(photo courtesy of Reuters)
While a gathering storm was hovering in Europe and a worldwide economic crisis plagued the world in the early 1930s, an inlet of intellectual debate based on logic and facts was uniting in Vienna.
The group became known as the Vienna Circle and was made up of philosophers, mathematicians and scientists. A substantial number of its members and those who participated in its discussions were Jewish including; Otto Neurath, Gustav Bergmann, Karl Popper, Hans Hahn, Felix Kaufmann, Friedrich Waismann and, perhaps its most famous, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was raised Catholic but was of Jewish heritage.
Indeed it was, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus that had enormous influence over the group with its emphasis on a verifiability principle, (i.e., the meaning of a proposition is identical with the method of verifying it.) The Circle’s overall aim was to infuse a scientific approach into philosophy with the help of modern logic.
The verifiability principle later became popularized in 1936 by a young visitor to the Circle, Sir Alfred Jules Ayer (A.J. Ayer) in his famous book “Language, Truth, and Logic.” Ayer, also born Jewish, started work on the book at the age of 23 and it was published when he was 24.
However today, with the ongoing, precipitous decline in print news and the rise of visual mediums taking their place (from tabloids to YouTube), fact-based arguments face greater and yes, insurmountable, challenges.
The Jeremiah of this state of affairs was Neal Postman whose best known book, “Amusing Ourselves To Death” (1985), is a historical narrative warning of a decline in the ability of mass communication to share serious ideas. At the time, television images were replacing the written word and Postman was declaring TV confounded serious issues by demeaning and undermining political discourse because it turned real, complex issues into superficial images. Those images were less about ideas and thoughts, and more about entertainment.
But while television is still a dominant form of mass communication, 27-years ago in Internet years, is light years ago in media history and pop culture. With over 845 million Facebook users, and over 500 million on Twitter, we have an exponential explosion of imagery (much of it fake) that can be glued onto social media with the immediate ability to sway emotions.
Witness last week, as The Jerusalem Post reported, Kuhlood Badawi, an information and media coordinator for OCHA, (the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) posted a link and twitter hashtag, with a picture of a young girl covered in blood being carried by her father, along with the tweet: “Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by #Israel... Another father carrying his child to a Grave in #Gaza.”
The picture, it emerged later, was published in 2006 by Reuters and was of a Palestinian girl who died in an accident unrelated to Israel.
But much of the damage had already been done, as the phony image spread via the web and social media at the speed of light leaving truth to play catch up.
But just as facts seek to fix the fallout of last week’s lies, another plan is in place for a Global March to Jerusalem set for next week on March 30th. It has already been revealed by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) that Iran, with its truth-bending, twisted style of propaganda, is behind the effort. Like the Gaza flotillas and last year’s marches on so-called “Naqba Day”, the ruse is to enlist over 1 million Arabs and their supporters to crash through Israel’s borders via Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. By leveraging the non-violent techniques espoused by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, their aim will be to use every form of visual media to position the sovereign state of Israel as the incarnation of racist Bull Connor.
What this poison cocktail really combines is the mendacious, propaganda style of Nazi Germany mixed with the non-violent techniques of MLK and Gandhi stirred to great effect in Egypt with the Arab Spring. The notion that it worked there, so let’s try it here is being served up.
Luckily, advocates and supporters of Israel are using visual means of their own to counter this phenomenon, with groups like United for Israel and even Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Danny Ayalon generating powerful content and distributing it via social media on the Web.
Sadly, the lost world of the Vienna Circle is another remnant of the shattered past. Their writings, their influence and the need for their precision and clarity are still essential and crucial today. Luckily, with organizations like CAMERA and The Israel Project that have dedicated themselves to providing analysis within the Babel-like world of mangled verbiage, we can counter the cacophony of shouts emanating from ever growing numbers.
But because the world has changed and the syllogism can often be no match for the doctored photograph and fake film, (look how many years it took to overturn the "Muhammad al-Durrah incident") it’s important to counter visual lies with impactful 21st century media carrying the message of truth.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant (www.abenovick.com) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.