Vladimir Putin, having begun what many would consider an ill-conceived invasion of neighboring Ukraine, is speeding down a road he probably realizes ends in disaster.
Yet he cannot stop or exit on terms consistent with the basis of his power because any deals with Kyiv, except accepting its surrender, would be a sign of weakness. Since Russia lacks the material strength to compel submission, the only alternatives are to keep pulling the same ineffective levers harder, whatever the cost. The casualties mount even at the center. Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, already rumored to be in disgrace, has allegedly suffered a heart attack. Up to 150 senior Chekists are reputed to be under arrest or in disgrace. Twenty general officers are reputedly under investigation, including some close to Putin himself. While these reports may be exaggerated, the Kremlin has clearly chained itself to a runaway train. …
In Beijing, the Communist Party, having decided it would eliminate the COVID-19 virus from China, has embarked on a program of population-movement control unparalleled in human history. That it doesn’t work seems irrelevant.
The New York Times writes, “Beijing has ignored experts’ advice that China abandon its costly strategy and learn to coexist with the coronavirus, especially a milder, if more infectious, variant. … As the Omicron variant spreads, about 373 million people in 45 Chinese cities were under either full or partial lockdowns as of Monday, according to estimates by economists at the investment bank Nomura. These cities account for 26 percent of China’s population and 40 percent of its economic output.”…
In the West, the defense of the infallibility of the political class takes a different but equivalent form. There too the gods cannot err, and mistakes are never acknowledged at all. The Narrative is simply airbrushed or explained by “fact-checkers” to make it seem like the favored political line has never been wrong.
Thus Germany’s energy switch from indigenous coal and nuclear power to Russian gas never funded Putin. The Biden administration’s seamless resumption of approving oil leases on federal land was never an indictment of past policy. The COVID health mandates that were always necessary just suddenly became superfluous, especially for illegal immigrants at the southern U.S. border. Barack Obama was never fooled for an instant: declaring “Putin has always been ruthless … the danger was always there,” even though people remember he mocked Mitt Romney for saying it. Nor was the Washington Post deceived by Hunter Biden’s denials: headlining “inside Hunter Biden’s multimillion-dollar deals with a Chinese energy company,” denouncing it while pointing out it was only a private matter. …
The leaders are fooled by their all-pervasive propaganda machines, able to conjure up convenient narratives out of thin air. But false narratives fail when they bump into reality, and even modern propaganda cannot hide their failures forever:
Not until the advent of digital social media has it been possible to manipulate publics of billions in near real-time. Now you can tell any damn fool story you want.
No one, as in former times, fesses up their sins, acknowledges guilt, and resolves to mend their ways anymore. They simply redefine error out of existence.
Social media made it as seemingly easy to abolish the facts as it is for Chinese and Russian authoritarianism to ignore them. It is social media’s power to create a virtual universe that makes it, after actual officeholding, the most coveted political object in the West and largely explains the bitter struggle between Twitter’s board and Elon Musk’s attempt to take over the company.
It is Sauron’s ring, the one mechanism to rule the narratives and “in the darkness bind them”.
This is why we need free speech.