Sunday, October 29, 2017

Propaganda Near and Far

History is always socially constructed, with its facts, narratives, and implied value orientations contingent upon the the orator's perspective.

The dominant or official historical narrative tends to reflect the perspective of those who control decision-making in the society. But there are always alternative historical narratives, which have the capacity to circulate widely and mobilize individuals into communities who share suspicion of official chronologies, "facts," and values.

The materialities of the world we inhabit - the physical, biological, and social-structural environments - also signify positively or negatively in relation to our narrations, reinforcing or challenging narrative codings.

For example, the narrative of technological utopianism is losing ground as the material wreckage of the twentieth century signifies negation of utopian promise:
Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers . The Guardian, 
Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say
Even the materiality of human bodies signifies negation of the prospect of technology-driven human evolution as sperm counts plummet and sperm quality degrades:
Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino-Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Irina Mindlis, Rachel Pinotti, and Shanna H. Swan (2017). Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update, pp. 1–14, 2017. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx022
Fading meta-narratives, however, die hard.

Nuclear security is the perfect case example of a fading but entrenched dominant narrative as problems of spent fuel storage, radioactive contamination, catastrophic accidents, and endless costs belie the mid-twentieth century promise of endless energy too cheap to meter. The rising spectacle of nuclear war demonstrates the nuclear security's narrative utter psychotic detachment from the materialities of the world upon which we depend.

However, dominant narratives, once engineered, are difficult to displace because they are materialized in institutional missions, expertise, and professional practices.

Propaganda is an-often deployed strategy aimed at remedying a collapsing dominant narrative.

Propaganda's intention is deception, for the purposes of control. To deceive means to actively mislead, to resort to falsehoods (Merriam-Webster).

Deception can be deployed for many reasons but with propaganda the intention of deception is control.

Propaganda is actually a sign of a failing meta-narrative, because it must blatantly deny or re-construct widely or expert agreed-upon social facts.

Propaganda deploys multiple strategies in campaigns to deceive for the purposes of control, including among them simple repitition of information whose truth-value is being strategically engineered, as explained here by the BBC:
Tom Stafford (26 October 2016 ). How liars create the ‘illusion of truth’ The BBC,

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the "illusion of truth" effect. Here's how a typical experiment on the effect works: participants rate how true trivia items are, things like "A prune is a dried plum". Sometimes these items are true (like that one), but sometimes participants see a parallel version which isn't true (something like "A date is a dried plum").

After a break – of minutes or even weeks – the participants do the procedure again, but this time some of the items they rate are new, and some they saw before in the first phase. The key finding is that people tend to rate items they've seen before as more likely to be true, regardless of whether they are true or not, and seemingly for the sole reason that they are more familiar.
Propagandists always share a certainty in their narrations that rely on the marginalization and/or de-valuation of alternative narrations.

The repetition of known falsehoods is most efficacious when resistant narratives are fractured divisively and when their circulations are limited  and/or fail to take hold.

I have watched propaganda operate to produce dominant narrations of events and phenomena that are international, national, and local in their dissemination.

Typically, deceptions are disclosed in oppositional narrations, but the shift in truth regime can take decades, sometimes longer.

There is a visceral reaction experienced by those who recognize propaganda, derived from their understanding that although the full truth (alethia) of a phenomenon is unknowable, alternative narratives far better align with consensual understandings and institutionalized social facts.

The visceral reaction is most acute when the propaganda is both toxic, implicitly degrading the dignity and viability of forms of life, and when propagandists monopolize control over decision-making and/or resources.

I am sick with the propaganda. I am sick that so much of this propaganda is toxic in nature, DE-valuing life in aim or effect. I am sick that too many decision makers near and far are the most invested propagandists.


  1. There is a lot of propaganda. The worse is the nuclear propaganda. This is from a pronuclear propagandist on twitter. He uses the old line that fear of radiation kills and hurts more people than radionuclides or radiation does. Maybe thats why trump and Pruitt raised limits for allowable radiation in water. They really believe this.
    Oct 27
    Fear and ignorance of radiation kills far more people than radiation itself. Educate yourself. #fukushima
    View details ·

  2. From

    Donald Trump as the Bully-in Chief: Weaponizing the politics of Humiliation


    Photo by Matt Johnson | CC BY 2.0

    "Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a scourge of oppressive stupidity, manufactured deceptions, a corrupt political system, and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making; it also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life, and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship. Galvanizing his base of true-believers in post-election demonstrations, the world is witnessing how Trump’s history of unabashed racism and politics of hate is transformed into a spectacle of fear, divisions, and disinformation.  Under President Trump, the plague of mid-20thcentury authoritarianism has returned not only in the menacing spectacle of populist rallies, fear-mongering, unchecked bigotry, and humiliation, but also in an emboldened culture of war, militarization, and extreme violence that looms over society like a rising storm.

    The reality of Trump’s ascendency to the highest levels of power may be the most momentous development of the age because of its apocalyptic irrationality and the shock it has produced. People throughout the world are watching, pondering how such a dreadful event could have happened.  How have we arrived here? What forces have undermined education as a democratic public sphere making it incapable of producing the formative culture and critical citizens that could have prevented such a catastrophe from happening in an alleged democracy? We get a glimpse of this failure of civic culture, education, and civic literacy in the willingness and success of the Trump administration to empty language of any meaning while reducing political rhetoric to the service of humiliating taunts and a discourse of bigotry and hatred.  This is more than a politics of theatrical diversion, it is a rhetorical practice that constitutes a flight from historical memory, ethics, justice, and social responsibility.  Under such circumstances and with too little opposition, the United States government has taken on the workings of a disimagination machine, characterized by an utter disregard for the truth, and often accompanied, as in Trump’s case, by “primitive schoolyard taunts and threats.”  In this instance, Orwell’s “Ignorance is Strength” materializes in the Trump administration’s weaponized attempt not only to rewrite history, but also to obliterate it. What we are witnessing is not simply a political project but also a reworking of the very meaning of education both as an institution and as a broader cultural force.

    Trump along with Fox News, Breitbart, and other right-wing cultural apparatuses, echoes one of totalitarianism’s most revered notions, one which pushes the notion that truth is a liability and ignorance a virtue. "


    "Environmental Progress" and Michael Shellenberger spreading nuclear lies and quack science.


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