Saturday, June 09, 2012

Can propaganda convince you to kill yourself? Yes.

Several articles today have asked "What's the matter with Kansas?" Actually, writers have relocated that query to Wisconsin. More broadly, the problem can be stated thus: Why do so many working class citizens vote against their own interests?

This blogger pulls no punches:
But, say lefties like Michael Moore, poll after poll shows that Americans usually come down on the progressive side of the issues. Well, maybe, but election after election keeps putting reactionary Republicans and conservative Democrats back in office. Why is that?

I don’t care what any poll says. This country is firmly, staunchly, stupidly center-right. It doesn’t matter if a poll says most Americans favor single-payer health care, because those same people will turn right around and vote for some right-wing demagogue who cries that it’s “socialism!”...
Jonathan Haidt, in the Guardian, addresses the same topic.
Here's a more painful but ultimately constructive diagnosis, from the point of view of moral psychology: politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It's more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left. In America the Republicans did the hard work of drafting their moral vision in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was their eloquent spokesman. Patriotism, social order, strong families, personal responsibility (not government safety nets) and free enterprise. Those are values, not government programs.
Dakinkat discusses the Haidt article in a recent Skydancing piece.
So, these are the same motivators that drive people to guns, bibles, and tribal thinking that demonizes the ‘other’. Is the angry right just a bunch of folks that are scared shitless?  It’s an interesting theses.
I think that Haidt needlessly complicates a straightforward matter. Propaganda works. Propaganda constricts our perception of acceptable solutions. Propaganda tells people to concentrate their fury on THIS issue instead of THAT issue.

Propaganda can convince anyone to do anything. Think of all the soldiers -- on all sides, in all wars -- who, motivated by propaganda, have run headlong into bullets. Propaganda has literally convinced people to kill themselves.

I'll give you a much subtler example.

About nine years ago, there was an effort to separate the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles. This people spearheading this effort were property owners who wanted to escape L.A.’s rent control law. That law applied only to continuously inhabited apartments in older buildings; if a tenant moved, the rent for that unit could zoom up. Some tenants — seniors, mostly — stayed put for decades. The landlords wanted to jack up rents on old people living on fixed incomes.

At the time, rents in southern California were skyrocketing, due to the housing boom. Landlords could get $900 a month for a single that would have cost $400 just a few years previously.

I talked about this situation with a social services worker who despaired at the growing number of homeless families. She actually told me: “I’m sure things will improve if the Valley secedes.”

“What the hell makes you say that?” I asked. “It’ll make things much worse. Old people will suddenly see their rents double. How can you say things will get better?”

She seemed uncomfortable. “I dunno. It’s what they say on TV.”

Turns out she had been watching a TV "news" segment in which libertarians argued, with their usual casuistry, that an absolute lack of regulation would magically create the lowest possible rents for everyone.

She was not a conservative by nature, or she would not have had the job she had. Nevertheless, propaganda had worked its magic on her mind.

If you can find it, read Death in Washington by Donald Freed and Fred Landis -- specifically, read the chapter on the "Quartered Man" campaign in Chile. Landis, who did the research for that chapter, also wrote this must-read article on CIA propaganda techniques.

Landis discusses how the right (funded by the CIA) controlled the media in the run-up to the coup against elected Chilean leader Salvator Allende. The newspapers and magazines created the impression that the country had devolved into chaos and mass murder.
The next theme is social chaos. In almost every country there are bizarre incidents which a conservative newspaper normally will not touch. Suddenly this National Enquirer-type material fills the front page: Violence, chaos, permanent crisis, unnatural events, omens from heaven, death, gruesome food stories, household pets who eat their masters, children who inform on their parents, servants who turn on their employers, etc. The difference is that after creating a climate of tensions, this situation is blamed on the government: First on the ideology that the government represents (socialism) and then on the government itself; first by insinuation and then explicitly; first with humor and then with terror; first with character assassination and then with physical assassination.

Strategically, the attack on government ministers proceeds like a chess game in which one eliminates the pawns and works up to the king.
More:
Baeza Flores, writing in Radiografia Politico de Chile: "I arrived like a traveller feeling a bit dizzy from the gas of propaganda and counter-propaganda of psychological warfare, a little seasick from the ideological gas."

Oscar Waiss, writing in La Nacion: "The purpose of the CIA is to create a national psychosis, including an insane repetition of themes, which could serve as background music for a horror film."
(Emphasis added.) Obviously, the exact same thing is happening in this country right now. See: Fox News under Roger Ailes. See: Andrew Breitbart. See: Clear Channel, backers of Rush Limbaugh and financially linked to Mitt Romney. TV, internet, radio.

Have intelligence operatives played a role in these three networks? It's hard to think otherwise, especially since Landis describes the CIA's usage of the exact same techniques. In the future, I intend to devote much of this blog to uncovering the "spooky" links to America's propaganda networks.

What's the matter with Kansas (or Wisconsin)? Propaganda. That's what's the matter.
Comments:
I think you are probably right.

I could ask "to what end", but I a) as someone else on this blog once said, since when did the powers that be ever need an end. b) I have some inkling and it troubles me.

Harry
 
Propaganda influences those who are susceptible to it. One must already have certain beliefs, usually indoctrinated from early childhood, for the propaganda to work, e.g. religious and nationalistic beliefs. The propaganda simply validates beliefs that are already there.
DM
 
Propaganda and strong-arm tactics have been the tools of all dictators--Hitler and Lenin come to mind.

Carolyn Kay
MakeThemAccountable.com
 
I was positive this country would devolve when Raygun killed the Fairness Act and allowed lies to flourish.
 
DM, propaganda works by repetition. The so-called "reality-based" community which routinely sneers at Faux News "dupes" are just as susceptible. Even one of the debunking sites I used to admire fell to Palinbashing-fever which reached its peak when trying to blame her for a madman's shooting of his congresswoman, Giffords. Like a flashfire, everyone was fuming about Palin's "target" graphics, even tho Dems had also used them, and the shooter had a long-held personal grudge and obsession with Giffords.

So much for objectivity and perspective...and being impervious to propaganda. Even fact-finders fall victim to the flames.
==========================
And...next windmill... speaking of mindless repetitions which have taken unfortunate hold, I know I'm waging a lone and quixotic War against Douchebag, but please...Joseph...even if you don't agree it's sexist and should be abandoned as a derogatory term on that account, surely you must accept that "douche" is a cliche and your anti-Libertarian graphic at the top of the page deserves a more biting and unique slogan? One you're more than capable of providing, given your penchant for word play.
 
Zee, it isn't my graphic. My ladyfriend sent it to me -- and I don't know where she got it. If it did not offend her, it does not offend me. I simply wanted to link to an anti-libertarian page that I liked.

I don't believe I mentioned Palin when talking about the Giffords shooting. I have not heard of Dems using the target graphic, but I would not be terribly surprised. I don't think that metaphor should every be used, by anyone, in a political context.

I defended Palin against some of the truly obnoxious smears that cropped up in 2008. Since then, it has become quite clear that she really does lack the intelligence for high office. What really bothers me is the evidence that she thinks she can bullshit her way through any challenge. That's hardly an uncommon attitude these days, which is precisely why I'm so bothered by it.

Also -- to be frank, I really think she was wired for that debate. But then again, I WOULD think that, wouldn't I?
 
Of course the Left falls for propaganda, they voted for Obama.
 
Ah, well...if the graphic isn't yours it's not worth changing...but the fact that too many including your savvy ladyfriend are not offended is the very reason I took up my tilting lance against the word. Racist words used to be acceptable, too, until the first people spoke up to raise awareness. I'm all for intentional offense, when warranted, and when the intended target is not cut down by "feminizing" words, unless the user specifically wishes to denigrate the entire female gender. "Progressive" groups like moveon.org prominently use the term because it's so widely accepted but I'd bet even the NAACP no longer uses the term "colored people" in common usage. So I hope it will be with terms like "douche" and "girly" and "vagina" addressed to men.

As for the target graphics....that is another learning curve. I still use violent jargon, but after your post about Pamela Geller this should be part of the national discourse as well.
 
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