Friday, October 23, 2020

The Limits of Propaganda, Part Two

Everyone knows that the concept of The Big Lie was invented by the Nazis in the 1930s, and its basic theory is that if you repeat a lie often enough, from as many different directions as possible, then people will blindly believe it without question.  At about the same time various neuropsychologists discovered a phenomenon called "extinction of the signal", which means that the same sensory input, repeated often enough, eventually fades into the background and becomes ignored.  The Nazis chose to believe the first theory and ignore the second. 

Another theory they chose to ignore is that nothing teaches quite as well as personal experience.  As Will Rogers once put it, "There are three kinds of people: those who can learn from reading or hearing about something, those that can learn from seeing something done, and the rest of us -- who have to learn by pissing on the electric fence for ourselves."  What he didn't need to mention is that if you ever do piss on an electric fence, you'll remember the lesson no matter what the media, your politicians, or your neighbors tell you.  The single worst enemy of propaganda is the unavoidable truth.  

Totalitarian countries like Nazi Germany, the USSR, and North Korea have used the Big Lie to a fare-thee-well, but their people eventually pissed on the electric fence of reality and stopped believing.  The official propaganda faded into the background, and people concentrated on their own survival regardless of what their governments preached.  In every case, those governments neglected to learn from being shown;  they only increased the propaganda in hopes that it would somehow keep working when piled higher and deeper.

Private advertising companies have a better record of success, simply because their goals are more modest: to promote sales of goods and services rather than whole factions and policies.  To that end, it's often enough just to make the public generally aware that the product exists, along with a simple statement of "it's good", and broadcasting the ad as far and wide and fast as possible.  Of course, to avoid rapid onset of boredom/extinction of the signal, the simple positive message must be altered slightly -- "tasty", "long-lasting", "improved", etc. -- and rebroadcast often, usually accompanied by visual images of smiling children or handsome adults.  Unless the product being sold fails noticeably in public, the propaganda campaign can succeed for a long while.  Firestone Tires lasted longer than the Nazi empire.          

The flip side of The Big Lie is that its perpetrators have to somehow keep their victims from getting any other information.  This requires total censorship, which is ultimately impossible.  You can censor the newspapers, the broadcast news, the mail, large entertainment companies and even -- today -- the Internet, but contradictory news always leaks through.  If nothing else, there's always word of mouth.  "Rumors" can spread with amazing speed through households, neighborhoods, cities, and even prisons -- and once a "rumor" is proven true, there's no stopping it.

This is why, to remain effective, propaganda has to be minimal.  It should stick to the truth as much as possible, repeat itself as little as possible, and not censor opposing arguments but be content with ignoring, belittling, or counter-arguing them.  

Fortunately, professional propagandists -- whether government agents or advertising companies -- can never resist trying to do more, and more, until they saturate the listening market and become unbelieved background noise.  The Big Lie is ultimately self-destructive, yet political factions -- the more fanatical, the more willing -- insist on playing with it.  

Perhaps this is because the chief appeal of fanaticism is the promise of superiority over the "other", which includes superior intelligence;  the fanatic assumes that his/her targeted victim is too stupid to see through the propaganda under any circumstances.  This is particularly true when your faction includes the operators of the educational system.  After all, it should be "obvious" that someone with a Ph.D. in Oppression Studies from Harvard is mentally superior to some knuckle-dragging mechanic who studied Engineering in some farming-county community college, right?  This attitude makes it easy to seduce academics into fanaticism.

It also contributes mightily to class resentment and class warfare, since a less-than-elite education does not aromatically equal stupidity-- and remember that electric fence of experience.  Some laborer's kid who joined the military, served a term in Iraq, used his/her GI Bill to fund his/her way through police academy, and rises to the rank of sergeant is likely to have had experiences that counter the claims of the popular media.  This could explain the Democrats' total astonishment that the working class -- of whatever color -- voted for Trump in the last election.  The very arrogance that feeds fanaticism blinds the fanatics to the competence of their victims.

The best propaganda engine in the world can't guarantee power.  Lincoln understood this thoroughly when he made his famous statement: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all the time."

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish         


Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Limits of Propaganda, Part One

 The Wikipedia entry under "Agent Provocateur" includes the following paragraph:  "In jurisdictions in which conspiracy is a serious crime in itself, it can be sufficient for the agent provocateur to entrap the target into discussing and planning an illegal act.  It is not necessary for the illegal act to be carried out or even prepared."  Keep that in mind.    

Wikipedia also defines "False Flag" as "an act committed with the intention of disguising the actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on a second party."  Keep that in mind too.

Provocateur operations work best when linked to False Flag campaigns, if only because it looks better on police records if they can round up a group of gullible fools rather than just one or two.  The combination is also politically useful -- especially at budget-review time, during social upheaval, or in an election year.  In the last two centuries. as both democratic systems and literacy have increased, Provocateur/False Flag operations have depended heavily on propaganda structures to persuade the majority of the population.  This is why fashions in political propaganda are good predictors of showy crimes -- and resulting severe punishments -- yet to come.  Examples include Stalin's show-trials in the USSR, the Reichstag fire in Nazi Germany, and the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China.  

I observed such a case many years ago, here in Phoenix.  This was during a Democratic national administration, wherein the Democrat policy of pushing gun-control laws had suffered a setback;  the Supreme Court had recently declared the Second Amendment an individual right, several states had loosened their restrictions on firearms ownership and public carry, the numbers of firearms sales and concealed-carry permits had jumped, the violent-crime rate had dropped, and the Democratic National Committee was still sore over it.  

I was living with some Science-Fiction fans who were also part of a gamer's club of about a dozen members.  Every Saturday the club would gather at our house, where half the members would disappear into the computer room to play computer games, and the other half would settle in the living-room with books and dice and character-sheets to play variations on a theme of Dungeons and Dragons.  On Sunday the less sedentary members (which didn't include me) would drive out to undeveloped county wilderness land and do live-action roleplaying.  This often involved homemade costumes, target-shooting with .22 rifles and tin cans, or exploding cans with firecrackers, and ended with dinner and beer and brief club business at a local saloon.  The club was too informal to have a permanent name, and consisted of middle-aged fans with generally lower-middleclass jobs.  None of us had any criminal history but years-earlier misdemeanor charges for marching in picket-lines in support of strikes or civil rights laws.

About then the TV news/opinion shows began mentioning "the threat of right-wing militia groups", which we discounted because we didn't know of any.  That should have been warning, but we didn't realize it at the time.  Another thing we didn't notice was that government Budget Review Time was coming up, when all the departments -- including various police -- would have to justify the money to be spent on them. 

The club's only brush with illegality was one Sunday when the Live Action Role-Players ran into a poacher out in the woods.  They could tell he was a poacher because he was wearing wood-land camouflage, carrying a scoped .30-caliber deer rifle, and it wasn't hunting season (yes, it can be possible to tell a person's intention by the model and caliber of gun he carries).  They scolded him severely, told him to get out of there or they'd call the cops, and succeeded in chasing him off.

A couple weeks later a newcomer arrived at the club.  He knew quite a bit about fantasy role-playing games, but seemed to be mostly interested in the contemporary war-games.  When he learned about the Sunday LARP games, he couldn't wait to go join them.  He was an enthusiastic player, and he certainly did know a lot about military tactics, but the LARPers soon found that he was a little... odd.  For one thing, he didn't seem to know where fantasy left off and real life began.  He was always trying to apply the game to modern urban settings, talked about "revolution" a lot, and kept asking if anyone was interested in attacking fortified buildings -- such as police stations.  The LARPers decided that he was a possibly dangerous nut-case, and considered booting him out, but because he did such a good job of bookkeeping for the group's funds (never more than a couple hundred dollars), they decided to let him stay on.

Then the local economy took a downturn.  Gas prices rose, and it was no longer cheap or easy to drive out to the wilderness area every Sunday.  The LARPing division of the club began losing members, at which the oddball newcomer was visibly upset.  When their numbers were down to half a dozen, the LARPers decided to stop outdoor gaming completely until autumn, at least, and they celebrated their farewell dinner at a pizza joint.

A few days later a large contingent of local police, FBI in SWAT suits, local sheriff's deputies and a few state troopers -- accompanied by national TV-news camera teams -- raided the homes of the LARPers, arrested them all (except, of course, for the oddball newcomer, who was nowhere to be found), ransacked their homes, cars, businesses, storage-units and relatives' homes, and trumpeted to the world that they'd caught a "dangerous right-wing militia group".  The "group" originally had no name, but in searching the homes the FBI had come across a shoulder-patch with the words "Team Viper" on it, so thereafter they referred to "the Viper Militia".  They stopped short of calling the LARPers "neo-Nazis", probably because two of them were Jewish and one was Native American, and didn't mention the LARPers' politics in detail, probably because three of them were registered Democrats.  They also claimed to have confiscated "a hoard of firearms, including machine-guns", because one of the members was a gun-collector and owned a reconstructed (non-functional) classic Gatling gun.  The story became a nation-wide sensation, with the usual news-media editorials about the horrors of gun ownership and the danger of "citizen militias".  

The rest of the gamer club, understandably amazed at all this, tried to contact the LARPers and find out what was going on.  We soon learned that they were being held incommunicado in separate jails -- in fact, in different counties and different states -- and their cases had been separated too so that each member had to hire his own separate lawyer.  When we managed to reach the lawyers, we learned that the LARPers were being pressured to plead guilty to a charge of "conspiracy to teach military techniques for purposes of civil insurrection".  When we asked how "conspiracy to teach" could be a crime, we were told that "The FBI can find a way."  When we asked how the FBI intended to prove "purposes of civil insurrection", we learned that the odd-ball newcomer had secretly recorded the LARPers at their games, and had picked up some juicy -- and out of context -- quotes, some of which had already made it into the news.

The "pressure" applied to the LARPers included threats that "you'll  never work in this country again."  One member who held out for a trial, claiming that he could always go work in Canada, was told that his retired parents would lose their Social Security payments.  Eventually only one member, whose parents were safely dead and who owned his own business, held out for a jury trial.  The FBI saw to it that he got a judge whose first pronouncement was that he would "hear no argument based on the Constitution".  That alone would have been grounds for an appeal, but the cost of fighting  in court drained the man's resources so that he lost his savings and his business, and couldn't meet the price of an appeal.  Also, because he had fought the charge, he was given a longer sentence than the other LARPers who had given in and signed the confessions.  

Later we learned that when defending its budget requests to Congress the FBI had quoted extensively from the "Viper Militia case".  Yes, the FBI got the budget increase it had asked for.  

The LARPers, after finishing their 3-5 year sentences, took years to recover their former economic situations, and some of them never did.  The rest of the club eventually scattered, took up other interests, or died.  The "militia" and "survivalist" movements changed their names to "preppers" and kept on preparing for assorted disasters, a few of which actually arrived.  The FBI continued to increase its funding, but kept "the threat of right-wing militias" on the back burner.  With changing federal administrations the media came up with various new targets, but always kept the threat of "right-wing" something handy.  In time, those of us who had seen the original "Viper Militia" incident learned to tell when a media "threat" build-up presaged some related police or political action.

I've been thinking of that a lot recently as the election day approaches and the media "scandals" are falling thick and fast;  no sooner is one of them disproved than two more take its place.  What's remarkable about the current media-storm is that it has resulted in so few actual arrests made or new laws passed.  Historically, false-flag/provocateur/propaganda campaigns have operated to keep the ruling establishment in power, but in our current case there seems to be more smoke than fire.  Is it all, really, just to sell newspapers and win an election?

--Leslie <;)))><