What George Orwell Had to Say about Alternative Facts Universes like Those of Putin and Trump

We live in an open society, and so it is relatively easy for Putin to embed agents (e.g., Maria Butina) and recruit assets here to spread his “truths.” Because we are awash in agents and assets (witting and unwitting) of Putinism, we must be correspondingly vigilant about calling out their ******t. I am sick of reading, as Putin bombs theatres full of women and children and turns Mariupol into an ashpit, posts by some American extremists on the left and the right who stupidly and shamelessly repeat and amplify transparently false Russian propaganda about its “special military operation.” These invariably contain some variant of a call for us to “consider Putin’s equally valid point of view.” My blood boiling at the idiocy, complicity, and moral bankruptcy of such a call, I felt compelled to write this note.

Here is Putin’s fav fascist, imperialist philosopher, Alexandr Dugin, clarifying what “truth” means in Putinese (I transcribed this from a BBC interview):

“Everything is relative, and we need—we, in Russia, realize that we could use Postmodernity to explain to the West that . . . any truth, is relative, so we have our own special Russian truth that you need to accept as something that maybe is not Europe truth. . . . I think that now the situation is in Syria for example, if the United States continue[s] to view itself as unipolar power, it says, “No more Assads, “and Europe repeats, “No more Assads,” and other civilization says, “Stop. Let’s have Assad.” And after that there are, very easy, our nuclear and military power beside, uh, behind Assad. So, and that is serious, and if you are boss, you could not let the other decide, if you really are boss, decide what you are to do in this conflict, and Russia says, “No. You are not boss. You are not any more boss.” That is very serious. There is multipolarity, and behind us is, there is nuclear weapon, and that I will to defend for example the little case of Assad—defend Assad. Not because we have so much interest there. That is the situation of who rules the world. That is the problem, and only war could decide, really, who is the boss. . . . It is serious. Very serious. Because we are seriously going to show and to confirm that we are entering to a multipolar world and the situation in Syria, in Ukraine, and anywhere else, that’s only the case to prove that. We don’t want that, but we understand that if we are not ready to pay ALL the price for that, we could not get it. . . . Postmodernism teaches us to understand, and also sociology. I am sociologist as well, and the total fact, according to Durkheim, the founder of sociology, Emile Durkheim, that total fact is the fact that the society believes. . . . The truth is the question of belief, and Postmodernity show[s] that every so-called truth is a matter of belief, so we believe in what we do. We believe in what we say, and that is the only way to define the truth. The truth is a matter of belief.”

In other words, if people believe something, it’s true. If they believe it absolutely, it is total fact, you know, as in totalitarianism. This is, quite seriously, what Dugin is asserting.

2 + 2 = 5. Why? Putin says so. And if you dare disbelieve this, he will have you shot or poisoned or thrown out of a window like those doctors who dared question Putin’s Covid policies.

The West thought it was bringing Russia into the fold of modern nations, extending respect and friendship, engaging in cultural and scientific exchanges and partnerships, doing brisk trade, but all this while, Putin saw everything in his paranoid KGB/FSB, breathtakingly backward medieval strongman way, as conflict to be waged clandestinely through propaganda and payoffs and poisonings and openly through violence and threats of violence, over who is to be the Krestniy Otets, the Big Boss. What is “truth”? All the silly fights over this through the years! It’s whatever the Boss says it is:

Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine. Ukraine is run by Nazis. Russia and Ukraine are one people belonging to a Greater Russian Empire. (See Putin’s historical fantasy and imperialist screed “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”) Ukrainians long to be liberated. (from themselves?) They will greet us with flowers. (Uh, no.) I had to do this because I don’t want this NATO country on my southeastern border. And so on. All of these are absurdities. Some are delusions.

Consider the last one: Ukraine is not a NATO country, and even if it were to become one, NATO is a defensive alliance. Never since Russia became a nuclear power has it had legitimate reason to fear being invaded by NATO or the West. That’s just crazy. And, as Diane Ravich pointed out numerous times on her blog, if Russia had been able to annex the whole of Ukraine (something it seems to have thought it could do in a three-day Blitzkrieg), THEN Putin would have several new NATO-member-country borders that he didn’t have before along the southeastern portion of his new, family-sized Greater Russian Empire in the making–new borders with NATO members Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania.

All the pretexts for this barbaric, brutal invasion (which is a violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter and of the Articles of the Rome Statute forbidding Acts of Aggression, Crimes against Humanity, and War Crimes) belong to an Alternative Facts Universe and not to this world.

Here’s Kellyanne Conway, then counsellor to Putin’s dog, Trump, channeling Dugin: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and our Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave alternative facts.”

Wannabe Krestniy Otets Don the Con Trump lives in an Alternative Fact world inhabited only by himself and his admirers (perhaps even one where he doesn’t have a foreign handler), a world where any nasty, un-Donadlish realities are Fake News. I imagine this conversation between Putin and his dog, Donald:

DON THE CON: So, what should I call the new social media network?

TSAR VLADIMIR: Well, in the old days, we called the Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda.

DON THE CON: OK. Pravda. Crazy name, but OK.

TSAR VLADIMIR: No, no, Donald. Pravda is “truth” in Russian

DON THE CON (thinking hard): Hmmm. OK. OK. I see. We’ll call it “Truth in Russian.”

TSAR VLADIMIR: No, Donald. [turns to National Security Director Patrushev] Take Donald away and explain this to him. However long it takes until he understands.

Stalin used to take his senior people, after work, back to his dacha just outside Moscow for a drinking party that would last until the wee hours. And there he would play a favorite game. He would say something ludicrous and ask people’s opinions. And each would fall over himself to agree. Then he would say, “That’s idiotic,” and say the opposite. Then, he would point to someone and say, “What do you think?” And that person would tremble and try to figure out what he was supposed to think. And then everyone would know that this was the next one of them who was going to be arrested, tortured in the basement of the Lubyanka Prison, extended a chance for reprieve, forced to confess on state TV, subjected to a show trial, and then killed. It is this precise Stalinist/Putinist technique that George Orwell describes in 1984, when O’Brian tells Winston that The Party is not satisfied with confession and groveling from those arrested for Thought Crime. No, it wants perfection. It will make people see that 2 + 2 is 5. It will make them love Big Brother. And then, when they have reached this state of perfection, when they are completely aligned, servile, harmless, it will put a bullet through their heads.

Putin, Trump, an entire political party in the United States–all are trying to usher in a Post-Truth, Alternative Fact world, a world where the facts are whatever Glorious Leader said they were today. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. This is not a war. It’s a special military operation. Biden stole the election. CRT is digging up your flowerbeds. Go back and listen to Ted Cruz’s slimy grilling of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Watch his body language. He doesn’t believe a word of what he is saying. But truth doesn’t matter. All that matters is power, winning.

“You’re gonna win so much, you’ll get tired of winning.” –Donald J. Trump

NB: Someone commented on this essay, asking whether I was “advocating for a new McCarthyism.” I emphatically am not. That ought to be obvious. I am advocating for Russia to stop murdering Ukrainian babies and grandmas and pregnant women and hapless Russian conscripts who were told by said Tsar Vladimir that they were just going to “participate in exercises.”


About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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