Theater of the absurd

Russian media and propagandists have started pushing the same, tired tale of an ongoing “genocide” of the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine. It’s rather obviously false; one need only do a little digging or walk around predominately Russian-speaking Kyiv to realize this narrative has no basis in reality.

I’m not particularly interested in hashing out propaganda and refuting it. Once upon a time, back in the Maidan era, I dutifully shared well-sourced refutations, long before fake news was in the lexicon of most Americans. The problem with this approach is that it’s not based in human psychology. We tend to believe based on tribal allegiances, not cold facts.

The latest beating the war drum makes it feels like the absurdity is intentional. They know it’s rubbish and they know we know it’s rubbish and we know that they know we know it’s rubbish.

I could go on, but you get the point. The Kremlin’s narrative isn’t attempting to look realistic.

I wonder if being obviously faked is actually the point. I’d posit that’s there’s some sort of anthropological theory that accepting something obviously false is an important marker of in-group identity. It becomes something akin to a ritual, almost sacramental to accept something obviously not true.

“Not true” is hard to define. It can be something outright false on one extreme to impossible to prove on the other side. This is a wide enough definition to include the foundational myths of most religions and the political lies used to justify killing, say that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States.

Another timely example of this is Covid theater. There’s no way that wearing a mask from the front door of a restaurant to your table, unmasking for an hour to eat, booze and schmooze and then dutifully masking up for the 30-second journey from your table to the door makes a lick of sense. People do it to become part of the in-group.

We’re all primates, and all primates are tribal creatures. If adhering to something not true is how we find our tribe, no amount of rational refutation is going to undo that.

I don’t have an answer of how to deal with “misinformation” beyond giving people something better to believe. Nobody, not even James Randi, is a truly rational person. Some narratives are far less harmful than others though.

  1. This whole thread is illuminating 

  2. More Twitter