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How to win a war: Confuse and lie to your opponent

Adam Curtis’s new film focuses on how, in a new political strategy, politicians create narratives intended to confuse and destabilize our perception of reality in order to manage public thought. The idea is that if politicians give the public no coherent narrative to react to, then they can’t respond with a cogent, dissenting narrative of their own.

“It sums up the strange mood of our time where nothing really makes any coherent sense,” Curtis says. “We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own.”

Vladimir Surkov and Vladimir Putin

Curtis goes on to speak about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov, who has written about the topic, which he calls “Non-Linear War.” The filmmaker suggests that this tactic is also seemingly used in Britain, particularly within the last year.

The United States seems to have utilized this tactic, at least in a broad sense, in their approach to releasing images of war abroad on the news. Ever since the United States lost public support with Vietnam, presumably because of the exhausting, gruesome scenes playing out from Vietnam daily on the nightly news, the US has repressed images depicting the harsh realities of war.

It’s amazing what Adam Curtis can do in five minutes. Check out the video above, and transcript pasted below.

So much of the news this year has been hopeless, depressing and above all confusing. To which the only response is ‘Oh Dear’.

But what this film is going to suggest is that defeatist response has become a central part of a new system of political control - and to understand how this is happening you have to look to Russia and to a man called Vladislav Surkov who is a hero of our time.

Surkov is one of President Putin’s advisors and has helped him maintain his power for fifteen years, but he has done it in a very new way. He came originally from the avant-garde art world, and those who have studied his career say that what Surkov has done is import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics.

His aim is to undermine people’s perception of the world so they never know what is really happening. Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly-changing piece of theatre: he sponsored all kinds of groups, from Neo-Nazi skin-heads to liberal human rights groups, he even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin. But the key thing was that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake.

As one journalist put it" “It’s a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because its indefinable,” which is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in the Ukraine this year.

In typical fashion as the war began Surkov published a short story about something he called Non-Linear War, a war where you never know what the enemy are really up to or even who they are. The underlying aim Surkov says is not to win the war but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception in order to manage and control.

But maybe we have something similar emerging here in Britain, everything were told by journalists and politicians is confusing and contradictory, of course there is no Mr Surkov in charge but its an odd non-linear world that plays into the hands of those in power.

British troops have come home from Afghanistan but nobody seems to know whether it was a victory or whether it was a defeat. Ageing disk-jockeys are prosecuted for crimes they committed decades ago, while practically no-one in the city of London is prosecuted for the endless financial crimes that are being revealed there.

In Syria we are told that President Assad is the evil enemy, but then his enemies turn
out to be even more evil than him, so we bomb them - and by doing that we help keep Assad in power.

But the real epicentre of this non-linear world is the economy and the closest we have
to our own shape-shifting post-modern politician is George Osbourne. He tells us proudly that the economy is growing but at the same time wages are going down; he says he is cutting the deficit but then it’s revealed that the deficit is going up.

But the dark heart of this shape-shifting world is quantitative-easing. The government is insisting on taking billions of pounds out of the economy through its austerity programme, yet at the very same time it is pumping billions of pounds in to the economy through quantitative-easing, the equivalent of £24,000 for every family in Britain.

But it gets even more confusing because the Bank of England have admitted that those billions of pounds have not gone where they have suppose to - a vast amount of the money has actually found its way in to the hands of the wealthiest 5% in Britain.

It has been described as the biggest transfer of wealth to the rich in recent documented history. It could be a huge scandal comparable to the greedy oligarchs in Russia. A ruthless elite siphoning off billions of public money. But nobody seems to know.

It sums up the strange mood of our time where nothing really makes any coherent sense. We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own.

And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty. To which the response is ‘Oh Dear’. But that’s what they want you to say.

I always wonder in contexts like this whether the people in power aren’t also saying “Oh, Dear.” Adam Curtis seems to suggest that they know exactly what they’re doing—at least Putin is doing all this misinformation to stay in power—unlike us. There’s a notion of the distinction between strategy and tactics (I think it’s from Von Bulow the Prussian general) where strategy is what you do when the enemy can’t see you, and tactics is what you do when they can. All this misinformation makes the motives of the powerful unclear, it creates fog of war, so that all the rest of us are left with is tactics of survival.

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