Privatized statist propaganda

July 23, 2010

There is a movement that has been growing in this country for the past ten years, that I can see, where Leftists, or progressives, peddle propaganda in a coordinated way in an attempt to sway public opinion away from traditional notions of the relationship between the individual and the state in this country, and towards a more statist or socialist framework. The wrinkle is it appears to all be privately coordinated and financed. This is the sort of thing that, from my understanding of things ten years ago, had traditionally been sponsored by governments to promote a statist regime, or to support a war.

This first became apparent to me when Michael Moore released his so-called documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” in 2004. I could not bring myself to go see it, but the descriptions of it from those who had suggested to me that it was nothing more than a professional propaganda piece. The only difference being that people were paying money to see it, and from what I remember it made a good amount of money! At the time I could not reconcile how this could happen. How had propaganda been privatized? I thought that was something only states did. The movie contained a Marxist message of capitalist exploitation of the proletariat (working classes) as so much cannon fodder. Moore uses the expectation of many people that we should be a perfect nation where no one gets hurt, in order to validate a dystopian myth about America, all the while leaving himself smelling like a rose.

Why was it so successful? The best way I can rationalize it is that there were a lot of people on the Left who were disturbed by actions the U.S. was taking in the world, and they sought to find some reason(s) to justify their feelings of distress–a narrative. It’s been my experience that when people feel powerless against events that are out of their control we tend to generate our own myths (ie. conspiracy theories) about those events. Michael Moore perhaps said to himself, “If people are going to make up their own myths anyway, why shouldn’t I make one up for them?” Perhaps it was more thoughtless than that. Maybe it was a “fact-ion” essay (melting fact and fiction together) using real footage, and some doctored images and presentations. We could perhaps understand this in a McLuhanesque way–“the medium is the message”: It’s an opinion he believed in so strongly, he didn’t care if it was based in reality or not. He did not want to have an argument. He wanted his opinion accepted as reality, so he presented it as fact. Through this he could set himself up as the hero of the Left, “exposing the truth,” providing the salve, the validation for their feelings.

What other documentarians showed, after the release of his film, was that Moore had exploited the very people he seemed to sympathize with in his movies. This wasn’t revealed by clever selective editing, but by interviewing the “common people” who were profiled in Moore’s films. He was at least as dishonest towards these people as he accused the evil corporate captains of industry of being.

I should admit that there was a time when I really liked Michael Moore, and what he produced. Even when I became more conservative in my beliefs, I liked that he appeared to stand up to corporate and government corruption, and stuck it to the corporations for moving jobs out of the country, and to the government for promoting the same. That was before I became much more educated (through experience) about what goes on in the political world, and I became more educated (though I still have more to learn, I’m sure) about which government policies worked to promote the health of this country and its people, and which didn’t. I was once a liberal when I was young, until, as the saying goes, “I got mugged by reality.” The old saying goes, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative when you get older, you have no brain.” Pretty well sums it up.

I’ve read a summary of Marxist philosophy, and a few things stand out (quoting from the article in the bullet points (Update 12-23-2012: The link to the article broke.)):

  • “…according to Marx, reality is governed by economic needs (historical materialism). Economic reality develops according to Hegel’s dialectical principles; that is, reality must deny itself in order to reach a higher degree of being.”
  • “From the notion that all contents of our consciousness are determined by our economic needs it follows equally that each social class has its own science and its own philosophy. An independent, nonparty science is impossible; the truth is whatever leads to success, and practice alone constitutes the criterion of truth.”

The implications of this seem to explain what Michael Moore has done with his movies (though only to benefit himself–“the truth is whatever leads to success”), and what we’ve been seeing the Democrats do, to benefit themselves and their friends, though including the populace in a patronage framework.

During the election cycle of 2007 and 2008 the more observant could see that the press was becoming extreme. I had long known that the press was biased. I experienced it 18 years ago when I was supporting Ross Perot. Regardless of whether he would’ve been a good president or not (I have my doubts, in hindsight), the press still distorted his image and positions. It had long been known in conservative circles that the press preferred Democrats. That’s been true for as long as many people in politics can remember. In the most recent presidential election, though, they were practically swooning. I’ve heard some older newsmen compare it to the way the press treated John F. Kennedy, only they said it was worse.

SNL lampoons CNN’s Democratic Debate (follow link to view)

It was rare if Obama was seriously challenged by the press, and there’s a reason for that. For one thing, Obama didn’t have much of a record to run on. This was part of the strategy from the beginning. Obama was advised by Democrats to run for president as soon as he could, because if he waited, he could be called on the carpet for his legislative record. The other part of it, as has recently been revealed, is that there were many members of the press who were rooting for Obama, some overtly.

TheDailyCaller.com has posted a series of articles about disclosures from a list server called “Journolist,” which was subscribed to by liberal journalists. The first of these articles has set the stage. Others have followed from this same source. What the first article revealed is that these list members were practically coordinating a unified “theme” message with each other, for public consumption, which supported Obama and disparaged his opposition, and independently carrying out political advocacy and strategy for the Obama campaign through their news and opinion coverage. Astute members of the media, who were not part of this cabal, figured this out in 2008 just from looking at press behavior, but here for the first time is evidence of this coordination. Some messages from Journolist reveal a proclivity on the part of a few journalists to just outright lie, acting as independent political hacks.

A few commentators on Fox News declared that 2008 was “the year the news died.” I would have to agree with that assessment. We can look at the above quotes about Marxist philosophy to get an idea of what happened as well. In effect, journalists had become their own self-styled state propagandists. What’s odd is they did this totally without state control. They chose to engage in it, exalting statist or socialist philosophy, and rejecting other points of view. I was confused. Why would they do this? Why would they advocate for a belief system that could someday put them out of business, costing them their careers in journalism, or put them under the thumb of an autocrat? TheDailyCaller has also revealed that some journalists and academics on Journolist have discussed in all seriousness why and how Fox News should be shut down. Fortunately a couple people on the list tried to make everyone aware of the serious implications this would have for the journalistic profession. Will these people look upon their advocacy years from now and wonder if it all was a mistake, because they will have lost their power to speak their minds, regardless of what the First Amendment says? I wonder.

I saw a BBC mini-series on the internet a few years ago, called “The Century of the Self,” which talked about the history of the field of public relations, and the profound impact it’s had on our society. It was produced in 2002. It provides, I think, a good background on how we got to this point, though it does not tell the whole story. It’s more about the techniques that have been employed, and some about the motivation to use them. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to put this in my blog, but I’ve lacked the context. I think it also provides a good background into how Obama got elected, though it of course does not talk about him.

Edward Bernays was the inventor of privatized propaganda, called “public relations” or “PR.” The practice of public relations is used regularly in our society. Corporations use it. The media uses it, typically to burnish its image of legitimacy. Politicians use it. Political action groups and interests groups definitely use it. Celebrities and “common people” who are thrust into the spotlight definitely use it (if they don’t, their public reputation may be ruined, or the message they want to convey may lose legitimacy among the media, and in public opinion). The press is definitely influenced by the practice of public relations. I’ve seen again and again how they don’t consider people or events relevant without some sort of public relations treatment of them.

Bernays was inspired by the propaganda operation that President Woodrow Wilson had developed and used to pump up allied support at home and abroad for World War I. Bernays had the idea, “If propaganda works in times of war, maybe it will work in peacetime as well.” Bernays was a nephew of the famed Sigmund Freud. He used Freud’s theories of the psyche, and the practices of the developing field of psychoanalysis, to create the field of public relations. He became a consultant who developed PR programs for both business and government. Public relations and psychoanalysis seem to have evolved together. The idea of the focus group, used by marketers and political consultants alike, was developed out of the practice of group psychotherapy, though the goals were changed somewhat to suit the purposes of these fields (marketers and political consultants)–It wasn’t directed at healing the psyche, but at selling products and candidates, making people feel like they need them, even if they don’t. Sometimes these practices worked as expected by their practitioners. Other times they failed disastrously.

Public relations, employed by industry and government, has single-handedly transformed our country from a nation of citizens into a nation of consumers, which does not think much, but instead feels, and makes decisions based on how we feel about things. That was the goal, and it’s accomplished it. Along with that comes certain expectations that are destructive to a civil society in the world, a legitimate point that this documentary makes. It’s one I hope people will pay special attention to, because it has implications for our future. The public’s decisions about our society are heavily influenced by the mass-emotion-altering techniques of public relations.

I found this series to be very revealing and informative about the history of the U.S. during the 20th century, and beyond. Keep in mind, though, as you watch it that it has a social democratic bias.

The Century of the Self:

Part 1 – Happiness Machines

Part 2 – The Engineering of Consent

Part 3 – There Is A Policeman Inside Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed

Part 4 – Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering

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Winning on nothing

November 5, 2008

Barack Obama won the presidency last night, and the Democrats gained larger majorities in the House and Senate. Despite Hillary Clinton’s vigorous campaign that brought the nomination down to the wire, and nearly split the party; despite defections like Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Lynn Forrester de Rothschild, the PUMAs, and Democrats for McCain; despite McCain nominating a woman for VP, none of it mattered. He won a comfortable victory.

Did anyone know what he was going to do if he won? Basically all we got was stuff like this:

and this…

Obama won on nothing but voter anger towards Republicans and “hope” that a Democrat will do something, again we don’t know what, to make their lives better.

In 2004, shortly before that year’s election, Lawrence O’Donnell was challenged by one of his compatriots on a political discussion show about John Kerry giving the American people “nothing” to go on. O’Donnell made a bold prediction, like he always does (a bit of a fanatic if you ask me), that Kerry would “win on nothing” in that year’s presidential election, just as the Democrats did in 1974 after the Watergate scandal, because people were so fed up with George W. Bush. In other words, all Kerry really had to do was stand there and say “I’m not Bush”, without saying much about what he would do differently, and he would win. It didn’t turn out that way. Bush won handily. However, rather than change their approach the Democrats just repeated the same strategy. This time it worked. The difference is Obama did it better than Kerry did. Kerry was not too great at PR. Obama is much better. Obama also didn’t run against Bush the man, but a weaker campaign in the candidacy of John McCain (which of course he cast as “Bush’s third term”).

It appears that Obama won mainly on the economy. He appeared more sympathetic to the plight of the needy than McCain did. Obama reflected back to people the economic worries they had, and gave them every reason why they should blame the Republicans, whereas McCain tried to reassure people with technical talk that “the fundamentals are good”, and didn’t expend much effort blaming anyone for it.

People feel they need financial security. McCain didn’t sell his ideas in that vein, except to say he would help refinance troubled mortgages. He said he would revitalize the economy by freezing spending, and keep taxes low. In reality this would have been a good start, but what people wanted was a hand-out, not his abiding faith in the American economy. The people have lost faith in the economy, perhaps in capitalism itself.

So what will Obama do?: The good, the bad,…

The plain truth is we don’t know what Obama will do. Despite his public pronouncements of what he will do, he’s changed them enough times I don’t know what to think. Some say he will govern to the far left. Others say he will be a moderate. According to his history, he’s an opportunistic panderer to whatever constituency will give him an advantage. He also has a history of voting mostly on the Left on the issues, with a few exceptions. He’s going to have to pretend to be a centrist if that’s what his strategists suggest. He is definitely going to receive pressure from the House to go Left.

I can anticipate some of what he’ll do based on what I see the Democrats wanting in general. We will definitely see movement towards ending our involvement in Iraq, and there will definitely be pressure to do it ASAP regardless of what’s happening there. Obama indicated this summer that he was amenable to looking at conditions on the ground before making a decision on pullout, despite his earlier position of getting out ASAP. He’s going to have hardly any pressure though to go that direction. The Democrats want out. If he’s going to go slow or reconsider it, that leadership is going to have to come solely from him, and he’s shown no history of fighting for a position.

We will see Guantanamo Bay shut down. Where the prisoners will go is anyone’s guess. This probably would’ve happened if McCain had won, too. Let’s just hope they’re not released into the U.S. general population because our courts try to apply normal evidence-gathering rules on the military.

I think we can forget about low energy prices no matter what form of energy you’re talking about. It’s not happening. The Democrats are solidly against drilling for oil. Obama says he wants clean coal (I don’t know if I trust that) and is against old-style coal-fired plants. He doesn’t seem to like natural gas, but he likes ethanol which we currently get from corn, and which energy experts say is just a political solution. It doesn’t solve any problems for us, because corn ethanol takes more energy to produce than we can get from it, and it puts more CO2 into the atmosphere (if you care about that sort of thing). He likes wind and solar power generation which doesn’t produce much energy, but he’s against expanding nuclear power. So our energy bills are going to go up all around, and I imagine we’ll see rolling blackouts from time to time. We will have to reduce our power usage because it will be rationed. This will be a drag on our economy and affect the poor and middle class most significantly.

I know there are some engineers who say that we’re moving towards an era where we get most of our power from wind and solar, and only a little from fossil fuels, but it just doesn’t add up. The amount of power produced on a unit basis by current alternative energy solutions is a pittance compared to fossil fuels and nuclear power.

In terms of taxes, there’s no way Obama is going to be able to keep his “tax cut” pledge. The situation is worse now than what Bill Clinton faced in his first term. Even McCain wouldn’t have been able to keep his “keep taxes low” pledge. I never expected him to. He will most certainly raise taxes on the wealthy. He has made that very clear, even saying that he’s really going to do it for moral reasons, not fiscal or economic reasons.

Despite the current economic crisis I fully expect Democrats to not let up on federal spending. We know Democrats. They invented the idea of buying votes. I don’t expect them to change.

I think there’s a real risk that Obama will promote tax and fiscal policies that will prolong our recession, and perhaps deepen it. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. It is possible in a democracy for people to act against their own interests, thinking they’re solving the problem. The reason the public often falls into this attitude in uncertain economic times is despite our love for our freedom, we see the government as an organ of control that we the people can manipulate in order to sort things out. The problem is when the government tries to control the economy it tends to mess it up, because the economy runs on incentives not mandates. We face that issue now with the government takeover of significant institutions in our economy. In this instance it was necessary to avoid a total collapse.

We have avoided the problem of the public misperceiving a solution to economic problems in the past by political leaders convincing the public to change its mind and support policies that are in our interest. This time I’m not so sure we will see that, because Democrats agree with the public’s perception of what needs to happen.

Despite my concerns about his economics mindset, I think on the other hand he will try to promote business growth in alternative energy infrastructure, biotechnology, and information technology. This will require that he take a laissez-faire approach to entrepreneurialism, and given that he will raise taxes on the wealthy I anticipate he will have targeted incentives for business investment. This isn’t the best policy, because managed economies have been shown to not work, but it might produce interesting results that a future, more conservative president can further develop.

Along with this, I think despite the progress that’s been made with turning skin cells into stem cells, Obama will insist on removing Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research. In my mind this is more of a political play. Even though it’s probably not needed and is more complicated, certain interest groups apparently have a lot invested in it. He may even see fit to allow what’s called therapeutic cloning, which allows (I think) people to create embryonic clones of themselves from which genetically-compatible stem cells can be harvested to regrow damaged body parts. The problem is this opens the door for unscrupulous operators to start cloning people.

I think another thing he will do, giving a nod to his major contributors in the tech industry, is he will weaken President Bush’s restraints on immigration. Silicon Valley won a victory on Tuesday. Obama is their man. Silicon Valley has complained bitterly about Bush’s immigration policy over the last several years, because many Ph.D students with the skills they want to hire come from outside the United States. There’s been concern that in the long run this trend would reduce American international competitiveness. A loosened policy will open us up more to jihadist attacks, however. I anticipate that Obama will implement a more sophisticated homeland defense strategy to try to prevent them. I have an idea of who he may contact about that, but the strategy I anticipate has more to do with protecting institutions from major attacks, not citizens in the wider sphere. It has the potential of risking more lives in exchange for the potential of greater economic growth down the road. It’s a trade-off. The question is are we willing to take it? Personally I’d rather not, even though I like the idea of keeping America economically competitive. I think human life and keeping the ideas of the American republic are worth more than that.

Some have anticipated that Obama will revitalize government with some technological innovations that have been developed by his campaign. Technology gave Obama a crucial edge over all his rivals. It’ll be interesting to see how Obama’s technology plans pan out, if at all. Ross Perot had a vision some 30-40 years ago of having an “electronic town hall” where citizens’ concerns could be aired and discussed in government directly. He made it a major campaign theme when he made his first independent presidential run in 1992. Now it appears Obama is actually going to try to create a version of that. I think it might be an experiment for a while, but I don’t expect it to last. The president is too busy to listen to hundreds of thousands of messages and discuss issues with the public at length (though I don’t doubt he’ll try at first). Basically I anticipate any progress on improving internet access to the White House will just be an electronic version of what they’ve done for decades of having aides read mail from citizens. If anything he’ll use it to work the other way around, to extend the “constant campaign” way of interacting with the public, which President Clinton invented, out to the internet and people’s smartphones so that he won’t have to deal with the media as much as past presidents have. Have you noticed how few one-on-one interviews Obama had in the presidential campaign? I think that’s a sign of things to come. This campaign proved that the mainstream, old media, and even the newer cable media is less relevant than it used to be. He may still need them, but not as much as past presidents did.

What the Obama campaign has illustrated is that people don’t pay much attention to what politicians say or do. We have very short attention spans, and have difficulty putting together a coherent narrative of what’s really happening. I saw this several times. Obama is a master of catching people in the moment and giving them something they’ll believe about an issue, even though it’s completely out of context. If you’re paying attention it doesn’t make sense, but to most people who don’t, it does. He’s also very effective at recasting an idea into a pleasing image for whatever constituency he’s pandering to. Again, it doesn’t have to make any sense. If people believe it, that’s all that matters as far as he’s concerned.

I don’t hold out too much hope for this, but one hope I have is since Democrats have traditionally been friendly to funding K-12 and higher education, that these institutions will improve under an Obama administration, leading to more innovation in our economy. Obama’s history with radical William Ayers doesn’t give me much hope that his influence will be constructive, though. Ayers is a professor of education (he teaches teachers who go on to teach in public schools), and his agenda has been to turn out political activists in the mold of his own warped world view (a view based on a reality which incidentally died right at the time he and his cronies formed the Weather Underground), who in turn will encourage parents and students to become the same sort of activists. It’s not a real education agenda, but a political one. Obama was totally copacetic with that agenda when he administered the Annenberg grant money in Chicago’s school system. Ayers acquired the grant and set the agenda for how it would be used. The money was directed towards activist organizations who were invited in to schools to “radicalize students”.

This is all domestic politics, but foreign policy issues are going to have to be tackled no matter how badly the Democrats want to ignore them. A huge question in my mind is whether Obama’s presidency is going to be a chaotic one, because he’s got significant issues to deal with that need serious consideration. No more playing around.

…And the ugly

As for Obama’s governing style? Watch out! I’m only being frank here. Obama got his political education in Chicago’s corrupt political machine system. I don’t expect him to be honest with the American people, and I expect that he will carry his corrupt practices into the federal government. Republicans thought they had a corrupt man in Bill Clinton. They didn’t find much to tag him on, though they sure tried. I think with Obama we’ll have the most corrupt presidency since Richard Nixon. Evidence from the Democratic caucuses has surfaced which supports this concern.

For a conservative like me I imagine it’s going to be a frustrating for four years, maybe eight (ugh!). I don’t like seeing the public getting fooled, but I believe that’s what happened in this campaign.

Obama is an example for why democracy is in danger of losing its legitimacy. The old style TV media already has. It’s almost dead. We could be entering a period that’s not unlike the 1960s where our institutions become so delegitimized that it results in societal revolt. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m just trying to be real with you all.

Our society expects to be manipulated by slick, professionally done PR campaigns. The difference is in the past the people who participated in those campaigns actually understood something about governing and had some policy knowledge under their belt. What the Obama campaign did was take the practice of PR to its logical conclusion. His campaign was all PR all the time, not about substance or leadership qualities that you could take to the bank. George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign came close to this. I didn’t see much substance in his first campaign either. Obama went even further, though, by creating a mass delusion that he was somehow more special than other presidents who came before him.

The thing is people don’t really know who Obama is. We got so wrapped up in the fantasy we didn’t stop to ask who he is, and what he’s done that’s worthy of recognition. The Obama campaign and a lot of the MSM actively encouraged this non-questioning attitude, and it’s going to continue. It’s going to be a while before the public wakes up.

Perhaps I don’t know my history of presidential campaigns, but I think Obama is a first in more ways than one. He’s not only our first black president (no, that wasn’t Bill Clinton), he’s also the first presidential candidate I’ve seen who won on nothing. It’s a scary prospect because I still think he’s not up to the job. We may have just elected our first empty suit. Since we have such high expectations of our presidents we tend to think that when things get bad they couldn’t get any worse with an alternative. Oh yes they can!

The conservative movement is dead for now, but do not fear. It will return.


Playing on the fears of children

June 18, 2008

I heard about this web ad yesterday from MoveOn.org and I felt like I had to come out of my “sabbatical” to address it. I haven’t been posting here for a while because I’ve been busy and life has been pretty uncertain for me for several months. It’s been difficult to focus and think about politics/current events.

Take a look at the ad, and I’ll comment below.

“Not Alex”

(I’ve had a little trouble with this video. If it doesn’t display/play correctly, just hit Refresh on your browser)

Now, we have to remember this is the same group of people who put out the ad below when Gen. Petraeus first came to report to congress about the progress of his strategy in Iraq:

General Betray Us

These folks, along with the Obama campaign, are getting extremely good with public relations. The intention of the Obama and MoveOn campaigns is not to address issues in a serious way, using rational discussion as part of a democratic process. Instead they play on deep primal emotions.

The far left has come to understand the essence of public relations: Play to people’s deep seated fears and desires, and you can not only win office, but also manipulate society towards your ends. The anti-global-warming campaign that’s been going on for several years now isn’t much different. No need to engage in rational debate. Just get people to love you or some cause you want people to support, and hate those who don’t join the group.

Every president since Reagan has used techniques of public relations to get elected to the presidency. What I think is different about groups like MoveOn and the global warming crowd is they’re going all the way with it. I think their ambitions are to not only gain the faith and trust of constituencies, but to also manipulate those constituencies towards a particular end.

The “Not Alex” ad is a case in point. It is in no way rational. If you try to analyze it rationally it falls apart. MoveOn doesn’t care. The ad plays on the primal fears of those who are ignorant about what is going on with the country and the world. It uses a gaffe in expression that McCain committed when talking about the war in Iraq, the statement about “100 years”. He has never advocated for endless war. He meant the “100 years” in the sense of South Korea, Germany, and Japan. We’ve got U.S. troops there right now. They’re there to create security for those countries, not to go after an enemy and risk their lives. There is no draft, and most people and politicians alike oppose it. The military functions better with an all-volunteer force. “Alex’s mother” in the ad says, “You can’t have him.” Fine! Nothing’s saying he has to join. In other words, the ad is clever, but it has no basis for making a point. That doesn’t stop it from trying to make you think it does. This ad in particular is a very cynical ploy.

It’s quite apparent to me that for many anti-war activists they can’t get past the notion that there is no draft. They still think we have one, or that it’s coming back online soon.

This is yet another sign that people are losing their fear of Islamists. MoveOn doesn’t want people afraid of Islamic radicalism. They want people afraid of Republicans, as if they kill people, even our own citizens, out of an evil desire for some sick form of power. These people should look in the mirror once in a while. If you listen to what they want for America, the consequences are more anti-human than what the Republicans are up to.

Ironically the one congressman who tried to bring back the draft a few years ago was New York Democrat Charles Rangel, who is NOT a conservative. Republicans, and most Democrats wanted nothing to do with it, not because it was politically harmful to them, but because a draft actually hampers the effectiveness of the military. Think about it. You’re bringing in a bunch of people who did not choose to be there. Ironically it’s the people who want to be there who are going to do the best job of killing the enemy while at the same time preventing themselves, their brothers and sisters in arms, and innocent civilians from getting killed.

Rational argument is often counter-intuitive, but it is right more often than not.