Are YOU a Propagandist?

The Smarter You Get

Those old enough to have ever watched a World War II movie are likely to remember the infamous Tokyo Rose, the name given to any number of Japanese women (though largely ascribed to Japanese American Iva Toguri D’Aquino) whose role was to get on the radio to croon Japanese propaganda to the American military, offered with the intent of crushing morale. Given the outcome of that war, it’s safe to say the endgame didn’t quite meet the mission, but propaganda has long been a useful tool in pushing agendas and designing how the world and culture-at-large receives and perceives information.

Certainly it played a major role in the Cold War (how many kids were uniformly terrified of Russian spies or nuclear bombs hitting their grade schools?); it’s been an essential tool in how religion mesmerizes its masses, and, without a doubt, it is the machinery that foments discord between partisan politicians and their opponents. Yet even as heinous and manipulative as it is, propaganda has become so insinuated into the fibers of day-to-day American discourse that we barely notice it anymore; certainly we don’t seem to realize how affected we are by it or how we tend to use it ourselves to promote our own agendas and beliefs. In fact, we’ll raise a fist in objection to propaganda on one side of the divide while actively bandying our own version of the same. Social media has, in many ways, become a breeding ground for propaganda and I wonder if culture wouldn’t be better served if we rethought how we use it.

Constitutional scholar, Jonathan Turley, argues that the word itself, propaganda, translates literally to mean “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” Helping or injuring. Yet we seldom think of propaganda in the “helping” column, it’s so often used to divide more than bring together.  Even Turley acknowledges that the almost totally negative connotation of the word has sprung from its cultural use as a “value loaded” activity, one that uses selective language and cherry-picked ideas to manipulate people toward one thought or another.

Manipulation is hardly viewed as a positive force, and that is, in fact, how most people view propaganda: as manipulation. The taking of facts and using them selectively, disproportionately, even untruthfully, and often at the expense and exclusion of balancing information as counterpoint. We see that every day on Fox News, on partisan talk radio, cable news and websites on both sides of the political divide. We see it on social media, translated through what photographs, articles, and memes are posted and shared, what words are used to introduce those images; how headlines are focused and spun. Propaganda is everywhere and, to some extent, if you partake in sharing its messages, you’re a party to it.

Don’t think so?

Well, here’s a thought: propaganda is an equation that works with the energy of thought. The more you think something, the more you say something, the more you breathe life into that idea by your thoughts, words and actions, the more a thing IS. It’s just a matter of physics. Propaganda uses that equation for its own purposes: Think it + Focus on it + Say it + Talk about it + Share supporting information + Discard countering information + Argue it + Denigrate disagreement + Be relentless in promoting it = More of IT in the world.

Racism? That’s a big topic these days, one in which propaganda is being flung around every which way, and while it authentically remains a substantial and important issue in our society, the way we discuss it, frame it, and propagandize about it is exactly how it will remain manifested in our world. Scream and yell every generality, every inflamed accusation; attack on both sides with hyperbole and viciousness, and that’s what we’ll keep manifesting.That’s just the way it works. We can’t inspire change when we’re too focused on kicking the crap out of each other.

Don’t get me wrong; shining light where it is needed is a good thing. Pulling racists and racism out from the closet or from under the rug, the basement, or from behind a robe or computer screen is necessary. Honestly confronting the issues we cringe from is essential to productive conversation and practical progress. And certainly many of these steps occur in explosive ways after events like the Rodney King beating, Trayvon Martin’s death, or the more recent Ferguson case. But wise people understand that rage and demands for justice have to be channeled judiciously and with utter candor and openness, clear that each of these cases (and others) is individual, not necessarily comparable, with specific and differentiated facts and meanings. And despite the incendiary nature of all these events, none of them mean ALL of America is broken, or race relations have all gone to hell, or civil rights have no meaning in this country. None of these are true. Elements of each are true in specific cases, but the sweeping generalities being spewed like so many litanies are not only not true, they’re propaganda, and they’re demoralizing and damaging to productive forward motion.

Remember that equation? Now, think about what your goal is as a person communicating in the world, a person sharing information and engaging in conversation. If your goal is to promote peace and bring honest, tangible change to the world; to educate, uplift, inspire, challenge, reach out, and bridge divides, you’ll communicate with equanimity, fairness, specificity, intelligence, truth, compassion, and a willingness to listen and hear new information.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to relentlessly vent and call it activism; attack and insult and call it “debate”; promote greater divides between the races, or to push the meme that racism is utterly hopeless and unstoppable, do this instead:

• Keep talking about how all whites/all blacks are all fill in the blank.
• Create and promote as many false equivalencies as possible.
• Spin the news so that only the part that supports racism is featured.
• Post as many stories as you can find about bad cops and prosecutors.
• Generalize heavily and focus on the very worst of humanity.
• Comment and promote the idea that all whites “don’t value black lives.”
• Generalize widely that all black men are criminals/victims/innocent/guilty
• Ferret out and share stories that support that all cops are vicious.
• Keep pounding the drum that ALL of America is broken/unfair/insensitive/racist.
• Look for and share media that promotes that all politicians hate people of color.
• Support the notion that all who disagree with Obama are racists.
• Make it clear by what you say and post that in all tangles between cops and people of color, the cops are always wrong;
• And be sure to only post stories that promote all of the above.

If you do all that – as many, many people are doing online these days – you are being a propagandist. And you are not helping to educate, heal, or raise the consciousness of this country. You are, instead, publicly promoting your own anger and outrage, potentially at the expense of positive change. You are promoting thoughts and ideas that focus energy and agreement on the very worst of society. And the more the very worst is agreed upon, the more it is accepted, the more it is envisioned, the more it is tweeted, posted, shared, argued about, etc., the more it will continue to become, to grow and metastasize.

That’s just the way it works. And we don’t want that.

Without propaganda, without all this fire-stoking, people would be left to their own devices to analyze, adjudicate, and form their own opinions of current (even past) events. We’d be obligated to get beyond the caterwauling of others to smartly weight pros and cons, do our own research to ascertain what’s true and what’s hyperbole. We’d not accept sensationalism on face value, but would be open to ideas that might fly in the face of what we’d held as fact. We might even have the magnanimity to change a viewpoint or embrace an ideal that had previously eluded us. We’d talk openly and civilly share our, perhaps, contrary opinions without fear of attack or ridicule. We’d boldly allow for the option to not agree with propaganda, but instead promote notions of equilibrium, personal responsibility, and each and everyone’s obligation to take control of their own actions. From there we would likely have a better chance at bringing real change to the problems that harm us as a culture.

I’m all for that. By the way, he was too.

MLK_love not hate
MLK poster from OurTimeOrg

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Dear Facebook Circle: Could You Do Me A Favor?

facebook-meme

I love that you’re all here. I’ve intentionally set my page to “public” with the idea of welcoming people from all over the world with their varying opinions and perspectives, and I appreciate the diversity. I enjoy the stories you tell, pictures you post, articles you share, events you holler about, even the animal videos (I LOVE the animal videos!). I also appreciate civil thought-provocation by way of opinion pieces shared; I occasionally engage in respectful debate (though less so these days… it’s so circuitous!), and I do think it’s essential to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us.

But it’s a delicate balance, a pendulum swing between “being informed” and “being bombarded”; between “having an opinion” vs. “being an a-hole about it.” And that balance often gets out of whack and in need of fine-turning. And while, in the spirit of self-preservation and mental health, I encourage you to turn off the TV, step away from relentless news, and stop reading everything written on the disasters of the day, I also think there are some simple adjustments we can make, even in how we engage with each other on social platforms such as Facebook.

So can we try this? For the sake of NOT being part of the toxic noise about things over which we have no control, I make these few simple requests, in no particular order:

  1. If I, say, post a piece celebrating a 1%er donating money to an important cause, supporting a good law, or pushing for a raise in the minimum wage, could you do me a favor and refrain from snarkiness about how much MORE that person could’ve donated, what else he spends his money on, why he’s an idiot, or how come he didn’t do more? He donated. He helped. He put effort toward something good. Excellent. It’s being acknowledged. Let’s leave it at that.
  1. If a piece is posted about, say, positive efforts being made on the ebola front, please don’t respond by then sharing every single fear-stirring article about who else has been infected, how many have died, how no one is safe, etc. Read Frank Bruni’s article, Scarier Than Ebola to put things in proper perspective and go get a flu shot… or your kids vaccinated. You’re not going to get ebola. Neither are your children. The media is already working overtime to pump this evolving story into a lather; how about we “rise above” on our social media pages and stay focused on the positive, the real, the actual? If you think immersing yourself in the negative, particularly regarding issues of health and welfare, has any social, physical, mental, or emotional benefit, odds are you don’t feel good a lot of the time. I urge you to turn your thoughts to healthier perspectives. It works, I swear.
  1. I beg you, please reconsider posting ANYTHING further about what an idiot Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News, or any of that particular cabal are. We ALREADY KNOW. It really, truly IS better to ignore people of their ilk. Unless they’re physically setting fire to a room, standing with a knife at someone’s neck, or flying to Russia to “negotiate” with Putin (and would we put that past Palin?), they are nothing but gaseous air intended to prick public response. And when you post and share stories about them, you are doing exactly what they want you to do! Publicize them! Make them viral! Get them more attention!! They need that like vampires need moonlight and blood. So starve ’em out. Ignore them. Unless it’s Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert skewering them, unless you’re taking actual steps to shut them down, stop feeding the beast. I’ve taken a vow to never again write, read, or share anything about any of them…. will you join me?
  1. I get why people are mad at the police. I’ve been mighty mad at the police a few times myself, as anyone who reads my columns can attest. But in every case involving “bad cops,” including my own, it involves SOME bad cops. Only some. Not all. Not every cop is a corrupt, racist, psychotic sociopath. MOST are good people working at an incredibly, ridiculously dangerous job that has got to be draining to the heart and soul of any human being. So posting a relentless string of “bad cop” stories is, like posting bad Muslim stories, an act of propaganda. It focuses attention on a certain element, a small percentage, the extremist edge, of a much larger group, and stirs up negative feelings intended to spill onto ALL of that group. Please stop. It’s not helping; it’s fomenting. Unless you’re authentically participating in some tangible, physical action towards righting wrongs or promoting the advancement of deeply needed awareness-raising related to our racial divides, you’re only creating more divides. Don’t be that guy in the town square endlessly waving pamphlets about what’s wrong with the world. Either sign up for a community action group or focus on who and what’s improving the situation.
  1. Let’s acknowledge this plain and simple fact: the Middle East is a quagmire. Part of why I loved The Honorable Woman was its stunning authenticity in showing just how much of a quagmire, even for those most invested and most desirous of peace. None of us here on Facebook, other than potentially having ethnic ties and certainly our opinions, have hands-on involvement in that situation, so how about we do what we can to not contribute further to the quagmire? Abstention from posting incendiary, fear-mongering, rage inducing, propagandizing pieces would be a good start. Because it doesn’t help. Amazingly intelligent and peace-focused statespeople the world over have struggled to find solutions to this relentless situation, a situation that encompasses nuances, enigmas, ancient wounds, historical precedence, and arcane, ethnic influences that we here on Facebook are not privy to. We’re not going to solve it on social media so how about we at least try to not throw verbal grenades into the public theatre? Promoting peace can be as simple as not promoting dissention.
  1. And lastly, and certainly on a lighter note, if I post a review of something I like, a ramble about my day at the beach; share a well-written piece about the President, or exhibit my opinion about something relative to my worldview, could you do me the favor of not immediately following with a comment in disagreement? It’s not that I mind opposing views, but there’s a time, a place, and certainly worthier topics than, say, the state in which I live or a film I happen to like, with which to argue. There seems an almost knee-jerk response from some to immediately, and likely without much thought, jump on to register an opposing views as if it were their moral duty. I call it the Ego of Opposition. Know this: it’s not required. And when it’s in service to the most mundane of issues, it only serves to make you seem unfriendly, curmudgeonly, negative, egotistical and passive aggressive. So how about this: I won’t go to your page to assert my disagreement to your review of Gone Girl; I won’t jump on your thread to knock down your lovely remembrance of a place you visited that I don’t like; I won’t argue politics (because we all know that’s a rabbit hole), and if you post something incendiary that I think promotes fear or hate, I may refute but I’ll do so with reason and civility. Anything else I’ll take it to my own page. I’d appreciate it if you do the same.

I realize some of you will disagree with this list (of course! 🙂 ) Some of you believe there’s merit in posting about every bad thing in the world, spending time on social media debating (aka: screaming at each other); some of you even believe we’re obligated as good citizens to participate in these ways or we’re not engaged, informed, or involved. Okay. That’s your opinion.

Mine? This world can be a difficult place, surely it is for many, but most of us here in this Facebook circle are the fortunate ones who get to make decisions about how we live in it. And in all my years as a writer, a journalist, an observer of life, and a member of the human race, I have not seen one good thing evolve out of mindless opposition, knee-jerk contrariness, or the fanning and focusing of negativity. We have the power to promote positive action, and we should; we have the obligation to take positive action, and we must; but we also have the ability — the need — to use our words more wisely, more judiciously; more compassionately. I’d like to encourage that. Thanks.

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.