Why do leftists believe such obvious falsehoods in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse?
One of the more remarkable phenomena associated with the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is the presentation of claims that are unsupported, or even objectively false, as though they were fact.
Examples of such include the description of Mr. Rittenhouse as a "white supremacist," the assertion that he transported a weapon across state lines for the purpose of committing murder, that those whom he shot were "peaceful protesters," that he killed two black men, that Jacob Blake was killed by police, etc.
A common assessment of this phenomenon is that the media are more interested in narratives than facts and that the factually incorrect assertions are simply the excesses of a fevered political environment. There may, however, be something more consequential to the matter than a few sloppy media fibs.
Narratives have a purpose, and what we commonly think of as a narrative is what some philosophers previously referred to as a myth. The word "myth" has a specialized meaning and purpose when used in this way, and this meaning was explained by the French philosopher Georges Sorel in his 1905 book Reflections on Violence. Sorel described his meaning of myth as "an expression of the will to act." These words help explain why the factual deficiencies of the media narrative surrounding Mr. Rittenhouse are so prevalent and, in fact, brazen. The factual errors and omissions serve to promote a myth in the sense described by Sorel.
The key characteristic of these myths is that they are expressions of will. They are specifically not expressions of understanding, history, or truth. They are meant not to inform or persuade, but rather to fortify and inflame the will to act. The value of Sorel's myths, and their modern narrative counterparts, is not dependent on factual accuracy, or truth, or even plausibility, but rather their utility in moving people to action. Such common narrative elements as "white supremacy" and "vigilantism" and "peaceful protests" figure prominently in the current narrative because, true or not, they are perceived as stimulating action.
The prevalence of myths and narratives is not confined to the happenings in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There are narratives associated with all segments of the political spectrum that are part of public discourse. These include such things as the 1619 Project, climate change, Russian collusion, the origin of COVID, Critical Race Theory, the Capitol riot, "domestic terrorism," and the infallibility of experts. Some of these may be true, some partially true, and some merely provocative tales.
The appeal of myths and narratives is not a novel development. It seems to be part of humankind's political history as well as religious nature. The truth or falsity of the content is not the determinant of utility, and in fact, it is often regarded as irrelevant. The substance of a great many effective myths is, in fact, make-believe. One of the chapters of Eric Hoffer's classic book The True Believer is titled simply "Make-Believe." Hoffer wrote: "In the practice of mass movements, make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor. When faith and the power to persuade or coerce are gone, make believe lingers on."
Myths and narratives are sustained by make-believe. The audience to whom they appeal are not moved by criticism regarding factual accuracy or fairness. It does not matter if Kyle Rittenhouse is a white supremacist, or if the prosecution did not meet its burden of persuasion, or if Jacob Blake survived being shot; "make believe lingers on." This helps explain why the misinformation regarding Mr. Rittenhouse is not only prevalent, but persistent.
The audacity and imperviousness to contrary evidence associated with myths, narratives, and mass movements provokes a certain bemused curiosity, which is often followed by dismissiveness on the part of the larger society. The narrative appears to be flawed by obvious inaccuracies, and therefore people will dismiss it. But narratives have purposes, and the audience for them is not those who are objective or rational. The audience is those who possess a will to act, and for whom "make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor." Once people have been stirred to act, particularly if the act involves spectacle or is shocking, the movement appears larger and more significant than it actually is.
Myths and narratives should not be dismissed simply because they are untrue or easily disproven. They are intended to inspire people to act, and those people often act in dangerous and unpredictable ways. Narratives are not negated by pointing out their inaccuracies or by simply disparaging them as narratives. This applies to those narratives that are formed by suppressing facts as well as those sustained by outright falsehoods. The dangers and turmoil that they may produce require spirited opposition to the ideologies which underlie them.
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