the Fifties and television had arrived, cigarette commercials were ubiquitous, and tobacco companies, more or less, dictated programming content on the three television networks.. (Yes, there were only three.)
When the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was released to the public in the Spring of 1964, Americans were pretty much steeped in the lies from the tobacco companies. For example:
“Four out of five doctors recommend Camels to their patients who smoke.“
I am not kidding. That claim was actually made. And if you think the tech giants are different from the cigarette companies or the auto companies, you are naïve. They use media to pursue their interests, to make you their witting or unwitting supporters. The intention is for you to conflate your interests and theirs.
It took nearly thirty years for the shift in attitude around smoking to come about. The Tobacco Settlement was a product of the Nineties, if I’m not mistaken. We are still involved in damage control from the ravages of tobacco use seventy years ago.
It may take years to unpack the lies and half-truths of our time. As of now, the high level of near-hysterical rhetoric clouds all of our thinking in contemporary American politics.
This is why history is important. What once were bitter arguments can now be viewed dispassionately. A good example I can think of is the John F. Kennedy assassination of 22 November 1963. In the mid-sixties, I was perfectly willing to believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin, as the Warren Commission Report maintained.
Now I believe the Warren Report was a well crafted lie. But it served the purpose of ” contaminating” the debate field. It also reassured the public that a coup d’État had not taken place. Those who challenged the result were the original “conspiracy theorists”. But who was responsible for the killing, V-P Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, embittered by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, or The Mob? Or all three? The Kennedy murder may never be solved.
Today bold statements like “systemic racism” are repeated all over the news outlets. When will dispassionate individuals be in a position to evaluate that claim? If your gorge rises at the thought of dispassionate analysis on questions of race, that these are settled matters, then you perhaps are a captive of your prejudices. It has happened before to well-intentioned people. Like you.