Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trump: the Defeat of the Empire of Lies

In 2003, the Western Media were able to convince almost everyone that the evil dictator Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The success of this propaganda operation was so spectacular that it led one of the aides of George W. Bush to declare that "now we create our own reality." It was the true founding statement of the Empire of Lies.

But the power of creation does not reside with mere human beings and it may well be that the Gods took umbrage at this manifestation of hubris. During the latest US presidential campaign, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were lumped together and subjected to the same demonizing treatment that earlier on had been reserved to Saddam Hussein. But, simply, it didn't work. The whole campaign backfired, badly. The extent of the defeat that the Empire of Lies suffered is staggering.

Unfortunately, the fact that Donald Trump was elected largely as a reaction against previous lies doesn't make him a good president and not even someone whom we can trust. We may have learned to recognize lies, but it seems that we haven't yet learned to recognize the truth. The pendulum may be swinging too far and we are now branding perfectly correct theories as hoaxes and conspiracies. This is the case of climate change, that Donald Trump has defined as a hoax. The extent of the damage that the Trump presidency could do to humankind by policies that ignore the climate threat is staggering, too.

So, will we ever learn to find our way in the universe of lies in which we live? Difficult to say, but we live in a condition in which the ancient Romans already found themselves long ago. The post below, published early this year, may help us to understand the problem.

From "Cassandra's Legacy", Monday, February 8, 2016

The Empire of Lies

The Trajan Column was built in order to celebrate the victories of the Roman Armies in the conquest of Dacia, during the 2nd century AD. It shows that the Romans knew and used propaganda, although in forms that for us look primitive. In those times, just as in ours, a dying empire could be kept together for a while by lies, but not forever.  

At the beginning of the 5th century AD, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his "De Mendacio" ("On Lying"). Reading it today, we may be surprised at how rigid and strict Augustine was in his conclusions. A Christian, according to him, could not lie in any circumstances whatsoever; not even to save lives or to avoid suffering for someone. The suffering of the material body, said Augustine, is nothing; what's important is one's immortal soul. Later theologians substantially softened these requirements, but there was a logic in Augustine's stance if we consider his times: the last century of the Western Roman Empire.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privileges of the rich. The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.

Augustine was reacting to all this. He was trying to rebuild the "auctoritas", not in the form of mere authoritarianism of an oppressive government, but in the form of trust. So, he was appealing to the highest authority of all, God himself. He was also building his argument on the prestige that the Christians had gained at a very high price with their martyrs. And not just that. In his texts, and in particular in his "Confessions" Augustine was opening himself completely to his readers; telling them all of his thoughts and his sins in minute details. It was, again, a way to rebuild trust by showing that one had no hidden motives. And he had to be strict in his conclusions. He couldn't leave any openings that would permit the Empire of Lies to return.

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face." It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it? In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result of divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness. It was a spiritual and philosophical vision, but also a very down-to-earth one. Today, we would say that the Christians of late Roman times were engaged in "relocalization", abandoning the expensive and undefendable structures of the old Empire to rebuild a society based on local resources and local governance. The age that followed, the Middle Ages, can be seen as a time of decline but it was, rather, a necessary adaptation to the changed economic conditions. Eventually, all societies must come to terms with Truth. The Western Roman Empire could not do that, It had to disappear, it was unavoidable.

Now, let's move forward to our times and we have reached our empire of lies. On the current situation, I don't have to tell you anything that you don't already know. During the past few decades, the mountain of lies tossed at us by governments has been perfectly matched by the disastrous loss of trust in our leaders on the part of the citizens. When the Soviets launched their first orbiting satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957, nobody doubted that it was for real and the reaction of the US government was to launch their own satellites. Today, plenty of people even deny that the US sent men to the moon in the 1960s. They may be ridiculed, they may be branded as conspiracy theorists, sure, but they are there. Perhaps the watershed of this collapse of trust was with the story of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that we were told were hidden in Iraq. It was not their first, nor it will be their last, lie. But how can you ever trust an institution that lied to you so brazenly? (and that continue to do so?)

Today, every statement from a government, or from an even remotely "official" source, seems to generate a parallel and opposite statement of denial. Unfortunately, the opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth, and that has originated baroque castles of lies, counter-lies, and counter-counter lies. Think of the story of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Somewhere, hidden below the mass of legends and myths that have piled up on this story, there has to be the truth; some kind of truth. But how to find it when you can't trust anything you read on the Web? Or think of peak oil. At the simplest level of conspiratorial interpretation, peak oil can be seen as a reaction to the lies of oil companies that hide the depletion of their resources. But you may also see peak oil as a scam created by oil companies that try to hide the fact that their resources are actually abundant - even infinite in the diffuse legend of "abiotic oil". But, for others, the idea that peak oil is a scam created in order to hide abundance may be a higher order scam created in order to hide scarcity. Eve higher order conspiracy theories are possible. It is a fractal universe of lies, where you have no reference point to tell you where you are.

Eventually, it is a problem of epistemology. The same that goes back to Pontius Pilate's statement "what is truth?" Where are we supposed to find truth in our world? Perhaps in science? But science is rapidly becoming a marginal sect of people who mumble of catastrophes to come. People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars. Then, we tend to seek it in such things as "democracy" and to believe that a voting majority somehow defines "truth". But democracy has become a ghost of itself: how can citizens make an informed choice after that we discovered the concept that we call "perception management" (earlier on called "propaganda")?

Going along a trajectory parallel to that of the ancient Romans, we haven't yet arrived at having a semi-divine emperor residing in Washington D.C., considered by law to be the repository of divine truth. And we aren't seeing yet a new religion taking over and expelling the old ones. At present, the reaction against the official lies takes mostly the form of what we call "conspiratorial attitude." Although widely despised, conspirationism is not necessarily wrong; conspiracies do exist and much of the misinformation that spreads over the web must be created by someone who is conspiring against us. The problem is that conspirationism is not a form of epistemology. Once you have decided that everything you read is part of the great conspiracy, then you have locked yourself in an epistemological box and thrown away the key. And, like Pilate, you can only ask "what is truth?", but you will never find it.

Is it possible to think of an "epistemology 2.0" that would allow us to regain trust on the institutions and on our fellow human beings? Possibly, yes but, right now, we are seeing as in a mirror, darkly. Something is surely stirring, out there; but it has not yet taken a recognizable shape. Maybe it will be a new ideal, maybe a revisitation of an old religion, maybe a new religion, maybe a new way of seeing the world. We cannot say which form the new truth will take, but we can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something. And that all births are painful but necessary.


  1. Don't quite understand your dismissal of science as not relevant to truth. Science is the process of discovering the characteristics of everything we can about the objective universe (with the quality of our understanding confirmed by its predictive power). It is by definition truth (as best as we can currently know it). If a lie is untruth, a lie is un-science. If we cannot rely on the truths of science to combat the "empire of lies", we have no weapon at all and are doomed to defeat.

    1. It is a fundamental point. Science is an epistemological system and all epistemological systems are based on axioms that can't be proven. So, science is a good epistemological system as long as people believe in it. Most people are stopping believing in science because of its broken promises. And as long as scientists will keep making promises that they know they can't maintain, trust in science will keep going down the drain

    2. Ugo
      Did you you consider that institutional science has taken a wrong turn in its development of philosophical basis and procedural environment?

      Consider the fallacy of the Elephant, the error of taking a part and generalizing to the entire system. Much of science today is hyperspecialized and extremely bureaucratic and this has caused Elephant thinking to become pandemic. This is far from being the only disease. All of this results in a system that even if it has access to the required information is incapable of theorizing and evaluating properly and cause a continuous output of mistakes and ungrounded speculations that fail in contact with reality and results in a decline of scientific auctoritas.

      Perhaps the current science system has like the USSR become terminally dysfunctional and will collapse. Then what is salvaged from the rubble can go into a new system and new culture of sound thinking erected on a sounder philosophical foundation leading to a gradual return of trust and auctoritas.

    3. I would agree with your analysis. Science has become an elephant. Expensive and mostly useless. The public is fed up with it. People don't want to pay anymore for people who keep making promises and never maintain them.

    4. I must tell you that on the question of peak oil we were all victims of Elephant thinking. By the peak model global oil should have been declining since around 1998 but this did not happen. Many have said because of this oil depletion is not real. They will be left stunned like Cinderella after the last stroke of midnight.

      Individual oil field or oil provinces do follow the Hubbert model because they are subunits in a much larger system. But the Hubbert model doesn't apply to the entire oil system because it is a homeostatic system with properties much closer to a living system than a simple machine. The system as a whole cannot go into decline any more than an adult man can turn back into a baby. It follows a totally different path.

      I'll continue in my next communication since it is late at night here and and him still gradually translating the solution into words. There is sychronicity in this since when the solution finally clicked together in my mind, I opened your page and found you had reposted the St Augustine article at that same time. I decided you would be the first person to which I would tell this.

      Earlier you asked what Emperor was Trump? I propose Honorius. In an earlier posting I said we were in the Age of Stilicon, well the shades of the Goths have arisen from their graves and are now on the march for another meeting with history. You, I and everyone we know will soon awaken in a new world.

  2. always, I appreciate.

    But I tend to see this more as a replay of 1848 rather than going all the way back to Augustine.

    The question now will be what happens in your Italy on my birthday (12.04)

    It could prove quite intereseting

    1. It is a general rule of the universe that everyone gets what they deserve - at least in the long run

  3. Thanks for this - a great piece.

    Jonathan Pie's rant sums it up here (if you are okay with the expletives - justifiable give the circumstances):

  4. Very interesting, thanks. Totally agree with you. The victory of Trump, absolutely unexpected to me, brings me a sweet-sour feeling together with this clear message: the world is spinning out of control. Until this day i had, like many other, the growing paranoid feeling that the world had fallen under the rigid control of a sect of invincible "super-psychopaths". Trump comes as the mutant in Asimov'foundation, defying some sort of "programmed fate". The attacks of that evil machine called "free press" on Trump make clear that he, no matter how wicked can be, is not "one of them". So there seems to be more degrees of freedom, there are "several them" and a fight of different factions for power, which is truly a relief. The world is thus spinning out of control... Good news! ...emm.. Sure?

  5. Ugo, I think your argument fundamentally confuses Science and its use by Technology and Capital. You characterize scientists as "People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars." Did science promise energy too cheap to meter or wasn't it politicians and apologists for the Military-Industrial Complex who were looking for a way to generate monopoly profit rates and paint a happy face on building weapons of mass murder?

    A statement like "science is a good epistemological system as long as people believe in it." is simply nonsense. Science is the best process we have invented for arriving at truth. It is still flawed- after all it is carried out by flawed humans.

    Even for events that immediately become wrapped in a veil of propaganda and opinion management there remains a fundamental set of facts grounded in the physical universe. Climate change is such an issue. As are the World Trade center attacks and the Official Conspiracy Theory created by he government to explain it. Newton physics describe the rate of fall of objects. Steel melts at a certain temperature. Open flame temperature of burning jet fuel has known physical limits. Structures have known engineering characteristics and possible failure modes. Paper passports of hijackers don't survive a crash into a building, explosion and fire only to be discovered lying in the street undamaged.

    And opinion management doesn't "trump" the way the universe works.

  6. "Paper passports of hijackers don't survive a crash into a building, explosion and fire only to be discovered lying in the street undamaged"

    my theory on this is you are getting your 9/11 conspiracy theory mixed up with your paris terrorist event conspiracy theory.

    1. The conspiracy theory that I suggested should be subject to scientific rules of evidence and methodology is the official one contained in the 911 Commission Report. I made no reference to "my" conspiracy theory but if I have one it should be subject to the same laws of physics and logic.

      re my "confusion" about the discovery of the passport said to have been the key to the rapid discovery of the hijackers identity: Evidently CNN and the Guardian were "mixed up" as well.

  7. Hasn't science itself become 'bread and circuses'? (As scientists, we make pretty good engineers. Epistemologies are faith-based.) I look at all the tech-glorification and think, "Yeah." Travelling to Alpha Centauri in a craft propelled by a huge web that captures gravitational energy? -- pilot project of which could be attempted within ten years? Hey, sign me up, after my youthful-body transplant and my personality and life's experiences are transferred from a computer file into a pristine,cloned alpha brain, so that I can crew on this clear-eyed projection. While meantime, in the area where I live, all the increasingly fewer stores are budget and dollar; all the shoes, on shelves and feet, vinyl; sand is unobtainable except at long and unpredictable intervals. Even global warming, and all the politically correct pieties about it.... Human activity hasn't caused the marked increase in volcanism and seismic activity we're seeing. Those are generated by internal heat -- as is methane bubbling up from deep inside permafrost and ocean floors. We *want* to believe human activity is responsible so that we can pretend we can fix it by everyone cooperating, with our thousands of years common history of cooperation. And meanwhile, again, we're all gibbering underneath with unexpressed and undefined archetypal fears and uncertainties, with no gods left except Trump, in America, and Coudenhove-Kalergi idolaters in Europe, and Putin, in Russia. Science, religion, democracy, the EU, a 'free press' anywhere -- all our institutions are failing as the world degenerates into post-cheap-energy mayhem with our numbers monstrous and unfeedable.

  8. I totally agree with Ugo's analysis of this extraordinary event.

    The collapse of everything most people take for granted, at least in what we may psychologically call "the West", started on the outskirts, and then moved inward... what is extraordinary is that it is no longer - say - Iraq or Bolivia which is "unusual", it is the very centre of the Empire which has gone wild.

    It would be interesting to look back in history, and see how long ago there was an "unusual" incumbent in the White House. I think it would be a very long time ago, the last one I can think of was Theodore Roosevelt, but even he was not quite as "strange" as Donald Trump.

    This means that until now, it was a whole anonymous system which created rather banale presidents to do its bidding.

    Fascinating times to live through!

  9. Hi Ugo,

    You state " ...that Donald Trump was elected...". Is this true? Do you have verifiable evidence of that, apart from media rumor? Can a candidate truly become a president through electoral fraud? Please see:
    Greg Palast:

    The Election was Stolen – Here’s How…

    Before a single vote was cast, the election was fixed by GOP and Trump operatives.

    Starting in 2013 – just as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act – a coterie of Trump operatives, under the direction of Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, created a system to purge 1.1 million Americans of color from the voter rolls of GOP–controlled states.

    The system, called Crosscheck, is detailed in my Rolling Stone report,
    “The GOP’s Stealth War on Voters,” 8/24/2016.

    Crosscheck in action:
    Trump victory margin in Michigan: 13,107
    Michigan Crosscheck purge list: 449,922

    Trump victory margin in Arizona: 85,257
    Arizona Crosscheck purge list: 270,824

    Trump victory margin in North Carolina: 177,008
    North Carolina Crosscheck purge list: 589,393

    On Tuesday, we saw Crosscheck elect a Republican Senate and as President, Donald Trump. The electoral putsch was aided by nine other methods of attacking the right to vote of Black, Latino and Asian-American voters, methods detailed in my book and film, including “Caging,” “purging,” blocking legitimate registrations, and wrongly shunting millions to “provisional” ballots that will never be counted.

    Trump signaled the use of “Crosscheck” when he claimed the election is “rigged” because “people are voting many, many times.”

  10. Hello Ugo,
    Just read your article traducted in french on the saker's website. I make a small, fast and not corrected comment, it's friday evening and I want to stop being in front of the screen, sorry about.
    Just one ... thought, and of course, it's just my anonymous opinion, but have you ever considered that the climate change (due to human activity) is in fact well an hoax !? Have you ever considered that you may also know a part of some truths and be still, yoursefl, under propaganda about other subjects ?
    Please, inform about, or if you do not have time, find someone in your trusted entourage, someone who is also not already believing in anything, and ask him to search for you then come back to you with his conclusions. You may be very astonished. For instance, you can already notice, if you follow this subject as i do since 2005, thay "they" changed "global warming" by "climate change", or "global climate change", only because these +/- 4 to 5 last years, all what they predicted in 2007/2009 is totally wrong. It's a very first and easy hint. But there are more obvious information to discover.
    Here are some links to start to search :
    This forum : the well know website SOTT linked to the forum : (for the US version)
    One book :
    One french website :
    etc etc ...

    Reason of this big lie !? Probably multiple, i see among them the following : - create new taxes, - create new sector of (useless) activity to make money on useless solutions, - raise the "lie" in the world (it's not good for manking to believe in lies) - and also important, let people think about fake problems when the real problems of the destruction of our world are not discussed.
    Of course, I totally agree that humanity is becoming like a cancer for the rest of the species on the world, but it's another subject.

    Good researches !

    1. This comment confirm what I said. The Empire of Lies is guilty of many things; in addition to killing millions of people directly, it destroyed people's trust and created the "fact-free" society in which we are living. This was a hideous crime that will cost billion of lives when climate change hits as it is going to.

      And, about you, Dredger, know that truth doesn't come from disbelieving lies. There are many lies, but only one truth. And finding the truth requires humility and effort. On this, you still have to work a lot.

    2. "There are many lies, but only one truth. And finding the truth requires humility and effort. On this, you still have to work a lot."

      As do we all, Ugo. So let's all stay humble and keep working at it.

      By the way, I thought this was an excellent article and very thought-provoking. Thank you!

  11. Ugo, I think you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Undeniably, there are dumb people, and there are cunning people, and people that prefer to deceive (others and themselves) and the system of financing and motivating research is leaving much to desire, as well as the system of mass media, and people are making decisions out of emotional motives, that have their origin in the hunter-gatherer communities of the african steppes, where the strongness and boldness of a leader could make the difference of life or death to a group. Undeniably, there are the spin doctors, and people, to whom statements have to help achieve their goals first and be true only second. And there are those, who season the conflict of interests , in which they want to keep the upper hand, with the honey of rhetorical figures and half truths and even lies, that sweetens their robbery for the tongue of the robbed.

    But IMO the strive for truth is imminent in all humans. And with all the flaws mentioned by me, and the many unmentioned, the broader stream of communication, at least in my perception, seems to lead to the better, and the truer. Lie will always be produced, and in the long term, be sieved out in the process of communication. The mere existence of this discourse here is an indication of that.

    And there is real progress. On a world scale, analphabetism is in full retreat, the standard of living is rising on a large scale, with the noteable exceptions of the very poor and the western middle class. The price of renewable energy is falling, as well as the numbers of war victims. The US of A are not the world anymore. Even if they themselves think so. (Interestingly, the Trump election has alerted the consciousness of the rest of the world to rely on itself.) And Washington, D.C., is not the Union. Within the latter, there is a strong inhomogeneity: California and some other states will continue their path to higher environmental standards, no matter what happens in the capital.

    I keep on to nourish my optimism, without hiding my concerns about the upcoming global warming conflicts, though.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)