As we re-enter the "silly seasons" of electioneering, in the United States, France, Australia, and elsewhere, it's timely to look afresh at propaganda claims and processes. Not that this or that propagandist's statement or action now is very different, or especially more damaging than the propaganda processes we let wash over us every day–it's just the stakes are even greater. Since a good result in an election can also blunt some effects of propaganda, how we approach an election brings the opportunity to look afresh at what's going on with propagandists–if only to reconsider ways to raise the voter turnout of anyone who believes in democracy.
Often as an election approaches, the foreboding will be of a Groundhog Day experience–as we anticipate even more intense shouting by the anti-democracy mob, any of whom might live next door. Unfortunately, the United States and some other democracies have a too large crop of shouting wannabes, whose copy-cat tradition is to speak of carnage and how they're so hardly done by–especially by the media–and, with a zealot's energy, will set about attacking others and claim that all will certainly "be best" by reviving some mythical glories of the past–which never include humor or a capacity for laughter.
And those candidates along with some elected representatives seem to mistakenly believe that they're born to rule. They keep popping up. Their public communication is strikingly similar in its dual focus on themselves and on being "anti-" the values of civil society–especially democratic values. Commonly, they promise certainties, rather than choices. The certainty claims conveniently ignore that, especially from the early to the later stages of an election, many of us would like to have some real choice–including among quality candidates for public office.
Who are propagandists is usually what's most certain, when you know what to look for. Sometimes these propagandists pay lip service to democratic values, but mostly just "scream for the camera," as one Congressional representative astutely described some colleagues from his own party recently. The anti-democratic language of propagandists is preoccupied with at-least-mild exaggeration, or more often hyperbole–to capture the attention of a journalist or a camera.
Caught up with self-advancement–by any means, at the expense of anyone else–most propagandists routinely use a high proportion of content words which have unclear referents, along with lots of function words like factive verbs and non-referential adverbs.
It feels strange that the United States government in recent months has done so well, by using declassified intelligence, to anticipate and deal effective blows to blunt the propaganda of a foreign aggressor–yet we the people seem comfortable with domestic propaganda. Why is it that the horrors of lies told by another country are deplorable, while apparently local propaganda is willingly accepted in daily living?
A great amount of electoral and everyday propaganda ironically is from domestic terrorists and their foreign collaborators–mostly focused on the character assassination of opponents, sometimes persistently for many years, during endless fundraising and other mailings or using gossip chains. With the targeting of audiences dictated by some very expensive and ongoing socio-psychographic mapping and "messaging" rules, continuous propaganda is directed at party faithful and potential swing voters throughout the country. Yes, anyone else is as irrelevant as any non-person–who, just like any stateless individual in a foreign conflict, will be characterized as "not us"–with eerily bad outcomes expected to flow from all the "anti-" drivel.
Regrettably, by the time we bother to look closely at propaganda, much of its damage is already done--with the greatest damage not much talked about, namely how propaganda over time white-ants personal and social values, changing where we put attention, energy, and action. As Jacques Ellul warned, for propaganda to succeed the propagandist must control free thought.
What most empowers a propagandist are reactions. So, it surely is time to take a pause, instead of taking to Twitter, or devising that media exposé of this or that propagandist, or feeling threatened, or otherwise responding to the impulses of fight or flight when our raw nerves are touched off by a propagandist's emotive nonsense.
It's often safest and best to assume that a propagandist is weird, driven to develop extraordinary skills in self-preservation from probably a very early age, by a distorted commitment to being right and winning–at everything, by whatever means–including as an adult through remarkably protracted gaming of the legal system. All the lies, distortions, and dodges are tactics to prove to anyone who'll react that the propagandist is right and a winner, at your cost.
Of course, as noted in earlier blog posts, pundits frequently do additional damage with so-called fact-checking or other clumsy analyses, disseminating a lie much more widely than the propagandist could manage. And, those nauseating excuses by the pundits on mainstream or social media that "only show you this, so you know what's going on" just repeat and magnify the propagandist's insult and abuse.
So, what are we to do?
1. We could stop being obsessed with the aberrant behavior of the propagandist. It's better to pay attention to asserting, with truthful, lawful, and just speech, the practical initiatives that build and strengthen the values of western civilization–like justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom. It's better to ensure accountability, soon and well, of anyone whose "anti-" behavior violates existing law. And, it's more than time to find ways to "clean house" of any unqualified "anti-democratic" administrators and judiciary.
2. We could be skeptical of glib commentary, especially when it's just too neat, outlandish, or sounds too good to be true–these con-artists learned from wolves to dress up as sheep, and will bleat way too loudly, way above their weight. It's important to scrutinize a propagandist's actions or claims, to assess what impact these will make on freedoms of thought, speech, or association, and on the common good of people. This scrutiny and any needed actions in response are necessary for democracy to thrive.
3. We could stand up to the now too common virulent variety of propaganda that abuses or threatens your personality or safety–we no longer tolerate such abuse in domestic or workplace settings. It's hard to figure why that behavior is tolerated, and not called out more at school board meetings and other community gatherings, much less in legislatures or at the supermarket checkout–with persistent "anti-" claims about masks or vaccination, for example, still popping up in unexpected places. Some chairpersons and individuals are objecting to and successfully moderating that behavior, which requires some verbal "whackamo" skills.
4. For all the propaganda processes and puffing and stuffing and hot words, it's best to look elsewhere–separate from the propagandist promises of certainty–for what's authentic and achievable.
The propagandist thrives by receiving attention. In the time that any of us is objecting to the latest outlandish outrage, our own comments will often exponentially assist the viral spread of drivel, while the propagandist launches more vitriol to suck(er) more people into weird obsession with delusions of the propagandist's invention.
And, all those appeals to people's fears, grievances, greed, hates, wanting to belong, or other emotions are just a means to an end for propagandists–along with their lies, denials, delays, distortions, and disruptions that are megaphoned and further magnified unwittingly or willingly by mainstream and social media. Unfortunately, as much as one believes in democratic debate, this is not a belief shared by any propagandist.
It's mostly pointless to argue or 'splain propagandist comments, other than to reassert or demonstrate democratic values of civil society. Likely those comments were put together to extend dogma, and are frequently couched as "not-for-debate." And it's not possible to even kindle debate when a propagandist won't acknowledge anyone else's much less civil society's ethical or moral framework. As wannabe winners, propagandists don't "get" anyone's morality, because, a bit like self-centered nihilists, they're not absorbing of anything other than self.
The propagandist sees nothing but "selling" us on anything that advances the wannabe goals of the propagandist. So, trying too much to describe a propagandist's ideological commitment is about as meaningful or useful as trying to label the Wizard of Oz. The better efforts will be to raise voter turnout.
Welcome your thoughts...