Spectacle and Belief

To a 9/11 truther, headlines and top paragraphs of news stories on page 1 of today’s New York Times seem eerily apropos of happenings in a national emergency nearly two decades ago. Here goes:

Headline and subhead:FLOOD OF FAILURES LET MOB RAMPAGE THROUGH CAPITOL: Ignored Warnings, a Lack Of Preparation and a Slow Response to Danger.” First two paragraphs of story by five reporters: “WASHINGTON — Huddled in a command center, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington and her aides saw a photograph on Wednesday afternoon [Jan. 6] of blood stains on the temporary grandstands at the Capitol, a makeshift structure built for the inauguration of a new president in two weeks. / The enormity of the deadly failure sank in.”

Headline:How Leaders Bend Reality With Big Lies.”  First two paragraphs of story: “MOSCOW — In a cable to Washington in 1944, George F. Kennan, counselor at the United States Embassy in Stalin’s Moscow, warned of the occult power held by lies, noting that Soviet rule ‘has proved some strange and disturbing things about human nature.’ / Foremost among these, he wrote, is that in the case of many people, ‘it is possible to make them feel and believe practically anything.’ No matter how untrue something might be, he wrote, ‘for the people who believe it, it becomes true. It attains validity and all the powers of truth.’’’

The reporter, Andrew Higgins, goes on to say that Kennan’s “insight … now has a haunting resonance for America” because many believe a “truth,” which Higgins writes was “invented by President Trump,” that Joseph R. Biden lost the November election and is president-elect only through fraud. (Trump “invented” the whole stolen-election thing all by himself?)

Noting that “lying as a political tool is hardly new,” Higgins quotes the 16th-century Italian diplomat and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli that “one who deceives will always find those who allow those who allow themselves to be deceived.”

Headline:A Web Haven For Trump Fans Faces the Void.” The story by two reporters relates how the Parler “free speech” social network, to which millions who doubted the legitimacy of Biden’s victory had hoped would give them a voice after Facebook and Twitter started censoring their posts, had itself been bottled up by Apple and Google and “was set to disappear from the web on Monday.”

Like the storming of the Capitol last week, the extent of the murder and destruction of the 9/11 attacks of September 2001 has been attributed to a flood of failures, ignored warnings, a lack of preparation and a slow response to danger — in addition to the evil genius of Muslims in Afghanistan. Both historical events were spectacular, seen over and over on TV and computer screens. 

Somewhere in heaven another Italian, the playwright Luigi Pirandello, may be cheering. What’s transpiring down here on earth illustrates why in 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his abilities to “turn psychological analysis into good theatre.” The title of Pirandello’s 1917 play “Così è (se vi pare),” translated as “So It Is (If You Think So),” fits the 2021 world to a T. I like to think he would see through much of what’s going on.

— Mark Channing Miller

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