Politics Opinion

Morrison's misinformation campaign is his greatest weapon

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The Morrison Government has become so entangled in scandals and misinformation that it's difficult to determine what's real anymore, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

STEVE BANNON, sometime White House Chief Strategist in the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, coined the term “flood the zone with shit”.

This strategy, succinctly identified by Bannon though not created by him, involves disseminating masses of disinformation intended to seed public mistrust and erode the public’s ability to determine what is true. Overwhelmed by disinformation, it becomes impossible to identify one coherent narrative and the search for truth becomes too exhausting to pursue.

When the public is exhausted, the zone has been flooded with shit. There is confusion, anger, insecurity and fear, and having concluded that there is no knowable truth in politics, people instead yearn for an authoritative leader, someone who appears to cut through the shit for them, as the only feasible alternative.

In Australia we are desperately dog-paddling through the shit-flooded zone, trying to keep our heads above the solids. With a Prime Minister who is recognised as a liar internationally and domestically and a Government that is prepared to support him despite his mendacity, thus participating in it, we have no hope of determining what is true in the political narrative they currently dominate.

With a largely captive media who no longer act as gatekeepers speaking truth to power, we have lost our most important defence against the deceit and duplicity of those for whom power is the only goal.

The need for clicks is a primary determinant in what is published and how, to an extent inconceivable before the internet and social media. Add to this the flagrant preferencing of the Federal Government by the majority of the mainstream media and you have the perfect conditions in which to flood the zone.

There are still voices that speak the truth in a valiant attempt to outswim the tsunami of lies, but they are too rarely in the mainstream.

And so it is that in a time of pandemic, when we are fast approaching a Federal Election, the outcome of that Election is likely to be determined not by the neglect unto death of elderly people in aged care facilities and not by the catastrophic failure of the Federal Government to manage the pandemic and its effects, but by leaked text messages and the scandals of personal betrayal.

Why? Because leaked text messages and the soap opera of individual psychodramas get more clicks than policies, even when those policies have been proven critical failures with horrendous consequences. These scandals offer titillation, light relief from the futile daily struggle to determine what is true and the despair that comes with being overwhelmed by lies.  

The scandalous can make us laugh, albeit bitterly. It is amusing to mock the powerful who control our future and in the mocking, we can forget for a moment that however ridiculous, brutal, amoral and unethical they are, they still control our future.

We are only human and we must forgive one another, declares Prime Minister Scott Morrison who, over a long political career, has shown not a moment’s concern for anyone’s interests other than his own while overseeing brutal policies that have brought death and despair to Australians and refugees alike.

That Morrison’s efforts to humanise himself and his colleagues have accelerated in sync with the scandals is telling. We’ve all made mistakes so we should be able to forgive them in our leaders, is his spin. No matter the incommensurate nature of those mistakes and the power differential between them and us. We all screw up. It’s human to err and to forgive is divine. You can read this as another level of shit flooding, in which corrupted power tries to fool you that we’re equal.  

To some degree, however, everyone is complicit. When the ruling class floods the zone with irresistible scandal, of course we’re going to pay attention and they know this. It’s the equivalent of throwing us cake for an immediate sugary fix, as opposed to providing the more substantial bread we need to survive. We become so hooked on cake that bread doesn’t satisfy our cravings, even though without it we will weaken. It takes an effort of will to resist the cake and demand the bread, and we’re already dealing with a pandemic.

The flooding strategy is intended to produce a maze of narratives and counter-narratives so complex and confusing that we have neither the time nor the energy to find our way through them. A pandemic offers the ideal opportunity for this manipulation.

This time in our history is sometimes described as the “post-truth” era, however, it isn’t so much “post” (the truth is out there somewhere) as truth sunk five fathoms deep in a sewage pond of disinformation by people who’ve understood that making truth impossible to find is the most useful propaganda tool of all time.

So far.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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