WASHINGTON. Back in the day, young people and soccer moms used to hang out at the local shopping mall when they had nothing better to do. Typically, they’d exchange the latest gossip, malicious or otherwise. Enjoy, guilt-free, cheap eats together somewhere in the mall’s food court. And occasionally filch something from one of the shops if the spirit moved them. But above all, they socialized, in person, face-to-face, one-on-one or as a group. Today, that’s all gone. And, unsurprisingly, malls are going downhill for various reasons. In their stead, today’s generations congregate at the propaganda mall, otherwise known as social media.
That means that rising generations addicted to portable media platforms get an incomplete picture of the other side of their conversations in many cases. Without traditional, in-person visual and personal signals as messaging flies back and forth, there’s no way to gauge honesty or integrity on the other side of the conversation. Which is why you need to be on the lookout if you’re using social media almost exclusively to provide social contact.
I initially dealt with this in my first article based on Caitlin Johnstone’s excellent treatise on the subject. There, we explored the first 5 of her 32 tips for avoiding the influence of propaganda. Johnstone’s next several tips involve developing the kind of strong personal integrity that enables you to dodge the lies and fake news put out by the propaganda mall crowd.
Already practiced skeptics should read Johnstone’s full, original article here. My edited version appears in this series, with my own comments and observations following each excerpt.
I’ve subtitled my own riff on Johnstone’s tips as:
32 Tips for Avoiding Propaganda Hell
(6 through 12)
6 — Be suspicious of anyone who refuses to articulate themselves clearly.
Word salading is a tactic notoriously used by abusive narcissists, because it keeps the victim confused and unable to figure out what’s going on. If they can’t get a clear handle on what the manipulative abuser is saying, they can’t form their own solid position in relation to it, and the abuser knows this. Insist on lucid communication, and if it’s refused to you, remove trust and sympathy.
Comment: I call Johnstone’s “word salading” “Washingtonspeak” because its aim is to never, ever answer your question by baffling you with bullshit. Listen to any cable TV news outlet interviewing politicians on either side of the aisle, but Democrats in particular. They rarely if ever answer a straight question, even the usual softballs they get from subservient media hosts. They generally do the “sidestep” to avoid going on record with anything controversial. Which brings us to the following YouTube video from the film version of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Charles Durning’s Texas governor tells you all you need to know. Best political song ever. Perfectly describes what you get in the political propaganda mall.
7 — Familiarize yourself with cognitive biases, the glitches in human cognition which cause us to perceive things in a way that is not rational.
Pay special attention to confirmation bias, the backfire effect, and the illusory truth effect. Humans have an annoying tendency to seek out cognitive ease in their information-gathering and avoid cognitive dissonance, rather than seeking out what’s true…
Comment: Pay particular attention to “confirmation bias.” We all do it, given that we have a tendency to believe stuff put out by companies or individuals we know to be on our “side” of the political equation. Since I’m essentially conservative-to-libertarian, I’ll tend to believe Fox News any day over CNN. I would suspect that Johnstone would tilt toward CNN and reject Fox.
That said, I think both of us would check our own gullibility quotient and try to find at least one or two other sources to confirm a given story, just to make sure our own favorites aren’t gilding the lily. In other words, nearly everyone in the media is a liar today at least some of the time, so we need to make sure we’re getting close to the truth before we totally believe our favorites. The real truth is in short supply today in the propaganda mall. Our elites seem to endorse with Jack Nicholson’s famous line: “You can’t handle the truth!” And here it is, via a YouTube video clip from 1992’s A Few Good Men.
8 — Trust your own understanding above anyone else’s.
It might not be perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than letting your understanding be controlled by narrative managers and dopey partisan groupthink, or by literally anyone else in a narrative landscape that is saturated with propaganda and manipulation. You won’t get everything right, but betting on your own understanding is the very safest bet on the table.
Comment: What Johnstone said.
9 — Understand that propaganda is the single most overlooked and under-appreciated aspect of our society.
Everyone’s constantly talking about what’s wrong with the world, but hardly any of those discussions are centered around the fact that the public been manipulated into supporting the creation and continuation of those problems by mass media propaganda. …powerful people are constantly manipulating the way we think, act and vote …
Comment: … so ignore the bastards.
10 — Respect the fact that the science of modern propaganda has been in research and development for over a century.
Think of all the military advancements that have been made in the last century to get an idea of how sophisticated this science must now be. They are far, far ahead of us in terms of research and understanding of the methods of manipulating the human psyche toward ends, which benefit the powerful. Don’t underestimate them.
Comment: Read that last sentence again. And look up recent stories about how Google is going all in to subtly manipulate the vote in Election 2020 to absolutely ensure that the results of Election 2016 – i.e., President Trump – never happen again. In many ways, you can trace such tactics back to Vance Packard’s controversial exposé on the advertising agencies, The Hidden Persuaders. Packard visualized today’s propaganda mall as it emerged from its infancy.
11 — Understand that western mass media propaganda rarely consists of full, outright lies.
At most, such outlets will credulously publish the things fed to them by government agencies, which lie all the time. More often, the deception comes in the form of distortions, half-truths, and omissions. Pay more attention to … what they’re not saying.
Comment: Read that last sentence above one more time. I created it by slightly editing Johnstone’s original text. The Catholic Church notably divides sin into two categories: sins of COmission and sins of Omission. It’s what politicians and media blow-dries DON’T say that’s often more important than what they do say. Classic example: The editing of Trump’s sensible comments on the Charlottesville tragedy that make him appear to endorse KKK types. That’s an outright lie by hostile media thugs to smear the President and make him part of their eventual “white supremicist” fake narrative.
But Trump’s deliberately altered remarks now firmly resides in the NEXIS database as the “truth.” If you repeat a lie long enough and loudly enough, it somehow becomes the truth. Always remember this. It’s a particularly effective tool in the leftist propaganda mall. They tell you what the “truth” is. If you buy what they’re saying, you’re usually buying an outright lie put forth to support the left’s extensive fake narrative.
12 — Put effort into developing a good news-sense, a sense for what’s newsworthy and what’s not.
This takes time and practice, but it lets you see which newsworthy stories are going unreported by the mass media and which non-stories are being overblown to shape an establishment-friendly narrative.
Next: TBD. Work in progress. Will update as successive articles appear.
– Headline image: YouTube video still from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Film version: 1982) “Sidestep”: The Governor of Texas (Charles Durning) makes his position clearly unclear.