2020-05-16

The Weaponization of Language (Part 2a): Censorship update

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by Neil Godfrey

From The Guardian the day after I posted The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship

Faced with an appalling US coronavirus death toll, the right denies the figures

Fox News is foremost in promoting the idea that official figures are inflated, whereas experts believe more people have died

.

As Donald Trump agitates for the US to reopen, the American right appears to have found a novel way to deal with the rising coronavirus death toll: deny it altogether.

Top Trump officials, huddled in the White House, itself the subject of a coronavirus outbreak, have according to reports begun questioning the number of deaths – and the president is among the skeptics.

It’s a handy thought process for an administration desperate to send Americans back to work even as deaths from the virus rise each day, with marked surges in some traditionally Republican states.

. . . . 

Worryingly, the disinformation push seems to be working. An Axios-Ipsos poll found that the death toll has become a political issue, 40% of Republicans believing fewer Americans are dying from coronavirus than the official toll says.

A separate study, published at the end of April, revealed the stark consequences of prominent figures underplaying the impact of Covid-19. A group of researchers tracked the spread of coronavirus among viewers of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, after Hannity spent weeks downplaying the threat.

“Greater exposure to Hannity,” the researchers wrote, “leads to a greater number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.”

.

 


2020-05-15

The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing extracts from the article The Weaponization of Language: Discourses of Rising Right-Wing Authoritarianism by Celine-Marie Pascale. The previous post is here.

Censorship

On how capitalism survives and thrives through propaganda see posts addressing aspects of Alex Carey’s Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Or better still, read the book to see how capitalism relied on advances in propaganda techniques to survive against popular interests and guide the democratic processes.

While media censorship may be the hallmark of authoritarian regimes around the globe, censorship also is associated with capitalist systems that prioritize the interests of advertisers, boards of directors, and profits over the interests of consumers and the general public . . . .

In an era that might be called ‘the information age,’ censorship flourishes in old and new forms. Fundamentally, censorship prohibits language that threatens hegemonic power. Consider that the interests of a free press have long been overshadowed by governments, corporations, and religious groups.

. . .

Historically, US news corporations have censored information that would negatively affect the interests of advertisers and owners. Recently, censorship has taken a different form in the US. 

. . .

This is a new face of censorship for the United States and in line with what appears to be the cultivation of state control over news.

George Orwell is credited with warning that the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it. 

[Though the quote is widely attributed to Orwell there is no confirmation that he wrote it. A similar sentiment was expressed by Gramsci — we have posted about him before — who said, “To tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is a communist and revolutionary act.“]

. . .

In 2019 the number killed dropped but that’s hardly a substitute for not being targeted by death squads at all.

Reporters Without Borders publishes a World Press Freedom Index.

According to the International Federation of Journalists,

  • 94 journalists and media staff were killed in 2018 
  • Ninety percent of all journalist deaths remain unresolved.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 

  • Around the globe 348 reporters were detained in connection with their reporting in 2018 

. . .

Journalists are persecuted in countries around the globe including Eritrea, Turkey, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, China, Russia, South Africa, and Uganda.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime collects detailed information about journalists as well as about media advertising and editorial content …

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has called reporters ‘spies’ …

In the United States, Donald Trump has called both the press and individual journalists ‘enemies of the people’ …

Trump also has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to collect information on reporters and news media, as well as on individuals who post news on social media platforms …

The US State Department’s Global Engagement Center, created to combat disinformation and online extremism, has recently used online trolls to attack US journalists for disinformation, branding them as ‘Tehran collaborators’ for writing articles the US government perceived as being ‘soft on Iran’ …

Reporters Without Borders added the United States to its list of most dangerous places for reporters after a mass shooting at a local paper that left five reporters dead …

. . .

To break for a moment from Pascale’s article and look across at other instances of media censorship in the West, in particular USA and Australia: Continue reading “The Weaponization of Language (Part 2): Censorship”


2020-03-02

Declaration of the Freedom of Mind

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by Neil Godfrey

I found this declaration on https://medium.com/@bandyxlee/declaration-of-the-freedom-of-mind-f093fa0cd711 — Quite a revolutionary idea, yes?

. . . .

Written by Bandy X. Lee (Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (dangerouscase.org), and editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”)

This statement originated from a meeting with citizen organizers in New York City on President’s Day, February 17, 2020, when we noted a public not lacking in resources or will but gripped with disappointment, demoralization, and despair at a government’s lack of concern for its citizens. The failure to grasp a problem of mental health had resulted in the failure of a political process (impeachment), and the psychological oppression of a populace was proving to be the most pernicious form of oppression of all. The phenomenon of oppression is no different from what our Founders experienced at the time of the Revolutionary War, but it needs updating, taking into account the psychological weapons that have become available. To help protect the most sacred right to freedom of mind, along with the nurturance and societal support that make it possible, we offer a tool for citizen groups to identify correctly and target precisely the problem, by drafting the following.

We at the World Mental Health Coalition believe that freedom of mind is a basic human right. It is at the core of all other freedoms and is fundamental to a working democracy. Without it, all rational systems break down. It is a right that is derived from the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We declare that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the human right to freedom of mind are the principal cause of public disempowerment and oppression by governments. People denied of agency become easy tools of those intent on ruling, rather than serving, them. When this happens, police and prisons are no longer necessary: people themselves enthusiastically volunteer to their own servitude.

We therefore announce a solemn declaration of the natural, unalienable, and sacred human right to freedom of mind, as a derivation of the above Declarations. We aspire toward reminding the people continually that they have this right, that political bodies should not abuse or suppress it, and that social systems ought to protect and nurture it. With this awareness, we believe that the people, based on the simple laws of nature, will be empowered to live out their full potential to the happiness of all.

Therefore the World Mental Health Coalition recognizes and upholds the following human right to freedom of mind:

1. As stated in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience and the obligation to act towards one another in a humane spirit.

2. Everyone is entitled to make informed decisions for themselves. The people shall have access to information and the best available knowledge, including expertise, so that they can make informed choices about health care, education, distribution of wealth, and organization of power or other decisions that affect them. Access to information and knowledge is critical to the people’s ability to secure conditions that are necessary for their collective health, including mental health.

3. No one shall be held in mental slavery or servitude. Without being agents of their own minds, a people cannot make reasoned judgments and decisions that will help their situations. When information control, mass manipulation through lying, and thought reform are allowed to occur, mass hysteria and cults of personality replace informed, autonomous rule.

4. The people shall retain the right to have a wholesome environment for the mind. An environment that is flooded with false information, manipulative techniques, and malign psychological conditioning injures their mental health and stunts their ability to reach their full mental potential. Mental health professionals shall make recommendations for maintaining and reclaiming mental health and self-reliance.

5. Law is an expression of the general will. The people have a right to participate personally, or through a representative, in shaping laws that protect freedom of mind and prevent its slavery. Information from journalists, professionals, and whistleblowers increases freedom of mind and needs to be protected. Propaganda and large-scale psychological abuse and oppression should be identified and curtailed, just as other forms of violence and abuse, as impingement on others’ rights, are punishable by law.

6. Since freedom of mind is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived of it, actively or passively. Children shall be nurtured for healthy mental development, safety, and supportive education so that they may build autonomy and critical thinking skills. Adults shall be treated with dignity, whereby no locus of control shall be external, rather than internal, whether coerced or manipulated.

7. We recognize that society, as a whole, is far from perfect in mental health and that a healing process is necessary for even the awareness of mental health matters to grow. There shall be no abridging of speech, of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble around matters that affect their mental health.

. . .

Recommendation: Precisely at a time when the president is using his power to conceal Russian schemes to reelect him, and to muzzle health officials before an impending pandemic, this statement is all the more relevant. Use it to claim your rights! While we are seeking a governmental body or international organization to adopt it, it is our official interpretation, as a professional organization of mental health experts, of your rights.


2018-05-10

Still True After All These Years

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by Neil Godfrey

The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that “it wouldn’t do” to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was “not done” to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

From George Orwell’s 1945 Preface to Animal Farm

It surely applies to more than just the media industries in countries like the UK, USA, Australia . . . . .

 


2018-03-20

Forbes Posts Article on the Cruelty of White Evangelicalism, Then Pulls It

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by Tim Widowfield

On 11 March 2018, Forbes posted Chris Ladd’s article, “Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel.” It didn’t last the day. You’ll probably want to read it, as well as Forbes’ weak-tea explanation for taking it down.

We’ve discussed many times here how censorship traditionally works in the West. The government rarely gets involved, nor does need to, since the press dutifully polices itself. Even in the digital age, our media gatekeepers still keep at it, perhaps out of habit, but mostly out of cowardice.

These dinosaurs, reaching the end of the line, stumbling toward extinction, haven’t given up yet. And when somebody crosses the line, they’re ready to scold the offenders and tell them their message is “way out of bounds.”

As we all know, the truth has boundaries.