When the Internet is used as an instrument of “affirmation, repetition, and contagion,” it is deadly to promote an alternate reality in its hall of mirrors.
After Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Trump’s culpability seemed abundantly clear. During momentary “weakness” even political insiders who had publicly supported Trump such as Mitch McConnell expressed that view. But that was then. Since, the pro-Trump propaganda machine has kept its shoulder to the wheel and behold, today most Republicans still believe the election was “stolen,” and at least half believe that Trump bears no responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Also since then Republican State legislators have gone to work, to “make elections fair” and to “stop voter fraud.” Indeed, this disenfranchises minorities which would seem to be the major issue. As important, it gives subliminal credence to the unfounded claim of voter fraud and a kind of legitimacy to Jan. 6, at least in the minds of the True Believers,
How can this be when our very own eyes and all evidence refute both points?
I have referenced before the pioneering work of Gustave Le Bon and his 1895 classic The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind. I read this in college and never forgot it. I still have my old paperback edition, with all my original notes and underlinings; strange to look through it some sixty years later in an effort to understand today.
This was written even before radio. I can only imagine what Le Bon would say about the Internet, other that it merely magnifies the ease in which an obvious falsehood can seize the popular mind, an alternate reality taking on the trappings of the truth. Read the words of this man talking to us from 1895 and decide for yourself how these beliefs can possibly be.
This is an excerpt from Le Bon’s work with some passages truncated just to get to the heart of the matter:
When…it is proposed to imbue the mind of a crowd with ideas and beliefs…the leaders have recourse to different expedients. The principal of them are three in number and clearly defined--affirmation, repetition, and contagion. Their action is somewhat slow, but its effects, once produced, are very lasting.
Affirmation pure and simple, kept free of all reasoning and all proof, is one of the surest means of making an idea enter the mind of crowds. The conciser an affirmation is, the more destitute of every appearance of proof and demonstration, the more weight it carries….
Affirmation, however, has no real influence unless it be constantly repeated, and so far as possible in the same terms. It was Napoleon, I believe, who said that there is only one figure in rhetoric of serious importance, namely, repetition. The thing affirmed comes by repetition to fix itself in the mind in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth.
The influence of repetition on crowds is comprehensible when the power is seen which it exercises on the most enlightened minds. This power is due to the fact that the repeated statement is embedded in the long run in those profound regions of our unconscious selves in which the motives of our actions are forged. At the end of a certain time we have forgotten who is the author of the repeated assertion, and we finish by believing it….
When an affirmation has been sufficiently repeated and there is unanimity in this repetition...what is called a current of opinion is formed and the powerful mechanism of contagion intervenes. Ideas, sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious power as intense as that of microbes….Contagion is so powerful that it forces upon individuals not only certain opinions, but certain modes of feeling as well….The opinions and beliefs of crowds are specially propagated by contagion, but never by reasoning...