Voices from the Occupation
Propaganda is discussed in classrooms across the UK in the context of fascist or totalitarian regimes in Germany and Russia, as a historical phenomenon. Taught mainly in History (Nazi and USSR), and English Literature (1984, Brave New World). The critical point, being it was past tense and bad. But consider everything said or written is propaganda, and what makes it ‘bad’ is when there is not an equal share of voice and access to propaganda to allow the ideological debate necessary to balance ideological power. Today’s article takes a look at how propaganda is monopolised across our media and political systems today, hidden in plain view, and how to think your way out of these mechanisms of control.
To be clear, this article is propaganda. Those Gandhi quotes? Propaganda. The Noam Chomsky books, the Naomi Klein’s, the Michael Moore’s, the Fela Kuti’s…all propagandists. We can’t help it, it’s just us expressing who we are, the way we want ourselves, the community, our planet to be. Buy this, think that, do something else. That’s all fine. That’s humanity. That’s how teams are formed and ideas manifested in reality. However, clusters of wealth and power dominating the messaging systems of the world, create a democratic deficit in the propaganda universe. This is how they do it.
The False Dilemma
One means of seemingly creating debate, while actually directing people straight to your intended outcome, is by creating a false dilemma. Essentially, the question itself presents a false dilemma by limiting the debate; using a deliberately arbitrary, assumptive context.
Some time ago, my wife undertook a diploma in Public Relations. A question was put to her: PR is perceived as propaganda – how can we challenge this perception? She considered and then rejected the question, answering: but it is. In this way, she rejected the false dilemma. The statement implicit in the question was the PR was not in fact propaganda, this perception needed to be challenged and it needed to be challenged because propaganda is bad and PR is good.
If we take a look at our social discourse at the moment, consider the number of false dilemmas in operation. Firstly, the question of torture. Writing for the Huffington Post recently, Sam Harris, an author, neuroscientist & philosopher wrote an article entitled In Defense of Torture. In it, he used the standard false dilemma used to lead people incontrovertibly towards advocating torture of terrorism suspects ‘in rare or extreme circumstances’. Essentially, you know there is a dirty bomb about to go off in a downtown, highly populated metropolitan area. You have one of the terrorists in your custody. He isn’t talking. Time is ticking by, every second closer to devastation of an almost unimaginable degree: would you use torture to make him talk, or let all those innocent people die for the sake of your principles? You will no doubt recognise this false dilemma, particularly if you are reading this in the United States. Why? Well, because it’s been splashed across prime time mainstream media debates for the last couple of years.
The dilemma makes several assumptions: 1) there IS a dirty bomb, 2) the person you have IS a terrorist, 3) using torture WILL produce the information required to stop the bomb. This rarely enters the debate. In fact, when people attempt to bring in these three factors they get shot down as ‘blue sky thinkers’, and accused of ‘not living in the real world’.
Despite most people acknowledging how flawed our intelligence processes are, the impact of racial profiling on the arrest and detention of people simply for fitting a profile and the fact that under torture (as demonstrated through history, from dunking witches in Salem, before and beyond) people will say pretty much anything to make the pain stop; inside the false dilemma, none of these issues matter.
Let’s take the false dilemma of our age. The deficit. In the current ‘austerity’ debate across Europe and the US, the story goes: we need to make these austerity cuts to public services. Make the cuts, or end up like Greece. There’s your choice, the Public, make these cuts or end up like Greece. So, the government kicks it off, and then the media parrots it back, reinforcing the dilemma. With that in mind, one would think that inside that debate, it would be clear that a Robin Hood tax, the closing down of corporate tax avoidance havens and loopholes, and so on would be most welcome. You would be wrong.
DoubleThink to DoubleSpeak
George Orwell’s novel about a dystopian future, 1984, created the concept of doublethink:
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.”
Through the latter half of the 20th century, this was developed into the idea of double speak, or the act of using language to conceal meaning. This happens in some cases to lessen the impact of a negative message: ‘downsizing’, or ‘reducing waste’ rather than firing people and cutting budgets. However, it can also be used in such a way as to say exactly the opposite of what one is actually doing. To redefine some unthinkable thing, as an honourable thing. To bring people with you on that journey by doing so.
In the case of austerity, the reason our pleas to spread the load of the burden fall on deaf ears, is because the purpose of this false dilemma is not to reduce the deficit, or to increase revenues for the state. It is part of an ideological tsunami, designed to sweep away costly public sector provision, in favour of reorienting economies, funnelling money from the public sector (most of us) into the private sector (less of us).
How on earth do you convince a population that their shared not for profit services, should be scrapped in favour of privately provided for profit ones? Hard job right? Not if you present a false dilemma so powerful, with a doublespeak so tenacious, that they choose it for themselves.
So, you hear things like this, from George Osborne, UK Chancellor in his 2011 Autumn Statement:
"Britain has lost ground in the world’s economy and needs to catch up. In the last decade, other nations have reduced their business tax rates, removed barriers to enterprise, improved education systems, reformed welfare and increased exports. Sadly the reverse has happened in Britain. We gambled on a debt-fuelled model of growth that failed. With the state now accounting for almost half of all income, we simply cannot to go on like this. Britain has to earn its way in the modern world. "
Now for my translation:
“Panic! We’re being left behind. Other places have reduced taxes on the corporations. They’ve all ‘removed barriers to enterprise’, like those pesky employment rights, decent wages, rights to collective bargaining through unions, sick pay, pensions, weekends, 37.5 hour working weeks….everyone else has got rid of that rubbish, just look at China! They’re growing, we’re shrinking. But no, you lot keep sticking to your guns while we shrink. Oh and you’re credit cards, loans, you sank the economy there too. So did that last government with their investing in all sorts of unproductive stuff like schools, hospitals, police. This has to stop! That money could be going on being the collateral for investment banks to take enormous risks on the stock markets, creating a false GDP position and enormous private profits! You need to suck it up, surrender to your serfdom and crack out those widgets people”
Finally, you need the agitators. The role of the agitators is to provide a whole string of support mechanisms to ‘prove’ the false dilemma.
Firstly, The Market. The Market, presented as an abstract independent arbiter of government prudence, is no such thing. The Market contains corporations, banks, and central banks which benefit from the outcomes of these decisions. They control the interest rates on bonds which the government has to buy to remain liquid, and so can turn the screw as required to back up the message: take a look at Italy and Spain this week.
Secondly, you have the credit ratings agencies. The same agencies that rated Lehman Brothers and AIG triple A (the highest possible credit rating) the very week they collapsed. The same agencies, paid by the corporations they rate, for their ratings. They come in and downgrade the credit ratings of countries NOT following the mantra of austerity. So Fitch, Standard & Poors, Moodys; team mates, not adversaries.
So, they make the false dilemma appear true, not only through its creation in the first instance, or the doublespeak, but by the use of agitators controlling the levers which generate impacts consistent with the dilemma.
What Does Freedom from this Look Like?
"Understand that all battles are waged on an unconscious level before they are begun on the conscious one, and this battle is no different. The power structure wishes us to believe that the only options available are those which they present to us, we know this is simply not true, and therefore we must redefine the terrain of this conflict, and clearly, it is a conflict of worldviews and agendas." - Teresa Stover
One way of interpreting the Occupy Movement, would be to consider it an en masse public repudiation of the false dilemma, the doublespeak and the agitators. A global statement to the governments, the financial services industry, the media: we are onto you.
The issue with this dilemma, and part of the reason it is so difficult for many people to acknowledge, is it undermines our entire world system. No piecemeal action or solution makes it go away. No single demand, nor string of demands comes close. You essentially find yourself in a position of treasonous thought. I don’t underestimate the leap of conception this is for people, the impact of it.
However, once made, you have found freedom. There is much debate about whether the Occupy Movement is revolution or evolution. I believe it to be both, in that it is the evolution OF revolution. There is a process underway with people effectively pulling the plug on the life support mechanism of the current world system. We are picking our propaganda; moving from mainstream corporate media, to independent media. We are creating our own propaganda; using social media to establish our own direct media operations – newspapers, blogs, livestream TV, films. We are enlisting thinkers, philosophers, lecturers, historians, economists to help us understand these things which until now we did not understand: fractional reserve banking, fiat currency, collateral debt obligations, capitalism, free trade agreements, the role of the central bank. We are then sharing that knowledge, creating awareness of the un-discussed machinery of the global capitalist system- a.k.a. the global system of free trade.
As we are doing this, we are rediscovering community. We are learning who our neighbours are, the neighbours in our street, our city, our country, our continent, our planet. We are remembering we live on a planet, with finite resources, which needs to be nourished, respected and protected. This experience is so compelling, we are leaving our warm homes to sleep in tents in the depths of winter. Other people are making it possible for us to do so, by donating their resources in support. Without fail, I can testify that crossing the threshold on this one is more than worth it. It is not only personally fulfilling, but I consider it the responsibility of our generation, the biggest one we are likely to face. To stop merely absorbing propaganda, and start to make our own. To create a world for the next generation worthy of inheriting.