Posts Tagged ‘Propaganda’

A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

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The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

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The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

April 2, 2015

Update 9/16/2016.  Sorry if the older links don’t work.  Try thisOr thisOr this.

Some years ago I posted videos of “The Century of the Self,” the great four-part documentary by Adam Curtis about “how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.”

The videos were taken down from the Internet, but Jason Kottke found new iterations and linked to them on kottke.org.  Here they are.  If you haven’t seen them before, I highly recommend watching them.  Each one is a little less than an hour long.

Part One, Happiness Machines, is about how Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, created the profession of public relations in the 1920s and taught American advertisers how to link products with consumers’ unconscious desires, and how these ideas influenced politics in the 1930s.

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How to change priorities

October 24, 2014

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George Orwell and the death of truth

March 14, 2014

Reading differing versions of the Ukraine conflict reminds me of George Orwell’s recollections of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.  Orwell fought on the government side against rebels led by General Franco and was wounded in action.  Soviet Russia supported the government side; Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the rebels.

Here’s what Orwell had to say:

George Orwell

George Orwell

I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish civil war. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more (they are still continuing) by the Fascists.

But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.

Recently I drew up a table of atrocities during the period between 1918 and the present; there was never a year when atrocities were not occurring somewhere or other, and there was hardly a single case when the Left and the Right believed in the same stories simultaneously.

And stranger yet, at any moment the situation can suddenly reverse itself and yesterday’s proved-to-the-hilt atrocity story can become a ridiculous lie, merely because the political landscape has changed. [snip]

govtposterspainI remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding.  We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war.

Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.  I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened.

I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’. [snip]

fascistposterspainOut of the huge pyramid of lies which the Catholic and reactionary press all over the world built up, let me take just one point — the presence in Spain of a Russian army.  Devout Franco partisans all believed in this; estimates of its strength went as high as half a million. Now, there was no Russian army in Spain.  There may have been a handful of airmen and other technicians, a few hundred at the most, but an army there was not.  Some thousands of foreigners who fought in Spain, not to mention millions of Spaniards, were witnesses of this.  Well, their testimony made no impression at all upon the Franco propagandists, not one of whom had set foot in Government Spain.

Simultaneously these people refused utterly to admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of their ‘legionaries’.

I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.  After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written?   If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence.

But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written?  What kind of records will Franco have left behind him?  Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written?  For, as I have pointed out already, the Government also dealt extensively in lies. [snip]

Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted.  So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth. [snip]

This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

Click on George Orwell: Looking back on the Spanish War for the full article, published in 1943, which also describes his experiences in the war and his thoughts on the nature of fascism.   Orwell did NOT think the answer to lying propaganda was to assume that “the truth lies somewhere in between.”

Covert U.S. propaganda for Uzbek dictator

November 30, 2011

David Trilling in Foreign Policy magazine described the Obama administration’s support for one of the world’s most cruel dictators.  His article told how the U.S. Department of Defense finances covert propaganda via the Internet in support of the Karimov regime through its subcontractor, General Dynamics.

Gas-rich Uzbekistan, the most populous of the formerly Soviet Central Asian republics, has been ruled since before independence in 1991 by strongman President Islam Karimov, who is regularly condemned in the West for running one of the world’s most repressive and corrupt regimes. 

Freedom House gives Uzbekistan the lowest possible score in its Freedom in the World report, while watchdog groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported on widespread torture and forced child labor. 

The respected Russian human rights group Memorial says Karimov holds more political prisoners than all other post-Soviet republics combined, often through an “arbitrary interpretation” of the law.  The overwhelming majority of those convicted are somehow linked to Islam.  Memorial has found that thousands of “Muslims whose activities pose no threat to social order and security are being sentenced on fabricated charges of terrorism and extremism.”

Nonetheless, with Pakistani-American relations at a desperate low, Washington now seems more eager than ever to make overtures to Tashkent. In the past, Karimov has responded to U.S. criticism by threatening to shut down the supply route to Afghanistan.  In 2005, after Washington demanded an investigation into the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the eastern city of Andijan, he closed the American airbase at Karshi-Khanabad. 

So Washington’s expressions of disapproval have given way to praise. In September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautiously commended Tashkent for its “progress” on political freedoms, and, more significantly, President Barack Obama moved to end restrictions on military aid, in place since 2004. Then, during an Oct. 22 visit to Tashkent, Clinton thanked the Uzbek leader in person for his cooperation. A State Department official traveling with her said he believed Karimov wants to leave a democratic legacy for “his kids and his grandchildren.”

Source: David Trilling | Foreign Policy.

 This is an example of both the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and the privatization of the U.S. military.  Relations with Uzbekistan are a part of foreign policy and should be the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State, but this has been taken over the U.S. Department of Defense and a private armaments manufacturer.  Note, too, that the pro-Karimov propaganda is directed at the world public, including the American public, which is being led to believe it comes from an objective source.

All this is necessary, it will be said, in order for the United States government to project its power on a global basis—in other words, for empire.  But as the United States becomes an empire, it ceases to be a republic.

Click on Propagandistan to read the whole article.

Incidentally, General Motors Corp. has opened an engine plant in Uzbekistan.  It will employ 1,200 workers.  Click on GM Opens Plant Where Clinton Talked “Rights” for details.

Click on Choihona for news updates on Uzbekistan.

Click on Human Rights Watch for more on Uzbekistan.

A century of psychology and social control

May 18, 2011

Links updated 9/17/2016:  Click on this if the links don’t work.

Recently I came across this four-part BBC series on how the corporate and governmental elites use the ideas of Sigmund Freud to manipulate and control the public.  It is full of fascinating facts I never knew.

Freud taught that human beings are at the mercy of powerful desires and emotions arising out of the subconscious mind.  The theme of this series is how corporations and governments in the 20th century sought to bypass critical thinking and manipulate the public by tapping into these desires and emotions.

The first program in the series is above.  It describes the early career of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, founder of the profession of public relations.  Born in 1891, Bernays was brought to the United States as a boy, and he served during World War One in the Wilson administration disseminating war propaganda.

During the 1920s, Bernays pioneered the use of advertising based not on the objective merits of a product, but on the consumer’s desires and anxieties.  He broke the taboo against women smoking cigarettes in public, for example, by making cigarette smoking a symbol of women’s liberation.

Bernays believed that the average human being was too stupid to be an intelligent decision-maker in a democracy.  If American business could find out what people wanted on a deep level and provide it, then traditional democracy would be unnecessary, he thought; if people could express themselves through focus groups, traditional political participation would be unnecessary.

Producer Adam Curtis follows Bernays into the 1930s, when he advised the National Association of Manufacturers on its propaganda offensive against the New Deal, and helped organize the 1939 World’s Fair, a tribute to the ability of the free enterprise system to satisfy the public’s needs and wants.  He touches on now Nazi propagandist  Joseph Goebbels openly rejected rational argument, and appealed to deep emotions and instincts.  It would have been interesting to compare Nazi and Soviet propaganda, inasmuch as both ideologies rejected the ideas of Sigmund Freud, but you can’t get everything into a one-hour program.

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