Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On Propaganda

There are two kinds of propaganda - rational propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with the enlightened self-interest of those who make it and those to whom it is addressed, and non-rational propaganda that is not consonant with anybody's enlightened self-interest, but is dictated by, and appeals to, passion. Were the actions of individuals are concerned there are motives more exhalted than enlightened self-interest, but where collective action has to be taken in the fields of politics and economics, enlightened self-interest is probably the highest of effective motives. If politicians and their constituents always acted to promote their own or their country's long-range self-interest, this world would be an earthly paradise. As it is, they often act against their own interests, merely to gratify their least credible passions; the world, in consequence, is a place of misery. Propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with enlightened self-interest appeals to reason by means of logical arguements based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth. Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God and the most cynical kind of Realpolitik is treated as a matter of religious principle and patriotic duty.
- Aldous Huxley, "Propaganda in a Democratic Society"

This is why Senator Frist is so eager to get Democrats to vote on the motion to censure the President. He and other propagandists plan on making an emotional fear based appeal by spinning the issue as Democrats being weak on terror and exposing the country to danger. It is why Senator Frist and Bush defenders will say that Senator Feingold is opposed to fighting terrorism when in fact Senator Feingold is opposed to illegal spying on US citizens. And they do this with the confidence that the press will help to enable such vile deception.

This point about using emotional appeals to circumvent or prevent honest discussion was cleverly and concisely made by Stephen Colbert the other day during an interview with Arianna Huffington:

AH: "'Cut and run' is the ultimate in 'truthiness.' 'Cut and run' is just a catchphrase that stops people from thinking."

SC: "Exactly! We want them to feel. It doesn't matter what your reasons are; it feels like you're betraying America."

As I have pointed out on previous occasions (see here, here, and here) this tactic is dangerous and should be cause for alarm. This is why I keep bringing up that Herman Goering quote. It is profoundly disturbing to realize that one of the chief political strategies employed today by the Republican party was at one time the primary modus operandi of the Nazis.

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