The Politics of Illusion

Magical4Goering, the second highest ranking official in Nazi Germany said at his trial in Nuremberg that:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.” — Goering

Ulysses S. Grant in his autobiography expressed surprise that the common southern White sharecropper could support a civil war to protect slavery when he/she was not treated much better than the African American slaves whom they worked alongside of. They had little or no vested interest in the so-called plantation system. Were these poor White folks under an illusion that they would someday be great plantation owners and have their own slaves?

One of the most decorated men in American military history said the following:

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” ― Smedley D. Butler

The county where I reside in Northern Wisconsin is one of the poorest counties in the state with high unemployment. Nevertheless, the majority of the county has voted Republican (The party of the Rich) in the last several elections. Are the citizens in my county under some illusion that they will become rich like Mitt Romney? Do they think that their circumstances will be improved by the “trickle-down theory?” Do they think that their interests are the same as the interests of the wealthy one percent who are buying politicians?

We think of an illusion as something that deceives our eyes but actually an illusion deceives our minds. Webster’s online dictionary defines an illusion as:

1a obsolete : the action of deceiving
b (1) : the state or fact of being intellectually deceived or misled : misapprehension (2) : an instance of such deception
2 a (1) : a misleading image presented to the vision (2) : something that deceives or misleads intellectually
b (1) : perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature (2) : hallucination 1 (3) : a pattern capable of reversible perspective

Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda said that if you wanted to get the populace to believe something do not tell small lies, tell big lies and tell them often.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” —- Goebbels

Certain people in our lives will try to deceive us as a matter of course. It is their nature. Like the “Story of the Scorpion and the Frog”. The scorpion wanted to cross the stream and asked the frog for a ride on his back. The frog said “You must be kidding. You would surely sting me and I would die.” The scorpion answered “That would be foolish of me. If I killed you, I would also drown and die.” The frog thought that this reply made sense and told the scorpion to “hop on.” Halfway across the pond, the scorpion stung the frog. In his last dying breath, the frog said “Why?” The scorpion replied “Because it is my nature.”

Magicians deceive us for entertainment. Unfaithful lovers deceive us for love and lust. Schools deceive us to support their reputedly lofty ideals. Religious leaders deceive us to “save” our immortal souls. Gamblers deceive us to take our money. Politicians deceive us for power and glory. Each of these deceivers must spin a web of deceit and deception that will cause us to have a distorted view of reality. The magician says to keep your eye on the ball, but the trick is done by getting you to focus on the ball and not her hand. The unfaithful lover professes undying faithfulness while philandering behind your back. The gambler wants you to believe that the “odds” are in your favor, you can’t lose. The politician trades favors for votes. “Vote for me and I will make your life happy and successful. You too can be a slave owner or a zillionaire.”

magic-1All of these groups can be lumped under the rubric of “Con-Artists.” A con-artist is someone who tricks you to get your money. The most common trick is to offer you something that is “Too good to be true.” But our trust in the con-artist prevents us from seeing this simple fact and we are deceived into accepting the reality that the con-artist creates for us. There are a variety of these deceptive realities that many of us fall for:

• Wealth with no hard work
• Instant success
• Lose weight overnight
• No new taxes
• Find undying love
• Get to heaven
• The war to end all wars
• Six pack abs with no sweat
• Everyone will love and admire you

Hardly a day goes by when we are not beset with more illusions than we realize. Each of them spun for us by assorted con-artists to catch and ensnare us in their webs of deceit and betrayal. Betrayal is the final outcome, as we sacrifice our trust, our love, our money and even our lives in pursuit of phantom illusions. We think these con-artists care about us but we are simply means to their ends.

Modern communications, cell phones, high speed internet, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, satellite communications and now drone delivered messages have all become two edged swords. Swords that are often very skillfully wielded by assorted con-artists. One edge provides more information and helps us become better, faster and smarter. The other edge buries us in data, facts, opinions, hyperbole, rhetoric and worthless information. One edge cuts through the fantasies that the con-artists are weaving. The other edge shreds reality and helps the con-artists to spin their illusions.

A recent book worth reading is “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges. The book is a trek through the many pretensions and illusions that are beginning to dominate our culture today. The Empire of Illusion is one of the most thought provoking and provocative books I have read in a long time. Following is an excerpt from the book:

“We pay a variety of lifestyle advisers—Neal Gabler calls them “essentially drama coaches”—to help us look and feel like celebrities, to build around us the set for the movie of our own life. Martha Stewart built her financial empire, when she wasn’t insider trading, telling women how to create and decorate a set design for the perfect home. The realities within the home, the actual family relationships, are never addressed. Appearances make everything whole. Plastic surgeons, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life coaches, interior designers, and fashion consultants all, in essence, promise to make us happy, to make us celebrities. And happiness comes, we are assured, with how we look and how we present ourselves to others. There are glossy magazines like Town & Country which cater to the absurd pretensions of the very rich to be celebrities. They are photographed in expensive designer clothing inside the lavishly decorated set-pieces that are their homes. The route to happiness is bound up in how skillfully we show ourselves to the world. We not only have to conform to the dictates of this manufactured vision, but we also have to project an unrelenting optimism and happiness.” —– “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges.

Illusions become everything. Truth becomes simply one facet of the illusions that surround us. We look for facts to sort out the truth but facts are simply another facet of the extended illusions that become our minute to minute, day to day and year to year reality. Reality is no longer real. Reality itself has become an illusion. And from these illusions, reality becomes a fantasy that just like in the TV show “Once Upon a Time” is now reality. If this sounds like circular reasoning, that’s because it is. Reality has gone from substance to image. These images are illusions in our minds. Worse, they are traps because they prevent us from seeing what really is important.

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion” ― Voltaire

Do you remember when you were told, that once you were out of school, you would have to face the “real world.” Did you ever wonder what this meant? Was an “unreal” school environment supposed to prepare you for the real world? Did unreal lectures and unreal instructors have the knowledge that you needed in the real world? How could this be? How could unreal schooling prepare anyone for a vastly different outside world? Only if the school was real (and everyone was lying) or the rest of the world was also unreal could schooling be congruent with reality. Unless you were being prepared for unreality itself! I think the latter is the case in most schools.

The situation is analogous to one I have seen many times as a business consultant. You have a system of business which can only thrive and prosper with sufficient inputs of innovation and creativity. But what do HR managers and recruiters look for in a new hire? Answer: Someone who fits in. And this is what schools teach. Schools teach you to fit in. Few schools readily encourage creativity and innovation. Instead, schools create an illusion whereby they foster the fantasy that you will become creative and innovative if you attend their schools. This is a wonderful illusion that most of us fall for.

The reality is that with grades, tests, common core curriculum, standardized testing, etc. schools teach us how to behave, how to conform and how to fit in. Those that can’t handle the “real” curriculum are given the boot. Business leaders and politicians alike are too often con-artists who extol the virtues of a free market and the dynamics of innovation and creativity but instead practice conformity and loyalty. They well know that innovation and creativity are the keys to success, but self-protection and ego trump reason in a world of illusion. Form is more important than substance. A good business suit and an impressive school resume will get you farther than a spirit of innovation and independent thinking in the “real” world.

“All problems are illusions of the mind.” ― Eckhart Tolle


How do we see through the fog of illusions that surround our everyday lives? Is it possible to see the world as it really is? What if those designer jeans did not really make you beautiful and happy? What if helping others was more important than growing rich? What if the definition of success was not becoming a celebrity and having a million Facebook followers? What if growing old and wrinkly and slow was really a form of beauty? How can we stop the con-artists from defining our reality in terms that are injurious to our satisfaction with life? How can we develop compassion for the underdogs when the con-artists want us to believe that such people are simply parasites who drag the rest of us down?

The politicians, news spinners, talking heads, radio commentators and other con-artists do not want you to think for yourself. They do not want you to question their wisdom or facts. They do not want you to believe that you have the power or intelligence to make choices for yourself. The power of the con-artist lies in deception. Take away their deceptions and their illusions vanish. It is possible to do this but we have to change our minds about the world because that is what makes these illusions reality.

We can take away the power of these con-artists to lie and distort reality by believing in the goodness of other people and not the evil that resides in a small minority of people. We need to see the world as a place of possibilities and not a place of fear. We need to see the world as a place of abundance and not a place of scarcity. We need to see other nations, religions, and ethnic groups as friends and not enemies. We need to stop creating walls and barriers between us and the rest of the world. The more insulated we become from others, the more we diminish ourselves. The more we seek safety and security, the less freedom and independence we have. The more we seek narrowly defined definitions of success, the more elusive true happiness and success becomes. Success lies not in the numbers of life we can accumulate but in the quality of life we live.

Time for Questions:

Do you want to know the truth or are you happier with an illusion? How often do you go further than the local news reports to find the truth?  Who do you trust?  Why?  Are you open to new images and new ideas?  How fixed are you on the truth?  What if much of what you knew was not true?  How could you test the reality that the con-artists want to spin for you?  What would happen if we were all less believing of the reality out there?

Life is just beginning.




3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pete Raye
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 15:11:55

    All of your insights are valuable to me. I enjoy each one. In many instances, I see my self. Keep up the great works!



  2. Jeanine
    May 02, 2014 @ 14:24:13

    Many good points to ponder here. As for the question, “Who do you trust?”, someone once made a statement to me and it went like this, “Trust no one, suspect everyone.” I do believe she was joking when she said this, but it does make sense to keep your mind open to the fact that there are people out there who are manipulative and conniving and everything that comes out of their mouth may not be the truth. Thanks for a great article. Being classified as a very gullible person myself, it is a reminder to me to look beyond the “illusions” and remember that all that glitters may NOT be gold!



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