Déjà vu All Over Again

Perhaps you have experienced the frustration of trying to have a conversation these days with someone whose political views do not necessarily coincide with your own. An example might be a person with moderate political views striking up a conversation with a person who embraces what is commonly called “MAGA.” (There are other examples, including those on the far left, of course.)

The conversation seems to go nowhere – and despite an effort to have a healthy debate about the pros and cons of each point of view, there is no relief from the hard-core position of the extremist. She or he will not listen nor budge.

This isn’t new, of course. It stems from a constant barrage of information fed to people over an increasingly efficient means of communications. Over the years, the landscape has evolved with the advent of the internet and social media, which can amplify echo chambers and reinforce existing beliefs. People can easily access information that aligns with their views, leading to the entrenchment of those perspectives. This phenomenon, often referred to as “confirmation bias,” contributes to the difficulty of having productive conversations with individuals who hold extreme or entrenched political views.

William L. Shirer wrote about this more than half a century ago in his monumental book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Here is a quote that relates his experience with this phenomenon about how, in the Thirties through the medium of radio and print, Adolph Hitler and Dr. Goebbels promoted the Nazi way of thinking.

Shirer wrote:

“In those days, in the Thirties, a German listener could still turn his dial to a score of foreign radio stations without, as happened later when the war began, risking having his head chopped off. And perhaps quite a few did, though it was this observer’s impression that as the years went by, Dr. Goebbels proved himself right, in that the radio became by far the regime’s most effective means of propaganda, doing more than any other single instrument of communication to shape the German people to Hitler’s ends.
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Thought unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign brodasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet of the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Dr. Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.”

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William Shirer was right – and his experience rings true through today. This is because of what appear to be some evident truths:

  • Hitler was right when he said that the more outrageous the lie, the greater the chance that someone will believe it;
  • Goebbels was right when he said that the more times one tells the lie, the greater are the chances that people will come to accept it as truth;
  • Means of Communications these days – social media, Facebook, Twitter, cable television, etc. – are far more efficient and have their desired effect much faster than what Hitler and Goebbels had at their disposal;
  • Critical thinking is the process of taking information and developing findings and conclusions. The truth or validity of the findings and conclusions are totally dependent on the truth and validity of the information. If the information is true – then the findings and conclusions can be true; if the information is NOT true (i.e., a lie) – then the findings and conclusions can be whatever you want them to be. They CANNOT be relied upon to be valid.

I hope you give this some serious thought . . . . . . this sort of thing is happening today – right in front of our eyes.

It’s Déjà vu All Over!

PS – This phenomenon is related to the Dunning-Kruger Effect . . . if you are interested in what this is, just click on this text.

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