Sunday, May 14, 2017

Propaganda As We Like It

Quartz, another new online media outlet that's making a go of it, in the first installment of a series on propaganda, offers a pretty good explanation of how we arrived at this Trump-Brexit-Alternative-Facts world we now live in. (Gideon Lichfield's article starts just below the introduction to the series and it's not that long of an article.)

Lichfield draws on sources like Aldous Huxley's classic Brave New World and the work of the contemporary cognitive linguist George Lakoff to explain why these weird things are happening, and why conservatism is consistently beating liberalism on the electoral battlefield. A lot of it, according to Lakoff, has to do with what liberals and conservatives tend to study in college:

"If you’re a conservative going into politics, there’s a good chance you’ll study cognitive science, that is, how people really think and how to market things by advertising. So they know people think using frames and metaphors and narratives and images and emotions and so on…
Now, if instead you are a progressive…you’ll study political science, law, public policy, economic theory and so on… What you’ll learn in those courses is what is called Enlightenment reason, from 1650, from Descartes. And here’s what that reasoning says:… [I]f we think logically and we all have the same reasoning, if you just tell people the facts, they should reason to the same correct conclusion. And that just isn’t true. And that keeps not being true, and liberals keep making the same mistake year after year after year."

You've no doubt noticed that many writers have been taking a stab at answering the question of "What happened?" Of how we arrived at this Trump-Brexit-Alternative-Facts world we now live in. The series introduction gives what I think is a pretty good short answer:

The standard answer is that many things had gone wrong. The global financial crisis. Jobs lost to globalization and automation. Widening inequality. Terrorist attacks. Refugees. And complacent, technocratic elites who spoke self-assuredly of growth and progress while failing to notice how many people saw little of either.

"Technocratic elites" includes mainstream Democrats, especially the type we have in New Mexico who never talk about the economic reality of the working class and never offer any legislation that would improve it, ever. Don't take my word for it. Go to their social media feeds and their senate and house web sites where you'll find nothing but mindless pablum that delights the hearts of the wealthy. On the state level my representatives don't even put out anything. Nothing. They have no web sites, they send out no newsletters, nothing. Unless you're a political insider or you made a concerted effort to find out, you'd never even know who they were.

Think about that, think about what your elected representative puts out, as you read Litchfield's article about propaganda. And keep in mind that in the end, its on us. If anyone can figure out how to reach the masses, it's us.


  1. Something I've noticed about George Lakoff, or rather about the Democrats / liberals / progressives he is trying to educate: Few of them are listening to him. They're still wrapped-up in that political and social science they studied in college and are ignoring what he is saying to them about cognitive science. I think they think they are too smart to be schooled, they are still cock-sure that they are right about Enlightenment-Reason being the way to go. They're also, in many cases, not really interested in changing anything substantially about our political / economic system. Just like the clowns who are representing you in Santa Fe and Washington DC. They don't really want to fight the class war, at least not on OUR side of it.

  2. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with the theories of Mr. Lakoff though The Nation has a number of articles of late on the mind set of the working as well as the technocratic class. My gut feeling is that Dr. Goebbels perfected the application of these theories many years ago...

  3. You're right, TroutBirder. Goebbels understood that people are driven by emotion, not rational thought. If you've ever watched the cable TV series "Mad Men" (about Madison avenue advertising firms), you can see that this same understanding of human behavior has been driving marketing and advertising in the USA since at least as far back as the 1950s. Capitalists have been using it to sell everything from toothpaste to presidential candidates since before most of us were born. We've been saturated with corporate propaganda since early childhood.