Archive for the ‘Propaganda’ Category

The Illusion of Conspiracy as Black Propaganda

September 25, 2014

I have been reading posts in various social media sites where individuals are vociferously claiming vote rigging in last week’s Scottish independence referendum.  I have watched videos that purport to show said rigging.  I have to say that I have not seen anything in these videos that cannot be explained by count procedures.  I say this as somebody that has attended election counts in both Dundee and Edinburgh, albeit a long time ago, and as someone who has served as a Polling Clerk in Lanarkshire.  Plus, as someone who would undoubtedly have voted Yes had I still been living in Scotland (see recent posts to this blog).

The human mind is fertile territory for conspiracy theorists. The propagation of elaborate vote rigging theories relies on that.  Also, conspiracy theories typically divert people from blatantly obvious explanations.  A terrific example is 9/11.  There are myriad conspiracy theories concerning what happened that day, these are usually given more air time than the real reason – the events around 9/11 were blowback from flawed foreign policy decisions.  The CIA recognizes blowback.  Paul Wolfowitz has talked about blowback.  But it seems to be off limits to bring this up, even though it is so glaringly obvious.  Those that talk about blowback are often lumped into the “Blame America Crowd”, only one step away from being a “Truther”.

Which takes me back to the vote rigging allegations.  They have the potential to be a form of black propaganda, or to evolve into such, where phony allegations are used that lead to division.  This is the value of the illusion of conspiracy to the Westminster political establishment.  Black propaganda can be amplified by a compliant media to sow discord between allies so people/ideas can be marginalized.  Those that are pushing these allegations really need to take a deep breathe and think about who benefits politically (or if I am engaging in my own conspiracy theory).  “No” won because of its scaremongering.  But the establishment was rattled and the world didn’t end.  Its time to focus on the future.

3 Legs of “No”: Sentimentality, Fear and Central Banking

August 16, 2014

I have been following the Scottish independence referendum campaign and regret to say that I have yet to hear or read much of a positive case for retaining the Union. The “No” campaign seems to stand on the 3 legs of sentimentality, fear and currency/central banking. Little in the way of positives has come from “Better Together”, just “Project Fear”. After all, many of the leading figures in “Better Together” stood by as Scotland, the West in particular, was deindustrialized. Its harder to say “better together” and address the evisceration of core industries, such as steel making in Lanarkshire or shipbuilding on the Clyde, that occurred under Westminster.

“Yes” has made propaganda, too. That I wouldn’t deny. But “Yes” has outlined a positive vision of the future. Generations to come would benefit from a reinvigorated, reindustrialized Scotland. There isn’t much to be sentimental about in post ’79 Scotland.

Why I will vote third party, and for Gary Johnson, on Tuesday

November 4, 2012

I live in the swing state of Ohio. This means I have been inundated with Democrat and Republican propaganda. I have had up to 6 mailers from PACs in my mailbox in a single day. Being a “swing voter”, I guess I am of pretty high value to the duopoly. If I read all these mailers, other than to view them as a propaganda analysis exercise, I would be in danger of being less well informed than if I hadn’t received them at all. The latest stormer was from “Freedomworks”, a guide slamming Sherrod Brown. This amused me immensely as much of the information therein, or subtle variations thereof, could equally be applied to almost every Republican Congressman and Senator, Paul Ryan included. Remember that Paul Ryan was begging Congress to pass TARP. Also, in all these mailers big issues are totally absent – the role of the inflationary role and cronyism of the Federal Reserve, erosion of the Bill of Rights, and unending overseas adventurism.
I will vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, in large part because he addresses these issues. But also because he was not given a fair shake during the Republican primary process, and not just by the GOP itself but also by their shills in our corporatist propaganda organs.  A form of political blowback if you will.

Geopolitical Poker, Blowback & Iran

January 8, 2012

Radical political Islam has flourished in large part due to “blowback” from US/Western foreign policy. This isn’t just an observation by Ron Paul, he is also restating what the CIA have told us for years. Blowback was also discussed by the 9/11 Commission.  Our corporate media give the Neocons a free pass when they refuse to even discuss blowback.  The current extremely serious situation with Iran is probably the best example of blowback and can be traced back to the US/UK overthrowing Mosaddegh in 1953 (over oil). Continuing to engage in the same interventionism despite the obvious evidence of failure only further bankrupts the United States, both financially and morally. If we do bomb suspected Iranian nuclear facilities, I predict the Iranian regime itself will be the big winner (as it was when we went into Iraq). Any attack would be a propaganda gift. Repression would accelerate under the guise of protecting the state from a “5th Column”, thereby weakening internal dissent. Iraq would further destabilize. Plus don’t forget the fragility of Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia. Geopolitics on this scale is a massive poker game, we are in serious danger of being taken to the cleaners yet again.  But don’t expect to hear blowback discussed anytime soon by any of the so-called experts, or should I say propagandists, that grace our corporate media.

Self-Induced Brainwashing

September 29, 2011

I read a fair bit about propaganda, frequently talk about it and have occasionally written on the subject. I have always avoided using the term “brainwashing” and “mind control”. I tend to typically associate these terms with Maoist use of deprivation and psychological bombardment to break an individual’s will, followed by indoctrination. Alternatively, “brainwashing” using psycho-active drugs was practiced by the KGB and tested by the CIA during the Cold War. This is where I am reconsidering using the term brainwashing, but not by a state apparatus. Rather, is self-induced brainwashing occurring in the United States?
In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, the author described a dystopia where “soma” was used as a psycho-active drug that, along with relentless propaganda, helped facilitate conformity. Given the magnitude at which psycho-active drugs are prescribed in American society, I cannot help but wonder if we now have our “soma”, too. Earlier this year, using statistics from 2005-2008, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that about 30% of women over the age of 45 were on either anti-depressants or anxiolytics and about 15% of men; see their report “Health, United States, 2010”. (I added their numbers together in the HHS report, assuming that few were simultaneously taking both. Even if I have erred and am a few percent out, the numbers are still breathtaking.) Given all that has happened since 2008, I can only imagine that usage of such psycho-active drugs is even more common.
The numbers for the anxiolytics, overwhelmingly benzodiazepines such as clonazepam and alprazalam, got my attention. Roughly 10% of the population over 65 are on such drugs. That is potentially a lot of benzodiazepines being swallowed by a demographic that will be way more likely to spend time in front of the television, and being propagandized.
When the KGB was abusing psychiatry on dissidents, a drug they were using during brainwashing was temazepam. A sedating, hypnotic benzodiazepine that facilitated compliance and even vegetation, now prescribed under the brand name Restoril here in the United States. Given that the heavily prescribed clonazepam (Klonopin) and alprazolam (Xanax) are so similar, are chemically dependent individuals complicit in their own self-induced KGB-style brainwashing? Does use of these drugs make individuals more susceptible to propaganda? “We report, you decide.” But what if you have rendered yourself incapable of judgment?

Media Distrust

September 16, 2011

An “Ipsos Public Affairs” survey just released reports that those who distrust the media outnumber those that are trusting by a factor of 2:1, the same ratio as for the US Congress. Having long since given up on the likes of CNN, FoxNews and MSNBC, except to occasionally view how they are busy aiding and abetting propaganda, I am left to wonder if the likes of Wolf Blitzer or Bill O’Reilly reported this in their primetime spinfotainment spots?
We have long since not had an effective “Fourth Estate” in the United States. Between segments on celebrity drivel or the latest tragedy we are spoonfed propaganda on, in particular, our foreign entanglements and economic meltdown. Individuals that support the prevailing line from our corporate media are lionized, those that see through the spin are ridiculed. Think on the 2007/2008 collapse. It is a big lie that “nobody saw it coming”. Those that did were ignored or laughed at, particularly by our corporatist media and their cronies in the financial sector and government. The likes of Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner get a free ride by comparison. And what about our foreign affairs? Anyone that has the temerity to address blowback regarding 9/11, Iran or the Arab world can expect a trashing, even though they are merely restating the view expressed by the 9/11 Commission and the CIA!
In discussing “Propaganda in a Democratic Society” in “Brave New World Revisited”, published in 1958, Aldous Huxley had it about right: “Propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with enlightened self-interest appeals to reason by means of logical arguments based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth. Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God and the most cynical kind of Realpolitik is treated as a matter of religious principle and patriotic duty.” This is a less sterile version of what I have previously posted relating to the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. But if you spend a few minutes listening to propagandists on the television, radio or internet you will quickly recognize the style.
The real tragedy in all this is that the propagandists are hiding the truth from the public, with dire long-term consequences. American foreign policy in the Middle East is a train wreck, our militaristic adventurism is harming our national security, the national security state is trashing the Bill of Rights, the war on drugs is an abject failure that is enriching organized crime, our healthcare system is delivering Albanian-style life expectancy (its true – see the CIA factbook, they rank 51st and we are 50th!), our manufacturing base has been trashed, energy policies are being set by base emotionalism, pay-to-play crony crapitalism is rampant and Fed policies will very likely lead to a de facto default by dollar debasement. But given how the media is owned and controlled in America, it is no surprise that it has devolved into its current condition.
I do hope that our propagandists are proud of their craft, after all it takes a lot of talent to do what they do and I am sure they are well rewarded. I know I would also have to be well medicated to do what they do, too. That said, I do rest a bit better knowing that I am very likely in the majority when it comes to distrusting the media and look forward to when “The Fourth Estate” returns to its proper role.

Pied Piper Syndrome: Pandering & Propaganda

August 22, 2011

I was listening to a local talk radio show a few mornings back and the very last caller had the usual generic complaints about politicians and finished with the following statement, “Candidates will say what they think will best sell them to the voter”.
This is a statement of the obvious. At candidate forums in the village closest to my Appalachian idyll, I have heard it degenerate into guys talking about how they’d “played basketball in that very hall”. “Yep, I am just like you guys”; hard not to roll your eyes at even the relevance of such twaddle. A time machine that could take me back 40+ years to fact check something so insipid would really be pretty pointless. As the stakes get higher, how candidates talk and act transitions into way higher levels of blatant pandering. In my experience, this seems to be particularly true for primary elections here in the United States. Just listen to most of the current/recent GOP presidential candidates. Be it Herman Cain stoking anti-Muslim hysteria with his comments on Sharia law, Rick Santorum trashing LGBTs, Donald Trump on birth certificates, and on and on………. The Democrats are not immune from such grandstanding, either.
I have long since concluded that the key campaigning strategy for primary candidates is to shamelessly pander to their prospective voters, telling them what their audience wants to hear, rather than the unvarnished truth about the actual state of the nation. After all, why tell them uncomfortable truths about the wars, bail-outs, deficits or economic meltdown when you can focus on flag burning, gay marriage, birth certificates or the 2nd amendment. When the big issues of state ever get discussed at all there is a transition into outright propaganda, where candidates (consciously or not) begin using the techniques described by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA), namely “Assertion”, “Bandwagon”, “Card Stacking”, “Glittering Generalities”, “Lesser of Two Evils”, “Name Calling”, “Pinpointing the Enemy”, “Plain Folks”, “Simplification/Stereotyping”, “Testimonials” and “Transfer”. The IPA operated in the late-1930s; its function being to help people recognize fascist/communist propaganda (see an earlier post on this). Some definitions/examples are shown below for quick reference.
“Assertion” we’d have statements that should be unquestionably accepted as fact. “There are WMDs in Iraq”; “China holds most US Treasury debt”; “I pledge to uphold the Constitution” (when the legislative history typically shows that our Congressmen, Senators and Presidents routinely wipe their ass on the Bill of Rights).
“Bandwagon” would imply that almost everyone believes/supports x, y or z, so you should, too. “Obama in 2007/2008”; “Perry in 2011/2012”.
“Card Stacking” is the presentation of only one part of the story, selective omission. Just think about how we were sold on invading Iraq. Given how many of our politicians talk so aggressively about Iran, how many people know we overthrew their democratically elected government in 1953 and we’ve endured the blowback since? Why should we be surprised they distrust our intentions?
“Glittering Generalities” are the use of words associated with what individuals prize, or reject, and their linkage to whatever the propagandist is spouting. “Christian conservative”; “Islamic terrorist”. (I am not saying that either of these can’t exist, I am talking about their use in pandering/propaganda.)
“Lesser of Two Evils” would be the presentation of, say, two options with the least offensive one pushed the hardest, with no mention of other possible scenarios. “Bomb Iran”; “Do nothing and they get the bomb”. What about engagement?
“Name Calling” would involve using (perceived to be) negative labels to describe those that oppose you; or using (perceived to be) positive labels to describe those in support. “Socialist, communist, fascist, ACLU member, sheeple (guilty of using this myself), fundamentalist, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Patriot, Great American Hero, etc.”
“Pinpointing the Enemy” would inevitably involve scapegoating a particular group. “Jews, Muslims, LGBTs, Irish Catholics.” When I was living in the UK, particularly from my experiences living in the Orange groves of Lanarkshire, conversation with friends from Northern Ireland and visits to Kilburn in London, it was obvious how this led to a serious marginalizing of this latter group and actually drove people to at least turn a blind eye to the IRA/INLA. Unchecked scapegoating leads to persecution. In Northern Ireland this led to internment, now recognized as the best recruiting tool the IRA/INLA ever had. Yet are we not in severe danger of repeating these mistakes with Muslims?
“Plain Folks” would be using accents and idioms in combination with appeals to populism. President George W. Bush was totally the best at this, as he was really an old money blue blood. (So am I making propaganda by assertion? You decide!) I have never accepted that his mispronunciation of “nuclear” was anything other than contrived.
“Simplification/Stereotyping” constitutes the presentation of complex issues as simple black and white choices, rather than in shades of grey. Just think of practically every foreign entanglement we’ve been involved in since WWII, or how we talk about healthcare.
“Testimonials” corresponds to linkage of popular individuals to particular politicians or issues. Country singers on air talking approvingly about the Iraq war/occupation; did these performers never for once think about how they were being cynically used?
“Transfer” is linkage between something the propagandist is spouting and what the propagandee holds dear, this may be as simple as association with a symbol and can be used positively or negatively. The conflating of faith and war is an alarming manifestation of this and has been used throughout history, be it the Cross, Crescent or Star of David.
Individuals would be well served to think about these propaganda techniques when listening to our prospective and actual Congressmen, Senators and Presidents; the same applies at the State level, too. Note that in all of the above cases the success of the propagandist is dependent on the compliance of the propagandee, that he or she will accept whatever they are told without delving further.
But there is more, how this affects overall discourse has an even worse and more pernicious effect that is akin to a Pied Piper Syndrome.
The shear dominance of pandering and propaganda masks the voting public from the fundamental, core issues we need to be discussing relating to the wars, corporatist cronyism, bail-outs and how the $ is being debased. To varying degrees, propagandists are aided and abetted by the corporate media – from Fox to MSNBC. Indeed corporate media is a huge part of the problem. Many of their “pundits” are guilty of pandering and acting as propagandists themselves, and are certainly highly economic with the truth. (At least sometimes they get called out by the likes of “The Daily Show” or “Colbert Report”. Just look at how Ron Paul was treated after the recent Ames straw poll followed by Jon Stewart’s trashing of the corporate media for their lack of journalistic integrity immediately after the event.) In a warped sort of way, the most gifted of these propagandists act like some sort of Pied Piper, leading large chunks of the public away from the issues and leaving the rats to have a field day.
How do we counter this? As individuals, we need to be critical of what we are being told, rather than gullible when it comes to those that seek to propagandize. Be aware of the snake oil we are being sold. Our economy, society, future and our children depend on us to speak out. Be it in public or private. We must break the grip of the Pied Pipers.

Iran and Ron Paul – Time for Fresh Thinking

August 15, 2011

In listening to last week’s debate in Iowa, the general attitude seemed to be to attack Iran to stop them getting “the bomb”. The sole voice against was Ron Paul, citing recent history such as our 1953 overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government, related blowback that led to the 1979 revolution and regional realities.
The reality for the other GOP candidates for President is that a position to attack Iran to prevent the regime there from building “the bomb” is very likely to result in the opposite. In a nutshell, the regime in Iran is likely to want to hear more such saber rattling from potential post-Obama presidents. Such talk provides abundant material for the Iranian regime to propagandize its people about the “Great Satan”. Even more importantly, Iranian physicists, engineers, chemists and metallurgists would be more readily browbeaten into developing an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Basically, what other GOP candidates offer is more of the same. Recall, too, that we emboldened and backed Saddam Hussein to attack Iran. Talk to Iranians and a great many will tell you that this ensured that, hardly surprisingly, people rallied to repel the Iraqi invasion and allowed the post-‘79 Iranian government to cement itself in place. A great many of the key demonstrators against the Shah found themselves again in jail – even executed – after the revolution. So why would we expect an attack to be anything other than counter-productive for long-term national security?
So what should we do? To borrow a title from one of Dr Paul’s books we should adopt “A Foreign Policy of Freedom”. As we have done with the likes of Vietnam and China, we need to take a completely new tack. More of the same will simply not work. Expecting a different outcome would be madness. We need to look to offer the opportunity to develop friendship; if not with the regime itself then by by-passing it and by going directly to the Iranian people, the young and educated are clearly hurting under the existing regime; particularly women. This will make it all the less likely the Iranian government can propagandize its people and all the more likely that they can eventually succeed in overthrowing the current theocratic regime. Secondly, it’s extremely hard for Iranians to get visas to come to America to study and do research. Even when it rarely happens, our consular staff will not think twice about denying a visa for the person’s spouse. (Canadian academics love this as they have virtually no competition when it comes to attracting some of Iran’s brightest young scientists and engineers). Make sure Iranian scientists and engineers can have the opportunity to come here to pursue research, build bridges through scientific collaboration. That will make it even less likely that the fundamentalists can browbeat their brightest into building them their bomb.
After almost 60 years of failed policies being applied to Iran, it is time for fresh thinking.

Propagandists and the Road to Serfdom

April 18, 2011

In 1938 the short-lived Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) listed techniques used in propaganda campaigns, namely “Assertion”, “Bandwagon”, “Card Stacking”, “Glittering Generalities”, “Lesser of Two Evils”, “Name Calling”, “Pinpointing the Enemy”, “Plain Folks”, “Simplification/Stereotyping”, “Testimonials” and “Transfer”. A few years later, in his book The Road to Serfdom, Hayek wrote the following, “We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected”.  Although Hayek was writing at the time of the fight against fascism, it is not at all difficult to relate this quote to what is happening today and how the sorts of propaganda techniques listed by the IPA are being shamelessly used in our society as “explanations” of crises and for promoting and attacking individuals, as well as their beliefs.

So what is propaganda? What it is not is the endless repetition of lies. Rather, it’s the selective use of information delivered with skillful use of rhetoric designed for a targeted, manipulatable audience; the relationship between propagandists and his or her propagandees is of paramount importance to its success. Civil discourse becomes replaced with pandering invective, often transitioning into paranoia inducing hysteria. A great many propagandists seem to also be propagandees themselves, spiraling into an ever more delusional fantasyland.

So going back to the IPA’s list, it is useful to just consider what each technique involves. With “Assertion” we’d have statements that should be unquestionably accepted as fact. “Bandwagon” would imply that everyone believes/supports x, y or z, so you should, too. “Card Stacking” is the presentation of only one part of the story, selective omission. “Glittering Generalities” are the use of words associated with what individuals prize, or reject, and their linkage to whatever the propagandist is spouting. “Lesser of Two Evils” would be the presentation of, say, two options with the least offensive one pushed the hardest, with no mention of other possible scenarios. “Name Calling” would involve using (perceived to be) negative labels to describe those that oppose you; or using (perceived to be) positive labels to describe those in support. “Pinpointing the Enemy” would inevitably involve scapegoating a particular group. “Plain Folks” would be using accents and idioms in combination with appeals to populism. “Simplification/Stereotyping” constitutes the presentation of complex issues as simple black and white choices, rather than in shades of grey. “Testimonials” correspond to linkage of popular individuals to particular politicians or issues. “Transfer” is linkage between something the propagandist is spouting and what the propagandee holds dear, this may be as simple as association with a symbol and can be used positively or negatively. Note that in all of the above cases the success of the propagandist is dependent on the compliance of the propagandee, that he or she will accept whatever they are told without delving further.

It would be easy to give example after example of propaganda from media outlets, pundits and politicians on a daily basis, after all, their motivations are to pander to their (potential) audience, thus adding to the bottom line, or to get elected. This, after all, is part of our First Amendment rights. However, it is the responsibility of the potential propagandees – ALL OF US – to be aware that we are being bombarded by snake oil sellers every day. Be it through the print media, television, radio or the internet. It is through our collective complicity that propagandists successfully spew their bile. We need to be critical of what we are being told, rather than gullible when it comes to those that seek to propagandize.

Of course, a reader may say that by this piece of writing I am making my own propaganda, and maybe I am, too. Maybe I am tailoring it to my intended propagandees? In quoting Hayek, the great libertarian economist, am I guilty of assertion, card stacking, glittering generalities, testimonial and transfer, myself? But Hayek did live through a terrible period of European history and, also in the Road to Serfdom, wrote the following, “Yet, although history never quite repeats itself, and just because no development is inevitable, we can in a measure learn from the past to avoid a repetition of the same process. One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers”. A good place to start would be to exercise caution with those that use demonizing invective; the odds are that they are being most economic with the truth. The repetition of history need not be our destiny, it is our choice.