2021-10-05

Be Optimistic — Or Doomed

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by Neil Godfrey

First, immerse every person in their own cyber-world where their environment identifies their interests and biases.

Ellul, author of Propaganda, The Formation of Men’s Attitudes

Second, feed every person with the news and data that reinforces their biases. Masses and masses of data that serve that purpose. Too much data to critically analyse. So much data that swamps each person with confirmation of their belief systems about the world. Result? Too often, paralysis.

And much of the information disseminated nowadays — research findings, facts, statistics, explanations, analyses — eliminate personal judgment and the capacity to form one’s own opinion even more surely than the most extravagant propaganda. This claim may seem shocking; but it is a fact that excessive data do not enlighten the reader or the listener. They drown him. He cannot remember them all, or coordinate them, or understand them; if he does not want to risk losing his mind, he will merely draw a general picture from them. And the more facts supplied, the more simplistic the image. If a man is given one item of information, he will retain it; if he is given a hundred data in one field, on one question, he will have only a general idea of that question. But if he is given a hundred items of information on all the political and economic aspects of a nation, he will arrive at a summary judgment — “The Russians are terrific!” and to on.

A surfeit of data, far from permitting people to make judgments and form opinions, prevents them from doing so and actually paralyzes them.

(Ellul, Propaganda, 87)

That was written in 1962!! How much frighteningly truer must it be today!

How to fight back in such a dystopian world?

If we believe that we keep ourselves well-informed enough to keep a level head, beware. There is a hidden trap.

To the extent that propaganda is based on current news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. A man caught up in the news must remain on the surface of the events he is earned along in the current . . . .

We are more liable to fall into the trap if we think we can recognize or with little effort sift the lies from the truth. This confidence leads to two attitudes:

The first is: “Of course we shall not be victims of propaganda because we are capable of distinguishing truth from falsehood.” Anyone holding that conviction Is extremely susceptible to propaganda, because when propaganda does tell the “truth,” he is then convinced that it is no longer propaganda, moreover, his self-confidence makes him all the more vulnerable to attacks of which he is unaware.

The second attitude is: “We believe nothing that the enemy says because everything he says is necessarily untrue.” But if the enemy can demonstrate that he has told the truth, a sudden turn in his favor will result. . . .

(Ellul, 46, 52)

Edward Snowden

Remember Popper and what he had to say about the necessity to seek to falsify what we think to be true. Edward Snowden a few months ago made the same point:

Here’s a better way to think: in an . . . information-glutted world where you can basically find evidence for any theory you want, where people inhabit separate online realities, we should focus on falsifiability (which can be tested for) over supportability (which cannot). ​​​​​​​

(Snowden, Apophenia)

Do we sense that events are out of control? That the government is an evil force and we are all helpless before it? That nuclear war with China is inevitable? That covid-19 is just the opening salvo of more serious epidemics? That the conditions that made human civilization possible are fast being ripped away from us through climate change? It’s easy to become overwhelmed into inaction.

That feeling is akin to believing in all-powerful hidden forces behind the institutions that shape our lives and there is nothing we can do to change them. Here is where conspiracy theories enter the picture:

This what what the Austrian Jewish sociologist Karl Popper, refugee of the Holocaust in New Zealand and later England, laid out in his theory of science. Popper believed conspiracy theories are exactly what feeds a totalitarian state like Hitler’s Germany, playing on and playing up the public’s paranoia of The Other. And authoritarians get away with it precisely because their pseudoscientific claims, masquerading as sound research, are designed to be difficult to prove “false” in the heat of the moment, when data sets — not to mention a sense of the historical consequences — are necessarily incomplete.

By Popper’s lights—and, I’d argue, by the intuition of basic human decency—we shouldn’t consider these provisional theories “science” at all.

(Snowden, Apophenia. This is the second time I’m drawing upon the same Edward Snowden article.)

Of course, when we take some time to delve into how these institutions actually work (and we have addressed the institution of the media a few times here) we find that people in them too often find themselves spreading consequences they personally would not like, or that they make themselves believe are not so malign after all:

Popper’s a favorite in conspiracy theory studies, but I want to bring in an adjacent idea of his that I think is underemphasized in this context, which is that most human actions have unintended consequences. Instant advertising was supposed to yield informed consumers; the National Security Agency was supposed to protect “us” by exploiting “them.” These plans went horribly wrong. But once you wake up to the idea that the world has been patterned, intentionally or unintentionally, in ways you don’t agree with, you can begin to change it.

(Snowden, Apophenia)

Alone, we can do nothing significant, it is true. But we are social beings. Solitary confinement, as posted about recently, sends us insane.

It is in good faith that whistleblowers around the world bring these contradictions to public attention; they facilitate public epiphany, reminding us that we’re not quarantined in our private, paranoid “stages.” Thinking in public, together, allows us to stage a different performance entirely. We become more like Popper’s social theorists:

(Snowden, Apophenia)

Karl Popper

That’s it. Thinking in public. Being socially engaged. Understanding the world around us requires some effort to pull ourselves over to the bank to stop being carried along in the current that Ellul spoke of. Following is a passage from an essay by Popper.

It is the task of social theory to explain how the unintended consequences of our intentions and actions arise, and what kind of consequences arise if people do this that or the other in a certain social situation. And it is, especially, the task of the social sciences to analyse in this way the existence and the functioning of institutions (such as police forces or insurance companies or schools or governments) and of social collectives (such as states of nations or classes or other social groups). The conspiracy theorist will believe that institutions can be understood completely as the result of conscious design; and as collectives, he usually ascribes to them a kind of group-personality, treating them as conspiring agents, just as if they were individual men. As opposed to this view, the social theorist should recognize that the persistence of institutions and collectives creates a problem to be solved in terms of an analysis of individual social actions and their unintended (and often unwanted) social consequences, as well as their intended ones.

(Popper, “Conspiracy Theory of Society”, 15. Snowden cites the last part of this same paragraph in Apophenia)

Is this naive optimism?

Maybe I’m the deluded one for finding reason for optimism in this idea—and not only because it saves me from letting the former Nazi Conrad have the last word. Popper’s thinking offers an escape hatch from our private worlds and back into the public sphere. The social theorist is a public thinker, oriented toward improving society; the conspiracy theorist is a victim of institutions that lie beyond their control. 

(Snowden, Apophenia)

Noam Chomsky

As Noam Chomsky has said, there is no alternative to optimism. Pessimism leads to disengagement and disengagement guarantees the worst outcome.

Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.

(Chomsky, On Choosing Optimism)


Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. Translated by Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner. New York: Vintage, 1973. https://archive.org/details/propagandaformat0000ellu

Popper, Karl. “The Conspiracy Theory of Society.” In Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate, edited by David Coady, 13–15. Aldershot, Hampshire, England ; Burlington, VT: Routledge, 2006.

Snowden, Edward. “Apophenia.” Substack newsletter. Continuing Ed — with Edward Snowden (blog), August 6, 2021. https://edwardsnowden.substack.com/p/conspiracy-pt2.

Sustainably Motivated. “Noam Chomsky On Choosing Optimism,” March 12, 2017. https://sustainablymotivated.com/2017/03/12/noam-chomsky-choosing-optimism/.



2021-02-12

Why Navalny

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by Neil Godfrey

90 seconds of truth and clarity from Irish member of the European Parliament, Clare Daly:

H/t a retweet by Rania Khalek:


2020-11-26

On Internet Censorship and Mainstream Propaganda, Substance and Image in Domestic and International Political Power

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by Neil Godfrey

I still recall those early days of the internet when it was said to be in some sort of “wild west” stage of development, when we could talk about it being a great democratizing medium . . . but now, in this interview with Glenn Greenwald, the focus is on the new reality of censorship and the forces behind that censorship.

Also of interest: the role of progressives like Bernie Sanders and AOC in the Democratic Party; looking beyond styles to a comparison of what was actually done by the Obama-Biden administration in contrast with Trump’s term; how the different styles have real significance for US power relationships in the world and the perpetuation of wars and harsh treatment of refugees; . . . .

 


2020-11-23

Propaganda Today: New Targets and Deflections

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by Neil Godfrey

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting take on what is happening with mainstream media lately.

In the 1950s and 60s we had

— just as they did in the Cold War with domestic Communism

— and after the Oklahoma City bombing when the Clinton Administration demanded backdoor internet access in the name of stopping right-wing militias

— and again after 9/11 when people like Newt Gingrich wanted to curb free speech in the name of stopping the threat of Islamic radicalism inside the U.S.

Continuing the above pattern, Greenwald fears,

Even with Trump gone, [corporate media in league with national security state and the neocon-backed and corporate-funded Democratic Party] are going to use every FBI tactic to exaggerate the threat of these domestic movements [e.g. QAnon, Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Bois, “Trump supporters” and Russian social media plants] to keep you in such a state of fear that you acquiesce to whatever powers they claim they need to defeat these forces of domestic right-wing darkness. 

This playbook is as old and obvious as it is pernicious.

An excerpt from the article that shows the coalition of media, corporate and political interests working to maintain America’s military presence in Afghanistan:

This is not the first time the Trump administration has been condemned after unveiling its plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. In July, pro-war Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, led by their Lockheed-and-Raytheon-funded Chairman Adam Smith, partnered with Congresswoman Liz Cheney and her pro-war GOP allies to block the use of funds for removing troops (not only from Afghanistan but also Germany), as part of a massive increase in military spending. The oppositional left-right coalition of anti-war Democrats such as Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard and America-First Trump supporters such as Matt Gaetz were no match for the bipartisan pro-war coalition which attempted to block any end to the war.

A crucial weapon which Smith, Cheney and the other anti-withdrawal Committee members wielded was a widely-hyped New York Times scoop published days before the Committee vote, which — in its first paragraph — announced:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Repeatedly citing this New York Times story, based on the claims of anonymous “intelligence officials,” the bipartisan pro-war wing of the Committee insisted that to leave Afghanistan now would be particularly inappropriate and dangerous in light of this dastardly Russian interference. (Top military officials and the commander in Afghanistan later admitted the bounty program “had not been corroborated by intelligence agencies and that they do not believe any attacks in Afghanistan that resulted in American casualties can be directly tied to it,” but by then, the job was done).

And thus did this union of pro-war Democrats, Cheney-led neocons, the intelligence community and their chosen mainstream media outlets succeed in providing the perfectly crafted tool at the most opportune moment to justify blocking an end to America’s longest war. That is precisely the same coalition that drowned U.S. politics for more than three years in the sustained, monomaniacal disinformation campaign about Putin’s takeover of the U.S.

Much of the rest of the article is about the power mainstream media and Silicon Valley interests have exerted in censoring social media. Meanwhile, the corporate media giants that were identified as the main propaganda agents in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent are now increasingly seen as bulwarks of “objective news reporting” and guardians of truth against

fringe groups of fat middle-aged guys in the deindustrialized, decimated, deprived interior of the country cosplaying as militiamen, or random, anonymous MAGA and QAnon trolls.

Perspective. I am not sure I have it right, yet. I thought the far right and their alternative reality campaigns are a lot more of a serious threat than Greenwald seems to allow. But at the same time, I cannot deny the ease with which the mainstream media appear to be getting a free pass to spread the propaganda interests a “new coalition of power”:

Here we see the new coalition of power that has formed during the Trump era: hawkish and corporatist Democrats, united when necessary with pro-war/neocon Republicans, Bush/Cheney operatives, the national security state and large corporate media outlets outside of Fox News.

The article is The New Ruling Coalition: Opposition to Afghanistan Withdrawal Shows Its Key Factions


2020-05-19

The Weaponization of Language (Part 4) – Disinformation and fake news

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by Neil Godfrey

Pascale’s discussion of “fake news” is wide-ranging and I am only selecting a few sections to cite here. Read her full article for the bigger picture.

Continuing my outline of Celine-Marie Pascale’s article The Weaponization of Language. Wherever possible hyperlinks take you to the direct source online.

Stalin coined the word ‘dezinformatsiya’ in 1923 “to describe false information spread systematically through media and public announcements to intentionally confuse or mislead publics.” What is of particular interest at this time, however, is the use of the term “fake news” to “decry reality as fake”. Examples are cited in relation to Syria, Myanmar, Spain, Venezuela, and no doubt we can all think of many more.

In these examples, the charge of ‘fake news’ is a form of disinformation in itself. Governments are using the charge of ‘fake news’ to reshape reality as they attack information and people that they want to discredit. Sherine, one of Egypt’s most famous singers, jokingly implied it was not safe to drink from the Nile and was arrested and sentenced to six months in jail for insulting the country by ‘spreading fake news’ (BBC, 2018). As is evident in these examples, the charge of ‘fake news’ is levied by government leaders to dismiss or to attack people and ideas that are verifiably true

(Pascale, 905f. Italics original; bolding added)

Today, world leaders use the charge of ‘fake news’ to discredit challenges to power, to attack free speech, and to undermine human rights (Martin, 2017; Schwartz, 2017)
From Wikipedia article of the book (not discussed in this post)

From the Schwartz article linked in the above quote:

“These governments, they’re pushing the boundaries of what it’s possible to get away with in terms of controlling their national media,” said Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, “and there’s no question that this kind of speech makes it easier for them to stretch those boundaries.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back against the idea that Trump bears responsibility. “This story is really ridiculous,” she said in an email. “The president isn’t against free speech but we do think reporting should be accurate.”

The spread of the phrase has come against a backdrop of rising violence and persecution against journalists . . . .

Trump’s go-to insult has become such a touchstone that members of far-right groups or political parties in countries like the Netherlands or Germany often write “fake news” in English in their tweets, said Cas Mudde, an international affairs professor at the University of Georgia.

“I have seen it particularly in social media used by radical right leaders who have been clearly influenced by Trump’s use,” he said. “Even if they have a tweet in Dutch, there will be a hashtag #fakenews in it.”

Returning to Pascale:

Disinformation campaigns are designed to consolidate power by provoking reactionary responses that sustain epidemics of social unrest. For example, the US intelligence community pummeled Chile with disinformation in order to unseat the democratically elected President Salvador Allende and install Augosto Pinochet (Carter, 2014). Recently, researchers have documented that Russia targeted specific racial groups in the United States with more than 80,000 posts and thousands of ads that mimicked the style of Black Lives Matter activists in order to stoke racialized conflict and unrest (Associated Press, 2018). Each of these postings proliferated through social media re-postings.

“or it might distort reality by representing an unusual circumstance as a common one.” — we see this almost daily with Trump description of the Democratic Party as “radical Left”.

Disinformation might contain complete falsehoods or partial truths, or it might distort reality by representing an unusual circumstance as a common one. Disinformation campaigns also often incorporate conspiracy theories which delegitimize mainstream media and are used to target people and ideas. For example, Nazi ideology, rife with conspiracies theories regarding Jews, is one of many examples of a disinformation campaign. Jewish conspiracy theories remain today. In 2018 Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán forced the closing of the Central European University (CEU), a private university funded by George Soros, an American of Hungarian and Jewish origin. Orbán, who has promised to defend his Christian homeland, claimed the CEU was part of a plan by Soros to flood Hungary with non-Christian immigrants (Stanley, 2018).

Conspiracy theories are a complete subject of their own and I hope to be posting soon on some new academic publications that have come out these past two years addressing their nature, reasons, and function in today’s political climate.

Meanwhile,

Reasoned debate is replaced by emotional spectacles

“The president’s proclivity to twist data and fabricate stories is on full display at his rallies. He has his greatest hits: 120 times he had falsely said he passed the biggest tax cut in history, 80 times he has asserted that the U.S. economy today is the best in history . . .

“Nearly 25 times, he has claimed that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was No. 1 in his class at Yale University or at Yale Law School. . . .

“This is one of those facts that can be easily checked with a Google search, yet the president persists with his falsehood.”

(Kessler et al., 2018)

Trump is known to have made the same false claim more than 120 times (Kessler et al., 2018). Donald Trump seems to be drawing from Lenin’s old aphorism that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. However, in the internet age Lenin’s aphorism could be updated to ‘If you make it trend, you make it true’ (DiResta, 2018). Truth and politics have never been on the best of terms (Arendt, 1967 link is to PDF) but we have entered new territory. It isn’t only the numbers of lies that pose a threat.

Consider that Trump’s lies are different in kind, not just in quantity, from typical people. When ordinary people lie, we orient toward the truth in order to make our lies seem plausible (Carson, 2016; Frankfurt, 2005link is to PDF). We want our lies to been seen as being true; this is the nature of deceit. Ordinary people craft lies with an eye to preventing ourselves from being exposed for having lied. This has not been the case for Trump, whose lies are not masked. Indeed, he openly bragged about lying to the Canadian Prime Minister about trade deficits. Trump is not attempting to get away with a lie. Rather, Trump’s lies convey an impression that he wields unconstrained power: he can say whatever he wants to say, and the world just has to take it. Perhaps it is even a little sweeter for him, when people know he is lying but can do nothing about it. To the extent that he seems to have impunity it is because he does not stand alone; he is part of a comprehensive system that brought him to power and ensures his survival. Even when media identify lies, a significant part of the population does not care – indeed he is part of a cohort of world leaders who adopt a very similar approach. Trump’s communication has been successful – even while those of us wedded to facts may think otherwise. Efforts to demonstrate the falsity of his claims are important yet never adequate. This is precisely why we, as sociologists, must pay attention to the use of language – not just matters of fact.

Disinformation campaigns online are a powerful, effective, and inexpensive means to generate political and social chaos. Disinformation and propaganda working together do more than create factions and tensions between them. They place factual reality itself at risk. The greatest danger is not that lies will be accepted as truth and truth defamed as lies, but that ‘the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed’ (Arendt, 1967: 50). Reality itself becomes more contingent and less objectively real. Reasoned debate is replaced by emotional spectacles.

(Pascale, 908)

Next: Mundane Discourse….

Omg — after I posted the above I turned to twitter and what did I see there but this as if right on cue. . . . Continue reading “The Weaponization of Language (Part 4) – Disinformation and fake news”


2020-05-17

The Weaponization of Language (Part 3) – Propaganda

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing in this post with my outline of Celine-Marie Pascale’s article The Weaponization of Language. This post addresses her section on a favourite topic of mine, one that I’ve posted many times about, Propaganda. I’ve fleshed out some of Pascale’s points by going back to her citations and quoting directly from them. (Other links point to the online articles themselves where available.)

Propaganda might be most commonly associated with the effort of governments to manipulate information and sentiments to gain public support for specific agendas (Messeryly, 2015). In the United States, the term propaganda has been used to characterize the kinds of interventions advanced by the Soviet Union. When the same critical lens is turned toward modern liberal political democracies, propaganda is often referred to as manufacturing consent (Ellul, 1973; Herman and Chomsky, 2002). In the United States it has been used to intensify capitalist impulses. Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, developed propaganda (which he referred to as public relations) as a means to compel people to buy products they did not need. Propaganda’s sole task is to shape desires and dispositions. Through propaganda Bernays also pushed back on all forms of regulation and in the US made free-market capitalism synonymous with democracy. Bernays’ propaganda machine was so effective that it inspired Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany (Curtis, 2002).

Edward Bernays – “father of modern propaganda” (Wikipedia)

Do click on and view that Curtis, 2002 link at the end of the above paragraph if you haven’t already seen it. It is a BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, 58 minutes long, and part 1 of a series of 4 that survey the way government and business have used the theories of Sigmund Freud to control the masses in an age of “democracy”. I’ve covered aspects of what he addresses in other posts here, in particular the influence of Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays, we learn from a close family member in the doco, despised the masses, thought of them as “fools”. No wonder, when it shows how he became extremely wealthy by showing governments and businesses how to manipulate them.

But back to our Pascale article and to begin with the more obvious:

Some tools frequently used by propaganda are

  • simplicity
  • repetition
  • strong emotions
  • easily understood symbols

We have come to expect the abundance of “slogans, images, and catchphrases” at election time.

With consistent exposure over time, propaganda becomes a language that thinks for you (Klemperer, 2013).

I looked up the Klemperer reference. Here are a few extracts from Victor Klemperer’s The Language of the Third Reich:

Continue reading “The Weaponization of Language (Part 3) – Propaganda”


2020-05-14

Propaganda in Overdrive: The Weaponization of Language (Part 1)

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by Neil Godfrey

The last few days we have been hit with an intensified barrage of alternative reality from Trump’s tweets and press interviews and his online supporters over “Obamagate”, “Deep State” conspiracies and more bizarre assertions in relation to the covid-19 pandemic and the federal government’s response. How can any one person possibly keep up with untangling the webs and layers of lies and distortions?

One article that I had the fortune to stumble across this morning does truly make sense of what is happening. It is a sobering read. I once posted here on the way religious cults have been said to practice “logicide” (the killing of everyday meanings of words) to create alternative realities for members (e.g. teaching different meanings for common words, especially the word “love”). What is happening in the wider national discourses is far more complex, insidious and all-pervasive.

Celine-Marie Pascale

The article is The Weaponization of Language: Discourses of Rising Right-Wing Authoritarianism by a Professor of Sociology, Celine-Marie Pascale.

I’ll post some snippets. Bolded highlighting is my own and reflects my own particular interest; layout and formatting are also my own.

To do justice to the issues I will spread this outline over several posts. See the full article for sources of the many facts cited.

First, the problem —

The world is facing a violent intensification of the scope and reach of authoritarian politics at one of the most precarious times in global history. Public figures openly deride expertise, exalt opinion as fact, and favor brute force. We are witnessing government campaigns to undermine any version of reality that does not align with their agendas.

. . .

Far-right authoritarian movements are produced through weaponized language that demeans, demoralizes, and confuses.

. . .

While there is more continuity in these times than one might like to admit, we must also acknowledge that this historical moment is different in two very important ways.
Continue reading “Propaganda in Overdrive: The Weaponization of Language (Part 1)”


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.


2020-02-10

The New Propaganda

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by Neil Godfrey

An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country

The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.

I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.

What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.

From —
Coppins, Story by McKay. 2020. “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President.” The Atlantic. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/.

2019-10-06

On an “Independent” Mainstream Media Standing Up to Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

The Lesson of the Watergate affair:

The major scandal of Watergate as portrayed in the mainstream press was that the Nixon administration sent a collection of petty criminals to break into the Democratic party headquarters, for reasons that remain obscure. The Democratic party represents powerful domestic interests, solidly based in the business community. Nixon’s actions were therefore a scandal. The Socialist Workers party, a legal political party, represents no powerful interests. Therefore, there was no scandal when it was revealed, just as passions over Watergate reached their zenith, that the FBI had been disrupting its activities by illegal break-ins and other measures for a decade, a violation of democratic principle far more extensive and serious than anything charged during the Watergate hearings. What is more, these actions of the national political police were only one element of government programs extending over many administrations to deter independent political action, stir up violence in the ghettos, and undermine the popular movements that were beginning to engage sectors of the generally marginalized public in the arena of decision-making. These covert and illegal programs were revealed in court cases and elsewhere during the Watergate period, but they never entered the congressional proceedings and received only limited media attention. Even the complicity of the FBI in the police assassination of a Black Panther organizer in Chicago was not a scandal, in marked contrast to Nixon’s “enemies list,” which identified powerful people who were denigrated in private but suffered no consequences. As we have noted, the U.S. role in initiating and carrying out the first phase of “the decade of the genocide” in Cambodia entered the Watergate proceedings only marginally: not because hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were slaughtered in the course of a major war crime, but because Congress was not properly notified, so that its privileges were infringed, and even this was considered too slight an infraction to enter the final charges. What was true of Congress was also true of the media and their investigative reporting that “helped force a President from office” (Lewis) in what is held to be a most remarkable display of media independence, or arrogance, depending on one’s point of view.

History has been kind enough to contrive for us a “controlled experiment” to determine just what was at stake during the Watergate period, when the confrontational stance of the media reached its peak. The answer is clear and precise: powerful groups are capable of defending themselves, not surprisingly; and by media standards, it is a scandal when their position and rights are threatened. By contrast, as long as illegalities and violations of democratic substance are confined to marginal groups or distant victims of U.S. military attack, or result in a diffused cost imposed on the general population, media opposition is muted or absent altogether. This is why Nixon could go so far, lulled into a false sense of security precisely because the watchdog only barked when he began to threaten the privileged.

Exactly the same lessons were taught by the Iran-contra scandals and the media reaction to them. It was a scandal when the Reagan administration was found to have violated congressional prerogatives during the Iran-contra affair, but not when it dismissed with contempt the judgment of the International Court of Justice that the United States was engaged in the “unlawful use of force” and violation of treaties—that is, violation of the supreme law of the land and customary international law—in its attack against Nicaragua. The sponsorship and support of state terror that cost some 200,000 lives in Central America in the preceding decade was not the subject of congressional inquiries or media concern. These actions were conducted in accord with an elite consensus, and they received steady media support, as we have seen in reviewing the fate of worthy and unworthy victims and the treatment of elections in client and errant states.

Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. 1994. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Vintage. pp. 299-300

 


2019-10-02

The Mind of the Trump Supporter

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is about propaganda and how it works, and how it is working today in an unhealthy way in the United States — as perceived by me, an Australian.

When I was struggling in my last days in a religious cult I picked up The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund Cohen and I hated so much of what I read. My copy of the book is riddled with pencilled notes that do sometimes tick and underline stong agreement but at other times asterisk outraged disagreement. It was early days for me. Take the fourth chapter, The Evangelical Mind-Control System. Its first subsection is headed Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. I have a pencilled note against that heading:

No — Bible is an open book. In fact many without in depth study of the Bible say it is very unattractive.

I see now in hindsight that I was missing the point of the argument. But let’s get to the point. This post is a follow up to Characteristics of Trump Supporters. I once posted The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible. Let’s compare the mind-control methods that trap the bible-believer with the propaganda of Trump.

 

Device 1: The Benign, Attractive Persona of Trump

He’s a winner. He promises his supporter’s they’ll get sick of winning. And he’s an underdog, a mere outsider, and boasts that the outsider can change the system. And Fox cable TV is sexy.

 

Cohen began his discussion of the Bible thus,

The best things in the Bible are superficial. Another way of understanding the kindly, philanthropic, and surprisingly tolerant old-time religion we described earlier is to note that its proponents took the lovely surface impressions of Jesus in the Gospels and built a whole new religion out of them alone.

. . . .

What I mean by the persona of the Bible, then, is an apparent relevancy of teaching and promise of benefit that finally turn out to have totally different meanings from what the new inductee was led to think. We will encounter it many times, as our analysis unfolds. Little by little, newcomers are brought along to understand the teachings to mean something altogether different from what appeared on the surface—

(pp. 170, 171. My bolded highlighting)

What comes to mind here are points such as “draining the swamp“. That phrase once meant shutting down the ability of rich and powerful elites from using their wealth and power to catapult them to even more wealth and power. We have seen in the last few days how a President who has used his office to benefit his own companies and those of his family (Trump enterprises and those of his daughter and wife) while attacking political opponents (e.g. Joe and Hunter Biden) who appear to have been doing much the same.

 

Device 2: Discrediting “The World”

Edmund Cohen writes, p. 172:

We earlier covered representative biblical teachings requiring the believer to distrust and to disparage reliance on his own mind for knowledge.

Trump continually pounds the message that nothing said by his critics has any credibility. They are all making up “fake news”. The Democrats are motivated by an inability to accept that they lost the 2016 election and that’s why they continually look for ways to attack “your favourite president”. They even “make up fake sources” for their stories. Continue reading “The Mind of the Trump Supporter”


2019-08-26

Propaganda – the early Roger Ailes

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by Neil Godfrey

From The Loudest Voice in the Room by Gabriel Sherman:

Roger Ailes (from Wikimedia Commons)

“By this point, Ailes (founder of Fox News) was soaking up multiple influences. Kenny Johnson recalled one conversation in Ailes’s office about the power of propaganda. Like Ailes, Johnson loved the theater. He had performed in high school plays and studied directing at Carnegie Tech, where he had become fascinated by the Nazi propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, especially Triumph of the Will and Olympia. “I was blown away,” Johnson remembered. “I had an enormous hatred of Hitler, but when I saw Triumph of the Will, you find yourself thinking, ‘Wow, he’s pretty cool—no, wait, I hate these guys.’ ” Ailes told Johnson that he too was a big fan of Riefenstahl. “He thought her work was brilliant,” Johnson said. They talked about “how she made different versions of the films for different countries not only to aggrandize the Nazis but to throw a bone to the other folks.” Ailes was especially taken by Riefenstahl’s use of camera angles. “There’s so many subtle things you see in propaganda,” Johnson said. “If you put the camera below a subject’s eye height, it’s the ‘hero shot.’ It gives him dominance. We talked about the psychological impact of the placement of the camera.”

(Sherman, p. 31, of situation in 1967)


Sherman, Gabriel. 2014. The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News– and Divided a Country. New York: Random House.



2019-08-23

Propaganda, Censorship, Power, and Control

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by Neil Godfrey

An excellent essay on the role of propaganda in shaping our world-view by Greg Maybury: Inside the Submissive Void — Propaganda, Censorship, Power, and Control. Greg’s post elaborates on some of the points I have often tried to make in smaller forays here, but he covers much more, too.

Brief: The use of propaganda and censorship is more frequently associated with totalitarian, corrupt and/or despotic regimes, not modern democracies in the West. Yet the history of how western governments and their ever-vigilant overlords in the media, financial, and business spheres have controlled the political narrative of the time via these means is a long, storied and ruinous one, going back well before 1914. Along with serving the contemporaneous political objectives of its perpetrators as contrived, such activities often continue to inform our understanding, and cement our interpretation, of history. If as the saying goes, “history repeats itself”, we need look no further as to the main reason why. In this wide-ranging ‘safari’ into the fake news, myth-making, and disinformation wilderness—aka The Big Shill—Greg Maybury concludes that “It’s the narrative, stupid!”

He brings the central theme up to date with references to Google and Facebook. The role of Silicon Valley is something I have yet to study for myself. I have built up a neat little library of materials to read but until I get into them I have to reserve my own judgment on that discussion. I’ll certainly be considering Maybury’s comments as part of that study. Another area I have yet to catch up on is the Robert Ailes factor so I’m glad Maybury introduces that factor, too.

The section of Inside the Submissive Void I responded to most positively was Greg Maybury’s discussion of both the person and work of Alex Carey. I have posted several times on Vridar from sections of Carey’s book, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, and have always intended to post several more.

One new question (new for me) Marybury raises are two works by Macgregor and Docherty on World War 1. My most recent understanding was that archival documents “proved” Germany’s belligerent intent and responsibility for the outbreak after all — against years of contrary assessments I had long been influenced by. Macgregor and Docherty clearly present a very different picture of the responsibility for at least the prolongation of the war. Now that’s more reading I need to investigate!

It’s a long essay, covering a wide range of the ways our public attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, have been shaped by the few.

Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. David HumeOf the First Principles of Government, 1768.

As I said, it’s a long post, covering many aspects of the question. It’s an excellent starting point for much new reading for me. I suspect others will also find in it much to think about and follow up, too.

. . .

Two other, much shorter, pieces that I’ve read recently, leave me in some despair about “whose side we are on”: Traitors to Collective Humanity

That’s the long term bad news. Bad news in the short term Here Are Five Lies About Iran That We Need to Refute to Stop Another Illegal War.

There was something else about the conditions for organized human life on planet earth by the end of the century, too . . . but maybe it’s time to pull out another Monty Python sketch to help us maintain sanity.


2019-08-13

Some Thoughts on the Lessons of Vietnam and the General Who “Lost” the War

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by Tim Widowfield

A few weeks ago, I was dealing with a mold issue in our RV’s bathroom. (Note: If you see mushrooms growing out of a crack in the wall, it’s usually a bad sign.) Having resigned myself to working with gloves, wearing a mask, sitting uncomfortably on the floor for at least an hour, I resolved to find a long audio program on YouTube and let it play while I worked. I happened upon a presentation by Dr. Lewis Sorley, based mainly on his book, Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. (You can find the video at the end of this post.)

I had studied the Vietnam War as an undergraduate history major back in the 1980s, so much of what Sorley had to say covered old ground for me. Back in those days, of course, we could still refer to it as America’s Longest War without worrying whether some other disastrous Asian war might overtake it. After all, we had “learned the lessons of Vietnam,” right?

Later, as a student at Squadron Officer School, I certainly thought we had learned those lessons. From a policy perspective, the first lesson had to be clarity of purpose. On the military side, we would never again fight a limited war of attrition; instead, we would use overwhelming force to achieve clear objectives. In a nutshell, this is the “Get-In-and-Get-Out” Doctrine: Know your objectives. Achieve them in minimum time with minimal loss of life.

We would absolutely avoid any future quagmires. Or so we thought.

I should mention that several other lessons — both spoken and unspoken — arose out of the Vietnam experience. The practice of embedding journalists within fighting units came out of the beliefs that the press should not have been permitted to work as independent observers and that allowing them to move freely in South Vietnam had been a mistake.

An expanding set of myths about why we lost the war blossomed quickly into an alternate history in which unreliable draftees, fickle politicians in Washington, pinko journalists, and the hippy peace movement conspired to keep us from winning.

Some of these myths took hold naturally, as veterans told their personal stories, relating with frustration how the body counts didn’t seem to matter, that the V.C. would return again and again, that the stupid war of attrition didn’t work, and what’s more, nobody seemed to give a damn that it wasn’t working. That much was true.
Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Lessons of Vietnam and the General Who “Lost” the War”