Swimming Against the Stream

Posts tagged “Reading

Announcing The Anadromist

      Greetings from Tbilisi Georgia! I would like to announce that I have just started a YouTube channel directly related to the content on this site. This is my response to the polarization and turmoil of the times. I want to do through speaking what I have attempted to do here through writing, to encourage considerate and serious thinking about the times we inhabit rather than than travel down the obvious roads of discourse which have become so scabrous. And so I have launched what is in fact my second YouTube channel called The Anadromist, someone who swims against the stream.

A week ago I uploaded this short invitation, which is a good place to start.. It’s only three minutes long. Give it a watch…

Then once you’ve done that you can go on to the introduction, which is about 15 minutes long. And if you like the concept please do subscribe. I’ve decided to make The Anadromous Life in its different versions a going concern. In my new life in Tbilisi Georgia I find I need to stay connected with the rest of the world. And I also need to see if this will provide some extra resources to keep me afloat down the road. So subscribing to the Anadromist channel is important to me. I have a notion that all of the ideas I’ve been sitting on for years might have some purpose out there in the world. We’ll see. And if you are already following me here it can’t hurt to follow me there as well.

Here’s the introduction where I describe my reasons for starting this venture. I’m not sure how long I can keep it going. But I’m enthused to make these videos and to engage in a conversation with others through YouTube. I have several more episodes already in the can. There shouldn’t be any shortage of topics.

I’ve enjoyed myself coming up with ways to make my ‘talking head’ more interesting. And I have taken my editing skills and put them to work inventing new imagery. Now the big question is how much material can I borrow before I start getting copyright notices?

And don’t worry I will continue writing here and at Gravity From Above. I have several essays that should find their way to the page very soon. Also I will continue using my current channel The Anadromous Life for documenting puppetry, music, dance and other events. So if you want you can join up there too. Watch this one if you haven’t discovered my first channel. This is an extremely short little title piece I made for the site. But click on the channel and explore my content. I don’t do anything to go out of style.

Thanks for being part of this experiment that I’ve been running since 2010. Over 200,000 views have been accumulated over 80,000 individuals have passed through the site. Not bad considering I hardly advertise at all.

If you want to support this work there is PayPal. Or you can just pass the essays along and the videos.

Meanwhile I need to get some sleep here in Tbilisi.

Stay tuned much more is coming.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

12/5/2019

 


21st Century Propaganda #9: Can You Trust Anyone?

Damned Kids
Whom can we trust?      (Image The Village of the Damned.)

So here we are. Propaganda has taken over most of our communications. An atrocious incident in New Zealand suddenly escalates the psychic war. The Left shrieks that this is the fault of everyone not aligned with them. The Right digs in pugnaciously. And no doubt there will be more events of a similar kind from different factions in the not too distant future. Interestingly the old school media have completely overlooked the many Christians thus far killed in early 2019 by Muslims in Africa, the Philippines and other locales in their own drumbeats of suppression. Because clearly Africans (280 in Nigeria) and Filipinos are not on the list of people anybody actually cares about. They don’t figure in our propaganda wars. And yes real life massacres and violence are certainly part of this largely mental battleground.

austin_zombies

The Signs Are Everywhere.

There was a January attack on a church in the Philippines by Muslims that killed 20 and injured 80 people. Suddenly that becomes worthy of news because the media largely ignored it. In the wake of the Christchurch Massacre rightish media suddenly brings this incident out to say ‘Why do you spin things only one way?’ But then the numbers get inflated by angry propagandized right wingers. The dates change from a month or so ago to yesterday. And thus the massive propaganda trash fire continues to burn. Then someone in the leftish media says your numbers and dates are wrong. So therefore you are completely false. We saw a similar back and forth about Charlottesville. But truthfully everything is an info shuttlecock in this savage game of propaganda badminton. And this reminds me of what Joseph Goebbels said. “The truth is always stronger than the lie.” essentially all propaganda must be based on facts. Which is how the National Socialists took the assassination of a German by a Polish-Jew in Paris France and blew it up into Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when the cruel violence of the Nazis against the Jews was fully unleashed. Remember this when you are convulsed by an isolated event and want immediate political action. That is exactly how propagandists ratchet up the tension. An event sparks reaction before the event is even known or understood.

North Carolina SNow 2014

The Current Mediascape.

And so in this moment of heated tension the question then remains where can one go to get information that is at least less tainted by the all consuming maw of Propaganda. This is a much trickier question than it at first seems. One thing that is clear is that all of the mainstream sources are fairly difficult to trust now. One is completely immersed in Propaganda in the guise of news as one listens to CNN, the Washington Post, even respected sources like the BBC, NPR and New York Times all in their turns have fallen ill to varying degrees of this contemporary sickness. Gone are the Walter Cronkites and the Edward R. Murrows who while not being purely objective bystanders did their level best to give a middle-of-the-road perspective on the news of the day. Interestingly both worked for CBS News. And while CBS is not what it used to be it still seems to be fairly reliable when contrasted to the disinformation sideshows that the Washington Post and CNN have become.

3_BEYOND-THE-BLACK-RAINBOW-_-52212

What to Believe?     (Image from Beyond the Black Rainbow)

And other sources? The New Yorker, MSNBC, Vice, the Huffington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Daily Beast and on and on. Pretty much it’s a pox on all of their houses when it comes to really trying to serve all of the public. I mean Russia Today and Al Jazeera seem to be in the same league as they are. The biases drain out from under them like contaminated water from a defrosting refrigerator. For instance, when a writer compares Trump to Hitler you know you are in the presence of seriously distorted Propaganda, with no concern for history or truth. And when these same media pretend that there is only one point of view? Welcome to the Propaganda wars. And you may notice that all of these sources are slanted, in some cases heavily, to the Left. That’s not an accident.

Is the Right any better. I’m certainly not shilling for Fox News, yet there are times when due to their obvious biases they are less affected by certain forms of hysteria infecting the other media. Having said that I also would not trust them any farther than I could spit. Even more so with Breitbart News. Or the New York Post. And the Wall Street Journal must always stay in the realm of economic propaganda. While occasionally doing bizarre things like accusing Youtuber Pewdiepie of being a neo-Nazi. Only to eventually have to retract it much later. And curiously the right wing sources are much less name brand recognizable than those tilting left. And thus those on the obvious Right sling their propaganda mud with alacrity.

A Rope tied to the Left Hand

And if the Center Does Not Hold?

But the center is not holding. The Left has drifted continually into extreme territory until they are casually redefining the nature of male and female, what makes a country, and the meaning of democracy. What a few years ago would have been taken as obvious by most folks, that men and women are different biologically, that a country has borders, that a legal vote reflects the will of the populace, have all been dragged severely in the last few years to the synth drumbeats of so much propaganda. People have even forgotten what they used to believe. And I mean five years ago. And the vanguard of these new ideas, media figures and university students, will often act with complete shock and hurt that anybody still believes such shameful hateful ideas as biological sex, the nation state or elections, such as the Brexit Referendum or Trump’s victory, that go against the will of some of the people. And so these areas have, like a California wildfire, become a burnt over zone. All that’s left it seems is rage.

Man on Roof Wild Fire

California on Fire.

Meanwhile the illusion in the antique media is that the rather minuscule Alt-Right, whom, without fact checking, they conflate with Neo-Nazis and the KKK, are taking over. And so they take a figure like Canadian professor Jordan Peterson and vilify him as some sort of ‘far Right’ extremist because he is saying things which used to be considered liberal leftish opinions not too long ago. The truth is he is center Left. Yet he knows how to speak across the spectrum as many public intellectuals used to do. And when the Left media pundits try to trap him they, like the BBC’s Kathy Newman did last year, blunder into a dialogue they can’t win, because they are only feeding on the surface level frenzy of issues while Peterson actually has a grounding in the much wider and deeper cultural arena of history and science. Now I say this not agreeing with everything Peterson says, yet having a lot more respect for him than I do the majority of opinion makers that decorate the dying mainstream and digital media.

And that is the point. We have to get out of our slanted boxes and listen to people with differing ideas from our own. However I must immediately remind myself of a serious dilemma posed by Jacques Ellul. It is not enough to simply start listening to the ‘enemies propaganda’. In any set of ideas there are honest commentators, historians, journalists, thinkers and then there a multitudes of propagandists, who are usually getting the most ‘Likes’. Ellul points out that caught between two conflicting propagandas one doesn’t come to know the truth. Rather like being caught between two prizefighters one ends up getting slugged senseless. Or worse, simply converting from one form of propagandized belief to another. Which is why I’ve been aghast to see young people who begin to question the intersectional beliefs of third wave feminism then start moving towards a white genocide belief. As though there was nowhere in between. It’s like saying all that there is are Communists and Fascists. So avoid the propagandists!!!

Cannibal Women

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

The good news is that through people like Jonathan Haidt, Jordan Peterson, Tim Pool, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Paul Vanderklay, Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers and many others an alternative network (the Intellectual Dark Web or IDW) that does allow real open discussion and disagreement has started to form. One of the best aspects of the insanity of the present moment is that there are some people truly talking again, not only on YouTube, but in lecture halls and seminars. It’s strangely refreshing to here atheist Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad) defend Christianity. Or to know that atheist Sam Harris and Jordan B. Peterson, who is some sort of Christian, had a series of epic discussions on the existence of God, where the audience didn’t even want to stop for questions so fascinated were they by the conversions. Gay and straight folks are having the kinds of dialogues they should had for the last 30 years, which allows all questions and challenges on the table. Journalist Tim Pool is attempting to start an alternative news source called Subverse practically alone. And this sort of thing is being completely ignored by what YouTube commentator and occultist Styxhexenhammer666 calls the ‘lame stream media’. And these discussions and videos go on for hours. Where is the soundbite mentality? Well it’s still there on CNN, the BBC, on clickbait Buzzfeed posts. But I do believe people are hungry for the intellectual nutrition that our global commercial networks have denied them to the point of malnourishment.

Hitchhiker

Be Careful of Who You Pick Up.

How then to detect a person with ideas worth taking seriously from any stripe? First of all, do they acknowledge the messiness of every interpretation including their own? Can they see why a person would believe something other than what they believe? Do they respect opinions radically different from their own? Do they have a real sense of history? Do they point out when they get their facts wrong? Are they humble about their knowledge? Do they believe in truth? Of any kind? Do they know that others outside of their belief structure can also understand truth? Do they agonize over the state of humanity with compassion and not accusation? These kinds of questions to me all point to the kind of person you can learn from no matter what their belief. Nobody can be perfect in these things. But do they have these as some sort of goal? If so the you are in the presence of someone who lives in this world, and not a fictional propaganda echo chamber. If you are arguing with them when you read, listen or watch them you are at least arguing with someone living in the same world that you live in. And while you might see things differently and have come to different conclusions they are different conclusions about the same reality.

Deep Thoughts

Time for Reflection Not Reaction.

Now I can’t tell you whom you should trust. But I can tell you some of the people I have been listening to myself. They come from various perspectives. Some of them I radically disagree with. But they are honest in their opinions and worth wrestling with if you are a thinking human being. In other words this is not a list for the immature, whether they be 12 years old or 75.

So take this for what it’s worth. In a future addendum to this series I will add clips of YouTube vlogs, speeches and interviews. As of this writing all of these people are living and still contributing to the discussion. There are many more I could add, but this will be a good starting place. And YouTube searches would be the best introduction. I have not tried to represent every possible ethnicity or viewpoint, because my feeling is that that sort of empty gesture is part of the problem not the cure. This is what I found helpful for myself. You will certainly find others.

Besides the living, the dead having even far more to say to us. But I have rambled on too long for now.

bosch hell

Bosch Understood What Happens When You Move With Entropy, Not Against It.

And so this will be the official end of this series of essays. If you been following my main thrust you’ll see that my view is that the primary issue confronting humanity in this time of chaos does not come from any specific political issue or ideology. Rather it can be seen this way; while fewer people have died in wars in the 21st Century as died in the last century by this same point, most folks today are far more fearful of and confused by where we are now than they were then. Why? Propaganda. We live in it as it invades our consciousness from every orifice of technology. And yet there is hope if we can start to enter the conversation with real creativity and with real people.

I will give the late Canadian media critic Marshall McLuhan the last word.

“Jacques Ellul observes in Propaganda: ‘When dialogue begins, propaganda ends.’ His theme, that propaganda is not this or that ideology but rather the action and coexistence of all media at once, explains why propaganda is environmental and invisible. The total life of any culture tends to be ‘propaganda’, for this reason. It blankets perception and suppresses awareness, making the counter environments created by the artist indispensable to survival and freedom.”

Foggy Woods

Finding Our Way in the Fog

And finally just a few names of living people that I trust in different ways. These folks have ideas worth hearing even if you or I disagree with them.

Camille Paglia – American Art Historian, Lesbian, First Wave Feminist, Atheist (Center Left maybe)

Christina Hoff Sommers – American Historian, Philosopher, ‘Factual’ Feminist, Author, YouTuber (Center Left)

David Thomson – British Film Critic, Author of many books and essays (Center Left)

Jonathan Haidt – American University Professor, Social Psychologist, Author (Center Left)

Jonathan Pie – Scabrous British Satirist, Socialist (real name Tom Walker) YouTuber (Left)

Jordan B. Peterson – Canadian University Professor, Clinical Psychologist, Jungian, Author (Centrist)

Julia Turansky – Canadian Anarcho-Christian, YouTuber (Channel Brave The World) , Mother

Ken Burns – American Documentarian, Author, TV Producer (Center Left)

Ken Myers – American Radio and Podcast host Mars Hill Audio (Center Right)

Niall Ferguson – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center Right)

Os Guinness – British Author, Christian, Lecturer (Center Right)

Paul Vanderklay – American Dutch Reformed Pastor, YouTuber (Center)

Robert D. Kaplan – American Historian and Journalist, Machiavellian, Author (Centrist)

Roger Scruton – British Philosopher, Television Presenter, Conservative Commentator, Art Historian (Center Right)

Simon Schama – British American Historian, University Professor, Television Presenter (Center Left)

Slavoj Zizek – Slovenian Marxist Postmodern Philosopher, Author, Television Host (Left)

Stanley Crouch – American Jazz Historian, African American Social Commentator, Novelist (Center)

Suzannah Lipscomb – British Historian, Television presenter, Author (Center)

Tim Pool – American Journalist, YouTuber Trying to Create an Honest News Source (Center Left)

Timothy Garton Ash – British University Professor, Historian, Journalist and Author (Center Left)

Timothy Keller – American Presbyterian Pastor, Author (Center Right)

…..

The addendum will come very soon.

Thanks for reading this and pondering these things with me.

….

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

24/3/2019

….

Hey I really could use some help with what I am doing here in Tbilisi. My Gravity From Above project has stalled and my resources have become limited. Anything you choose to contribute can be done through PayPal. Click this.

And if this essay was of value pass it along.

 

21st Century Propaganda: Addendum #1


21st Century Propaganda #8: Infection and Diagnosis

Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.

Jacques Ellul – Propaganda

Pontypool

An Infection of Words spread through the Media in the Canadian ‘zombie’ film  Pontypool.

So then Propaganda surrounds us. (The series starts here.) What can we do to at least find a reasonable way of weighing the details of life surrounding us in this virtual bubble? There are two answers lodged in one question here. First: What practical steps can we take to make sure we are as little effected by the all consuming maw of illusory communications as is humanly possible? Second: Are there any ways of identifying voices we can trust from the various perspectives of this fictional panorama? No easy task. We shall deal with this in our concluding essay next time. Let’s tackle the practical issue first.

The main principle is this. We are all infected by today’s Propaganda. As Jacques Ellul points out intelligence is no defense. The very people who think themselves most up to date are often the most heavily propagandized. So the question then is not how to avoid propaganda, but how to recognize the depths of our own infection. In a way our situation is quite similar to the only Canadian postapocalyptic film I have ever seen: Pontypool. Which has the end of the world coming through an infection of words. And this is brilliant for being a direct correlation to propaganda and for it taking place in Canada one of the most politically correct hot spots on earth, complete with legislation to back it up. In Pontypool the radio station at the core of the film is also a source of this lethal infection. All communications media spread the infection. Conversations also spread it. And this verbal virus effects people by driving them completely murderous. It’s a excellent analogy, if a bit too extreme to help us to understand our own level of propaganda infection.

Knee Jerk test

Allow me to suggest a better indicator: The Knee Jerk Reaction.

Obviously the concept of the Knee Jerk Reaction is related to the reflex test where a physician taps a specific spot on your knee to see if your leg moves involuntarily. But there is a big difference between this physical test and our propaganda test. When your knee jerks that’s a very good thing. It means your reflexes are working correctly. But emotionally the knee jerk reaction means something exactly the opposite. It means when you hear certain words, concepts and names you react instantly, and usually it’s not very pleasant. That’s the Knee Jerk Reaction. And that’s a serious problem.

Now we all have them, Knee Jerk Reactions. Someone is talking about something and as soon as a word or possible thought passes through the air you are immediately disturbed. So you hear words like Trump, or abortion, or gay, or taxes, or war, or trans, or Clinton, or Macron, or Merkel, or Putin, or Obama, or Thatcher, or Reagan, or Republican, or Democrat, or feminism, or Muslim, or Christian, or atheist, or God, or witchcraft, or Satan, or Marvel, or DC, or Star Wars, or Harvard, or Yale, or Texas, or Russia, or China, or Africa, or blackface, or liberal, or equality, or free speech, or nationalist, or socialist, or vegan, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks, or T-Series or anything else that instantly changes your mood and there, my friends, lies your propagandized soul exposed for the world to see. And to the degree you find yourself at a loss of control in your anger, hatred, disgust, or fear that is the degree to which you can reckon yourself fully propagandized by something. And we all have these Knee Jerk Reactions. Don’t bother to deny it. Because that too will be a sign of the same.

Let’s Look For Your Jerking Knees. (Click to Expand)

 

 

Did You Figure Out What Causes You To Lose Your Mind?

Now I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for reactions. Oh there are… Except, once said, we have to then come straight to this point: How can we trust the sources of our news and information. When I first started to understand the depth of our envelopment in Propaganda we weren’t yet living in THIS world. Yes each news outlet had its viewpoint, but we hadn’t been bogged down in endless conspiracy theories yet. There was no Internet to spread the immediate reactions. If a pastor in Florida burned copies of the Koran in Florida no one even knew about it, let alone died in Palestine. And so I would say to folks then when I read Time Magazine or watch CBS News I know that something has happened, but I don’t necessarily trust that media’s interpretation of the facts. I came to understand this early because I was in a primary Jesus People group when I was young. Reporters from national news services occasionally wrote stories on us and I was always impressed by how little they really understood of what they had seen. Their stories were usually skewed by the reporters bias. Good reporters I learned sought to be fair, acknowledging their own biases, and working to put them aside. Not only are very few reporters today that good, but the idea of putting aside your biases today is nearly a lost art. (I say nearly, but fortunately not totally.) But today’s reporters proudly display their political biases and completely skew their news accordingly. Then again in these late postmodern times truth is seen as a relic of dead Western Civilization. Resulting in a new phenomenon, not merely changing the narrative, in which the word ‘narrative’ equals the word ‘spin’, but removing the veracity of the event at all. Fake News

Now when I see news I wonder if the event even happened? Is it Fake News? And even that phrase ‘Fake News’ is a hotly contested neologism. The Left claims that all Fake News is Right slanted. The Right claims the same about the Left. But I think its use points out the exact reality we find ourselves in. Not only is it the interpretation that is at stake but now the actual reality is in question. So what to do? How do we avoid being dragged into these propaganda wars within our own minds? And across the fiction of news as it has devolved in this hysterical age? We will talk about sources in our last essay. But for now let’s work on developing our powers of observation.

So a sudden story erupts. It’s not a hurricane in Florida, an Earthquake in Chile, but rather it’s one of those many events that have gripped us one after another for years now. There is a photo. A short video. A protest somewhere. A march. Suddenly it’s politically hot. Everyone’s talking about it. People pass stories, interpretations, memes on social media. You are meant to feel stupid if you don’t agree with the dominant and instant media interpretation. It’s ‘trans bathrooms’, ‘Grab ’em by the pussy.’ Charlottesville, Jefferson, Portland, Berkeley, it’s the MAGA hat kid with his ‘smirk’, it’s Jussie Smollett and his ‘noose’, it’s comments at the Academy Awards, or by a rising political star. What do you do?

How an Online Propaganda Mob Forms

First of all, Back the hell up! Do not form a opinion on the first day or three. Because, as we have seen, what actually happened isn’t even known yet. When the Covington Catholic boys incident was at last known everyone had to apologize. Because full videos from the day, uploaded on the day, were completely ignored by folks who interpret these events for us on television. And the event that supposedly got everyone so worked up… never happened! And yet there are still folks who will swear they ‘know what they saw’ without ever having watched the full video. And that, my friends, is the most egregious effect of Propaganda upon us. It can change the reality of what we see into what we wish to see.

Edinburgh Bookstore

These are called Books. They slow you down. Allow you to think before you react. Read them.

So back off! Have courage. Don’t share your opinions, your conclusions, your accusations, your anything! about these things on social media. Don’t pass on articles proving ‘the point’. Don’t assume you know. Because you know what? You probably know nothing. And how can you? The event is still unfolding. There are those who still don’t understand what the presence of Antifa meant at Charlottesville. Why? The mainstream media omitted them from their narrative. Yes it was absolutely frightening to see the presence of this new White Nationalist movement. But it was just as blood curdling to see honest to God Communists there as well. And the authorities let them come together. So what actually did happen? And will you over react to what I just written? And yes, I fully realize these things are molten hot.

ChanaSue Lang

Learn to talk, even to disagree.

So my advice: STOP. Stop passing on your pet Propaganda on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. That doesn’t mean stop thinking. Au contraire! It means start thinking and stop that jerking knee. Reacting is what the goal of all Propaganda is. Stop with the pointed jokes against (fill in the blank). Stop spreading pro/anti gun, PETA, Christian, LGBTQ+, Atheist, Trans, etc. Propaganda. Dehumanization and real hatred are the only things spread that way. Stop with commentary on things that happened this morning that quite literally you can’t know anything about yet. Stop getting newsfeed alerts on your phone. Stand back from it all and get your breath and mind working again. Stop fantasizing about doomsday and revenge scenarios. Learn to read again, not merely to skim. Read books. Make no phone zones. Try to understand history in order to understand the current hysteria. Find trustworthy sources. Don’t listen to movie stars, sports stars, television stars about politics. What they say about the craft of acting is valuable. What they think about current politics is usually just Knee Jerk Propaganda.

Matilda Lost

Get Together with Real Humans in Real Time. Play Physical Games.

And finally get back to reality. Have people over for dinner. (I’m extremely serious about this.) Remember all those people you hate so much, who believe that tripe that you would never swallow, they are humans too. And if you sat down to dinner with them you would find that out. Unless you are so propagandized that all you can see is the shallow symbols of opposition. Very few conservative folk are actually that dreaded Far Right ogre you imagine. Most Left leaning souls are not the mindless SJW’s. But you may indeed meet those with whom you disagree. Then talk. Have a real conversation. Perhaps the most salient quote from Jacques Ellul is this Discussion ends Propaganda.” Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Even with the most polarized people you encounter, if you can, if you dare. For it is only by learning to do so that we can avert the true disaster of a new American Civil War.

Fortunately there a few signs of hope.

In our conclusion we’ll examine the possibility of trustworthy sources. And examine the hope embedded in this moment.

Come back soon.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

9/3/2019

Finally you can support us out here on the edge. And it will truly be appreciated. Use this PayPal link. I can access it from anywhere. Even here in Tbilisi Georgia.

Thanks! CLICK ME.

Oh and if you haven’t read the rest of this series you can start here.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/21st-century-propaganda-1/

And for more practical advice on finding reality again try this essay.

https://theanadromist.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/salvaging-reality/

 


21st Century Propaganda #7: Christian Propaganda

Her+name+is+chrischan+pronounced+christian+really+shes+the+personification+

I’m sold. SOLD being the operative word here. This imitation anime/manga style message completely eviscerates the gospel message.

So let me put this card on the table. I am a Christian. And then let me put this one down. Nothing disturbs me more than Christian propaganda. What do I mean? As Jacques Ellul points out in the quote below, Christianity, which claims to be truth, after being put through mass media propaganda, ends up merely as an ideology. And as such “It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax.” And it is this hoax that many believe to be the truth. And it is this hoax that those who have rejected Christianity tend to believe defines it. But I am not here to defend the message of Christianity.

It is ironic that Christians invented the term propaganda, through the Roman Catholic Curia, to define the means of spreading the gospel. Something more like missionary work. Originally it meant something much closer to propagation. And propagation is the natural spreading or multiplication of an idea. Propaganda is definitely not natural. Now I can hear some people saying ‘Well missionary work certainly isn’t natural.’ But I would disagree. When Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark (chapter16 verse 15) “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” He certainly doesn’t mean doing so by impersonal and all surrounding means. He isn’t imagining mass evangelistic rallies in 80,000 seat sports colosseums, “Christian” Movies, pop music, comic books, video games, television channels, websites, social media, etc.

christian-posters-18

A Truth made stupid and sentimental.

(And if you are wondering why I’m lumping all of these mass media together and calling it propaganda I suspect you haven’t read the entirety of this series which started several years back, where, following Jacques Ellul’s definition of Propaganda, we pointed out that much being disseminated by mass means is by default already propaganda. Go ahead. Stop. Go back. Catch up. Then come back when you can. I’ll wait. Click this to begin.)

A brief outline of Christianity and the developing system of Propaganda might go something like this. At the dawn of Christianity Jesus and his disciples had no access to propaganda techniques. Jesus emphasized personal human communication and consciously rejected the means of power. Christianity was seen as a powerless sect of Judaism by the Roman Empire. Yet the message spread as the absolute counterpoint to Roman propaganda, which was developed through the minting of money with Caesar’s image, the gladiatorial games and most of all through the unconquerable power of the legions. There were periods of violent persecution. And this persecution not only didn’t stamp out the sect, it caused the sect to grow. But there came a day when the Emperor Constantine legitimized Christianity, even converting to it himself and eventually in it’s closing days Christianity was made the official religion of the Empire. And this is the moment when things began to change. The Roman government turned the Christian faith on its head by using persecution and censorship created forms of propaganda to convert the decadent Empire in its waning days. Christianity survived, but Rome was already too far gone it fell. But the damage was done. Christianity was aligned with power now, which perverted the message of Jesus in many ways, though as long as the scriptures were there it couldn’t completely distort the humbler message contained in the Bible.

Caravaggio SupperatEmmaus

Caravaggio’s Supper At Emmaus. Baroque Era paintings were specifically commissioned as Catholic Propaganda.  But they never stinted on the quality of the art nor the depth of the message.

But distortion did occur whether through Crusades (a Christian imitation of Islamic Jihads), the selling of indulgences (which provoked Martin Luther and helped spawn the Reformation) or worst of all the Inquisition (in which power was grafted so deeply onto the Christian vine that it nearly killed it). All of these were also accompanied by successive waves of propaganda. But this propaganda, though fierce at times was much less total than propaganda had become by the mid-20th Century. After two world wars and the rise of totalitarianism and the propagandas used to combat the fascist and communist the world of the 1950s and 1960s saw Christian propaganda grow stagnant and completely ineffective. It is at this point that Jacques Ellul’s book Propaganda was published. Ellul too was a Christian. But he certainly didn’t spare his fellow believers. He knew what was coming. Allow me to quote at length from his book on the subject.

Jesus-at-the-United-Nations

No Comment. Late 1960’s.

Obviously, church members are caught in the net of propaganda and react pretty much like everyone else….

Because Christians are flooded with various propagandas, they absolutely cannot see what they might do that would be effective and at the same time be an expression of their Christianity. Therefore, with different motivations and often with scruples, they limit themselves to one or another course presented to them by propaganda. They too take the panorama of the various propagandas for living political reality, and do not see where they can insert their Christianity in that fictitious panorama….

At the same time, because of its psychological effects, propaganda makes the propagation of Christianity increasingly difficult. The psychological structures built by propaganda are not propitious to Christian beliefs. This also applies on the social plane. For propaganda faces the church with the following dilemma:

Either not to make propaganda — but then, while the churches slowly and carefully win a man to Christianity, the mass media quickly mobilizes the masses, and churchmen gain the impression of being ‘out of step’, on the fringes of history, without the power to change a thing.

Or to make propaganda — this dilemma is surely one of the most cruel with which the churches are faced at present. For it seems that people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities, less and less suited for the autonomy of a Christian life….

I already have stressed the total character of propaganda. Christians often claim they can separate material devices from propaganda techniques — i.e., break the system. For example, they think they can use press and radio without using the psychological principles or techniques that these media demand. Or that they can use these media without having to appeal to conditioned reflexes, myths, and so on. Or that they can use them from time to time, with care and discretion.

The only answer one can give to these timid souls is that such restraint would lead to a total lack of effectiveness. If a church wants to use propaganda in order to be effective, just as all the others, it must use the entire system with all its resources; it cannot pick what it likes, for such distinctions would destroy the very effectiveness for which the church would make propaganda in the first place. Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies and secular religions.

“Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax. In such times there are innumerable sweetenings and adaptations, which denature Christianity by adjusting it to the milieu.”

And obviously Ellul’s words can be applied across the religious and political spectrum, which is the point of his book Propaganda.

Jesus Knocks

The White-bread Jesus is still knocking.

Now I as a Christian first read these words around 1982. I had been deeply troubled by developments in culture at that time. These developments included the rise of a Christian music industry (known as CCM – Contemporary Christian Music, though I felt it really stood for Commercial Christian Music) a rising Christian movie and television industry, and most troubling of all a kind of conservative political movement that equated Christianity with then current right wing political issues. And I’m not saying there isn’t an overlap, but it’s also clear that at that time there was also overlap with the liberal spectrum as well, which was why many Christians voted for Jimmy Carter for president in 1976. Since that time the lines have been drawn much sharper. And that is a direct result of rising propagandas from that time. Today’s polarizations are the direct ancestors of the propagandas of the 80s, both left and right.

TheLateGreatPlanetEarth

A Christian Propaganda ‘Classic’.

If one was to be transported back to America in 1970 one would find confused weak churches unable to really understand what was going on the steaming hothouse of the Sixties. Conservatives and fundamentalists not only had little voice propagandistically, they didn’t crave that kind of voice. They were reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and digging in for the coming Antichrist. They just assumed it was all over. But the Jesus People, a now forgotten movement, sometimes erroneously called Jesus Freaks, were beginning to reap a bounty of new but less conventional converts from the cultural debris of the Hippie Movement in California. And they made underground Christian newspapers, Christian T-Shirts with slogans like ‘Christ, He’s the Real Thing’ complete with imitation Coca-Cola logo, bumperstickers, and most importantly Jesus Music.

 

 

Now there was about five years when this new Christian music had a fresh feeling to it. But by the end of the Seventies the music had been contained by the very newly dominant CCM industry. That combined with the new political consciousness, a product of a wing of the Charismatic Movement, created the new Christian propaganda which haunts us to this day.

 

 

And so whether in the highly repetitious music of 21st Century Hillsong churches, the more sophisticated pop music of so many imitative Christian bands, manipulative movies like God’s Not Dead, the theatrical megachurches, prosperity teachings, the dumbing down of so many Christians in favor of a feel good message.

 

 

Also there was a justifiably nervous attitude towards the developments in the secular world. And so many Christians backed away from engagement with that world, with the full support of the powers that be. And so a separate propaganda sphere was created. Christian girls could read Christian romance novels usually stuck somewhere between old school Harlequin novels and Little House On The Prairie. Although by the early 21st Century it was just as likely they would be encouraged to read Young Adult sub-Tolkien or CS Lewis Christian Fantasy novels that, while slowly growing in quality since the 70s, encouraged the newer generations to avoid reality and maturity in favor of a Christian version of the current regnant era of delayed adolescence. (By the way I think Lewis and Tolkien are both turning in the graves over this development.)

Christian Fantasy 101

Christian young adult fantasy novels, another cottage industry, tending towards the juvenilization of the faith.

Christian boys could what? Listen to Christian commercial white-boy pop rap? Buy guns? Or more likely simply join the ranks of forgotten men everywhere. But one thing everyone could do was to express themselves with Xtian slogans on T-shirts, posters, tattoos.

CCM Encyclopedia

This massive tome contains over 1000 pages of CCM entries. One could easily whittle these imitative musical entries down to 200 pages and still gag on the excess.

Meanwhile Christian cable channels, YouTubery, radio stations and above all websites allowed the faithful to be completely surrounded in a sweet propaganda bubble. People sang and swayed in megachurches and little dying denominational churches. The cutesy imagery from Vacation Bible School classes for the youth only reinforced the cuddly Christian message. And as I’ve pointed out before the gospel of Christ became the gospel of Fun. Meanwhile the overall positivity was giving way to Christian accommodations with ‘tolerance’ in its new totalizing definition in several quarters. And those who didn’t understand the shift were left in confusion supping on the tepid remains of late 20th Century Christian propaganda.

gods-not-dead-3

Is this light? Sadly I think NOT.

God Quotes Poster Half White

It’s interesting how somewhere in the early 21st Century Christians stopped talking about Christ so much.

Now I know not all Christianity is like this. I know this better than many of you. And there have been those who have questioned these developments through the years. A few are only just now beginning to question these things. They are questioning the hoax that sadly too often the faith has become. But that’s not my subject here. What I have wanted to point out is simply that those who in some measure believe as I do are no more immune to the scourge of propaganda than anyone else.

But it does lead me to a serious question: What can any of us do to live in a time like ours when the locusts of propaganda infest our deepest hopes and dreams. Well there must be more to say.

Come back soon for some possible partial answers.

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

2/9/2019

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Georgian Lessons #3: Mystery And Truth

april-9th-martyrs

April 9th Commemoration – Secular Day or Orthodox Ceremony? Both.

Here then are the observations that began to accumulate around me after my journey to the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Tsminda Sameba) in Tbilisi Georgia. I don’t mean these to be anything definitive, nevertheless I did begin to comprehend something that had been tickling my eyes and ears for a couple of weeks.

samba-tram

Tsminda Sameba rising above Tbilisi.

First of all there was this: If in an Orthodox Church the actual times do not matter the way they do in America or Northern and Western Europe, to different degrees, then that helped to explain the rather casual attitude towards work and punctuality. Why only this week I stepped into my local Presbyterian Church and they were discussing whether it was exactly 10 o’clock or not. (‘No we still have a minute to go.’ ‘Well my watch says 10.’) This attitude would be positively incomprehensible in Georgia and I suspect many Orthodox countries. And this would make it quite difficult to enforce Western or East Asian standards of business production. Thus anyone coming from outside Eastern Orthodoxy expecting a certain kind of timeliness would feel very disappointed. But I adjusted my own expectations accordingly. When I went to see Nino Sukhishvili I was constantly playing tag with the times. I didn’t really lose a beat over this. People seem to come and go. And when I went to the theatre or the ballet the shows did start generally, though never precisely, on time.

orthodox-ins-outs

Just a Wednesday afternoon, people coming and going… to church.

Next and much more to the point. The Orthodox church service did not revolve around the sermon. In an American church, Protestant or Catholic, in many ways the liturgy builds up to the message. It’s a little less with the Roman Catholic Church who focus upon Communion, but it’s certainly still there. And when one leaves you discuss the message to compare what one already believes with the words of the minister. Did the sermon stick with the Bible? Was it delivered well? Did the words ring true?

Now what this means is that not only is the emphasis upon the truth of the message, but in fact this weighing of the message for truth is a hallmark of Western Christian culture. And it is also a fact that although the vast swaths of Europe and America think about God as much as they do the country of Vanuatu they nevertheless have inherited the same approach to ideas. So that an atheist judges the truth of a thing the same way. A third wave feminist who blames the Christian patriarchy for the sins of the world still will react with a miffed ‘That’s not true.’ Or perhaps ‘That’s just so wrong!’ So our churches have grown stale over the years but the assertions of truth don’t end, even if the speaker claims that Truth doesn’t exist.

grapevine-cross

Someone found pruned grapevines shaped like the cross and tied them to a very random spot. Grapevines have a special meaning in Georgia.

Now look at Georgia and the Orthodox Church. I’m sure people care about the Truth in Georgia. But not in the same way. In fact, unlike the western branches of Christianity, the Orthodox Church believe the Bible is true and yet don’t really try to harmonize science and the Bible. In other words the Bible is true AND science is true. And I see no force trying to reconcile the differences. Now again I don’t see everything going on, but I do know that is a feature of Orthodoxy. In other words there are no ‘creationists’ in the Orthodox faith. There is paradox. Two truths held together. Looking from my position on the West Coast of the USA that strikes me as, well, radically different. So what this means in practice is that there is a lot of leeway in belief. But God created the world and Christ died for us and was resurrected. And maybe things most likely evolve or maybe not. It’s just a human idea.

What this means practically in international relations is this. Remember Russia is an Orthodox country. Even if that Orthodoxy is suppressed as it was during the Soviet Era. What happens when Americans come over with their true or false mentality? It just seems rather silly to them. Especially since publicly we change our truths like we change our socks. One minute, after World War 2, one must be a good member of the Christian Democratic world. The next they see us haranguing them about homosexuality, which only a few years back we weren’t in favor of. Is it any wonder that there are major conflicts? Neither side is even on the same page. How to communicate? Now Georgia isn’t Russia. That must be said. But many of these issues still hang over them as well.

church-repair

An ancient church slowly being repaired. (Tsminda Sameba in the background.)

And here’s one last Orthodox observation. The point of the service seemed to be the glorious mystery of God. The words seemed secondary. But the music, the actions of priests, the reverence of the congregation definitely seemed focused upon that aspect of faith. And that affected everything. For one thing the music was not being passed around to amateurs. The five women singing may have been mere congregants, but the sounds coming out of their voices put to shame anything I’ve heard in a western church service for my whole life. Only once in a while have I ever heard a church choir come anywhere near the beauty of that music. In America we value inclusiveness over the quality of the music. It is rare that I hear good music in churches these days. The songs we sing together are again more about collective feelings than anything to construed as depth. Every now and then we sing the old standards, which still are glorious (Amazing Grace, O For A Thousand Tongues, How Firm a Foundation) But even those get updated. (How on heaven or earth is Amazing Grace improved by adding a chorus???)

Or here’s another comparison: If I enter the standard Protestant church, or even many Catholic churches, is there any reminder of God’s mystery, his Otherness? If I walk into that same local Presbyterian church the answer is a resounding no. Not in the folksy/poppy music. Not in the various activities of the church, not in the potlucks, not in the architecture, not in the quilted wall hangings, occasionally the sermon gives hints. And that’s about it. So our inclusive faith essentially makes God into our pal. Make sure no one squirms.

Now again what is found in our churches is found in all aspects of our culture. And it’s a two way street. We’ve just become folksy dorky self-conscious people. Real things bother us. Even the approach to nature among folks who would never step into a church these days is often mostly recreational. We could all stand to watch and understand the great Russian films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Our walks into nature would change immensely. In his very Orthodox films the textures of the environment become alive and mysterious. But again we like to make things casual, cool, no biggy. And thus we live in a neutered world, as we gaze into our hands and make magic swishing motions over the devices at our fingertips. So yes I was overwhelmed to find God’s mystery in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

st-george-on-a-wall

St. George overlooking a street in Tbilisi.

My feeling is that a cross-pollination between Western questing for Truth (capital T please) and Eastern Orthodox Mystery would be a beneficial thing on both sides. But I’m not sure they need our postmodern casualness however. Yet that seems inevitable as the ‘blessings’ of pop culture descend like crematorium ashes across the whole world.

(But we’ll get to that soon enough… Come back again for our next Georgian Lesson.)

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

November 14th 2016


American Gothic #2: American Gothic Fiction

The first manifestation of the Gothic impulse in America was naturally felt in literature, as the Gothic Fiction of England and Europe made its way to the United States in the second half of the 18th Century. Curiously the first important work of American fiction, Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, published in 1798, was also not only a Gothic work, but upon retrospection it was also clearly the first example of the American Gothic idea. (For questions of definition please refer back to American Gothic #1.)

In Wieland we find many of the hallmarks of the American Gothic outlook. There is a sense of darkness at the edge of the frontier, of fanatical quasi-Christian religious cults leading to ritual murders and strange motifs like ventriloquism (foreshadowing the spiritualism scams commencing another fifty years down the line). In his book Ormond (1799) Brown describes the nearly post-apocalyptic scenario of a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. In Arthur Mervyn (1799) he describes Cormac McCarthy-like violent upheavals on the Pennsylvania frontier. (Or perhaps we should say that McCarthy writes in Charles Brockden Brown-like spasms of frontier violence.) In Edgar Huntley (1799) sleepwalking is a major component to the tale. In his forward to that book Brown relates his purposeful decision to abandon the castles and manner houses of the European Gothic Fiction and to fully Americanize his novels by including American themes because; “The incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of the western wilderness, are far more suitable; and, for a native of America to overlook these, would admit of no apology. These, therefore, are, in part, the ingredients of this tale, and these he has been ambitious of depicting in vivid and faithful colours.

And those colours, the colors of American Gothic literature are overwhelmingly autumnal. All American Gothic culture seems tinted by the dank browns of barren trees and wood planked ghost towns, the cracking white paint of old southern mansions and Texas Chainsaw white picket fences, the rotting mold green of decay, the oranges of dead leaves and collapsing pumpkins and above all the grays of thick leaden skies. It is impossible to imagine the American Gothic vision to contain the greens of spring, the yellows of summer or the blues of sky and reflective waters, unless they can be tainted. And the master of American tainting is Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849

Poe was certainly influenced by Brown, as were Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poe’s works certainly still often hearken back to old Europe. Yet in many ways Poe lays the foundation for what will be the American Gothic tradition. The narrator is often completely unreliable and much great American Gothic Fiction has followed this path. (See Ambrose Bierce.) (See HP Lovecraft.) (See Shirley Jackson.) (See Jim Thompson.) There is more than a trace of psychological instability. (See reams of American fiction at this point.) Brown was also deeply concerned with contemporary psychological issues and fads. Poe uses hypnotism. Poe invents so many new tropes that entire genres kick into gear by the time he is done: Not only horror, but his tales of “ratiocination” or what we now know as the Detective Story or the Mystery. And that leads to questions about the relationship between the Gothic tale and the Mystery. And that also helps to understand how Hardboiled Detective literature and Film Noir seem so aligned with the American Gothic mode.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) The Instigator of American Gothic Humor

Poe is obviously a lengthy subject and we are only skimming the pond here. But as long as I am in the 19th Century I must mention Ambrose Bierce, who is as sarcastic and cynical as Mark Twain, yet darker than Poe, perhaps the blackest purely American vision ever committed to paper. His Devil’s Dictionary is a uniquely sardonic concoction. His odd and humorous short stories delineate the motifs of comic aspects of American Gothic, preparing the way eventually for the likes of Holden Caulfield and the grave puns of EC Comics. He begins An Imperfect Conflagration with a memorably mordant sentence; “Early one morning in 1872 I murdered my father – an act which made a deep impression upon me at the time.” Stories like Oil of Dog and The Hypnotist are bleak comic gems. But it was in his Civil War stories that “Bitter Bierce” turns on his full power. As the only important fiction writer to actually fight in and write about the war, his works are a crucial testament to the stark horror of those Civil War battlegrounds. Nothing so bleak has ever been penned. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is justly famous for its last moments of false hope before the snap of an executioner’s rope. And Chickamauga is told in such a way that the final revelation as seen through deaf mute child’s eyes can simply eviscerate the modern reader who is used to at least at shard of ambiguous hope. Bierce died as he lived and wrote, as if he were a wanderer from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, disappearing somewhere in the Mexican dessert searching for death before a firing squad.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) Depicted by Pulp Artist Virgil Finlay in His Imaginary 18th Century

The next really important stop along the way is HP Lovecraft. His work is often Gothic after the European model, or even Science Fiction and Fantasy. But there is a core of his work that mines the putrid vegetal remains of New England for its Gothic terror. Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, Cool Air and Dreams of the Witch House, among other stories, portray a New England soaking in hidden secrets. The lineage that runs from Cotton Mather, through Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lovecraft, Tom Tryon, and even Stephen King, spells out many of the aspects of New England Gothic. The fact that these areas were settled early adds to the availability of lost and haunted imagery ripe for use.

And the same is obviously true for the South. But the American South also has one additional feature that is crucial to its Southern Gothic literature. It is its complete defeat during the Civil War. It is not merely the broken houses and burnt over lands, it is in its crushed people that the Southern Gothic writer finds so much inspiration. Boo Radley from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. The kinds of characters who people William Faulkner’s novels or Flannery O’Connor’s short works are a very different species from even the Gothic writers from other parts of the country. They are broken or deluded, cursed and noble, visionary and confined. Again we approach a vast subject for study here. But the important point is that Southern Gothic ultimately is species of American Gothic.

The Nightmare Carnival as Prime American Gothic

William Lindsay Gresham’s American Gothic Opus Nightmare Alley

And there are so many other important American Gothic works: Shirley Jackson’s horror stories are as subtle as wilted corsages. Richard Matheson has often mined the American Gothic quarry. Likewise Consider Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes. Images of the dark traveling carnival take on American Gothic hues instantly. The now forgotten works of William Lindsay Gresham infest the mind at this point, particularly his non-fiction study of carnies from the inside out called Monster Midway and his classic Nightmare Alley, which really blends Hardboiled fiction completely with the Gothic, and specializes in mentalist scams and cold reading and other aspects of carnival chicanery. (Not to mention his revelation of the sinister aspects of a being called the Geek.) And of course there is Cormac McCarthy who is the reigning master of the Southwestern branch of American Gothic, and a good bet for consideration as America’s preeminent living novelist.

Gresham Introduced The Geek to Popular Culture. This Geek was Not the Obsessive and Pitiful Character of the Early 21st Century. The Carnival Geek was the Human Being in the Most Lost Degraded Sub-Animal Form – Pure American Gothic in the Deepest Sense.

And finally I will mention what might be the ultimate American Gothic novel ever written: that quest for the white whale aboard the now ghostly remains of the whaling trade – Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Is it starting to become clear yet, the shape of this American Gothic creature? If so stick around as we examine the other American Gothic modes.

Coming up next: American Gothic in the visual arts.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska
5/18/11