Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eating Propaganda (Part 1)

If people are ever to conquer the fictional narrative that the (I shudder to call it) 'mainstream media' has created, and facilitated on behalf of those that require it, they must come to understand the tactics that the media conglomerates use to create fables from real information.  What people have, for some reason, come to accept as 'spin' is in practice a form of lying without technically telling a lie.  It is a rhetorical game.  Semantics.  Think of when a little kid says, "I plomise," when made to promise against something that they want.  The kid thinks, "If mom didn't catch it, then i didn't really promise!"  This is what the media promotes when it repeats, and helps to instill, Official Press Statements from the their corporate sponsors and political overlords.  For instance, the U.S. bombings in upwards of ten countries is,  "Not war, but kinetic military action."   Or that the Federal Reserve didn't create trillions ($X,XXX,XXX,XXX,XXX) of dollars in hypothetical credit to trade the banks for worthless paper assets, they, "Quantitatively eased the banks to shore up toxic assets."  They are trained by government coercion and advertising money not to question the "Official Public Relations Statement."

Public relations is just a euphemism for propaganda.  It, the term "public relations," was brought into broad usage after World War I because the governments of the world went into high gear using propaganda to cull war dissent in the public psyche.  The word 'propaganda' comes from the Vatican (ha) and, today, simply means that something is 'in action' propagating an idea; be it a poster, TV show, magazine, movie, newspaper, book, or a piece of art.  There were no negative connotations with the word before the war.  Interestingly, because of the new negative association with the word, the term 'public relations' is itself an example of itself.  The term 'public relations' was rhetorically designed to disguise the meaning and true nature of the word which it was replacing, 'propaganda'.

A Little History

School of Athens - Raphael (1510)
In the past, society developed a liberal education system that was broken into two basic formats: language and mathematics.  Language was taught first and was broken into three branches; grammar, logic (dialectic), and rhetoric.  They were taught in that order and it was known as the trivium.  We might call it 'undergraduate' school today, but it would have been taught much earlier in life than college for contemporary society.  This concept of the trivium was the basis for people's ability to both learn and to teach.  It is not missing today, but chopped up and fed, slowly, and in the wrong order, to people who become less and less able to learn.

Grammar, being first, was the method of the mechanics of language.  It taught people how to identify phrases and objects.  The structure of language is unearthed in grammar.  Logic was then what it is today, the identification of truth.  It sought to construct the sequence of events, helped to clarify contradictory thoughts, and reinforced understanding of cause and effect, before and after, and  post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Logic also performed the function of helping to avoid in one's own arguments, or identify in others, fallacies.  Rhetoric, was the last stage and the most important.  It helped people to articulate exactly what they meant.  It taught people to speak elegantly and with linguistic precision.  A proper understanding of rhetoric, and thus language at large, gave people the ability, if used correctly, to command the understanding of others.  When Alexander the Great heard of Aristotle's writings being used to educate in this manner anyone who could read, he wrote to him saying,

Alexander 356 - 323 B.C.
"You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine [rhetoric]; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell." (Plutarch Alexander 356-323 B.C. 10th paragraph)

Obviously, Alexander was upset that Aristotle was giving away the power to comprehend and to persuade.  Alexander's "dominion" and its "extent" was the ability that he had to manipulate the will of the people who heard him speak because he knew the proper function of language.  This gave people the power to argue back against someone who was seen as tricking, or usurping, their ability to make free, willful, informed choices by the manipulation of language.  To understand this basic education system is to speak the language of persuasion.  Propaganda will pop out at you.

Socrates was also lambasted for "making the weaker argument the stronger."  In Plato's "Apology,"  Socrates, who was on trial for corrupting the mental process's of the people who had listened to him speak, was given the opportunity to tell his side of the story and was subsequently found guilty on grounds of "specious reasoning and deceptive speaking."  He pleaded with them, arguing that he should not even be on trial, but looked at as a teacher and guider of wisdom.  A victim of his own superiority, Socrates was seen to be winning arguments that the majority of Athenians thought he should not be winning.  He simply knew how to convince them and most people did not get it.  They thought he was tricking them.  Now, mind you, this didn't end well for Socrates, the Athenians sentenced him to death, but the principle of not giving in to idiocy is its true value.  What Socrates once used to try to enlighten people, that is the power to persuade, is today being used to keep people utterly brain dead when it comes to anything outside of their immediate vision.

Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, helped popularize the use of propaganda after World War I as well as the term "public relations".  He made the observation that the use of mass propaganda doesn't need to be restricted to war time.  The function of wartime propaganda was to encourage secrecy, patriotism, work ethic, etc., and it could be used to help develop certain characteristics out of society during peace time as well.  Bernays gives the example of influential leaders being a target of manipulation of public opinion. "'Leaders' assert their authority through community drives and amateur theatricals. Thousands of women may unconsciously belong to a sorority which follows the fashions set by a single society leader."(Propaganda p.17)  Corporations realized immediately that it could be used to create and dominate markets.  They figured out that they could exploit the class envy of the rich through peer pressure and several other methods.

"Men are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.  A man may believe that he buys a motor car because, after careful study of the technical features of all makes on the market, he has concluded that this is the best.  His almost certainly fooling himself.  He bought it, perhaps because a friend whose financial acumen he respects bought one last week; or because his neighbors believed he was not able to afford a car of that class; or because its colors are those of his college fraternity." (p.51)

Bernays mentions that newspapers editors used to kill stories if they thought that the column was meant to benefit anyone, but the contrast, in 1928, was that that view had been abandoned and that it did not matter if the stories were of benefit to anyone as long as it was "news worthy." (p. 151)  We can see how even that principle has shifted.  Today, news stations refuse to report on events that damage an interest that could advertise with them.

A few years later, in 1937, an organization was started to spot and inform the public of the use propaganda.   This organization was called "Institute for Propaganda Analysis."  The Institute published four books on propaganda.  The techniques it wrote about stressed the importance of the fallacy.  Fallacies are errors or misconceptions in methods of reasoning; faulty logic.  It was subsequently shut down by the government at the start of U.S. involvement in World War II.  There were seven main techniques of propaganda according to the Institute:

American Gothic (1930) - Grant Wood
Plain Folks - An ad that claims to be aligned with the everyday person and their everyday interests.  It is a method of creating artificial trust in the spokesman to the person receiving.  This exploits the fallacy of generalizations and 'appeal to emotion' through transferal, testimonial, and bandwagon.

Name Calling - Fear mongering; uses prejudice in many forms to incite emotional reactions to information with the intent of forming the opinion of the recipient. This is best exemplified by the fallacy of 'ad hominem', to the man; off the subject attacks on one's character.  Calling people unpatriotic for not supporting your political agenda, calling someone an ideologue.  Scaring people with rhetoric as a way of using their emotions to control them.

mmmm cigarettes...notice the black, white and red.
Transfer - This method is commonly used in advertising today.  Celebrity endorsements are used to bring appeal to an object or idea.  This can also be used in the opposite manner by associating a person with bad things, as is commonly done in political campaign ads.  Symbolism is also used in this manner.  This is an overt, kind of, subversive technique; hiding it in plain sight.  The goal may be the public impression of positive generalization as well as a reverse psychological ploy of calling out the character of those that choose or think differently; an inverse of name calling.

Testimonial - This is when labels carry endorsements from people who wield influence for one reason or another.  A world class athlete would know more about what deodorants work and what do not or what food is healthy and what is not.  This may have a faulty premise and is an example of the fallacy of "argument through modesty."  Or, an "appeal to authority" because "the authority figure would know better."  This is not to be confused with subjective interpretation of evidence, which is a different form, (without malicious intent) but appeals to some kind of authority or  expert in whatever field is relevant.  Leaving only subjective interpretation as the main point of contention.

Card Stacking - This is where information is misrepresented.  It can be looked at like confirmation bias; the observation of only the information that backs up preconceived notions.  Some say that this is unavoidable because you tend to just not really admit things you see, all the little bits of data that blur by in a day, into your immediate conscious.  Either one can omit some information (the lie of omission) or present selective evidence that supports the end of the propagandist.  This is common on news media channels on TV and radio.  They will present information twisted to the pleasure of the viewership/listenership demographics.  This is sometimes accompanied by disparaging the opposition; ad hominem and transfer.

Glittering Generalities - these are emotionally appealing words or phrases so closely associated with highly-valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason.  This technique purposely reinforces the fallacy of sweeping generalizations.  Referred to as an accident of logic, but used by propagandists it is anything but accidental.  

Bandwagon - This is the most common form of propaganda in use.  Bandwagon is a technique used to gather people under a fad or social phenomenon.  Because more people are on one side, it is correct.  This is also similar to saying that all that is needed for a correct decision is a consensus of opinion.  It is another version of the fallacy of generalizations and appeals to emotion.  It earns its effectiveness on the backs of the feelings of loneliness that are inherent in people.  "You don't want to be left out do you?!" "No Child Left Behind."