First, my bona fides:
I got involved in civil rights ‘way back in junior high school. There weren’t any picket-lines or demonstrations within reach, so I volunteered my labor as a writer for the cause. I wrote leaflets, pamphlets, editorials, petitions and letters to various politicians, and learned the art of sneaking political/legal arguments into articles on other subjects, such as music and movie reviews. I also learned to write protest songs. Since I proved to be good at this, I kept it up in high school and college and afterward, for other causes – such as women’s lib, Gay lib, free speech, the anti-war movement, the ecology movement, the pro-space movement, marijuana legalization, Anarchism, the radical labor movement, and so on.
Since these involved a lot of grassroots political work, I also took unofficial training in things like debate, rhetoric, logic, investigative research and critical thinking. I noticed that these subjects are almost never taught in the public schools (they’re usually taught only in law schools), and eventually I learned why. In a democracy, politicians who want to keep their jobs do not want the citizens educated enough to see the fallacies in their arguments, or knowing how to dig up facts. In fact, they don’t want citizens to learn adult emotional self-control, let alone mental self-reliance, lest they notice when someone is appealing to something other than their intelligence.
Now propaganda – the art and science of pushing your own political-or-related point of view to as wide an audience as possible – is most challenged when dealing with intelligent, educated and cynical people, as I was. With such an audience, you have to use only verifiable facts, avoid the Master List of Logical Fallacies (which I’ll add to the end here), and argue damned well. Presenting your argument with wit and beauty certainly helps. In this sense, all art is in some sense propaganda – as in Picasso’s “Guernica”, or Leonard Cohen’s “The Old Revolution”. I’ve done this myself, with many of my songs. Advertising certainly is propaganda, and “public relations”, though of what I’d consider an inferior form.
As an old propagandist myself, I have nothing but contempt for those who play fast and loose with the facts, exploit logical fallacies, and not only whip up blind emotions but do their best to keep people blindly emotional and incapable of thinking critically – so that they can’t tell how bad the argument and how downright clumsy its presentation is. That’s not only immoral, it’s bad art. I’ve seen an insulting amount of it all over the news media lately.
For example, see the Democratic National Committee’s – and its loyal media’s – attempts to paint the unloved Trump and his cabinet appointees as Nazis. First they fine-combed his known actions for any evidence of racism/sexism/anti-semitism, and not finding anything they could use, they went over all his public statements. Here they had better luck, finding small gems of “insensitivity”, since Trump – who really wasn’t expecting to win – was a sloppy and thoughtless speaker with a bullish habit of promptly hitting back, with anything handy, at anyone who attacked him.
Still, that wasn’t enough. Since Trump wouldn’t conveniently hang himself, they brought in guilt-by-association. Anyone familiar with the originally FBI/CoInTelPro tactic of the False Flag would wonder if the infamous David Duke had been paid (and how much) to publicly, and repeatedly, express his adoration for Trump – who never returned the favor. In fact, nobody could find any connection between Trump or any of his family and Duke’s KKK. Worse, Trump’s daughter married a smart Jewish guy – even converting to Judaism herself for him – whom Trump welcomed into the family. That didn’t fit the stereotype. (Neither did Trump’s real supporters, but never mind them.) So, how to call somebody a Nazi without literally calling him a Nazi, which can be readily disproven?
Next tactic: the old reliable trick of changing labels – with a bit more false-flagging. Before this election campaign began, how many of you had heard of the term “alternative-right”? What about “white nationalist”? Until distinctly pro-Democrat news shows began promoting them, I never heard those slightly-foggy terms. An internet search traced their origin to a tiny bunch of southern white racists, who occasionally quote Nazi comments but insist that they aren’t Neo-Nazis, whom nobody but the SPLC had ever heard of – until the media began focusing on them.
Now there are plenty of still-accurate terms for the various positions on the political right: conservative, reactionary, religious right, racist, sexist, fascist and Neo-Nazi. Why weren’t these terms sufficient? Maybe because they provably don’t fit Trump?
Recently a bunch of the original alt-right reactionaries (about 100 of them) managed to collect enough money to hire a hall where they all met, cheered Trump’s election, and gave what looked like the ‘Seig Heil’ salute – which the media gleefully covered. Trump himself knew nothing about it, and no one has found any real connection between him and this mini-gang.
I recall how, a few decades ago, a nut-case named Andrea Dworkin came up with enough funding, following, and media-attention for her man-hating rants to completely discredit and ruin the National Organization for Women – in what turned out to be a classic CoInTelPro campaign. I think I can guess where the money for this “alt-right” convention came from, and only wonder how the participants were paid and persuaded to pull that stunt.
This is a neat way to discredit Trump’s latest appointee, Bannon, who worked on a conservative website named after its founder, Breitbart. Bannon was a curmudgeonly writer who’s opposed to illegal immigration, and the media would love to call him a Nazi – but the problem is that Breitbart himself was Jewish, the site is very supportive of Israel, has praised prominent Black conservatives such as Dr. Sowell, Ben Carson, and Colin Powell, and has showcased libertarian women writers. No anti-Semitism, no racism, no sexism: it doesn’t fit the stereotype and provably can’t be called Neo-Nazi. But calling it “white nationalist” (with no solid evidence) suggests (through the unattributed Wikipedia definition) Nazi connections.
As I said, I’ve seen this game played before, and as a professional I find it contemptible.
Now here’s the list I promised you:
Master List of Logical Fallacies
See also "Argumentum ex Silentio."
The counterpart of this is the fallacy of falsely justifying or excusing evil or vicious actions because of the perpetrator's purity of motives or lack of malice. (E.g., "He's a good Christian man; how could you accuse him of doing something like that?")
See also "They're Not Like Us."
Or, "No, you can't quit piano lessons. I wish I had a magic wand and could teach you piano overnight, but I don't, so like it or not, you have to keep on practicing." The parent, of course, ignores the possibility that the child may not want or need to learn piano. See also, TINA.
Occasionally involves the breathtaking arrogance of claiming to have special knowledge of why God is doing certain things. E.g., "This week's earthquake was sent to punish those people for their great wickedness."
Or, "Pro-choicers hate babies!" Or, "Pro-lifers hate women and want them to spend their lives barefoot, pregnant and chained to the kitchen stove!"
(See also "Testimonial.")