I saw a very interesting article earlier this week about weaponized narratives. Here’s the definition:
Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.
Sounds a lot like the fake news we’ve been reading. Here’s a good example of one that I saw this week — a targeted piece about Clinton shutting down
the foundation because now no body wanted her influence. But buried in that hatchet job [ETA: And it really was a hatchet job, because the Clinton Foundation is not shutting down, only the CGI] was another weaponized narrative of its own:
Just like the Clinton Foundation, Trump plans to appoint an ethics specialist to vet conflicts of interest. Just like Clinton Foundation, Trump has forsworn new deals with foreign entities, while preserving current arrangements. And just like the CGI and the Foundation, Trump has put close family members in charge of his businesses, and pinky promised he would be totally removed from operations.
What was going on within Clinton Inc. stank. It was odious and repelled the nation. We hope the incoming adminstration realizes that such fetid arrangements are unworthy of people who hold high public office, and are likely to do them irreparable political harm. Hillary Clinton still, therefore, has one use. She shows what happens to pols when they corruptly mingle their public duties with personal enrichment, She is thus is a memento mori for Trump.
[ETA: Thus, we had a double weaponization, against both Clinton and Trump]
But that’s not the only narrative going around. Another one — picked up by our side (the liberals) was the mention of QVC on Melania Trump’s page on the new White House website (a reference since removed) and in fact, the kerfuffle over information being removed from the White House website when its changeover is just a normal part of transmission. Fictionalized narratives to instill fear into people.
Here’s another quote from the original report:
The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative. […]
Far from being simply a U.S. or U.K. phenomenon, shifts to “post-factualism” can be seen in Poland, Hungary, Turkey, France, and the Philippines, among other democracies. Russia, whose own political culture is deeply post-factual and indeed post-modern, is now ably constructing ironic, highly cynical, weaponized narratives that were effective in the Ukrainian invasion, and are now destabilizing the Baltic states and the U.S. election process.
Such a large and varied shift to weaponized narrative implies that the enablers are indeed systemic. One fundamental underpinning – often overlooked – is the accelerating volume and velocity of information. Cultures, institutions, and individuals are, among many other things, information-processing mechanisms. As they become overwhelmed with information complexity, the tendency to retreat into simpler narratives becomes stronger.
Under this stress, cultures fragment. Institutions are stretched until they become ineffective or even dysfunctional. Individuals who define their identity primarily through the state – such as Americans, Russians, Chinese, or Europeans – retreat to a mythic Golden Age nationalism, while those who prioritize cultural and religious bonds retreat to fundamentalism.
We are in the era of the weaponized narrative folks. Fight it the best you can.