How politics became a war against reality

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In his brilliant 2014 book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, Soviet-born TV producer turned journalist Peter Pomerantsev described 21st-century Russia as a political anomaly. He wrote about “a new type of authoritarianism” that waged war on reality by peddling conspiracy theories, disregarding the notion of truth, and framing all political opposition as the enemy of the people.

Sound familiar?

Upon leaving Russia, Pomerantsev found that the world around him had been infected with the same post-truth disease he had diagnosed in Moscow. The war against reality had spread across the globe, from London and Washington, DC, to Mexico City and Manila, Philippines. All over the place, the same values that had once defined liberal democracy — free speech, pluralism, the open exchange of ideas — were now being used to undermine it. This development became the centerpiece of his dizzying new book This is Not Propaganda, and it is the focal point of our conversation. We discuss:

- How information went from being the tool of dissidents to the tool of authoritarians

- Why Russia developed modern, post-truth politics first

- The tactics that spin doctors and troll farms use to warp our sense of reality

- How the end of the Cold War triggered a global descent into relativist chaos

- How liberal democratic values like free speech and pluralism are being used to undermine liberal democracy

- Why “all politics is now about creating identity”

- Whether it is possible to organize the internet democratically

- Why the informational chaos of digital politics is much worse outside the US

- The worst butchering of a guest’s name in the show’s history

And much more. Taking a step back from our current moment, American politics is now dominated by the internal machinations of the post-Soviet political systems Pomerantsev specializes in understanding. To see our politics clearly requires seeing their politics clearly.

References:

For a Left Populism by Chantal Mouffe

On Populist Reason by Ernest Laclau

Book recommendations:

The Asthenic Syndrome by Kira Muratova (film)

History becomes Form by Boris Groys

If you enjoyed this conversation, you may also like:

Jia Tolentino on what happens when life is an endless performance

Want to contact the show? Reach out at ezrakleinshow@vox.com

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