The Ideology of Repetition


The Ideology of “Repetition”

Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect. Repetition and the process of it is not just saying or doing one thing over and over again. Repetition is a reflection of the agenda and the ideology of the power wielders and more than just rote performance by some individuals or members of an interest group.

But before that what repeat and its extended use, repetition is. The English word of repetition is a derivative of the word repeat. The online etymology dictionary mentions that the word repeat has its roots in late 14c., repēten “to say what one has already said,” from Old French repeter “say or do again, get back, demand the return of” (13c., Modern French répéeter) and directly from Latin repetere “do or say again; attack again,” from re- “again” (see re-) + petere “to go to; attack; strive after; ask for, beseech” (from PIE root *pet- “to rush, to fly”). And it’s the Latin origin of the word that is quite telling.

The word “Repetition” belongs to the words of league that often have paradoxical submissions. The repetition-as-reason effect appears to be a cognitive bias that makes people more likely to believe statements that are repeated quite often and that too with the onslaught of non-verbal gestures, compared to statements that are not repeated. And it’s also a reality that repetition however is deemed as mandatory enterprise for perfection in cognitive ventures.

Repetition, the discourse analysis shows that it’s not just emphasis but an expression of power of the powerful over its subject. The repetition of words, sentences, instructions and orders are not mere explaining, it’s a technique to disempower the listener and hence to command the subject. The more often the matter is repeated more ruthlessly it is scrutinized by intellectuals, philosophers, academics. And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth (Gettysburg Address), is used as struggle against dictatorships.

But, if we consider “repeat” as both a metaphor and in terms of its connotation, we can understand what people mean by “history repeats itself,” and it actually emerges as a useful conceptual tool. As Mark Twain put it, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” However, when war, famine, poverty, sexism, gender violence frequently visits human beings they conveniently say that history is repeating. True, the phenomenon is echoed but not the details are replicated, and the devil lies in details. “You cannot step in the same river twice,” said the wise Heraclitus, “for the river has changed, and you have changed.”

That comes to another question. What important function does repetition in arena of life serves? For instance Repetition is a favored tool among orators because it can help to emphasize a point and make a speech easier to follow.  It is said that Repetition adds to the powers of persuasion—studies show that repetition of a phrase can convince people of its truth. The repetition helps to emphasize how tightly the character is trapped and, for the reader, helps create a sense of fear and tension. The repetition also allows the reader to build up the picture gradually, just like the character does as he begins to regain consciousness. Repetition results in an emphasis that persuades people by creating a sense of urgency, while also giving the text or speech a pleasing rhythm. It may also be used to show a logical progression of ideas through three or more clauses. Water, water everywhere, / nor any drop to drink (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), is just one example. “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They’re out of order!” (And Justice for All), is another example to cite.

And when the phenomenon of repetition makes its inroads to the life styles it manifests the perennial class differences. The repetition of attire in rites of passage is a reflection of low-class status. The repetitive use of residual cooking oil in cooking ventures is not very much appreciated in elites. Often considering it as a burden on aesthetics, the rich easily get bored with the repetitive use of the expensive wooden furniture and get it replaces with the blink of an eye. The paradox is that it does not get bored with the use of the furniture itself but with a particular design or color of it. In the continuous struggle between form and function, the function is repeated through the changes brought to the form. Only a philosopher can tell the relationship between entity (form) and its shadow (function) and before that the reality of the shadow itself.

No matter what position one takes on the paradoxical angles of the much perplexed phenomenon of repetition in oratory, literature, procreation, history, the nature remains adamant on the repetition of certain acts, The sun rises daily and the moon continues to light the dark nights. The lesson one can draw is that some repetitions are necessary, simple and beneficial for the life itself.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman poet and is attributed to the quote that “if a strong man does not get what he thinks is his due, he will take all he can”. Hitler did it by repeating the mantra of racial superiority for his self-coined ideology; Joseph Stalin did it in the name of ideology A and Georg W. Bush in the name of ideology B. Repeating the self-coined philosophy again and again and creating the “illusion of truth” could prove disastrous for human beings. One can hope that the current political crisis as steered by relevant stakeholders, in the garb of the repeated mantra of corruption, makes not land  the people of Pakistan into the tragic valley of destruction.

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Mansoor Raza

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