Schölly, Reto (Dr. phil. Reto Schölly, Teaching Fellow at the University of Freiburg, Germany)

 

“ [The] truth is the invention of a liar”
Heinz von Foerster (Thyssen 2003)

“Only the known false can ever be true”
Bazon Brock (Stratmann 1995).

Fear often seems to be rooted in lies. A lie can most easily be told by only communicating provable facts: “Terrorism”, for example, is frequently perceived to be one of today’s major problems. The perpetrator’s crimes have usually been proven, although they hardly can be considered a significant threat, at least in Europe. The German Statistics Office[1] provides a detailed list of the causes of death in Germany: Around 40% of the people living there die of heart failure, and about 35% of cancerous diseases. Out of roughly 870.000 dead in 2014, only three hundred (0.035 %) died due to criminal actions, including neglect (source: Statistisches Bundesamt 2014). It is unknown how many of the latter deaths can even be attributed to terrorism. However, “Die Welt” states: “Salafism is the worst threat of our time” and calls it a “megalomaniac death cult.”[2] Although reports about terrorist attacks may be true, the frequency of their appearance paints a flawed picture of the threat situation.

During the so-called “Swine Flu Epidemic” in 2009/2010, fear was great. Horrifying reports about this virus followed, although this disease only caused 188 deaths within the entire European Union.[3] In the end, the “Swine Flu” even was a little less deadly than the ordinary flu: EuroMOMO[4] writes: “In young children below 5 years, there was no marked difference between the winter of 2013/14 and previous winter seasons except 2009/10 where the excess was 0.8/100,000 compared to 1.7/100,000 this year.” (Euromomo 2016). Although the numbers of victims may be correct, the information arising from them is massively misleading, striking false fear into those receiving it.

This paper shall illustrate how lies can be told through provable facts and how to preserve the chance for future generations to discover falsifications by omission. Considering the relative ease with which the public opinion can be manipulated through fear and true lies, it is imperative to develop a strategy of debunking myths such as a “terrorist threat” or a “swine flu epidemic”. Let the following serve as an example:

If an ideology seeks to lay slander and libel upon a group of people, they simply need to report proven criminal actions performed by such individuals who have indeed committed such crimes. By not mentioning the fact that this is not common behaviour within such a community, and by only emphasizing negative behaviours, the notion that the whole community were crooked, is easily implanted into people’s minds. History has many examples where this strategy has been applied. During the Nazi regime, Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, lay slander upon the Jewish people by reporting criminal actions allegedly performed by individuals, letting the rest of the population falsely believe that the Jews were prone to breaking the law. In more recent times, the right-wing extremists in Germany emphasize criminal behaviour of fugitives living there, whilst ignoring the fact that, in 2015, the German Criminal Office (BKA) released a statistic stating that foreigners in Germany actually have a slightly lower crime rate than Germans.[5] Another example is the German far left-wing party “Die Linke” who emphasize mass layoffs of employees in big companies whilst top-level managers receive huge salaries – and not mentioning that 95 % of the German economy is comprised of small and medium sized organizations which are absolutely unable to perform such actions.[6] They even go as far as declaring “the rich” as an archetypical enemy upon whom they have to declare war. [7]

These hugely problematic forms of slanderous propaganda are derived from provable facts, so they relate to the truth, albeit their message presents in fact a massively distorted picture of reality. In order to combat this effect, it is imperative to preserve raw data, and keep it available through the ages. Data can, in this context, be called “raw” when it has not yet been interpreted, filtered, processed or modified in any way. Thus, raw data itself must be kept intact, and remain available for future generations. Additionally, the method of gathering said data and its sources must be documented as well, including all known reactions by the public after certain events in order to put them into context.

The Abominable Truth, which comes out of said raw data, is often regarded to be a lie and is being met with fear. It is the truth which erases prejudice which is being feared so dearly. Since it often is counterintuitive, the common population often rejects it as being untrue, and clings to established – yet false – notions. For documenting the Human race, it is therefore imperative to retain raw data and allow future generations to look upon it from a distance, to draw their own conclusions without the prejudices which come from living during a time of turmoil.

 

Sources:
  • Bundeskriminalamt (2015, Nov.) „Lagebericht Nr. 1“
  • Die Welt (2016): „Salafismus ist die größte Bedrohung unserer Zeit.“, newspaper article of March 29th, 2016.
  • Statistisches Bundesamt (2014): „Gesundheit. Todesursachen in Deutschland. Fachserie 12, Reihe 4”, pp. 3, 34.
  • Stratmann, Nicole (1995): “Der Selbstfesselungskünstler. Bazon Brock. Einführung in eine Ästhetik des Unterlassens”, Weimar 1995, p. 83. Free translation by the author.
  • Thyssen, Ole (2003): “TRUTH IS WAR: Conversations with Heinz von Foerster”, in: Cybernetics And Human Knowing. Vol. 10, nos. 3-4, pp. 179.

 

Web:
  • Bundeskriminalamt (BKA 2015) www.bka.de
  • Birgit Schmeitzner on Br.de, „Linke sagt Reichen den Kampf an”, Jan 14th 2017.
  • Euromomo (2016): “Pooled analyses of all-cause mortality indicates low excess mortality in Europe in the winter of 2013/14, in particular amongst the elderly.” (http://www.euromomo.eu/methods/pdf/pooled_analyses_winter_2013_14.pdf, access: 28. März 2016)
  • tagesschau.de, “Der Charlie-Blick wird Deutschland guttun”, commentary by Judith Pape, Dec. 1st, 2016.

 


[1] Deutsches Statistisches Bundesamt, destatis.de
[2] Die Welt 2016: Original phrasing of „megalomaniac death cult“: „größenwahnsinniger Todeskult”.
[3] So says EuroMOMO, see below. And as the German Doctor’s journal webpage “aerzte-zeitung.de” claims, there only have been seven deaths due to  this virus in Germany, until 2011.
[4] European monitoring of excess mortality for public health action (Euromomo), http://euromomo.eu
[5] Bundeskriminalamt (2015, Nov.) „Lagebericht Nr. 1“
[6] The author thanks Dr. Christoph Münzer of the WVIB for this information.
[7] Birgit Schmeitzner on Br.de, „Linke sagt Reichen den Kampf an”, jan 14th 2017.