The Politics of Misinformation is a critical examination of how and why the public has confidence in political progress and innovation even though most change is superficial. Concentrations of social and economic power produce illusions that create the impression of beneficial social change while erasing the possibility of such change. Language, bureaucratic authority, law, political parties, science, and other social institutions help to produce images that mislead both non-elite and elite, creating the appearance of rational democracy while at the same time obscuring structural inequality, discouraging critical evaluation of political policy, and thwarting involvement in democratic politics.
Our common assumption is that the acts of Homo sapiens are basically rational and that mistakes in reaching conclusions are the exception. On the contrary, mistakes are so common that rationality is probably the exception. The Marxist concept of false consciousness, meaning an erroneous assumption about the sources of one’s own thought, applies to the elite as much as to the masses. Political actions influence our well-being continuously and deeply and because they harm us in many instances, perhaps more often than they help us. Comforting illusions that protect us against despair and protect the status quo against effective protests are readily created and disseminated. The illusions are normally believed because it would be hard to live without them. Recent history reaffirms the illusions. They are partly a legacy of the nineteenth century, with its dramatic industrial revolution and its high-minded revolutions in France and in America acclaiming individual liberty and political independence. But the twentieth century, with its world wars, genocides, and other horrors, has been marked by regression rather than progress. The illusions are a fundamental instance of symbolic politics; they build an impression of beneficial social change even while typically erasing the possibility of change.