Propaganda has been a significant tool of societal manipulation in the majority English-speaking countries since the 1920s at least. This manipulation includes both rhetorical manipulation-rhetoric is the practice of communicating in order to get an audience to do something, or avoid doing something, as per one’s wish-as well as distraction from personal and societal problems, typically through the use of spectacle. Successful propaganda usually involves a combination of rhetoric with spectacular distraction (pun intended). In the last thirty years, and more so in the last ten years, propaganda has been applied successfully elsewhere.
By virtue of propaganda’s debut being in English speaking countries, much of the resistance against propaganda has been in these countries, for example George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, and the USA-based Institute of Propaganda Analysis. These analyses and resistance to propaganda were in many respects incomplete, as their focus lay on the fraudulent and thought-inhibiting aspects of propaganda, while giving limited coverage to the psychological aspect-both Orwell and the Institute limit themselves to fear, for example fear of state enemies. Of course, fear is a significant aspect of propaganda-commercial propaganda (marketing) typically insinuates that if one’s teeth aren’t white, one will automatically be rejected by prospective lovers. However, fear so defined gives a very limited understanding of how propaganda operates, especially in political contexts.
I claim that in order to understand propaganda, especially against the left, one must delve into the motivation for the use of propaganda, as well as the goals that the propaganda is serving.
As leftists we are often seen as a threat (one would hope correctly) to various state and commercial interests. Occasionally, the state and various commercial interests see the left as a potential tool, and thus there are efforts to enroll the left in support of various enterprises in which a quid-pro-quo (this for that-a swap of favors) between the left and the state or commercial interest is reached, by which the left (allegedly) gets its way on some issue (symbolic gay rights, for example, or thundering written support for trade unions and protest movements), for non-opposition (or lack of meaningful opposition) on some other issue (imperial adventure in Libya, state financing for the commercial interests in question). A typical example is the current ‘progressive movement.’ I deliberately put the word movement in quotes, as it seems at most as real as the Tea Party movement-in both cases, there we find popular involvement with much money flowing to achieve very special interests-and the TPM seems more open about the commercial interests behind it.
Certain elite groupings are thus strongly opposed to the left, while others offer a co-opting quid-pro-quo. With regards to the quid-pro-quo, some left-inclined individuals support the offers made-whether out of misguidedness (usually fear of John Birch Society types-Koch senior was among the founding members of the JBS) or malice-and some (most) of the left opposes it, to the extent that the left is aware of it. By the left here, I have in mind in particular the left-inclined people who read and comment on the ‘progressive’ sites, as they appear to be more active than the rest of the left. A part of the quid pro quo is the expectation that the left subscribers to the quid-pro-quo seek to cajole non-subscribers into subscription to the quid pro quo (cooptation), or attack the non-subscribers, usually with the understanding that non-subscription amounts to supporting John Birch Society types.
Of course, this phenomenon-jockeying for elite support-is not limited to the left-witness the ‘Tea Party movement,’ the subscribers of which mostly oppose social security cuts.
To attack (us) non-subscribers, the following means can be used:
1. state violence (state police, military, for example as against OWS, MLK),
2. non-state violence (vigilantes, private police-these forces have not been as significant in North America the last sixty years),
3. co-optation (in a sense a form of violence; achieved by direct propaganda and bribery), and
4. demoralization (propaganda-emphasis on bad characters present e.g. rapists, mentally ill, hypocrites; insinuate impossibility of sustained opposition).
Consequently, there are two motivations for elites and their political vehicles to use propaganda against non-subscribers: to enable and ease (reduce the cost of) the use of violence and co-optation against non-subscribers (OWS is effectively a non-subscriber movement, thus the effort to co-opt and the violence; I’ll call them and similar groupings and individuals the ‘target left’), and to inhibit non-subscribers, by demoralizing them.
For those unfamiliar with the term demoralization, I give this description—demoralization is the destruction of morale (notice the e at the end). Morale is the sense that a person or group has that (s)he/it can achieve a given set of goals, and the sense that the set of goals are worth pursuing.
Demoralization can thus occur by creating a sense, in the person or group in question, that the person or group in question isn’t capable, trustworthy or otherwise worthy of pursuing the goal, or by painting the set of goals in question as harmful.
To facilitate the use of violence against the target left, through the use of propaganda, the maker of the propaganda must have a very tuned sense of what is happening in society. If the propaganda is to address the subset of society that hates the left, that propaganda must do the following:
1. it must reduce that subset’s inhibition of violence toward the left—the anti-OWS propaganda wasn’t quite successful in this goal—right-wing commentators on e.g. Alternet often fell short of promoting state violence against OWS—instead they demanded that the left conduct itself seriously—”Why do you guys rape? Why do you shit on cars?”—this includes several of the Tea Party types;
2. the propaganda must paint the would-be perpetrators as justified in their violence, e.g. “our boys in blue are going to teach you some manners and respect, make our parks and streets safe, and do their duty to themselves and society”-outright discussion and promotion of violence cannot be justified in propaganda except in pure self-defense, as the collapse of the pretense of self-defense in the use of violence demoralizes the middle classes. Thus much of the bizarre Nazi propaganda, for those who’ve studied it.
If instead the propaganda addresses people who trust the left, the propaganda should demoralize opposition to the violence, as public opposition to violence demoralizes nationalist support for the violence; if people protest in the street, good soldiers will be loathe to fire on protestors, and such firing on protestors will lead to army morale problems down the road.
Successful application of violence against the target left also demoralizes the target left, and can thus be seen as working like propaganda.
Thus propaganda is used to enable and smoothen the use of violence against the target left, and to demoralize the target left. With the motivations and goals of propaganda in mind, we can thus study the application of propaganda techniques. I will now list some propaganda technique examples (using the techniques of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis) to write demoralizing, attack-smoothing and co-opting propaganda against OWS and the anti-Libyan war groups. Try writing your own propaganda against the target left (yourself), and remind yourself of such propaganda to which you have been subjected. Notice whether the purpose in each case was to demoralize you, co-opt you, attack you or someone else, or some combination.
Card Stacking: The cops are going to give you a whipping (thus you will get hurt and your campaign will fail).
[Notice in the above example that an assumption is smuggled – the part in brackets is usually not stated; despite not being stated, the part in brackets is precisely the part that an activist would worry about. By not explicitly mentioning the part in brackets, the less experienced activist is inhibited from verbalizing the outcome, and can thus often not rationally approach the problem.]
Bandwagon and Plain Folks: Only lazy people and weirdos go sit on the street and block the traffic, or occupy a park – look at the weird stuff they do – they should get jobs.
Of course, such propaganda usually insinuates that bad conduct is the norm for the target of the propaganda.
Alternet brings you Noam Chomsky and OWS.
The DA’s spokesperson say hundreds of rape charges investigated at OWS.
Even Chomsky saya Libya must be bombed. [OK the wording is usually more sly, and uses half-truths and obscure assertions; put aside whether you regard Chomsky's statement about a no-fly zone as principled, naive, senile or opportunistic.]
The alternet example is also transfer.
Glittering generalities, name calling: NATO is exercising its responsibility to protect Libyan citizens against the murderous thug Qaddafi.
Name calling: Those dirty hippy rapist drug abusing car shitting communist papist [anti-catholic sentiment occasionally raises its head] godless bums of OWS [notice the association being made between subgroups of various sizes, from the tiny to the intermediate, and the whole, and the contradictions that such associations cause in the mind of the audience...] don’t share our values [half-truth – some of the values of the propaganda audience will be shared by some subgroups of OWS].
Name calling: OWS wants Romney to win.
Notice the use of spectacle and distraction in the above – OWS and Qaddafi are mere spectacles, and attention is distracted from the actual conduct of various parties, be they Alternet, NATO, OWS, Qaddafi, Chomsky, etc.
Often, resistance to such propaganda involves mind games – one can succumb to the propaganda under one’s own control, before questioning it again (e.g. on one minute intervals), admitting one’s fears to oneself with regards to the propaganda, and recognizing the implicit (smuggled) assumptions. Often, one resists by playing the propaganda back in one’s mind while reminding oneself from what matter the propaganda is trying to distract one’s attention. Often, one pretends to be one of the implicit crowd, laughing or jeering the spectacle target, then questioning the purpose of the spectacle and one’s conduct, on one minute intervals. Gradually, one becomes at ease with hearing but not succumbing or angering at propaganda.
Then one can teach others.
- Unemployment numbers are ‘propaganda’
- Notes From Steve Keen on “Lending Reserves” and “Debt Jubilees”; Mish Proposed Starting Point For Real Solution to Debt Crisis
- The American Public Has Always Been Left of Center
- American Propaganda, Edward Bernays, Spooks and News
- Denial is The Hallmark of The Left