Now, the advertising advocates – they’ll tell you that proven ad strategies are being employed to influence every aspect of our lives; and the stats geeks will interpret the results and tell you who you are; and although most won’t believe this definition about themselves, they’ll believe the definition about everyone else.
The origin of plausible denial lies in murky waters. The term itself is clear, its floating chunks visible along the Potomac every time some beltway branch broadsheet regurgitates, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” but the origin of the concept is too deep to be surfaced.
Ronald Reagan’s replying “I don’t recall…” dozens of times before a grand jury in February of 1990 could have been his way of taking the 5th while drinking it, an attempt by the ex-President to leverage his plausible deniability in defense of his legacy from the implication that he had been out of the loop entirely on a whole range of issues, not just Iran-Contra.
In an Oval Office teevee speech to his nation in ’87, he had taken “full responsibility” for “activities undertaken without [his] knowledge”, a textbook example of where the meanings of responsibility and accountability diverge. Legal liability? Forget about it! At any rate, it had become a workable enough presumption by the time of his testimony that he hadn’t known much (more on this later).
For the most plausible of denial, it’s best to conceal from plausible deniers the very existence of that specific something they don’t know about. For contrast, think Dubya, just after Chief Card tells him the second tower had been hit. As classic a known-unknown look if there ever was one peered out of that skull, which — while easily attributable to his having watched the first hit already, or so would be attested — has been jet fuel to the fire of alternative theories as to what led to the events of that day since that day.
Either way, if your goal is to shield your senior from spilling actual beans, you don’t want that kind of look to spoil an otherwise comfortably duplicitous press conference, which is why sending ignorance to the podium has become routine — which ignorance, interestingly, appears just as plausible coming from an ignoramus as it does when the communicator exudes clued-in intelligence: it is conceivable that either one of them has blatantly bought their bullshit.
The Emperor’s New Clothing Factory Fire Sale
The manufacture of consent, insofar as it indicates the post-production of public opinion through selective censorship & propaganda, has resulted in the perpetuation of plausible consent, a cultural aspect not defined by whether or not the prospective consumer of media believe what’s put forth, but by the expectation that others believe it. As such, it maintains the appearance of consent. In other words, consent is not necessary, only the plausibility of it.
Conceived dichotomies too oft proceed from the same unexamined assumptions. From an electoral standpoint, the US American two-party system is a good example. Up close, there are devoted voters of both parties who believe in the genuine oppositional nature of the chamber. They show up for every election, some of them really believing they are casting for something, not merely against something else, a difference meaningless to the larger picture, based as it is on the assumption that it makes a difference which party can pull more strings or, as the case may be, can have their strings pulled.
With that in mind, we see these motivated voters in opposition to the non-voters who believe the two parties are fundamentally identical, having their strings pulled by the same exclusive interests. For the sake of this argument, we can include the likes of third-party support and write-in ballotry in opposition to traditional party loyalty.
It follows, however, that this clear & direct disagreement as to whether or not voting makes a difference is in turn rooted in the assumption that somebody wants your vote, ignoring entirely the possibility that it might often be the case that somebody simply wants you to believe that somebody wants your vote.
Everything that happens in electoral politics supports that assumption, including electoral fraud. Especially electoral fraud. The impression that a Bush stole the 2000 presidential election supports the notion that the office is worth something more than just as an elite status symbol, or that there’d be no Patriot Act had Florida gone to Gore.
This is not strictly an American thing. Here in Europe, regulatory capture is enough a reality that there are three, four, sometimes five parties that have all proven on occasion to be corruptible when given a chance to govern, confirming the adage that power corrupts, even if the power is only plausible: There is always real power behind its plausible front.
The second part of that adage, which states that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, belies the fact that power doesn’t have to appear absolute to be absolutely corrupt. That is, the second part of the adage is a red-herring that might serve to keep flocks flocking to absolute corruption, in fear of the forever more brazen bogeyman: Totalitarianism.
But the main point to make about parliamentary politics & multiple parties is that the tug of war spectacle between rulers & opposition remains. Citizens believe in that balance. Apparently.
Every block of text written on the subject of electoral politics, including its corruption, implicitly piles on anyone who’d take the entire thing for farce. Herein qualify as well an untold mass of alternative media, labeled by themselves & others everything from leftist to libertarian, their every contribution furthering plausible consent. If somebody writes it or says it, it is plausible that loads of readers or listeners or viewers believe it — are likely passively driven by all its inferences.
In a landscape wherein it’s claimed consent has been given, it is plausible that others believe the state of affairs to be consensual, even when they don’t consent to the affairs of state.
Plausibly paired in opposition
Opposing ideologies flowing from the selfsame swamp will inevitably lead to the conclusion at the mouth of the same river.
The Wikileaks phenomenon seemed to many on the surface to be the stone to shatter the complacency of a society long past its credulity date. Still, and especially for those having their watershed moment, the leaks have served to foster the liminal assumption that, if something is being done to us in secret, we will find out about it eventually. It insinuates that we have reached an age whereupon the truth can be known.
Conversely to others, the initial breach amounts to a danger to their peaceful existence, married as they are to the concept of law & order and national security.
For all of this conflicting sentiment, both believe nothing other than marginally different editions of the same basic history.
Take the Snowden affair to the Snowden fan: Here lies the notion that our former spies are our current heroes; that one can say that Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden couldn’t possibly be anything other than on the same page, never mind the journalists that cover them; that billionaires can take up the pen of fourth or fifth estate without ulterior motive; that NGOs can be something other than instruments of the wealthy; that all the perfidy recently revealed, no matter how pernicious its roots, can be weeded out if we only choose the right leaders. Here lies the definition of leader that precludes any path without critical mass.
Conversely again to others, Snowden is a traitor and Manning a miscreant, as are Assange and the journos who give them ink. If we choose the right leaders, their kind would be hanged.
Neither of these views escape the gulf of status quo.
If a breakdown of plausible consent is evident, at present the fissures remain most strongly represented in endemic apathy. Whether this apathy is a desired side-effect or a happy accident for would-be shape-shifters of societal belief & behavior, the precise tally of a population’s political agnostics could be indicated in a cross sample of people patiently expressing impatience that no one is standing up. They are waiting for the revolution, and it remains plausible to them that it will be televised.
Still, apathy itself is not significantly stigmatized. We share our apathy with one another more freely than is likely we’ll reveal our misgivings about the veracity of a widely accepted truth. Peer pressure is for real. For sure, there is a growing professed distrust of any number of things taken for granted, but growing faster alongside is the ridicule of the same as conspiracy mongering. Such ridicule, like assumed givens, has the more sophisticated public influence, thanks still to the long-established effectiveness of plausible consent, duly manufactured.
For thinkers thinking too far outside the box for cultural comfort, on-line social media forums and comments sections on media blogs provide outlets to agitate one another; face-to-face, one is more likely to admit to only feeling general apathy, or ignorance. Professing specific incredulity toward conventional wisdom is a touchy affair best left to anonymous postings “we” can all laugh about.
Thus, the modern era of mainstream socio-political activism has an embedded protection system for the status quo. Peer pressure is for real writ large.
So whether you believe that voting makes a difference or not doesn’t change the shape of consent’s plausibility, just like the breakdown in percentage of people who believe & don’t believe Reagan knew about the swapping & laundering of weapons & drugs is immaterial. It is plausible that people think he knew and it is plausible that people think he didn’t, and whether or not he did is least relevant.
One mass of the population holding one position, who conclude that another mass subscribes to something entirely different as it pertains to the same object in question, throwing its hands up in despair at the plausible absurdity of it all, is a population born of uncertainty and frustration, arrantly incapable of conviction, devoid of real opinion, a society based primarily on hearsay and innuendo. This is the age of plausible consent, manufactured as a malleable mold of nothing real, where no one actually believes in anything, except by default.
However, oligarchy’s greatest triumph is that too much of society falsely conflates the choices given in a liberal democracy with how the governed should choose to live their lives. You have plenty of choices so long as you don’t insist on waiting for someone else to tell you what they are.