Tag: Language

Propaganda 106 – Waging War (A Case Study) [UPDATED]

(c) Gene Howington, 2014
(c) Gene Howington, 2014

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature [or form]? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VIII – 11

“All war is deception.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As previously discussed, “we need to differentiate between the terms ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’.  Strategy is defined in relevant part by Webster’s as ‘the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war’.  Tactics, by contrast, is defined in relevant part by Webster’s as ‘the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end’ and ‘the study of the grammatical relations within a language including morphology and syntax’. By better understanding the tactics of propagandists, you not only gain a certain degree of immunity from their influence, but insight into their strategic ends.”

Today we will address strategy and tactics in the form of a case study. The context is the so-called “War on Drugs” and state’s efforts to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. The strategy is to exacerbate so called drug crime violence by obliquely attacking the burgeoning states effort to legalize marijuana and those who trade in legal marijuana by deliberately putting them at risk. The primary tactic in question is misdirection.  When analyzing propaganda, it’s important to ask who brings the message, what do they want me to think, why do they want me to think it and how do they benefit? The leader of this campaign against the American people?  United States Attorney General Eric Holder. Let’s examine the  what, why and who benefits from what Mr. Holder wants you to think.

Continue reading “Propaganda 106 – Waging War (A Case Study) [UPDATED]”

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: Just Because You’ve Forgotten Doesn’t Mean You’re Forgiven

lies-truthby Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“Darkness isn’t the opposite of light, it is simply its absence.” – Terry Pratchett

As we’ve previously discussed in the Propaganda Series, The Sound of Silence, propaganda is not always language or images. Sometimes it is the lack of words. It is just as important to “listen to what is not said” as it is to “listen to what is said”. Sometimes though, propagandists try to time travel. They employ a tactic in an attempt to change the present by attempting to change the past. I say “attempt” for reasons that will be clear soon enough.

The_Time_Machine_Classics_Illustrated_133When a propagandist tries to pull off this particular trick, they don’t need a fancy machine or a black hole or a magic potion as is the staple trope of science fiction and fantasy time travel. They need nothing more complicated than a pen or a typewriter. In the present, a word processor and some basic HTML coding skills will serve that purpose. Maybe Photoshop or GIMP. When a propagandist tries to change the present by changing the past, they don’t call it time travel.  No. They don’t call it anything, because they really hope you don’t notice what they are doing. Silence will work often, but they are not above a bit of misdirection. Well executed propaganda does, after all, have much in common with stage magic.

When we citizens and media consumers catch their slight of hand, we don’t call it time travel either. We call it historical revisionism. Just this week, the Obama Administration was caught red-handed doing precisely that in relation to the Edward Snowden case.

Continue reading “Propaganda 104 Supplemental: Just Because You’ve Forgotten Doesn’t Mean You’re Forgiven”

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Child’s Play

"Cuckold me? I've got you now, Mailbu Ken!"
“Cuckold me? I’ve got you now, Mailbu Ken!”

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

One of the key concepts of advertising is “get ’em while they’re young”. Building brand loyalty in a child can make for a lifelong customer. The same adage applies to propaganda. Young minds are impressionable. There was valid psychology behind the Nazi’s formation of the Hitler Youth. Just so, there is valid psychology behind the production of war toys. When you teach children that American military might is always right (as well as hours of fun!) and that violence is not only an acceptable but the preferred method of dispute resolution, they are getting the message. You don’t see a lot of “Ambassador” or “Diplomat” toys. The G.I. Joe toys and plastic Army men of my youth were little more than jingoistic bits of plastic designed to give children the chance to vicariously be a “real American hero” without the trauma psychological and physical that we all eventually learn usually accompanies being an actual war hero in real life.
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Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

(c) 2012, Columbia Pictures, image used w/o permission.
(c) 2012, Columbia Pictures, image used w/o permission.

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Upon the suggestion of long time and valued blog contributor James in LA, this column on “Zero Dark Thirty” and the controversy surrounding that film is offered as a supplement to the earlier entry in the series on propaganda,”Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images“. It is in part movie review and in part a critical examination of the film’s content as related to the controversy around whether or not this film is pro-torture propaganda. Thank you for the excellent suggestion, James!

Is “Zero Dark Thirty” (ZDT) a good film? Is ZDT propaganda? If so, is it pro-torture propaganda (i.e. does it support or promote the idea of torture as a valid and/or necessary intelligence gathering methodology)?  Let us examine these questions . . .

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Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, VI, 21.

Anyone who has read my work here or known me for any length of time has heard me use this quote before. It is more than just a pithy quote from one of the great Stoic minds of antiquity, it is a summation of one of my personal ethics. Earlier this week, Professor Turley posted an item about former President Bill Clinton entitled “Clinton: We Don’t Need A President Who Will Not Tell You The Truth“. The gist of the article was that a President who lied under oath as Clinton did most certainly didn’t need to be critical of other politicians lying as it was simple hypocrisy even if the point former President Clinton made was valid. This brings us to a prime and necessary component of the propaganda scenario, the liar.  Lying is a commonality in our species.  Everyone lies about something some time.  “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat, honey.”  “I was ambushed by baboons on the way to work this morning.”  “I can’t go out tonight because I have to stay home and wax my dog.” Or the classic . . .

These are not the lies that are of primary importance in propaganda. White lies, while not necessarily ethically the best thing in the world, are a social lubricant that helps keep society cohesive. If everyone told the truth about everything all the time, the homicide and suicide rates would probably sky-rocket. We are going to focus on the truly bad actors. The liars in propaganda who are looking to get you to do something they want that is usually not in your best interests and/or harmful to others. Since many dangerous liars are sociopaths or psychopaths, the question becomes how do you spot a liar, a sociopath or a psychopath?  First we start with how to spot a generic liar before considering how to spot socio- and psychopaths at a later date.

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Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

As mentioned in the last installment of this series, silence in various forms can be just as potent a propaganda tool as words or images proper. Variations of this tactic were presented as were examples of successful and unsuccessful attempts at its utilization. This last week a news story appeared that illustrates one of the major types of failure associated with this tactic and it is one that is every more likely and hard to avoid in the Information Age.  This type of failure is known colloquially as the Streisand Effect; whereby an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

“Don’t look at this!”

Named for singer Barbra Streisand, it is a modern term for an old phenomena.  Similar to the meme of “Banned in Boston”, it revolves around the idea that forbidden fruit is the most tempting and that banning or censoring something often makes that item or information more desirable. Babs got her name attached to this propaganda phenomena when in 2003 she attempted to suppress photographs of her residence and inadvertently generated further publicity. This publicity was notably “improved” – although if you’re Babs you might say “exacerbated” – by the World Wide Web.

This week’s story involves the GOP attempting to suppress a non-partisan tax study that debunked their entire Ayn Rand/neoconservative taxation mythology that catering to the wealthy creates jobs.  It provides an interesting case study in the Streisand Effect.  It also raises some interesting questions about political culpability and consequences.

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Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“Silence is argument carried out by other means.” – Che Guevara

“Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.”
– “The Sound of Silence”, by Simon & Garfunkel, lyrics by Paul Simon

“Darkness isn’t the opposite of light, it is simply its absence.” – Terry Pratchett

“In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.” – Henry David Thoreau

Just as darkness is the absence of light, silence is an absence. We’ve considered the word and the image as propaganda up to this point, so let us pause to consider their antithesis as a form of propaganda. The phrase “[t]he only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” is often attributed to 18th Century Irish born English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, although what he actually wrote in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents was that “when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Regardless of the apocryphal attribution, the quote goes right to the heart of the issue of silence being a form of propaganda. Like most tactics of propaganda, silence has multiple forms and uses.  Let us examine some of these variations on a theme.

Continue reading “Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence”