War of the Worlds

For some reason – or maybe no particular reason at all – last night I remembered Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast from the 1930s.

Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast and, in the atmosphere of tension and anxiety prior to World War II, took it to be an actual news broadcast.[1] Newspapers reported that panic ensued, with people across the Northeastern United States and Canada fleeing their homes. Some people called CBS, newspapers or the police in confusion over the realism of the news bulletins.[5][6] Some claimed they could smell poison gas or see flashes of lightning in the distance.

Within one month, newspapers had published 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact. Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Richard J. Hand writes, as “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”[7]

And it struck me that, these days, we’re living in a sort of continuous War of the Worlds multimedia experience. I don’t think that back then Orson Welles was trying to start a panic, but  these days the broadcasters actually are trying to create panic. We’re under a sustained media blitz that’s telling us that secondhand tobacco smoke is as lethal as mustard gas, and that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing catastrophic global warming. And they’re both fictions. They’re as fictional threats as Orson Welles’ invading Martians.

And this time, instead of it being just one single radio show on one particular night, it’s the entire global media, all the time. And it’s not just the media. It’s also all the scientists and doctors and experts. And it’s all the politicians as well. They’re all speaking from the same script. And it is a script. And it’s why Deborah Arnott’s experience as a TV director or editor matters: as director of ASH, she’s just as much weaving a fiction as she ever was when she worked for ITV. It’s all about getting people to ‘suspend disbelief’.

And you really do have to suspend disbelief if you’re going to start believing that secondhand smoke is dangerous, or that carbon dioxide is causing catastrophic global warming.

And the difference between the sceptics (or ‘deniers’) and the convinced true believers is the difference between those folks who panicked when they heard Orson Welles, and those folks who just kept on playing cards and cooking dinner or whatever else they were doing.

The Deborah Arnotts (and also the Hitlers) of the world believe that Orson Welles had discovered a way of controlling and directing people. They took it very, very seriously. And now they’ve started their own global, sustained War of the Worlds broadcast that’s intended to change everyone’s perception of the world around them, and thereby change their behaviour. And it’s been working quite well. Lots of people are now terrified of tobacco smoke, and lie awake at night worrying about carbon dioxide. They’re still pushing it hard: Today is Earth Day, and their new line is called Connect The Dots of climate change.

But then, lots of other people – f’rinstance me – haven’t suspended their disbelief. The sustained media onslaught doesn’t seem to be working on people like me. Although, in my own personal case, I have the advantage of no longer having a TV set, and no longer having to contend with the fictions it pumps out.

The big question, though, is: Is it going to work? Are they going to successfully mould public opinion, and re-engineer the whole of human society?

And the answer, I’m sure, is: No. Very definitely No. What’s actually going to happen is that they’re going to destroy the credibility of the mass media, and the credibility of science, and the credibility of doctors, and the credibility of politicians, and the credibility of anyone else who happens to be engaged in this vast swindle.

It’s already happening. And it’s going to happen more and more. Nobody’s going to believe a word that any of them say any more. Because what they’re doing is burning their inheritance. The mass media (and particularly the BBC) spent many years building up their respectability and credibility and authority. Same is true of science. And medicine. And also politics. They’ve painstakingly built up all this trust, and now they’re burning it all like a spoilt brat who inherits his father’s hard-won fortune and blows the whole lot betting on horses. And this stupid, misguided attempt to re-engineer human society is just like betting on a horse. In fact it’s much worse than betting on a horse. It’s like betting all your money – every last penny of it – on a three-legged horse which also happens to be dead and buried, and with a big marble horse standing over its tomb.

The future for them is going to be one of derision. They will face complete ridicule. That they lived in a fairy tale world in which they were convinced that dreams came true, if enough people could be got to believe the dreams.

Which brings me on to the EU. That’s also another vast fiction. The only difference between the EU fiction and the SHS/AGW fantasy is that the former is a fairy tale, and the two latter ones are horror stories. The EU is, if you like, Cinderella, and SHS and AGW are her two ugly sisters. And the idea is that, if enough people want there to be an EU, then the EU will come to exist – because, y’see, if enough people want something to happen, then it will happen. Yes, it really will! You just have to believe. You just have to have faith. You just have to will it sufficiently wilfully, and your dreams will come true. It’s called the Triumph of the Will.

And it actually is very attractive, this EU idea: All the people of Europe living together in happy harmony in one big country called Europe, and all speaking the same language, and wearing the same clothes, and eating the same food. What’s there not to like? Isn’t Cinderella beautiful.

But even if you like it (and I can think of plenty of reasons what’s not to like about it), it still remains essentially a political fantasy, a colossal daydream. But the fantasists who are driving the dream don’t know anything else, and so that now that the EU is about as shipwrecked as the Costa Concordia, they’re just going to keep soldiering on, keeping faith in the dream of Europe.

What comes to mind is nothing else but the time when the Ottomans were besieging Constantinople in 1453, and the Christians inside it decided to bring out their heavy artillery. The real stuff, that is. So they dragged all their holy relics and icons from their churches, and displayed them on the city battlements. There was probably the little finger of St Cuthbert, and the left elbow of St Anthony, and several pieces of the True Cross (and possibly a number of bits of Untrue Crosses), and maybe even the Spear of Destiny too. Real spiritual firepower. The unstoppable power of faith and belief. “And did it work?” I hear you ask, breathlessly. “Were the Saracens repelled?” You can find the answer here, although the title is all you really need to read.

The strange thing is, though, that even if the EU fantasy is falling to pieces, another Europe is perhaps beginning to emerge. In the last year or so, I’ve been finding that I seem to belong to a new European community of people like Wiel in Holland, Klaus K in Denmark, Reinhold in Germany, and several others. It’s a community of like-minded people that have been thrown together in this War of the Worlds, like conscript soldiers in a scratch battalion.

And that’s a Europe that I can believe in. Because it’s not a political fantasy being imposed top-down by a bunch of determined ideologues, but something that’s growing from the bottom up of its own accord.

A bit like my tobacco plants.

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17 Responses to War of the Worlds

  1. To dispell the myths all one needs is money for our own commercials.

    Publicity is what moves mountains. The government has no money but they can print all they need up to a point. The edge of the cliff is in their mirror and the whole train wreck is about to hit. But we must remember the governments greed for revenue is an achillies hill for tobacco control ultimately that greed will end TC from the inside out even if their wizard of oz magic science doesnt!

    • Frank Davis says:

      Sorry to disagree, Harley, but I think that what we’re watching right now is the failure of publicity, the failure of advertising. People are buying AGW less and less. And also passive smoking. And the EU. Despite having the threat or value of these things dinned into their heads for decades. It’s not working any more. So why use their failed methods?

      • sadbutmadlad says:

        The failure is because they are pushing it too hard. And then when the disasters aren’t as bad as forcast by the doomongers and the end of the world hasn’t happened people will start to think “if nothing’s happening why are they still peddling the same shit”. That’s when the continual propoganda about AGW start to back fire.

      • We for one wouldnt need decades. They needed decades hoping that an entire generation would buy into their propaganda pushed thru the public school systems. But your right the over-push of the propaganda by smokefree has left the public mind numb and tired of it. Besides the ever increasing craziness of the claims being made. Especially outdoor bans and third hand smoke tripe! AGW lost its grasp after the E-mails showed up…….

  2. Frank its also amazing you cant even get the nazis to hardly even defend the smoking causes trash anymore. The other day I read an article from CDC and in it the researcher made the statement that smoking may trigger cancer…….but he wouldnt say causes!

  3. jaxthefirst says:

    I’ve long believed that social change and societal attitudes actually can’t be forced to change except temporarily. Of course, all societies do change over time – compare today’s attitudes with those of 100 or 200 years ago and they are worlds apart – but those attitudes have changed naturally in a sort of evolutionary way. Even when changes are forced upon society by a few loud “movers and shakers” they never last forever – countless religious wars, the French revolution, the English Civil War, the Russian revolution, communist China, the Nazis, Persia/Iran – all have resulted in short-term New Ways Of Doing Things and New Ways Of Running Society which have lasted for a few years but then, once those New Ways aren’t “new” any more, society has sort of “twanged back” like a piece of elastic to pretty much where it was before. Sometimes it’s “twanged back” even further, and sometimes it’s “twanged back” but kept a few of the new ideas which they found acceptable – but “twang back” they all have, one way or another! It’s one of the reasons why I think the whole EU project – quite apart from its financial woes – is doomed to failure. It’s possible that over time, unforced and with a much less authoritarian set of European agreements and pacts, people may have come to see themselves as Europeans rather than as Italians, Germans, British or French etc – but the EU, in its heavy-handed, demanding way has possibly (ironically) set this process back by several decades. It’s also why I regard with great suspicion this activity on behalf of many Western nations (including us, sadly) to foist sudden “democracy” on societies which have no history of democracy, no experience of its pros or its cons and no culture which has ever included the democratic process as part and parcel of it. It’s too sudden, too big a change and is bound to result in some form of “twang back” in the future!

    And so, too, it is with anti-smoking. Fewer and fewer people were smoking well before the anti-smoking brigade turned the whole thing into an outright battleground, and more and more people were giving up the habit, so it’s not unimaginable that, left to our own devices and setting our own pace, we as a society may well have ended up as the almost totally smoke-free paradise that the antis aspire to. But to last, this would have to have happened naturally, and of course that wasn’t quick enough for the antis, was it? I think that the softening in attitudes which we are seeing now, even amongst some previously ban-supporting people – as indicated in your previous post, Frank – is an indication of this “twang back” starting. And the antis know it – hence their shrill cries that “there’s still so much to DO!” But the fact of the matter is that if they hadn’t “done” so much, so quickly, in the first place, they wouldn’t now find themselves facing the exact same “twang back” dilemma which authoritarians and dictators the world over, down through history, have found themselves in, sooner or later. Societal change is like nature itself – it does what it does, at its own pace, in its own way and any forcing, controlling or changing of direction can only ever be temporary.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I entirely agree with everything you’ve written, right down to societies “twanging back”, Because I think human societies are sort of elastic in exactly the way you’ve described, and when they’re pushed or pulled they resist change, just like an elastic band.or a spring.

      About the only thing that I would add to your little essay is that things like smoking bans which push and pull people around produce enormous stresses within societies. And that stress appears in the form of anger (like mine and like Lecroix Kwdjer’s and lots of other people’s). And that stored energy has to be released. And it will be released. And the release of that energy could be very sudden ( although one has to hope it isn’t too explosive)..

  4. smokervoter says:

    I have an old friend, a firsthand smoker for 40+ years who suffers no ill effects whatsoever, who nonetheless believes in the secondhand smoke myth. It is the source of an ongoing and everlasting argument between us. His mother is an incredible doting hen. He is an incurable hypochondriac as a result.

    The last time I went to visit him at the house in the Arizona/Nevada desert I helped him build many moons ago, he neglected to inform me beforehand that he had taken to smoking outdoors only at his own house. I was there to construct an out-building for him and planned on staying four days. His no smoking in the house rule ruined the entire trip. It is bitingly cold and windy in the winter there and smoking outdoors was a major pain in the ass. We nearly came to blows over it.

    It served as an impetus for me to complete the project in half-time. No complaints here, on a time-is-money basis I made out better.

    He also believes wholeheartedly in UFO’s. Like secondhand smoke, there is no credible evidence of our planet ever being visited by aliens from another galaxy. Astronomers have never even found life outside of this blue marble of ours.

    There are lots of people, smokers and non-smokers alike, like my deluded friend. We’ve got an uphill battle on our hands here convincing people that secondhand smoke is not the equivalent of mustard gas.

  5. Frank Davis says:

    He also believes wholeheartedly in UFO’s.

    Isn’t that the truth? I’ve got an anti-smoking lady gradually disappearing from my life who doesn’t believe (or almost pretty much doesn’t believe) that men have walked on the moon.

    I don’t believe in UFOs either. I’ve never seen one, and I doubt I ever will. I thought I saw one once, but in the end I realised that it was most likely just a little hot air balloon. Those balloons can be very small: just a foot or two in size. I made one once, and it flew (not very far).

  6. Morgan Toal says:

    Don’t get me wrong – I want these stooges to take it in the shorts as much as you do. But what concerns me even more than the smoking debate, is the underlying idea that scientists and doctors are squandering their credibility on something as stupid as the smoking debate, potentially taking the good of science and medicine down the sh*tter along with the bad.

    But I do believe priorities will realign themselves soon, for entirely different reasons. Remember, in 2011, in the richest nation on earth, 1/6th of the popultion was on food assistance (1), 1/6th had no health insurance (2), and medical debt was the primary cause of 20% of bankruptcies (3). Yet, the CDC still cites “tobacco control” as the third most important public health “achievement” of the 21st century (4). Good thing all those malnourished children whose underemployed parents can’t afford to take them to a doctor can look forward to healthy smoke-free environments at bars they aren’t allowed to set foot in.

    1) http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/13/news/economy/census_bureau_health_insurance/index.htm
    2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/number-of-americans-on-snap_n_1074344.html
    3) http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/medical-debt-cited-more-often-in-bankruptcies/
    4) http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2011/p0519_publichealthachievements.html

  7. waltc says:

    The War of the Worlds analogy is brilliant. And illuminating. We could also fool around with a Potemkin Village in which case our job is to direct people to the aerial view or trot them around to the back alley.

    I fleetingly caught part of some television book show today where a guy who’d written a book called “The Believing Brain” (which I intend to look up on Amazon) was talking about the psychological process of creating mass belief. He said, and I quite believe it, having met Russian emigres going back many years, that sufficient propaganda with sufficient authority can force most people to adopt Current Thought, but only on the surface. They’ll say–and even vote–as though they believe it but meanwhile they’re scratching their heads from the inside, knowing that they actually DON’T believe it. I wonder to what extent we may be reaching that point. (Of course, it took the Russians about another 20 years to start acting on their instincts.)

    I think jax and you are just talking about the “pendulum of history”, a simpler variation of Hegel’s dialectic. I’ve always thought it was based on the natural inclination of each generation to rebel against its parents and What Its Parent’s Thought. The sheer weight of the demographics creates a sufficient pole.

    On the noun/verb thing, I think I got that from Hitchens who said (something along the lines of) that “smoker” was not just a thing that you do but a thing that you are and that the two couldn’t be separated. And even tho it’s far from the only thing I do and the only thing I am, I definitely agree. And therefore, I take this crap personally. But then it was always meant to be personal, no matter what they claimed. As tho they’d suddenly prohibited people from eating with their right hand in restaurants but claimed they weren’t banning right-handed people. Well, fuck all.

    .

    • Frank Davis says:

      I see. It’s the “smoking” and “smoker” thing, I never saw Hitchens say that, but I agree with him. It’s not possible to separate the smoker from his smoking. The right hand analogy could be a good way to express it too.

      And the “pendulum of history” is also another physical concept. A pendulum stores energy, just like a spring or a piece of elastic. But Hegel’s dialectic is not a physical concept. To me that “dialectic” is really just a debate in which people initially disagree (thesis and antithesis) but then resolve the dispute (synthesis) somehow or other. It’s a sort of logical process. But then, I can’t understand Hegel. I don’t think that any English person like me can understand Hegel. So I never use any of his ideas.

  8. Frank Davis says:

    OT. via the Devil’s Kitchen, a good interview of Nigel Farage.

  9. Great blog – very thought provoking. A very enjoyable read. Of course it’s very reassuring to know that all of these myths like SHS and AGW are doomed to fail as people are becoming more sceptical of the ‘powers that be’.
    I’ve always thought the anti-smoking brigade was like a cult. The characteristics of a cult are all there: charismatic leaders, promises of heaven on earth, rigid dogma that must be accepted and must NEVER be questioned, suspension of disbelief, regulation of peoples’ lifestyles, and it’s followers, the ‘born again’ reformed ex-smokers who talk as though they’ve discovered a new religion!
    As far climate change, I really can’t see how us paltry humans could have such a huge impact on the whole planet! Seems a tad arrogant to suggest that, doesn’t it!
    I too, don’t have a TV set. I don’t need one. I can get the news from the internet and can watch my favourite films and documentaries on the internet, so why waste money on a TV license to bail out the BBC. Oh yes, and I’ve had TV License officials knocking at my door. They just find it sooooo hard to believe that someone actually doesn’t own a TV set!

  10. Pingback: EU: Union or Disintegration | Frank Davis

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