Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda

Summary: Weakness always produces aggression by the strong, and we have chosen to be weak.  In America the mode of conflict is information.  Conservatives have worked long and hard on their information programs (aka propaganda).   Their decades of skillfully conducted work have earned large rewards, advancement of their policies to the benefit of our ruling elites.  Restoring our grasp of reality is an essential step to restoring the Republic, and our liberty. 

Other posts in this series:

(1)  Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011.
(3)  More use of the big lie:  shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011




  1. The nature of propaganda
  2. Well-funded engines of disinformation
  3. Other examples
  4. How did we come to this point?
  5. Other posts about propaganda

(1)  The nature of propaganda

Wonderful is the effect of impudent & persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves.
— Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William S. Smith, written from Paris on 13 November 1787

Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations.  Our leaders (both left and right) have discovered that they can successfully lie to us.  Big lies!  Insights like that can change the course of nations.

Both left and right lie constantly — because lies work as well or better than facts.  However, the most enthusiastic application of this appear (for now) on the right.  They’ve learned that even bizarre large lies work. Such as the lies about Obama’s birth certificate, and describing the Obama Administration as a radical leftist time.  Repetition works, on sheep.

(2)  Well-funded engines of disinformation

All this was inspired by the principle–which is quite true within itself–that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X

Effective propaganda comes from experienced, skilled technicians.  Think of this as political infrastructure, factories of disinformation.

About Republican Wonks — Such creatures exist, but it’s important to realize that their purpose, aside from the usual taxcuts and killwelfarestate but freemoneyforrichpeople agenda, isn’t to come up with conservative means to achieve somewhat liberal ends. Their purpose is to derail any attempt to achieve liberal ends. They don’t want their crappy health care plan to pass, it just exists so they can propose a “serious” alternative and then regretfully torpedo the more liberal alternative. Obama passed their plan, and they responded by deciding he was worse than Hitler.
Atrios, posted at Eschaton, 14 December 2011

Effective propaganda requires more than circulating lies; your audience should be innoculated against truth.

People who say they distrust the media in general are more likely to consume news from partisan outlets, outlets that already agree with them, and this will reinforce their positions, whether those positions are right or wrong. I also find a good deal of evidence that when people who distrust the media confront information attributed to the media in general — a lot of the information we encounter we don’t necessarily get as attributed to a single source, but we know has been reported in the media in general — these people don’t absorb that information very well. They’re more likely to reject new information. They form their beliefs about how the country is going, and what’s going on in the world, based on their partisanship …

For political leaders who want to maximize their amount of votes and ensure that their base is solidly behind them and won’t be moved by any new developments in the real world, this would be a rational strategy — to inoculate your political base against the information by telling them to distrust information that comes from anything except ideological sources.

— Jonathan Ladd (Asst Prof Government, Georgetown U), Why everyone hates the media“, Salon, 23 December 2011 — “Mistrust of the press is at near-historic highs. A new book argues that has dangerous public-policy consequences”

(3)  A few examples

Everyone should read Mirowski’s Road from Mont Pelerin. Chicago School neoloberalism was always primarily a political movement whose goal was business domination of government. Their scientific theories were dispensable expedients customized for that purpose.

All of the academic ideologies imported from ruined Europe after WWII were aggressively anti-democratic: Strauss’s neoconservativism, Austrian neo-liberalism, Popper’s technocracy, and even Adorno’s cultural criticism and critical theory. They have won and we have lost.

— John Emmerson, at Brad DeLong’s website

These examples concern simple matters of fact.  Those that the news media file under “opinions differ about the shape of the earth”.

(a)  About Obama’s “Apology Tour” — Showing that repetition of a lie has more impact than the repeated debunkings.

  1. Obama’s ‘Apology Tour’“, Glenn Kessler (The Fact Checker), Washington Post, 22 February 2011
  2. Right-Wing Media Hype False Story About Obama’s ‘Apology’ For Hiroshima“,  13 October 2011
  3. Exploding The ‘Apology Tour’ Myth Once and For All“, Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, 1 December 2011
  4. Mitt Romney repeats claim that Obama went around the world apologizing for the United States, PolitiFact of the St. Petersburg Times
  5. A linkfest debunking the meme. at Truthsquad

(b)  The deficit is Obama’s fault:

  1. The 2012 Budget Surplus that Disappeared“, Jeff Rosen, National Review Online, 14 December 2011
  2. Rebuttal: “Bush Budget Aides Still Budget-Illiterate“, Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 14 December 2011

“I don’t think this is ignorance. I think it’s deceit. National Review and the WSJ editorial page aren’t actually that dumb; but they think that their readers are.”
— Paul Krugman, “Way Off Baseline“, New York Times, 15 December 2011

(c)  The CNN debate of Republican Presidential Candidates on 13 June 2011

This transcript is 35 pages of sense, nonsense, fiction, and craziness.  I’ve watched Presidential debates for 36 years; never have I seen anything like this.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Pawlenty:  The US (2010 GDP/capita of $47 thousand, per IMF) can grow as fast as Brazil ($11 thousand) or China ($4 thousand). Just as my son and I should be able to grow at the same rate.
  • Bachman:  Eliminate corporate taxes.
  • Santorum:  Cut the capital gains tax (mostly paid by the rich) in half; cut it for manufacturers to zero for 5 years (with corporate profits near record highs)
  • Gingrich says to defund the National Labor Relations Board (reducing the breaks on corporate anti-union activity)
  • Ron Paul echoing Andrew Mellon, “liquidate capital, liquidate labor…”
  • Romney advocating the elimination of disaster relief.

(d)  CBS News/National Journal debate on 13 June 2011 of Republican Presidential Candidates

  1. Fact check of the debate“, CBS News, 13 November 2011
  2. Transcript of the debate , part one and part two

(e)  The housing crisis — shifting the blame, an incredible example of successful propaganda (more on this on another day)

  1. Who should we blame for the mortgage crisis?, 16 January 2010
  2. Cutting through the fog to clearly understand the housing crisis, 8 July 2010
  3. Housing Update – dynamite to blast us out of our lethargy?, 27 July 2010
  4. Here’s an opportunity for the Tea Party: fighting foreclosure fraud by banks!, 22 September 2010
  5. A briefing about the foreclosure fraud crisis: its origin and impacts, 14 October 2010
  6. Who caused the housing crisis?  Why do people not believe all the studies?, 15 November 2011

(f)  About climate change

  1. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 11 February 2008
  2. More attempts to control the climate science debate using smears and swarming, 19 October 2009
  3. The facts about the 1970′s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009
  4. The floodgates slowly open and the foreign news media debunk climate change propaganda, 24 January 2010
  5. Quote of the day – hidden history for people who rely on the mainstream media for information, 12 February 2010
  6. A real-time example of the birth and spread of climate propaganda, 9 March 2010
  7. Lies told under the influence of the Green religion to save the world, 30 July 2010
  8. We see the world in terms of facts (mostly numbers). Our world changes rapidly, including the past’s numbers, 2 August 2010

(g)  Other examples (will be updated)

  1. Birthers, believing Obama was not born in America — Nothing more need be said.
  2. The long war.  Born in lies about Iraq’s WMDs and that the 9-11 attacks were staged from Afghanistan.
  3. President Obama, an Muslim apostate?, 2 June 2008
  4. The Myth of Income Equality, Courtesy of AEI“, Ryan Chittum, Columbia Journalism Review, 26 October 2011 — “New CBO data show what (almost) everybody already knows”.
  5. Perry ad says that the US poverty rate has hit an “all-time high:  “Another Rick Perry Whopper“, FactCheck, 21 September 2011
  6. Misrepresenting the Recovery from the Great Depression“, David Glasner (economist, Federal Trade Commission), 26 December 2011
  7. David Brooks Is Upset at Liberals Who INSIST on Applying Arithmetic to Economics“, Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), 27 September 2011
  8. What caused the financial crisis? The Big Lie goes viral.“, Barry Ritholtz, Washington Post, 5 November 2011
  9. The e-mail rumor mill is run by conservatives“, Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 17 November 2011
  10. Right-wing press demands liberal media repeat Occupy shooter’ smear“, Salon, 19 November 2011 — “How a disturbed would-be presidential assassin became another bizarre conservative meme.”
  11. Valuable:  Glenn Greenwald discusses the skillful propaganda program about our global drone killing apparatus.  1984 came, just a few years late.

(4)  How did we come to this point?

Causes and cures are the important questions for issues such as these.  Both are beyond the scope of this already too-long post.  Here are two items to spark further thought.

(a)  Say Anything“, Paul Krugman, op-ed in the New York Times, 25 October 2011 — Conclusion:

The key to understanding this, I’d suggest, is that movement conservatism has become a closed, inward-looking universe in which you get points not by sounding reasonable to uncommitted outsiders — although there are a few designated pundits who play that role professionally — but by outdoing your fellow movement members in zeal.

(b)  When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?“, David Frum, New York Magazine, 20 November 2011 — “Some of my Republican friends ask if I’ve gone crazy. I say: Look in the mirror.”  Excerpt:

Extremism and conflict make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment — and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel).

As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.

  1. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority.
  2. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors — is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat.
  3. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”

We used to say “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it’s tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. The bizarre fiasco of campaign-finance reform has perversely empowered them to give unlimited funds anonymously to special entities that can spend limitlessly. (Thanks, Senator ­McCain! Nice job, Senator Feingold!)

Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they’re gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are ­actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.

(5)  Other posts about propaganda

For a full list see the FM Reference Page Information & disinformation.

About propaganda in America:

  1. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  2. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  3. More propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island, 4 February 2010
  4. The hidden history of the global warming crusade, 19 February 2010
  5. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
  6. About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
  7. The similar delusions of America’s Left and Right show our common culture – and weakness, 26 March 2010
  8. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  9. Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 15 September 2010
  10. Why Conservatives are winning: they use the WMD of political debate, 28 April 2011
  11. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011


6 thoughts on “Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda”

  1. Howard Rheingold discussed the relationship between technology and the weakening of Civil Society (Public Space) in the mid 90s: Virtual Communities, Phony Civil Society? {undated}. He was claiming his experiences with the early “virtual communities” created by california counterculture (Greatful Dead fans) indicated that democracy could be bolstered by virtual communities, contrary to the skeptics that wrote the following paper: “Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure?“, Jan Fernback and Brad Thompson. As Fernback and Thompson indicate, there were a number of earlier social theorists and critics that discussed the breakdown of “community” as a result of economic, and technological changes, and how that had resulted in political and cultural “decline”.

    Rheingold goes into detail in Chapte 10 “Disinformocracy” of his 1993 book The Virtual community, see the section “The Selling of Democracy: Commodification and the Public Sphere” — excerpts:

    It is also possible to alter the nature of discourse by inventing a kind of paid fake discourse. … The idea that public opinion can be manufactured and the fact that electronic spectacles can capture the attention of a majority of the citizenry damaged the foundations of democracy. … Mass media’s colonization of civil society turned into a quasi-political campaign promoting technology itself when the image-making technology of television came along. (“Progress is our most important product,” said General Electric spokesman Ronald Reagan, in the early years of television.)

  2. Lying in politics? I’m shocked, totally shocked. Just some random thoughts…

    Right now, what about Liberals? They’re helpless and completely de-fanged as long as Obama is president. I think the best example of this is the anti-war movement. When Bush was president, there were protests and they were large. With Obama, who has pretty much continued Bush policies unchanged, crickets. Nothing. Nobody organizes, nobody complains because, well, that might help the Republicans. As far as war on terror, on rendition, Bradly Manning, attack on Libya, Guantanamo, they can’t criticize their own guy, so they say nothing.

    To me, who has made the best case for the left-side has been Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone magazine. Goldman Sachs will always be ‘the Vampire Squid’ — he’s gone for the jugular and he’s been reality-based. A lot ideas of the OWS people have their roots here. The problem, again, is Obama, and he’s really just as co-opted by Wall Street as the Republicans, so the mainstream Democrats can’t tap into this. All this passion and political energy, just sputters off into the gutter, and will be mostly irrelevant to the election. The media prints the smears, the militarized police come down hard. Assad could learn a thing or two from how this was handled.

    The religious conservative thing has kind of played out, politically, but really, a church is always going to be a solid basis for a political movement. You have a group of people who are used to getting out of the house and going somewhere on a Sunday, and giving money. Religion, due to its belief in heaven, angels, prophecy, the devil and other various things is always going to be a bit irrational, but you can’t just ignore this. People believe this stuff seriously and they are out there, and they are going to have a voice.

    The Tea Party guys, they bubbled up out of a general frustrations towards government and taxes. The Tea Party, for all its flaws, did what the Left has always dreamed of, and that is turn a grass roots movement into actual votes and actual candidates. I don’t think it’s actually a huge surprise that the anti-Establishment candidate, Ron Paul, comes out of this.

  3. The Inspector General gives an OK to DoD propaganda!

    A Christmas Gift for the Pentagon“, Bruce Ackerman, Slate, 28 December 2011 — “Remember how it turned retired generals into media shills? Lax oversight means it could happen again.” Excerpt:

    This report amounts to a remarkable Christmas present for the Pentagon. What it calls a “broad” program of “information outreach” was a systematic effort to provide talking points to a sympathetic audience, largely associated with defense contractors, who were working for a biased sample of news organizations. In case they didn’t get the message, Barry McCaffrey’s fate made it clear what they could expect if they refused to play the game.

    A simple reform can change this reality. The Department should be stripped of its right to determine its own guest list at its high-level media briefings. It should extend invitations to all major news organizations, and give them unfettered freedom to choose their own military experts. This will decisively shift the balance, allowing us to hear authoritative commentary not just from pundits who please the Pentagon, but from experts who represent their organization’s best shot at independent journalism. The distribution of “talking points” should also be banned, and conflict-of-interest rules tightened, but letting the media select its own attendees will make the key difference—enabling the program to express a fuller commitment to the “freedom of … the press” guaranteed by the Constitution.

    Unfortunately, initial departmental reaction to the report has been disappointing. Naturally enough, its public affairs division was “pleased that the IG found our outreach activities in compliance with DOD policies.” But it has refused to follow up on the report’s sole recommendation, and take immediate steps to formulate a systematic policy for future PR campaigns.

  4. Pingback: Science debunks the eco-fable of Easter Island | Watts Up With That?

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