Propaganda proceeds by psychological manipulations, character modifications, by creation of stereotypes useful when the time comes – The two great routes that this sub-propaganda takes are the conditioned reflex and the myth. Jacques Ellul – Propaganda
Back in the early 90’s, before most people were converted to anything called the Internet, just after the Soviet Union finally collapsed, I noticed that a very high percentage of Americans hardly even noticed the end of the Cold War. And except for new European tourist possibilities the reality of an end to this monumental ideological struggle barely impinged upon the waking consciousness of the majority of US citizens. There were no bells ringing. People did not dance in the streets. In 1989 we did watch on television as Berliners danced on the Wall, but after the 1991 coup in Soviet Russia, which spelled the end of the very real Cold War epoch, people generally hunkered down and went about their business. Why? (And what about China, Cuba and North Korea?)
I quickly came to realize that most folks in North America had already found a new enemy and a new war to fight: What we now call the Culture Wars. Interestingly enough, at the time, the mainstream pundits in newspapers and on television even disparaged the term as Conservative Propaganda. I seriously doubt many folks do anymore. If the last election proves anything, it certainly reveals the radically divergent viewpoints that have festered since then.
Back in the early 1990’s a thought came to me as I walked through Soho in New York City one afternoon. I realized that we had entered a new troubling realm. That, as we had increasingly come under the influence of Propaganda as our window to the world, we had become more divided than ever. More ominously it was inevitable that, following Jacques Ellul’s logic, in the future PROPAGANDA, in a very real sense, WOULD BE THE WAR. In other words that war would be take place in and for our minds first and foremost. This warfare might lead eventually to real war, but long before that there would be mental and emotional battles causing deep psychic damage amongst vast swathes of the populace. Sadly that is exactly where we are today. We are in the midst of the Propaganda War. And it is vicious, ugly and irrational on all sides. It is chaotic, noisy, infesting the mind with arguments and hatreds, with deprecations and scorn, with fear and neurosis. The chaos of the mosaic wall of cultural noise has become deafening and is transforming itself into something lethal. And we are all wrapped up in it.
And apart from all of the obvious clutter, and in even more insidious ways, it has become far too commonplace for each of us to give into the fire hydrant flow of Propaganda blasting from today’s polarized ‘news’ sites straight into the open mouth of social media. It is a gusher so intense that people simply react without even a pretense of concern for something as obvious as facts, fairness or logic. And I do mean all of us (no one is excluded here). I feel it within myself. Folks are hysterical about politics these days. It reminds me of nothing less than Weimar Germany. The dark fluctuations between extreme Left and Right. People jump straightway from event to demonization without a second’s notice. The filters for deliberation seem to have vanished altogether. The time it takes to process anything seems to take as long as it takes to type this sentence down and make a snarky comment.
But here is the truth. All of these people we demonize are still human beings: Trump is a human being, though he often acts as a caricature. Neo-Nazis are still human beings, repugnant as their ideologies are. Social Justice Warriors are still human beings, though they seem to have gone out of their way to insist that any traditional notion of humanity is obsolete. Black Lives Matter are human beings even though the perpetually play the victim role while snarling at those who don’t understand. Muslim terrorists are still human beings no matter how many lives fall under their rage. Antifa are human beings though they openly evoke a serious variation on Communist ideology and perpetrate hatred on those who they say are haters. (And what does the word hate mean anymore? When if you merely dislike a Marvel movie you can be considered a Marvel ‘hater’.) Everyone you disagree with and find to be useless and vile are still human beings, and deserve to be treated with humanity and compassion no matter who they are and what they believe. But as Jacques Ellul said in his book Propaganda: ‘Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.’
I have been monitoring these things much more seriously in the last year and the words Civil War have started to appear more and more on both Left and Right wing sources. Wait a minute let me stop and say that again. Civil War… Do you have any idea what that means? Can you see the piles of corpses and smoking ruins? Do you realize what the body count was from the last Civil War? Does your political correctness or mockery demand we feed Moloch with our children? Or adults? Our future? In order to create the world you imagine?
And the Middle which held things together has become scarce indeed. As the generations of World War 2 remembering souls shuffle off the stage forever, that is folks who dealt with actual Fascists and Communists, we have replaced them with American citizens with no real grasp of history. Even the most educated among us are quite thin in historical understanding. To call Trump a Fascist is to have no understanding of what Fascism truly is. This is not to praise Trump. Populism and Fascism are two very different things. This is obviously a low point in American history. There are indeed elements on the extreme Right that are metastasizing. Does it need to be repeated over and over that not everyone who is right wing or voted for Trump can be tarred with the vitriol spewing from the Left and their general lock on the media. There is bile enough on both sides to go around. And most of it is spread by means of social media in one form or another. I don’t even trust my good friends when they give in to the heat of this Propaganda moment.
One of the scariest experiences I had in the last year occurred when I watch one of the presidential debates through YouTube. Now all of the media live-streaming this ‘event’ had comment columns, which whizzed by insanely, making the notion of commentary a ersatz farce merely due to the blinding speed of it before one could actually attempt to read the messages scrawled on what essentially has become the bathroom walls of our culture. That same speed-induced vertigo is evidenced when an author or YouTuber conducts a LIVE Feed. You see the well meaning host trying valiantly to catch up even to reading the hundreds or thousands of comments. Comment is reduced to hand waving or Sharpie scrawls.
But the dire nature of the problem smashes you in the face with a sledge hammer when you take a moment to read the comments on a political forum. It’s strange we live in times where the mantra has for far too long been ‘Be positive!’ And it is my observation that this childish slogan has produced its exact contrary opposite. It has created a violent beast. And that is America 2017. A frightened ill-informed populace of citizens who no longer have the character to weigh issues, to delay judgement until the facts are in, to measure events against history. And I mean the leaders as well as the voters. It’s as if the Cold War, World War 2, the Civil War, and American Revolution had never occurred. One sees people carrying torches in emulation of Triumph of the Will, or another group insanely chanting ‘Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!’ rather than allow a centrist speaker to talk, one sees lesbians castigated for refusing to consider romance with trans ‘women’, light skinned black folk sidelined for the color of their skin by darker hued more politically charged comrades, and that word (!) ‘Comrade’ is coming back into Left wing fashion, as if the bodies of 100 million people hadn’t already been slaughtered to the cause of perfect identical equality. And I mentioned earlier the rise of antisemitism on both the Right and the Left. All in all we are seeing the forces dehumanization everywhere… and that is should freeze the blood of anyone truly conversant in history or actual politics. (But how can you see people as human beings if most of your contacts are made online?)
Expand this to full page. Then watch the comment scroll here if you dare.
And the comments? They scrolled by like the droolings of hell. From Alt-Right Kekistani mockery to Left wing crybullies. To read them as an outsider, as someone who lives in the real world, was to peek into the pathological heart of America and our 21st Century heart of darkness. There was no entrance of human language into this maelstrom of political psychosis. To write anything was to indulge in the fantasy of that the Internet has allowed one’s words to speak meaningfully into this chaos of visual and aural noise. The only thing one could say is to paraphrase Jeremiah, later quoted in the book of Revelation, where we are instructed concerning the nightmare city of Babylon to “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues.” Come out of cyberspace! Retain your humanity. Stop living in this virtual lie. Flee the political Propaganda boiling on all sides and shared by your ‘friends’. Remember your human neighbors, left and right. Use the computer with great skepticism, but live offline. Because if we don’t then the vitriol of minds poisoned in this Propaganda War will spill, as it already has, onto the streets. If you stare into your palms long enough you will see this. And it will rivet you to the spot. And you will have no answer but more Propaganda. Come! Live out here with those of us that strive to retain the physical world. Those who attempt the difficult task of caring for humanity, even those we completely disagree with.
(But wait Byrne! I hear a possible Christian friend saying. I know you’re a Christian. Doesn’t Christ have the answer? Oh yeah. I forgot. Much as I hate to say it, we Christians, likewise, have simply colluded in this whole process just like anyone else. Don’t believe me? Come back next time… Well on second thought… maybe you shouldn’t. It’s not going to be pretty.)
(Now I have to get off line again. I’ve already spent too much time typing away in the virtual dark.)
September 20, 2017 | Categories: Alt-Right, Antifa, Antisemitism, Berlin, Berlin Wall, Charlottesville, Christian Propaganda, Cold War, Computers, Fascism, Gulag Archipelago, Jacques Ellul, National Socialism, Nazis, Politics, Presidential Debates 2016, Propaganda, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Propagandes, Social Media, Social Networking, Soviet Union, technology, The Anadrome, Trump, United States History | Tags: communication, Communism, Fascism, History, Jacques Ellul, Love, Politics, Propaganda, rage, Social Networking, technology, USA | 5 Comments
Social Media and Horizontal Propaganda: A Lecture
A little Social Media Propaganda for you.
Following on from the last 21st Century Propaganda essay, ‘Propaganda and Social Media’, I wanted to add a lecture that I gave at L’Abri Fellowship in Huémoz, Switzerland, back in February of 2016: Social Media and Horizontal Propaganda. This is a video version of a lecture that did NOT have visuals with it. But included in this video is a full array of propaganda posters.
If you live online I hope this raises questions for you. It’s about an hour and a half. So maybe download it and listen to it later. And do please let me know what you think.
September 17, 2017 | Categories: Alt-Right, Christian Propaganda, Communism, Computers, Facebook, Jacques Ellul, L'Abri, Media, Myspace, National Socialism, Nazis, Propaganda, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Propagandes, Smartphone, Social Media, Social Networking, The Anadrome | Tags: Christianity, communication, Communism, Jacques Ellul, Nazis, Politics, Propaganda, Social Networking, technology | 1 Comment
Again I want to emphasize that the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of a technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world. – Jacques Ellul
People have often reacted in a utopian manner as new technologies burst onto the scene. The automobile promised the endless joys of travel, and without having to feed a horse! We now know that the car and the highway are not anything resembling unmixed blessings. Traffic, commuting nightmares, highway fatalities, pollution, the entire social fabric of many communities being completely enveloped by the spaces created for the automobile. It would be easy to argue (and to win) that the car is one the greatest devil’s bargains of history. As Paul Virilio has pointed out: When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.
And thus the utopian hopes of the internet as being a mode of open communication and knowledge, have now given way to the realities of commercial control, spam, invasion of privacy, trolling, endless payments, and most sinisterly, the constant monitoring of our activity below the horizon of our intended purposes. Visit a clothing website and then see an ad for the same product you just searched for on your Facebook page. Pay for an item in another country and have your bank shut down your card through their fraud detection services. (Both of these things have happened to me.)
Not many years ago people were naïvely and insanely lauding the glories of social media as though there could be no problems attached with same. I’m imagining the reader will already be aware many instances of issues related to cyberbullying, texting nightmares, even Facebook depression, when you see your friends supposedly wonderful lives of headlines and captions and realize that your own life isn’t like that. Recently I have been made more aware of the neurotic result of connecting one’s Facebook notifications to your smartphone, as it has negatively impacted at least one friendship. But I’d like to discuss the growing dilemma of social media as perhaps the best platform for spreading Propaganda that has ever existed.
A word before I proceed: Jacques Ellul discusses two directions of Propaganda, the Vertical, what is often top down messaging, and the Horizontal, what we pass along to each other. Vertical Propaganda is what we are more familiar with; government statements, corporate slogans, public health warnings, political campaigns, etc. But I would say in these times Horizontal Propaganda is what has the biggest effect upon us. Horizontal Propaganda effects us much like the old illustration of crabs in a bucket. No one crab is allowed to crawl out because the other crabs hold the individual down when it tries to escape. Likewise how easy it is to live within the walls of one’s favored ideology without being allowed to raise serious questions about those same ideological presuppositions.
Now you may not notice this issue much if all of your ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ are in the same air bubble you are. That is you don’t see the ‘meme wars’, because to you all of those snide jokey little images with words imbedded in them are just humorous little moments crushing the opposition. Just press ‘Like’ and LOL along with the flow of friends all the while feeling superior to the idiots out there who voted for ‘them’, or ‘him’, or ‘her’. Or maybe suddenly you’ve discovered a cause? Here are a few causes that suddenly seemed to overshadow the humanity of various friends of mine: PETA, Gun Rights, Gun Control, Pro-Life, Gay Marriage, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Personally I’ve got to tell you this: If anything starts to infest my Facebook page I immediately ‘unfollow’ you. I keep you around as distant background noise, but until I see evidence of genuine human sharing I don’t need the clever little film with the ironic music tearing down yet one more political figure. And I feel exactly the same way about online game invitations, quizzes and surveys (really these are just clickbait sites for monitoring your cookies), product recommendations, jokey sites (often more clickbait with motives other than spreading humor) etc. and again I repeat ad nauseum.
These ‘shares’ eats into our human time as we swat away the technological flies. And then there is that most egregious symbol, the changing of your profile avatar image to coincide with some recent political event. Suddenly your photo is rainbow tinted or painted with the French flag or an anti-abortion campaign. And here’s what I know… These people usually have little direct connection to these things, they are merely ‘virtue signaling’. In the French case I’m pretty sure I had far, far more direct connections to Paris or France than 99.9% of all of the folks that posted French flags after the terrorist bombings. And does anyone even think about France anymore? (I do). Or are we now just thinking about Trump and Charlottesville, Virgina? Or have we moved on to hurricane victims? Or maybe Muslims in Myanmar? Or wherever we are when you finally read this?
In the wake of the Charlottesville fracas I’ve been astounded at how quickly people have simply reacted. And immediate unfiltered thoughtless reaction is the key to this new ‘public’ life of ours. The idea of trying to understand the event seems to be an impossibility. For too many people there can only be one version of the event. And yet I’m pretty sure that if we sat down together as human beings I could show anyone enough raw feeds, without interpretation of the event, to convince you that this was not a simple narrative. And yet the frightening thing is that to ask any questions at all about the dominant interpretation of the event is to instantly invite a witch hunt of, again, immediate reaction without the benefit of research or meditation. We create precisely what we fear because we push those with differing opinions away into extremes. I am convinced that many folks today are considering white nationalists ideas who would never have done so if the extreme left hadn’t been allowed to dominate the interpretation with their own version of identity politics.
The sad thing is this: I had a friend, not too close, but with whom I once had meaningful real world conversations years back. This person mentioned something in a post that seemed to invite reflection and comment. I commented in a mildly questioning manner of the dominant ideology. I was ‘unfriended’ instantly. Since then I have learned that it is not important to post political topics at the expense of human friendship. This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. I do. I most certainly do. I can also guarantee that they do not tick off neatly on the right or left side of the page. I have tried to be thoughtful. (And sometimes I am so tempted to reply to some ill considered idea posted somewhere and add to the Propaganda morass, but my convictions won’t let me.) It could be argued that my friend was not a good friend and, well, good riddance. Or it could be said that she was in the grip of ideological Propaganda as many others are in these days. Should I reject them out of hand? Or should I attempt to show them in some insignificant way what it means to be human. I choose the latter. But I am under no illusion about these folks. They are under the spell of something intractable, fearsome and unforgiving. Yet I still believe in compassion, courage and forgiveness.
So where are we now? That will be the subject of my next essay. Come back again. You probably won’t want to know what I need to say. Nevertheless, like a car crash on the side of the highway, you will have to look and ponder.
September 12, 2017 | Categories: Alt-Right, Alternative Culture, Charlottesville, Christian Propaganda, Commercial Logos, Communism, Computers, Facebook, Jacques Ellul, National Socialism, Paul Virilio, Propaganda, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Propagandes, Social Media, Social Networking, Television, The Anadrome | Tags: Christianity, communication, Jacques Ellul, Paul Virilio, Propaganda, Social Media, Social Networking, technology | 4 Comments
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? –
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
Besides being the all-encircling communication finding us alone in the mass and giving us essentially what we want, nay need, to hear, while moving us into its own direction, Propaganda must always contain an Us vs. Them. This is a salient feature. That is there must always be an enemy of some sort to define ourselves against. So if you are a vegan it is the meat industry. If you are an anarchist you have the state. If you are a feminist you have the patriarchy. If you are a right wing Christian you have the liberal government. Etc. Etc. Now the complexities here go far beyond one Us versus one Them. At any given point America can be suspicious of Russia, China or the Islamic Jihadists. And calling someone else a Nazi or a Fascist is always useful in dehumanizing the opposition. It’s always been interesting to me that the insult Communist doesn’t have the same transgressive weight, though it should. The Communist death toll of the Soviet Union and China alone is perhaps upwards much higher than 50 million, not including war deaths. Yet again that strangely silent condemnation too is a result of the Us and Them of Propaganda.
It is commonplace now to admit that we have arrived at a time of extreme polarities. And likewise it is commonplace to blame Them for doing this to Us, when we ourselves, whomever we are, have a big stake in the proceedings. And the new 21st Century forces of Propaganda have upped the ante through the internet and social media. The new Propaganda infests our thinking in a way Orwell couldn’t have imagined. People live lives peaceably for the most part. Then a news event from thousands of miles away will suddenly call out to us, will rattle the organs of comment, or dissent. Within a couple of hours the spin will be at tornado strength. Memes and articles will be shared, wrong word, ‘share’ sounds far too friendly, disseminated, yes much better, disseminated on a multitude of social media accounts. And yet most of this, except for those few people actually touched by the event physically, is just pixels on a screen. They come and go everyday. We get little rest. Our nerves are frayed. And yet we know without a doubt who the enemy is. It is one of those clusters of digital information. Because in daily life we don’t actually see the other as the demon we encounter online. But Propaganda creates the force behind the paranoia of Us and Them.
Now obviously if you go back into history a Them have always existed for an Us. It’s hard to avoid. It’s not just the other race, it used to be the people in the next valley who made terrible cheese. The Romans had the Barbarians and the Christians. The Medieval Church had the Moslems and the Heretics. Islam had the Infidels. Enlightenment Progressives had the Superstitious and the Ignorant. The Communist had the Bourgeois Capitalists. The Nazis had the Jews. The Americans had the Soviets. The Chinese had the Americans, then the Russians. The Jews have the Arabs. The Fundamentalists have the Secular Government. The New Atheists have the Religious. The Alt-Right has the SJWs. Antifa has the Alt-Right. And it goes on forever. And the situation is completely inflamed. Though fewer people are dying in wars and diseases than at any point in recent history. The level of complete fear in the early 21st Century is off the charts.
How did we get here?
It was during the prelude to World War 2 that the propaganda machines revved up with an excruciating din. Nazi Germany set the bar high with a total encirclement of the German people. But Soviet Russia was not too far behind in the winner take all sweepstakes. America was still fairly provincial at this point. Purposely living behind its oceanic moat. There was however a fair amount of New Deal FDR propaganda during this era. Then the war came. And not only did the countries of the world have to get on the ground to fight but with the technologies of radio, newspapers, even comic books, the propaganda war had to be engaged as well. Even cigarettes were rebranded and sent into war. Ever heard of Lucky Strike Green? And so war propaganda encircled the people of many countries, especially the United States.
When the war was over you’d think the propaganda war would have ended too. But the war, as in all wars, did not end neatly. And so began the Cold War, which was first and foremost a propaganda war. It was as though someone lost the key that had accelerated the Propaganda Machine. Whether it be the Gulags or the McCarthy anti-communist hearings, propaganda remained at fever pitch, dividing Us from Them. The space race, the nuclear arms race, proxy wars, continued the east/west war. In America the fearful conservative forces were so strong that for many years no one would dare openly identify as left leaning. But the tactics had been too ham handed, too transparent. And then everything changed.
By the late Sixties a generation of youth no longer afraid of the American propaganda arose. And they rebelled. Now on the left this was seen as a glorious moment of liberation. Finally people could say and do whatever they wanted. By the time of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation there was a sense of leftish superiority that spread throughout the media. New ideologies came to overturn not only the enforced Americanism but soon it would call into question much of the bedrock of Western Civilization. It is almost impossible to imagine something like Lord Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization being produced on PBS or the BBC today. Second wave Feminism, Queer Theory, Deconstruction, Identity Politics would eventually call into question the very soul of all that had been a part of European and Western history. And the new propaganda would prove to be just as encircling as any other. Unless you happened to be a member of one of those institutions still connected with the historic past, and especially if you were a conservative Protestant Christian.
And so by the late 1970’s the Evangelical Christians, too, had joined the ranks of the propagandized. Not that they lobbied for anything resembling traditional Christianity. With their Christian music, movies and television they again appeared by the mid-80’s to be one more bizarre propaganda bloc. Eventually the left and right in America would be heavily influenced by the Sixties Era radicalism and the 80’s Era conservatism. And so insanely loud did these culture wars become that by the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Soviet Union, not many Americans actually noticed. They’d actually found a new enemy… each other. I remember walking through New York City with a Russian friend, Sergei, during the 1991 coup that ended the Communist Era. We had many intense discussions about what it meant. Most of the New Yorkers I bumped into during that moment hardly even knew what was going on. The Cold War was already so over. But the roots of today’s polarization were coming along quite fine: Thank you very much.
In the 90’s conspiracy theories became the order of the day. Some unseen force was always responsible for our problems. The Oppressors, the Patriarchy, the Fundamentalists, the Liberals, the Gays, and eventually more and more cryptic names began to appear: the Freemasons, the Bilderberg Group, the Neo-Nazis, and of course the Illuminati. Interestingly enough in a book called The Fifty Greatest Conspiracies of All Time: History’s Biggest Mysteries, Coverups, and Cabals, the authors take great pains to explain in the forward to the book that they wouldn’t give credence to Jewish conspiracy notions, since for some odd reason they felt that somehow they weren’t legitimate, unlike, say, Illuminati or David Ickes reptilian theories. By now those folks have had to eat steaming casseroles of baked crow. Antisemitic notions and conspiracies have since returned with a vengeance infiltrating both the left and the right.
And in the 21st Century Propaganda continued to spew forth as terrorism grew to unbelievable proportions requiring much more propaganda just to manage the chaos. And into this reality void stepped social media…
Come back next time if you dare. I’m bringing this down to your digital doorstep.
July 10, 2017 | Categories: Alt-Right, Antifa, Antisemitism, Christian History, Christian Music, Christian Propaganda, Communism, Conspiracy Theories, Gulag Archipelago, Holocaust, Illuminati, Jews, National Socialism, Nazis, Politics, Postmodernism, Propaganda, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Propagandes, Red Scare, Russia, Solzhenitsyn, Soviet Union, The Anadrome | Tags: Alt-Right, Antifa, Christianity, communication, Conspiracies, History, Jacques Ellul, Politics, Propaganda, rage, Social Networking, Solzhentisyn, USA | 8 Comments