2010.02.24 Propaganda War or Infowar?

"George Washington" suggests that we use the tools of the enemy, "psychology or marketing techniques," i.e., propaganda, to "promote the truth," and he is quite right to anticipate "ethical reservations," but my reservations are not only ethical but tactical. He is "completely opposed" to using to using these techniques to spread "disinformation," but what in the world does he think would then enable us to distinguish "good" propaganda from bad?

The answer is of course the very "facts and logic" that he claims are hindering us (when we appeal to them) from reaching the "larger audience" in the first place. In other words, "GW" is suggesting that we join the propaganda war, which will accomplish nothing except to distract those who can and prefer to deal in facts and logic from doing what they do best and what in the end will be the only thing that can defeat the propaganda of the other side (the enemies of truth).

I would hesitate in principle to take any advice from someone whose respect for truth does not even extend to using his real name (yes, it's a he), and in this case the advice is pernicious. Don't follow it. Of course what he and Lakoff and Luntz (and long before them Bernays) say about how we are manipulated is true, but there is nothing new about any of it. More importantly, what "GW" forgets to mention is that in a propaganda war it is not the best man but the biggest man who wins. Sure we can adopt the techniques of Madison Avenue and the mass media -- and what makes him think we don't already? -- but the significant and decisive point is that we are NOT Madison Avenue and the mass media. We simply do not have the bucks to make our case with anything like the effectiveness that the corporatacracy can and does. We cannot win the propaganda war.

Thus it makes no sense, and is counterproductive, to suggest that we join this war, which would be to fight Goliath on his own terms. Bad analogy, since we have no assurance that our Goliath can or will be defeated, at least any time soon. How long have 99% of humanity been struggling against their oppression by 1%? What seems to be different now, in fact unique, is the degree of our delusion. Things have changed a lot since 2001, but still today the notion that we (especially Americans) are free and brave (and lots of other nice things) must stand in lurid contrast to the reality that will someday be seen more clearly, if the world survives long enough. I wonder if the Germans of the 1930s thought of themselves as free and brave. Brave maybe, but free?

The notion that we can use propaganda to fight propaganda seems to me a symptom of this unique state of self-delusion. Worse than that, if I were the Minister of Truth I would promote it as an excellent idea. Oh yes, let's get a few of Crass Sunstein's "corrective information" agents out there fighting fire with fire to keep the truth seekers occupied, so that if and when it becomes necessary we can send in an overwhelming force, a couple of battalions of "correctors," to set things right.

This is not the way. Goliath reigns. The reptilian and mammalian brains have the advantage. But facts and logic are our slingshot. It's all we have. We have a chance to at least hold our own in the information war, especially if we can keep the internet the way it is. (Note the rapidly increasing and coalescing forces to "monetize" it, which will lead inevitably to less accessibility for the masses and more control for the plutocrats.) We just have to find a way to use it effectively. It's a challenge for the hackers, the youthful nerdy herds who by sheer numbers and enthusiasm may find a way to stay ahead of Big Brother and someday, who knows, may find a way to turn something like Facebook into something like a people's revolution.