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How Propaganda Works - Jason Stanley

Happy Spring Everyone!


Hopefully everyone is enjoying their longer days of daylight. If you have made it to this and opened this blog post, then you've seen the new and updated website! There are new challenges that will be added periodically as well. Such as running 30 miles for the month of March. I made it to 28.8 miles, so that was pretty damn close! The cold weather and snow halted good running days, but the weather is coming around to spring feeling. Feel free to join the running challenge! Hopefully the refreshments are more welcoming to our new and usual visitors.


Now to regular scheduled programming, today's feature is the most recent read. Currently I am reading Fooled By Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Just really getting started with this one and I took longer than I hoped to finish reading Stanley's book but here we are and I'm excited to share what we have from it.


The author is the son of a direct refugee and survivor of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. His father Manfred Stanley, passed away in 2004 and owned a massive number of books that it covered every wall in a room of his home. Jason's stepmom wanted to send him some of his dad's collection. His father and stepmom were both professors at Syracuse. Because of Manfred's tough path in Germany, he devoted his academic career to "a theoretical repudiation of authoritarianism in all of its various guises". The elder Stanley also published a book himself.





The younger Stanley's goal in this book is to explain how sincere, well-meaning individuals, under the power of flawed ideology, can unknowingly produce and consume propaganda. Manfred's book pointed to what he terms "technicism" which is the view that scientific expertise and technological advancements are the solutions to the problems for the human condition. "My father saw two chief dangers in the technicist worldview. First, it seeks to replace a liberal education with vocational technical skills. The technicist educational system therefore seeks to rob us of the capacity for autonomy. Secondly, a technicist culture encourages a tendency to defer one's practical decisions to the epistemic authority of experts" (xi). I'd like to digress to a separate point with this in mind that I believe has some correlation. Following this paragraph, we shall sidetrack for a few.


I will try to keep this "rant" rather short because even the issue itself at hand could ultimately lead those who oppose these thoughts to discredit what I think because I have no "expertise" in said subject/area, however this is the very reason to sway away from the article's main topic. The elephant in the room and in these following paragraphs will be the almighty COVID topic. Respectfully, one would be foolish to believe that COVID could not have been propagandized in some form or fashion, since its inception in 2019. Definitely still have to offer my highest condolences to whoever lost someone by way of this virus or disease. Which leads me to an interesting play of semantics. Or have diseases and viruses always been the same thing? I recall visiting numerous places and hearing the automated PA announcers refer to COVID as a virus and disease.


This next idea will maybe resonate with the conspiracy theorists, but I will not doubt the possibility that the virus unintentionally and mistakenly got out of one of the labs where they test said biology. Or the other possibility that it very well was intentional just to see how citizens and governments alike would respond. In some locations, it would seem that hospitals and health centers are using it as a marketing ploy. I noticed signs from smaller health and wellness clinics/centers that advertise how they provide quicker COVID tests compared to the overloaded hospitals. Not to mention how COVID has literally become its own business and raised profits for so many companies involved with health, wellness, and cleanliness.





I actually had the COVID paragraphs deleted via a frozen computer crash so it's coming from memory as I retype this portion. Personally, I feel I noticed the counter measures to COVID, such as the signage and "rules" for public etiquette were mass produced and manufactured in little to no time as if the shit was already planned. One fact about the pandemic is that this has been the largest transfer of wealth in human history. So, to be cliche, the rich are getting richer and the poor, well you know the rest.


At this point, I shall digress, leaving one lasting statement/thought: once again, none of the shit you read has to be true or "real" for you. The beauty about life is you affirm or deny whatever is real in your world under reasonable and realistic circumstances. This is also the purpose of this blog, to create a space for open and respectful point of views and to learn and expand. Now I shall try to recall how we dive back into the lovely topic we have at hand today, because COVID and propaganda could very well have crossed paths.


One last portion of the preface that does not to need to be left out is the politically motivated operations enacted to diminish the black communities in America. A decently educated and conscious adult in this country should also have some recollection of these things work in the world let alone this country when it comes to the treatment of minorities. "Throughout the 1990s the state and federal prison system was massively expanded, an expansion motivated in the guise of objective science. The decade featured notorious examples of the kind of technicist discourse that presents racist ideology in the guise of objective science"(xiv).





The very next sentence, Stanley points to research by neuroscientist Carl Hart that suggests that scientists colluded with politicians in a racially biased act to exaggerate the risks of certain illegal drugs to justify draconian policies (whoops does that sound like life in the last 2.5 years in the name of COVID? or I'm sorry in the name of health and safety). These outlandish and distorted sentencing policies for cheap versions of cocaine used in the black communities versus versions of the same drug in wealthy white communities were one example. Hart has another example of how the arguments that motivated the differences in sentencing for crack cocaine and the purer versions favored by wealthy whites were part of a racist scientific narrative about drugs and blacks dating back to the early 20th century. Stanley also mentions Bush's Iraq war as pure propaganda. We shall now leave the deeply packed preface lol.


The introductory chapter begins with what can damn near be guessed as the most commonly used example of propaganda to get the readers going. Which Stanley brings us to Nazi Germany. He speaks on how the nationalist socialist ideology inadvertently strips the youth in Germany of their innocence and sways them toward the Nazi thought processes. "National Socialist ideology involves a hierarchy of race, an explicit elite group, and the dehumanization of other groups. It is an example of what I will call flawed ideology. When societies are unjust, for example, in the distribution of wealth, we can expect the emergence of flawed ideologies. The flawed ideologies allow for effective propaganda. In a society that is unjust, due to unjust distinctions between persons, ways of rationalizing undeserved privilege become ossified into rigid and unchangeable belief. These beliefs are barriers to rational thought and empathy that propaganda exploits" (3). One of the most recurring ideologies Stanley points to is how the rich feel they undoubtedly deserve their spoils, and it should be no other way.


Stanley references Plato in The Republic, which I have not read but you can get some interesting information from thinkers of that era. However, Plato see democracy a bit different back then. An aristocracy of philosophers was thought to be the most ideal republic for Plato. Stanley goes on to argue the possibility that the vocabulary of liberal democracy is a mask for an undemocratic reality. Yet, propaganda posed a more specific threats to all forms of democracies.





The influence of money seems to be growing as the years past. Specifically, the sway of funds in politics lead to slim pickings at best sometimes. "Propaganda is of course not the only obstacle to the realization of liberal democratic ideals. The influence of money politics means that voters are presented with a narrow choice of options at the voter's booth. The choices are all between candidates who were able to raise the titanic sums required to run for national office from corporate and special interests and wealthy oligarchs. The candidates do not differ from one another in their representation of the interests of wealth and power, though they often represent different corporate interests: lawyers versus doctors, for example" (19). If I am being redundant, my sincerest apologies, however, this is why I do not and will never. In my opinion, America's government resembles an oligarch more than anything. Citizens vote for these characters that sit in buildings that make decisions and votes in their best interests and not the people that "voted" them there.


Stanley kicks off chapter one with what is some straight to it shit. I read the first sentence and was prepared to quote that, now it seems to be more appropriate to include the introductory paragraph to chapter one. "There is a simple and compelling argument, known since Plato, which would lead us to expect that even apparently robust liberal democracies are such in name only. The argument is as follows. A certain form of propaganda, associated with demagogues, poses an existential threat to liberal democracy. The nature of liberal democracy prevents propagandistic statements from being banned, since among the liberties it permits is the freedom of speech. But since humans have characteristic rational weaknesses and are susceptible to flattery and manipulation, allowing propaganda has a high likelihood of leading to tyranny, and hence to the end of liberal democracy" (27). Stanley links the history of philosophy, politics and propaganda.


Political philosophy concerns itself with normative judgements, how things ought to be. These kind of thoughts and actions led to the study of social theory, which is what is expected within reasonable capacities in human societies. Here's something that does not sound too far off for me: "There is a commonly held view that politics is simply about power and interests, and the political vocabulary is only ever used strategically. The rhetoric of political and moral ideals is just one more weapon in a game whose object is to seize power and, along with it, the goods of society" (31). Being the CEO or owner of a business or company are also positions that one would wield their power and authority. Therefore, for a politician to not think about it would not be farfetched.


I shall use this one last brief quote from chapter one as we move on. "Philosophy, classically understood, has as its task both the presentation of reality and the explanation of the illusions that deceive us from recognizing it" (33). Well shit, that's deep and straight to the point, ay?