Modern Propaganda : How to Lie, Without lying.
Why do we lie?
Well we lie when the facts do not fit within the framework we want to push forward. We lie to make ourselves look better than the picture the facts reveal. We lie to cover our mistakes, to uplift our egos, and most of all, to cover up moral wrongs we were responsible for.
As we grow into proper citizens, we learn that lying, is actually kind of hard to do. You see when the facts are brought to light and they are compared to our lies, we put ourselves in an un-winnable situation. As we develop, we begin to understand that the best lies have the ability to have plausible deniability when caught.
So, we begin not to lie, but to tell half-truths. We tell one side of the story, we reveal only the facts that aid our framework and are careful not to reveal facts that work against it. However, half-truths have the same drawbacks as lies.. in that when the facts are revealed, we are then asked why we only presented these facts but not the others. While the situation is better than before, it is still not a good one to be in.
Finally, we figure out a different method – a method that often times can go completely unnoticed. We find a way to lead to the wrong conclusion without telling one lie or half truth.
How can I lead you to a false conclusion without ever telling a single lie?
How can I promote this false conclusion and act as if I too believe in it?
Well, as it turns out.. if we look into society, and we look at social power structures, and things like the political economy of the mass media.. We begin to see a bunch of false ideologies circling our culture. Not only that, we begin to see that everyone inside the culture, truly believes in the false conclusions they are lead to. (Racism is just one cultural lie.) We begin not even to call it a lie anymore.. we forge a totally different word for this phenomenon.. and we simply say, it is not lying, but it is cultural bias. The fact that cultural bias can conveniently lead to flagrantly false conclusions, (various bigotries among us) is how we learn how to tell lies without lying and with out ever noticing that we believe in things that are not technically true.
In his landmark book in cultural studies, Author Edward Siad, looks into the grand imperial lies. He reveals to us that the academic study of the orient, a phrase that is used to describe people of middle eastern, and Asian decent, is filled with falsehoods stemming from deep seeded cultural bias. He reveals to us that the there is a great liberal lie in academia…
Whether discussions of literature or of classical philology are fraught with—or have unmediated—political significance is a very large question that I have tried to treat in some detail elsewhere.’ What I am interested in doing now is suggesting how the general liberal consensus that “true” knowledge is fundamentally non-political (and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not “true” knowledge) obscures the highly if obscurely organized political circumstances obtaining when knowledge is produced. No one is helped in understanding this today when the adjective “political” is used as a label to discredit any work for daring to violate the protocol of pretended suprapolitical objectivity. We may say, first, that civil society recognizes a gradation of political importance in the various fields of knowledge. To some extent the political importance given a field comes from the possibility of its direct translation into economic terms; but to a greater extent political importance comes from the closeness of a field to ascertain-able sources of power in political society
He tells us here that one can not put up a giant wall of separation between pure academic knowledge and political knowledge. In that, there is this idea that we can gather knowledge independent of our own political, social, economic, and national biases. He says that this, can not be true.
Look at it this way, the very institutions that produce “knowledge” have social forces acting and shaping their ideologies as well. I mean if you go back in history and look at biology, you can see a bunch of racist garbage trotted out by scientists as science. The idea that the “negro” is uniquely genetically gifted to do hard labor but not academic work, is an idea that many university professors in the past endorsed, and some still do. If real knowledge could be divorced from social forces, than we would not be able to point to past academic areas that have previously supported false racist ideas.
Said then, sets out to prove this very fact in his book Orientalism. He tell us that….
Now because Britain, France, and recently the United States are imperial powers, their political societies impart to their civil societies a sense of urgency, a direct political infusion as it were, where and when-ever matters pertaining to their imperial interests abroad are concerned. I doubt that it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century took an interest in those countries that was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact—and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism. For if it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second. And to be a European or an American in such a situation is by no means an inert fact. It meant and means being aware, however dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient, and more important, that one belongs to a part of the earth with a definite history of involvement in the Orient almost since the time of Homer
He begins his book, right in the first chapter.. telling us that everything we think we know about the orient.. is tainted. He then sets out to prove this by analyzing all aspects of culture that reference Oreintalism, and as he digs into history, art, literature, academia… etc.. we begin to see that his view is fundamentally valid.
What Edward Said did in that book.. was prove that no matter how culturally objective we tried to be. There are social forces at work that shape our ideologies of the Orient everyday, and those forces shape the way we view facts of the world.
With that, we can begin. We can begin to see that cultural biases shape and move our central ideologies in almost invisible ways. He showed us, if we are not careful, this can lead us to false conclusions – even when we are aware of the many “facts” around a specific topic. Yet if this is true, than one has to wonder how we learn about the world. Do we honestly view the world through this ethnocentric lens? If we are that ethnocentric… that means the way we teach history itself, must be tainted in the same fashion as the way we look at Orientals.
Well, now.. in another land mark book, the author Howard Zinn reveals just that brute fact. In his book, the Peoples History of the United States, Zinn starts off by telling us an undersold story around Columbus. We all know that Columbus was no saint, we all know he was an imperialistic dog, like most of the European men in his time. We all know he sold slaves and helped slaughter the native people on the Island he landed on… but how much of that really influences us when we, every year in America, we celebrate this person?
Zinn, starts off real strong in his book, and he takes great care to detail every single act of genocide Columbus committed… he makes sure we understand the full weight of the human lives Columbus took. He does this in such a fashion, where the Columbus we were taught about in schools, seems like toy version of the real person…. and just around the peak of the slaughter he is detailing… he cuts this off and tells us…
Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”
That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:
He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great-his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christbearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities-his seamanship.
One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.
But he does something else-he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important-it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.
And that right there.. is how to tell a lie without lying.
You see you do not hide the truth, you tell no half-truths and you tell no direct lies.. no.. instead you tell the entire truth. However, you tell it in such a fashion where your audience is unlikely to notice the fact that leads to a conclusion you do not want, instead you emphasize and glorify the facts you like, and quickly gloss over the facts you do not. What the end result produces is that your audience will forget the facts that you did not like, or think the facts that you did not like (because they do not fit the framework of the conclusion you wish to lead them to) are trivial and therefore not worthy of mention.
Now, Howard Zinn does not think these sorts of historical lies or biases are propagated with malevolence, or with any intent at all really. He believes, as Edward Said believes, that various cultural forces produced ideological positions that do not fairly reflect the world as is, but instead reflect a myopic and ethnocentric version of reality.
It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.
My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the map-maker’s distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.
Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker’s technical interest is obvious (“This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation-for short-range, you’d better use a different projection”). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations.
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves-unwittingly-to justify what was done.
What he argues instead is that because of the various ideological forces acting upon the writers of history, they give a view that almost always works in their favor, and thus almost always justified the actions of their various cultures. If the ones who get to write the history books are the ones who win the wars and battles, and the ones who are very high in the world social hierarchy, than this means that History, the one, as Americans we are all taught, is going to be skewed in one direction.. and that is away from the victims of history, or as Zinn puts it, away from the peoples history. Instead it would just reflect the elites version of history.
My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if theythe Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole.
You see, if we only view History through the conquerors eyes, then we get a skewed and often false picture of what really happened. If this is done, than that means almost everything the conquers have done, will look completely justified in our eyes. This is a very dangerous way to learn about the world.
Zinn goes on to tell us why it is just as important to look through the eyes of the people, or more importantly the eyes of the marginalized people…
My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.
Still, understanding the complexities, this book will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest. I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don’t want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”
Zinn gives us an antidotes to the cultural bias… all we have to do is look at things through the eyes of the poor and the mistreated. If we do this, then we can begin to see history as it was meant to be, and see how it shapes our society today.. as such we would be in a much better place to understand where the truth lies.
With this, rather solid foundation put forward.. we can then begin to figure other things out that are currently happening in American Culture today.
In the book Manufacturing Consent, linguist Noam Chomsky lays out a sociological framework for how the corporate media operates. He reveals to us that there are political and economic forces that operate under the surface, such that the Mass Media usually report things that preference cooperate interests and government interests.
He shows us that this social force leads to a tremendous amount of biased reporting, and he calls the summation of these forces Modern Propaganda. Chomsky sets up a framework for us, he shows us why there are many different filters on the Mass Media, and in the end this produces the result that, there is a rather large social machine pushing up ideologies of the people high on the social hierarchy while pushing down and silencing the ones on the lower end of the social hierarchy.
Within the first chapter, Noam Chomsky tells us how modern media propaganda campaigns work:
Thus, for example, the torture of political prisoners and the attack on trade unions in Turkey will be pressed on the media only by human rights activists and groups that have little political leverage. The U.S. government supported the Turkish martial-law government from its inception in I980, and the U.S. business community has been warm toward regimes that profess fervent anticommunism, encourage foreign investment, repress unions, and loyally support U.S. foreign policy (a set of virtues that are frequently closely linked). Media that chose to feature Turkish violence against their own citizenry would have had to go to extra expense to find and check out information sources; they would elicit flak from government, business, and organized right-wing flak machines, and they might be looked upon with disfavor by the corporate community (including advertisers) for indulging in such a quixotic interest and crusade. They would tend to stand alone in focusing on victims that from the standpoint of dominant American interests were unworthy.
In marked contrast, protest over political prisoners and the violation of the rights of trade unions in Poland was seen by the Reagan administration and business elites in I98I as a noble cause, and, not coincidentally, as an opportunity to score political points. Many media leaders and syndicated columnists felt the same way. Thus information and strong opinions on human-rights violations in Poland could be obtained from official sources in Washington, and reliance on Polish dissidents would not elicit flak from the U.S. government or the flak machines. These victims would be generally acknowledged by the managers of the filters to be worthy. The mass media never explain why Andrei Sakharov is worthy and Jose Luis Massera, in Uruguay, is unworthy-the attention and general dichotomization occur “naturally” as a result of the working of the filters, but the result is the same as if a commissar had instructed the media: “Concentrate on the victims of enemy powers and forget about the victims of friends.”
As it turns out… the way modern propoganda works… is remarkably similar to how Orientalism works, and how our telling of history, works to give views that reflect the opinions of the social elite rather than the opinions of the lower class people. You see, they do not have to tell any lies at all, although they are not afraid to throw lies in their to suite their purpose, instead they like to emphasize one aspect of a story and de-emphasize another.
In the above quote Chomsky compares two human rights violations – Political prisoners in Poland, and Political prisoners in Turkey. Both are detained unfairly and unjustly according to international law – both are victims that need help.
However, only one the them coincided with US interests.
That means that the political prisoners in turkey, a regime the US government supported… are not likely to get reported on. You see reporting on those victims makes the US government look bad, and who wants to look bad? As such, if a reporter chose to write about Turkey… he would face social pressures, coming from government officials to not report it.
On the flip side, the other victims were in Poland, and that could be used to score political points for the government. So the reporter would face no negative social pressure.. in fact he/she may be some incentive to investigate the incident.
So if you are a reporter and you have two identical stories of human rights violations, but one of them might make your life worse (make US officials that have the ability to make your life worse angry at you), and the other would make your life a bit better (make officials more likely to leak information to you).. which one would you chose?
It turns out, that most reporters chose to go to the path that has the least resistance.. and that means they are most likely going to report things that serve US interests and conveniently leave out things that do not support US interests. So what reporters do is they do an entire investigative report about the polish political prisoners, getting out personal stories and getting people to care.. while on the other side, reporters will either fail to mention the political prisoners in turkey, or put the fact that there are political prisoners in turkey in some small piece with little no no investigative reporting just brute fact.
I will give you a more modern example of this. Remember the Boston Bombers? Of course you all do.. it was all over the news for weeks. You can see that news everywhere, you had personal stories of survivors and everything. That bomb killed 4 Americans. Do you remember that at around the same exact fcking time there was bomb set off in Iraq that killed 30 people? Oh right… you do not.. because the fcking press only did like one nonchalant piece on it, and then moved towards way more important things like… how some “Muslim” killed 4 Americans. This is the kind of media reporting that sets up a stage where there are “worthy victims” and “unworthy victims”… where worthy ones, the ones we can report on for weeks, conveniently ally with US interests, and unworthy ones, the ones we hardly ever mention, are the ones that do not ally with US interests (every single mther fcking civilian killed by predator drones deserves just as much attention as the victims of the Boston bombers – if not more.)
Noam Chomsky, knows this all to well.. and tells us that:
In sum, a propaganda approach to media coverage suggests a systematic and highly political dichotomization in news coverage based on serviceability to important domestic power interests. This should be observable in dichotomized choices of story and in the volume and quality of coverage… such dichotomization in the mass media is massive and systematic: not only are choices for publicity and suppression comprehensible in terms of system advantage, but the modes of handling favored and inconvenient materials (placement, tone, context, fullness of treatment) differ in ways that serve political ends.
You see that is really interesting. What Edward Said, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky revealed to us was that… the social forces at play reflect the preferences of people high up on the social ladder, and thus, the things written by them or with their approval or aid, will inevitably also reflect the opinions of those high on the social hierarchy.
Meaning, if we are not careful in our consumption of US media, the people themselves can be fooled into having opinions that do not reflect their best interests, but rather, reflect the interests of the more powerful in society.
Notice though, that there are no boogie men here, there are is no evil genius nor malevolent villain to point to that bends and twist our wills. Rather, there are simply social forces at play, and those forces are responsible for what we label as modern propaganda. All of these things should be fairly common sense… but such common sense is hardly presented to us, and when it is, it is quickly trivialized as irrelevant.
Yet, I sht you not.. these things still go on today.
For example, take a look at the peoples opinion on whether or not we should strike Syria. http://tinyurl.com/oknoqs7
As it turns out… most Americans are against a military air strike. In fact, what this chart shows is that more and more Americans are becoming strongly oppositional to the war our government want to take to Syria. Now, if the cooperate media was a reflection of the will of the people.. what should we expect? Well we should expect to see a similar distribution of media reports. In that most media institutions should also favor reporting that is strongly against the war.
Now, if we actually bother to check on the distribution of the messages the cooperate media puts out, what we get instead… is the exact opposite. http://tinyurl.com/myn3dce
As it turns out, the media are strongly pro war even though the american people are strongly anti-war. How can one make sense of this?
Well if the media reflects the will of the people and works to keep the government in check.. than the bare facts laid out above can not be true.
However, they are true.
If the media instead does not reflect the will of the people, but reflects the will of the corporate sponsors and the will of the government… what well will get is exactly what we do indeed get in reality. What this means, and we can draw no other conclusions from this, is that media institutions do not reflect the will of the people, and do not offer a power base to check the government.. instead corporate media works to promote government and corporate opinions.
Therefore, the mass media as it is today, is often used by people high up on the social hierarchy for propaganda, rather than used to reflect news that serve as a power balance to the government. The cooperate media is not made up of “the people,” but rather, is made up of “the establishment.”
Finally, if you want direct proof that social forces play a role in the way the media chooses to present information.. Take a look at the experiences of Cenk Uygur and why he left MSNBC.
Here, he reveals to us that he actually got good ratings from the people. In that the american people supported his version of the news… but he tells us that the managers at MSNBC did not care. What they cared more about, was not the views of the mass public, but the views of the government officials they worked with (or probably worked for).
They cared so much about elite opinion that instead of letting Cenk stay on prime time and risk a backlash from Washington, even though the masses supported him, they would rather succumb to the pressures from Washington. They, because their money is deeply connected to power, would rather work with power than work against it. What this results in, is a heavily biased news station. What that means, if we learned anything from Said or Zinn… is that those who consume those versions of events are much more likely to also agree with those versions of events.
This is the reason why FOX news watchers still think WMD’s were found in Iraq – because although FOX never said we found WMD’s all they really had to do was cover the war in a way that emphasized WMD’s as a reason to go to way and de-emphasized WMD’s when they were not found. What this produces is a result where the people watching FOX thought we found them. I mean, if that was the reason we went, it stands to reason we stayed because we found them.. right? Especially if the news you are watching never mentions them again, and instead talks about other facts over here… that favor war. Fox just gloss over the facts, the fact that we found no WMD’s that do not favor war, and that produces a a big lie.
You see, what we are learning here, I hope.. is that you don’t have to tell a lie at all to feed into a false ideology. What we do instead, is just emphasize certain facts that fit into it. Then, while we tell everyone about the facts that contradict that ideology, we also make sure to gloss over them very quickly.
So if say.. Bradly, now known as Chelsea Manning, reveals something negative about our armed forces…. we tell you that story.. but we quickly gloss over it. Instead we choose to concentrate on how “depraved” she must be. Instead we tell stories about how she put US troops in danger because of the leak.. and we neglect to tell the public that not a single intelligence agency has actually proven the Manning leak lead to even a single death. Instead we tell stories of Manning being a traitor.. refusing to look at it through a rather different angle…
An angle that is presented here. It is long, but take a listen when you have time.
You see the real scoop behind manning and snowden and wikileaks is something that is far different than what we have been told by the corporate media. Why is that? Are they acting like shadowy spies looking to control the world? No.. not at all. Instead, they are just people pushed into one biased direction by certain cultural forces. Yet, you have to know what those forces look like, before you can be aware of the effect they can have….