Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Rabbit Hole Paradox -- The Pervasiveness of Propaganda (2)

Tom Tomorrow has an excellent cartoon over at Salon that describes some of the problem of "Knowing and Not Knowing" in our political and social context these days. Here's a corner of it; go over there to see the whole thing.

There are multiple layers in this observation: People know what they know because of who/what told them, not because of their own individual, critical ability to independently ferret out Truth or to sort fact from opinion. People don't want to know -- and will often vehemently reject -- any information from "taboo" sources without bothering to assess it for Truth or insight because they don't want to know whatever it is the "taboo" source has to say. In many cases today, knowing what one knows and refusing to let any contradictory information (especially from "taboo" sources) enter one's thinking is standard on all sides of the political and social spectrum. One adopts a rigid -- and essentially unalterable -- viewpoint against which no alternative or contradiction can be allowed to penetrate.

This is how propaganda works. It destroys one's ability to think critically and assess contradictory information honestly on the one hand, and it provides a safe and comforting justification for one's ignorance and inability to think critically on the other.

We saw how the process works on spectacular display during the roll-out and run-up to the Iraq invasion, when Bush Regime propaganda was pervasive, and any contradictory information at all -- and any protest against the looming catastrophe of the Iraq invasion -- was simply "disappeared," much like the successful disappearance of the protests at the Bush installation. The ruling faction and its war-loving propagandists essentially blanketed every information outlet with blizzards of falsehoods, fabrications, and lies and asserted them as "what everyone knows." A Global Truth. Any contradiction whatever, and any protest, was made to go away. They simply were not allowed to be (widely) considered. They were, of course, considered on the fringes, but only there.

Another aspect of the pervasiveness of propaganda during that period was the largely successful effort by the Busheviks to control opposition and determine what was and what was not "appropriate" opposition, where and when it could be expressed, by whom, and under what conditions. The caged "free speech zones" for the fringe opposition was one aspect. But more importantly, the Busheviks actively carried out a campaign to discourage (and even, in the case of Scott Ritter among others, prevent) the mainstream expression of dissent about the Iraq invasion and occupation especially by people who knew the truth.

The Truth was intolerable and had to be suppressed. It was suppressed in the mainstream, though how much of that suppression was "voluntary" remains somewhat mysterious, given that the mainstream mass media has long been, for all intents and purposes, an arm and branch of the Government -- or at least of a faction thereof.

Among the suppressive techniques successfully employed was endless mockery and derision of anyone who questioned or challenged the propaganda. One popular technique was for Bush officials to declare they ignored questions and challenges of "that kind." Or that they "didn't know" who was questioning them, and so would not respond. Another was declaring, usually falsely, that dissenters and opponents numbered only a few malcontents and bitter-enders. Another was misstating and misrepresenting the evidence and arguments presented by dissenters and opponents. There were still other tactics: implying "political" motives to dissenters and opponents as their sole reason for objecting to the course of events leading to the Iraq invasion and occupation. Falsely accusing dissenters and opponents of being 1) paid by Saddam to oppose the invasion; 2) falsely accusing dissenters and opponents of supporting dictators in general; 3) falsely accusing dissenters and opponents of being Communists bent on the destruction of America, and so on, from a whole catalog of false accusations.

These propaganda techniques for suppressing dissent and opposition are successful -- at least temporarily -- because most people simply have no ability, or in many cases, inclination, to find the facts and the truth on their own. It's so much easier to believe what one is told, and as importantly, to disbelieve what one is told by "taboo" sources. Every successful propagandist, no matter what side of the political and social spectrum they are on, understands that.

Repetition is a key to propagandists' success. Repeated lies become the Truth; and it works. For a while.

These techniques and many more are still being employed relentlessly, by Rightist Reactionaries in office (spend some time listening to Congressional Republicans... or don't), by the White House and its many flacks (and the surprisingly extensive media propaganda support they receive), by television and radio personalities, particularly on the right, but sometimes on the purported "left" as well (try listening carefully to Randi Rhodes sometime ...yeek!) and extensively by bloggers, right, left, center, libertarian and counter-libertarian.

There is no escaping the pervasiveness of propaganda in the American political and social context today. It's everywhere, and practically everyone with a public platform employs it. Almost none admit it. Propaganda is the New Normal.

That's what happens when a whole society falls down the Rabbit Hole. At bottom there is a cacophony of chaotic voices all screaming Their Truth as the Only One, demanding that you accept their Only Truth or "off with your head!" But as the Cheshire Cat noted to Alice, they're all mad.


But the paradox is that at the bottom of the Rabbit Hole, Fact is Opinion, Truth is False, Sanity is Absurd, Ignorance is Strength, and everything is Arbitrary. And despite all efforts to bring reason and rationality to the fore, in the Madhouse, Madness rules.

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