Saying that (dis)information can become symbolic, or serve symbolic functions, asserts that (dis)information can have other, often more important, values than its ‘accuracy’.
It can stand for, or express,
- Something important that is known subliminaly or unconsciously,
- Something socially censored (becoming unconscious to a degree),
- Something which is important but not completely knowable, or
- Something which is iniherently unknowable (such as the nature of the cosmos, existence, social complexity, the full nature of climate change, or God, and so on).
If what a symbol expresses is vitally important to a person’s sense of wider self, then it can appear numinous or ‘holy’, such that challenging it’s accuracy is almost impossible.
This can be true for (dis)information, even if that information is as accurate as it can be.
For example, climate change can easily become symbolic of a sense of personal and social collapse, of being ‘unmored’, of not being heard or taken notice of, and of living within processes which seem out of control or hostile.
For oil companies and their supporters, emissions perhaps become symbolic of, or express, profitability, survival, plenty, liberty and a good future for everyone. They could express desired human dominance over the world. With this symbology, it becomes more destructive to attack fossil fuels, than to recognise fossil fuels are destrutive. The symbolic status helps people not hear the evidence that might demolish the symbolic organisation of their lives and leave them vulnerable.
For people supporting Q-Anon, Trump, etc, then various improbable conspiracy theories also expressing their intuitive knowledge that the world is being run strangely and without regard for them; vast forces are opposed to listening to them, or dealing with the visible collapse and problems of their lives. Nothing official makes sense. Trumps’ legal troubles can become symbolic of the ‘persecution’ of the general populace by government, the private sector, conventional laws, the workplace etc., and fits in with the sense of general collapse and indifference. That “Trump is a persecuted victim” (perhaps like Jesus) appears validated by the reality of their own victimised, ignored and persecuted lives. So do claims of a faked election, as people have experientially played by the rules and lost – hardly anybody was rewarded for hard work. Election theft is symbolic of theft of their lives by the system.
Acceptable (dis)information, and interpretation, is chosen to express and reinforce the true realisation of growing collapse, which cannot be spoken without risk.
This is a normal human function. Unconscious and unspeakable knowledge, can often be ‘perceived’ through symbols, as in dreams, artwork, slips of the tongue, fantasy, and scapegoating. But taking symbolic information literally can lead to further misunderstandings of the world, just as refusing to accept the import of symbolisation can also lead to misundertandings and misperception.
Because, say, the Democrats did not, and do not take, take Trump’s symbolic role seriously (as “no one could trust him”, “What he says is gibberish”. “He’s obviously criminal” etc) they cannot listen to the real grievances of Trump’s supporters, or understand what people are going through which leads them to vote for his supporters.