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Propaganda Provides an Excuse, Rather than Manufacturing Consent: 2

January 18, 2019 11 comments

In the previous part of this series, I said that the unspoken assumption underlying any belief in propaganda “working”, namely that human beings as a species are basically good, is wrong. Even a moderately objective look at history, or the world around you, easily demonstrates that most human beings have no moral compass, are incapable of reason, are deeply obsessed with their inevitable mortality and have a strong predilection for self-destruction. This assessment remains valid regardless of historical era, ethnicity, race, religion or any other division used by people to define their identity. In other words, the majority of human beings are, and have always been, pathetic and delusional creatures who usually lack the courage to act on their impulses.

And this where propaganda enters the picture. It provides an excuse or official sanction to act on their desires and impulses. But is there any real-life difference between how societies react to odious behavior with or without an “official” excuse or approval? Well.. let me illustrate with an example. A white american guy who enters a room (or two) and kills twenty primary-school aged children in USA is a horrible and despicable mass murderer- but if the same guy performed that particular act in some poor middle-eastern country, he is almost always portrayed as an upright soldier just doing his duty or perhaps suffering from “PTSD”. Events such as the My Lai Massacre or more recent ones in Afghanistan are more common than most believe.

Here is another example. What is the real difference between any top-level Nazi regime officials tried at Nuremberg show trials (after WW2) and people such as Curtis LeMay, Henry Kissinger, William Westmoreland, Bush 41, Bush43, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld- to name a few. In my opinion, the most importance difference between top Nazi era officials and their post-WW2 american equivalents is that the former wore far better looking uniforms. But why stop here? Ever wonder how the world would have reacted if Nazi Germany had won WW2? Here is a clue.. look at how the world has reacted to post-WW2 USA. My point is that we should not pretend that post-WW2 (or even pre-WW2) USA exists on a different “moral plane” than Nazi-era Germany, pre-1945 Japan, pre-WW2 UK and France or other 19th century colonial powers.

Still not convinced? Ask ten random people in USA what they think of China. Chances are most of them will say something about totalitarianism, hyper-capitalism, air pollution, alleged oppression of minorities, internet censorship and other assorted bullshit which they desperately want to believe. Oddly enough, almost none of them allow their minds to think about the history of their “own” country in an objective manner. Because, let us face it, USA was built by stealing land from its original inhabitants who were then conveniently genocided, its initial wealth was built, first using race-based slavery and then exploiting poor immigrants from other countries. But it gets better.. its global position in the 20th century was largely due it being not ravaged by WW1 and WW2. And in spite of claiming great military superiority, it has not won a single war since WW2.

In contrast to that, China was able to reach its current position as the largest global economy (in real terms) of the early 21st century without stealing land from other people, without slavery and in spite of having to start from scratch in aftermath of partial Japanese occupation (pre-1945) which was preceded by the century of humiliation by white colonial powers. Moreover, the bulk of that development occurred within the previous forty years. By any objective criteria, China and its people have achieved in 40-50 years what the USA took overt two centuries- and have done so with far fewer negative externalities. They have also achieved that outcome with far less social and economic inequality when compared to USA for most of its history.

My point is that most people believe whatever they want to believe, and most are incapable of objective thinking and reason. Let me further explain that concept with three more (long-form) examples. They are as follows: 1] Rise and fall of Nazism and personality cult of Hitler in 1933-1945 era Germany. 2] Rise and fall of american public support for the Vietnam War and 3] The rise and ongoing fall of neoliberal worldview in the ‘west’. As some might remember, I have written a few posts about the first issue in past, such as: how high unemployment was linked to rise of Nazi party in Germany and similarities between those who joined the Nazi party and contemporary careerists. I have also written a few post about neoliberalism and will therefore start by focusing on the american misadventure in Vietnam, which ended in a humiliating defeat.

Let me begin this part by asking you a few simple questions. Why did barely 20% of Americans think that sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake as late as mid-1966? Why did approval for that war drop so quickly between 1967 and 1969? But perhaps, most curiously, why did almost 30% of americans think that the war was not a mistake as late as 1972-1973? The first question is probably the easiest to answer. Most people will support incredibly bad and dangerous ideas as long as they don’t have skin in the game and think they can get away with it. As late as 1966, the number of young american men drafted in that war was barely about 200,000 and most did not experience any significant risk during their tour of duty. Furthermore, their adversaries were asian- a group largely seen as subhuman by white americans.

So what caused this shift in public attitudes? While the conventional narrative ‘Tet Offensive’ did a lot of damage to public image of american forces in Vietnam, it was (in retrospective) just one of the many factors which caused that shift. A far bigger reason was the rapid increase in number of young men drafted for that war after 1966. Some of you might wonder as why the Korean war (1950-1953), whose final casualty figures were pretty close to the one on Vietnam, did not result in a similar shift in public attitudes. Well.. there are two reasons. Firstly, it was just five years after WW2 and the numbers looked small in comparison. Secondly, the part of that war which involved heavy fighting was much shorter (if far more intense) than in Vietnam. Short intense wars have always been far easier to justify than long drawn-out conflicts.

Which brings us to the most peculiar of the three questions. Why did upto a third of the american public believe that the Vietnam war was not a mistake, as late as 1973? Wasn’t it pretty obvious that the war had been a costly failure by then? In my opinion, this comes down to their complete unwillingness and inability to think in anything approaching a rational manner. As I wrote in a previous series, WW1 and WW2 got rid of a lot of reactionary and CONservative men in Europe and Japan- but the late entry of USA in both wars as well as fairly low casualties in the theaters they were deployed did not get rid of most idiots. In other words, USA has (and had) far more living reactionary and CONservative idiots than Europe and many other countries.

The point I am trying to make is that propaganda does not really change minds or worldviews. It merely provides “official” external validation and cover for bad, stupid and disastrous ideas. This also means that any ideology which assumes that most human beings are intrinsically good or thoughtful is fundamentally flawed. Similarly, arguing or debating racists and other types of assorted assholes in good faith is a total waste of your time. Only death or the fear of certain death has, historically, demonstrated the ability to change terms of discourse about fundamental differences in opinion. Nazism lost popular appeal only after most of its supporters got killed in, or in the immediate aftermath of, WW2. The same is true for all those other odious pre-1945 ideas about racial superiority and colonialism in the ‘west’.

In the next part, I will write about how the majority of people will often support other amazingly bad and disastrous ideas if they feel they can get away with doing so.

What do you think? Comments?

Propaganda Provides an Excuse, Rather than Manufacturing Consent: 1

December 18, 2018 6 comments

Some years ago, I was watching (or rewatching) a YouTube video which was trying to tout the efficacy of government and corporate propaganda. Maybe it was something by Adam Curtis or a derivative work which used excerpts from The Century of Self. In any case, the precise identity of that clip has virtually no relevance to the topic of this series- for reasons which will soon become obvious. While I usually find such bullshit quite entertaining, if only for the apparent conviction of belief displayed by those who are into such stuff- this was different. Perhaps I was just feeling extra misanthropic that particular evening, or maybe it was the alcohol (likely both).. but an interesting idea came to my mind. What if propaganda provides an official-sounding excuse for people to act out their most depraved beliefs, rather than put it in their mind in the first place.

As regular readers of this blog know, my opinions about human beings as a species have never been especially high– to put it mildly. You can, therefore, see this series as an extension of my opinions on that subject. Anyway.. let us get back to the topic of this series by asking ourselves a simple question. What is the one central but unspoken assumption which has to be true for any propaganda to “work”? And remember that this unspoken assumption underlies every single explanation for the efficacy of propaganda- from Noam Chomsky and his ‘Manufacturing Consent’ to the pseudoscience.. I mean psychology crap spouted by any random loser slaving way at a marketing firm. Could it about linguistics, ‘neuroscience’ or some other clever sounding bullshit?
Think harder.. because once I reveal it many of you might say that it was obvious.

Are you ready.. here it goes.. All conventional explanations for the efficacy of propaganda are based around the assumption that human beings as a species are naturally good, kind, decent, altruistic, humane etc. Even the class of explanations which assume that humans are imperfect creatures make the implicit and unspoken assumption that they are basically good. As I will explain you later, there is a reason why even the most fucked-up human being firmly believes that he or she is a ‘good’ person. At this point, some might wonder whether I see human beings as ‘risen apes’ or ‘fallen angels’. Surprise.. I don’t see them as either. In my opinion, comparing human beings to apes is rather insulting to the later. So how do I see human beings as a species?

To be quite blunt.. human beings as a species are incapable of anything approaching objective thought, let alone reason. They are also fundamentally incapable of being kind, decent, altruistic or anything else which they want to believe about themselves. Instead.. they are an incredibly greedy, short-sighted, narcissistic and delusional species with an obsession for trying to dominate others and an all-consuming fear of their inevitable mortality. Human beings as a species not only lack a ‘moral compass’ of any kind, but are actually incapable of creating anything along those lines. Perhaps more importantly, this is the case irrespective of their “culture”, ethnicity, race, “IQ” or sex. And they also have a predilection for self-destruction. The fact that humans beings have not made themselves extinct after invention of nuclear weapons is a minor miracle.

While this assessment might sound unpleasant, it is based in reality. Read enough about history and you will be hard pressed to identify who was the lesser fuckup and delusional asshole in any interaction. If that is too much work, just look at the world around you with critical eyes. Think about all the people you have worked for, worked with, had sex with or are related to and then as yourself.. “Is this what passes for average humans?”. I am not saying that every single person is a delusional sadistic fuckup. Indeed we can all think of a few people (based on our personal experience) who are clearly not, but most of them are.. well.. sad fuckups. And that is why I use the expression ‘human beings as a species’ as opposed to ‘all humans’. In other words, not everyone- just the majority. But the majority, nonetheless.

Now you know why it was so easy to find tons of people willing to burn alleged witches in 16th-17th century Europe or why persecuting and lynching Jews was a popular pastime during the Great Plague epidemic of 1347-1351. That is also why mass human sacrifice was an important part of Aztec Culture or why the very ‘christian’ Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors went about killing and enslaving millions of people in south and central america. This is also how tens of millions died due to famine during British Rule of India or how many tens of millions of white men killed each other during WW1 and WW2. Did I mention the ethnic genocides which occurred in the last century such as the Armenian Genocide, the Ukrainian Famine of the 1930s, the Holocaust, all the millions who died in China between 1959-1961. Oh and that is separate from the millions killed during Japanese occupation of (parts of) China during the 1937-1945 timespan.

And this is just a tiny sliver of what you can find when you read enough history. Now tell me something.. do you think that human beings as a species have to be “brainwashed” to do evil and stupid things? Do you still think human beings really require a bunch of manipulators to get them to kill each other for no good reason? Or perhaps ‘propaganda’ just gives people a public excuse to act out their most depraved desires and pretend that it was not their idea. The far more straightforward (if unpleasant) explanation is that ‘propaganda’ simply provides most people a way to externalize responsibility for their shitty and stupid behavior. That way, they can do horrendous stuff but then also be able to pretend that they are good persons. It is all about enjoying the morbid deed but externalizing the responsibility of said deed.

In the next part, I will use a series of examples to show you that ‘propaganda’ is really about telling people that is OK be pathetic, depraved and murderous assholes. And remember that old white people who watch Fox News did not become sad racist losers after starting to watch that channel. Newsflash.. they were always racist losers. Fox News simply provided external validation for the beliefs which they always held but were too cowardly to display in public until some fuckface or bimbo on Fox News told them that it was OK to do so.

What do you think? Comments?