The House of Pheme [Rumour]
Johann Wilhelm Baur, Edition 1709, Ovid, Met. XII, 46-45
In Metamorphoses, Ovid describes the house where Rumour dwells, at “the middle of the world, between the zones of earth, sea and sky”: “Crowds occupy the hallways, a fickle throng that come and go with myriad rumours, circulating confused words, fiction mixed with truth… This is the haunt of Credulity, rash Error… unreasoning Fear, impulsive Sedition.” At its heart, Rumour herself, her scrutiny ranging the whole universe.
The perfect description of the internet?
A couple of days ago, I tweeted something by the Washington Post’s Liz Sly, on the sheer number of barrel bombs dropped by Assad’s Damascus regime on the Syrian city of Aleppo, a city inhabited at least three millennia before Ovid was born. Sly documented how, even as Assad’s representatives sat in Geneva ostensibly debating peace, neighbourhoods dominated by the opposition were being decimated. The story is filed from the Turkish border, based on the testimony of refugees, who describe the fear of seeing the barrels unleashed from the warplanes, waiting for them to open up and disperse their deadly cargo; stories of human remains scraped from the rubble, of neighbourhoods depopulated, a city left without life. “The only people left are the poorest of the poor, and they are just waiting for death.”
In the second week of February, 215 bombs, 36.6% of them in Masaken Hanano, 22.7% of them in Industrial City. The bombs have killed hundreds, among the 3,400 estimated to have been killed as Geneva 2 stuttered along. The regime’s calculation is simple: no people in the neighbourhoods = no support for the opposition.
In my view, what is going on probably constitutes a genocide, though the victims are Assad’s “own” people.
Liz Sly retweeted my tweet, so it circulated more widely, and it got more retweets, but also a few hostile replies. I have no particular desire to single out, let alone pick an argument with, the individuals who replied to me. But I found their responses disturbing and instructive.
One, a Dutch tweeter describing himself as “Anarchist” and “Pro-Palestina”, replied “Viva Assad…he s killing AL-CIADA”. A second, apparently a lawyer, said “Maduro’s Venezuela appears to be next in line for this, sadly.” A third, apparently a blonde Giants fan, launched a barrage of tweets, containing links to pro-Assad sources, with messages like these: “You #Vichy urinalists won’t be happy till Syria’s totally destroyed. #Truth” and “#Vichy urinalists see what the #war criminals want them to see”.
In this world, anarchists and libertarians play point for dictators. Pro-Palestinians laud the government that has killed thousands of Palestinians, in Yarmouk and elsewhere. The architects of 9/11 are seen as the creatures of American imperialism. Embattled and under-armed resistance fighters are equated with the Nazi occupation. The victims of industrial-scale slaughter are seen as war criminals. And the testimony of refugees is seen as propaganda while totalitarian state PR machines are hailed as telling the truth.
A quick scan of the three tweeters’ timelines finds a number of shared obsessions. They describe themselves as “conspiracy realists”, with several tweets about chemtrails and GM food. Kremlin and Tehran news sources such as Russia Today and Press TV are used heavily, while the Western “mainstream media” is never trusted.
And again and again, usually with hashtag and a capital T, the word “Truth”.
Having had the scales taken from their eyes, the Truth believers are utterly credulous before any source that says the mainstream media is lying. The denizens of this fickle throng are like kids frozen at that moment in adolescence when they first catch their parents lying and so believe that nothing their elders say can be true. The dispatch of a professional veteran warzone reporter passing on the words of survivors is not trusted, but a blurry YouTube video, which could be from anywhere or anytime, is a first-hand glimpse into “the Truth”.