Bill O’Reilly deserves the credit for creating the modern American conception of the War on Christmas. While O’Reilly is no longer a major player, the right has persisted in its insistence that Christmas is under attack. That this war has been debunked does not seem to matter. While I will discuss some aspects of this war, my interest is with the general methods used to craft and propagate a fictional narrative of a war on X (whatever X might be). I will call this WOX.
If you want to start a WOX, you begin by selecting the X for your new war. You will want to select something your target audience values and it will ideally be something they already fear might be threatened by people they fear and dislike. But you can generate the fear on your own if you need to. Given the patent absurdity of claiming there is a war on Christmas, you might suspect that you could start a culture war around almost anything. Interestingly, there are clearly limits to what people will accept; even Trump and Fox News failed at getting their base to believe that there was a war on Thanksgiving. That proved a war too far. But perhaps some pundit or politician will make it stick next time.
While a WOX will, obviously, tend to use “war on” as its defining phrase, this is optional. All you need to do is say “X is under attack” to use the methods I will be discussing. For example, you might prefer to speak of the attacks of the woke mobs on manliness without claiming there is a WWOM (Woke War on Manliness). Given that there are so many Wars on This and Wars on That these days, people might be suffering from battle fatigue when it comes to that phrase. But give it a try and see how your audience reacts. Now let us look at the time-honored tradition of starting a war with lies.
A common way to use lies to argue that there is a War on X is to make up “examples” of acts of war. These “examples” are then used in an Argument by Example to “prove” that the war is occurring. Not surprisingly, an argument by example is an argument in which a claim is supported by providing examples. Although people generally present arguments by example in an informal manner, they have the following logical form:
Premise 1: Example 1 is an example that supports claim P.
Premise n: Example n is an example that supports claim P.
Conclusion: Claim P is true.
The form used to argue for a WOX would look like this:
Premise 1: Example 1 is an example of a War on X.
Premise n: Example n is an example of a War on X.
Conclusion: There is a War on X.
The strength of the argument depends on four factors. First, the more examples, the stronger the argument. Second, the more relevant the examples, the stronger the argument. Third, the examples must be specific and clearly identified.
Fourth, counterexamples must be considered. A counterexample is an example that counts against the claim. One way to look at a counterexample is that it is an example that supports the denial of the conclusion being argued for. The more counterexamples and the more relevant they are, the weaker the argument.
When lying to “prove” a WOX is occurring, you will want to mimic a strong Argument by Example. You will want to have many made-up examples that are crafted to appear relevant. While using specific made-up examples might seem risky because vague lies are harder to disprove, this can create the illusion of credibility and, as we will see, you can probably get away with it. You might want to use counter-examples to create the illusion of reasonability but be careful to refute them. Now, on to lying.
Lying has many advantages:
- The truth is what it is, a lie is whatever you want it to be.
- Determining the truth can require effort, lying is usually easy.
If you limit yourself to the truth, you are stuck with what is. If you are trying to create a WOX, the truth will probably be of little or no use. But you can craft whatever lie you need, and you can tailor it to have maximum impact on your audience. You can, for example, make it fit perfectly with what they fear. Sorting out what is true can be difficult, but simply making things up can be easy. Lying is, however, not without disadvantages:
- Lies can be debunked.
- Most religions and moralities condemn lying.
From a practical standpoint, one worry is that your lies can be debunked and exposed. There are fact-checkers that expose lies and an army of leftists on YouTube who spend countless hours creating videos to debunk and expose lies. As such, if your lies gain any attention, they will be exposed in short order. Fortunately, this is usually not a problem. First, your target audience is unlikely to critically engage your claims. Even if they do have some doubt, there has been a systematic effort over the years to undermine expertise and to sow distrust of the mainstream media, academics, and others who are likely to expose your lies. As such, they are unlikely to trust these sources. Conveniently enough, if experts and the media put pressure on you, your audience is likely to double down.
Second, some in your audience will be on board with your lies. This might be because they want to get in on the WOX for their own reasons or because they believe they hear a dog whistle (more on this in a future essay). Or they might believe that your lies serve a higher purpose, which takes us to the matter of religious and moral condemnation.
As noted above, most religions and moralities condemn lies. Christianity, for example, often casts the devil as the Prince of Lies and has a commandment against bearing false witness. Everyday ethics and moral theories alike usually present lying as wrong or at least as problematic. For example, Kant takes lying to always be wrong. As such, you might have concerns about lying. Fortunately, there are ways around this. One way is simply to reject these aspects of religion and morality. Another way is to avail yourself of established loopholes and workarounds. With some exceptions, religions and moral theories do allow for justified lying. One could appeal to the popular view that the end justifies the means, or you could assuage any vestiges of a conscience by a sophisticated utilitarian analysis of your lies and the good they will do (you). The truth might set you free but lies are easy. Good luck with your WOX.