Popular Culture 20110429: Propaganda

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Self-deception is not a new cultural phenomenon, but it has always been popular.  Self-deception takes many forms.  Some kinds are harmless, such as the almost universal one of thinking that one is more attractive than one actually is.  Others can be devastating, such as thinking that one is, for example, thinking that one is obese when actually he or she is seriously underweight.  Interestingly, both of these conditions have to do with self image.  As a matter of fact, many kinds of self-deception have to do with self image.

There are other kinds as well.  In many of those cases it is not just an individual having deceptive thoughts herself or himself, but rather is encouraged to cleave to ideas that the individual probably deep down believes not to be true.  This is the basis of the idea of propaganda, when ideas are planted by outside sources.  There is one big movement that is current and we shall talk about it at some length.  

As I write this piece, I see a picture of the Manhattan Megalomaniac (smiling, something rare) and a poll to vote for or against him.  Of course, MM is the champion of the moment for the Birther movement.  Now, I do not for a second think that Trump believes that President Obama is not a natural born United States citizen, but lots of people DO believe that.  However, that does not mean that MM is incapable of self-deception, because I believe that he really thinks that he is not only better looking than he is (whatever that is on his head disqualifies him from any hope of being good looking), but better on every level than he really is.  More on that later.

The Birther movement adherents have been propagandized into believing that President Obama was born elsewhere.  Propaganda is not in itself self-deception, but rather a tool to accomplish it.  However, not all individuals are equally susceptible to any given type of propaganda.  There has to be some underlying factor (or factors) that sensitize an individual to a particular false belief.  In addition, the idea(s) have to be hammered home on a regular and sustained basis to have much effect except for relatively tiny parts of the population.

For example, if the American people had been told once that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction, I would wager that not very many people would have been in favor of invading that country.  However, the relentless and varied reports from the previous administration convinced enough people that Iraq actually did have them, despite objective evidence that strongly contradicted the propaganda.  The propaganda just got more, and shriller, air time.  But that was not sufficient:  we know that China has them, and we are not invading them, or Russia, or the UK, or Israel, or India, or Pakistan, or France, or South Africa, and we know that all of those possess them, with the possible exception of South Africa.  Why?

For propaganda to work, it must address some sort of basic need, and fear (or, more precisely, the need to avoid fear) works better than most.  Demonization of a person or group also helps, and right away Saddam Hussein quickly became the the target.  Before we had time enough to sort out the facts, we were already invading, and by the time that the facts were determined, it was too late.  This is how propaganda works.

In many cases the ultimate sources of propaganda know that their facts are are indeed not true, but not always.  However, it is necessary for a few zealots to be true believers, and that others enable them by giving them a forum to present their “facts”.  Often these enablers do not believe the propaganda, but since they support or oppose a policy or a person, the allow those views to be heard, because it is in whatever interest they have to do so.

One would think that there needs to be at least a little truth behind the facts to make them seem more plausible.  This is not true at all.  Often, the bigger the lie the better.  Let us look at an example from all to recent history.  When Adolf Hitler (who was a master propagandist) was starting his political rise, he blamed all of Germany’s trouble on three main groups:  labor unions (sound familiar?), the Jews, and the Communists.  In reality, Germany’s main problem was the crushing war reparations that the Allies extracted after World War I.  Remember, in those days of the gold standard, only gold was accepted, so Germany had to manufacture goods for export (for gold), then turn around and send the gold overseas for reparations.

As is often the case, the truth did not faze the propagandist.  It was the greedy labor unions and the Jews who were getting all of the wealth, whilst the Communists wanted to take over the government.  This probably would not have been successful except for the Great Depression.  Germany was particularly hard hit, because of having no gold reserves due to the reparations.  So the Weimar Republic began to inflate its currency, rendering it almost without value, since there was no gold reserve to back it.  Then fear (actually panic) set in widely, making much of the population predisposed to believe the propaganda, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Let us come to the present now, and look into the Birther movement.  There is not a shred of evidence to indicate that President Obama was born anywhere other than Hawaii.  Zero.  That does not stop the propaganda.  He produced his official certificate of live birth, the legal document that Hawaii issues.  Well, it must have been forged, they say.  Then his birth announcement in the local newspaper was found.  Well, it was eight days after the birth, Sean Hannity says, so there must have been something up with that.

This story gets repeated over and over and over, mostly on the Fox “News” Network.  I do not think that Hannity is a Birther, but Birtherism serves his (and Fox’s) purpose:  undermining support for President Obama.  Before you know it, over half of Republicans in multiple polls either are not sure if he was born in the United States, or are sure that he was not.  Remember, often the bigger the lie the better it works.

Now the Manhattan Megalomaniac jumps in and starts singing the song.  He certainly does not believe it, but it serves his purpose.  Over half of the primary voters is a real prize (IF, and that is a really big if, he actually plans to run; personally I think that he is just getting his attention fix) and the cameras are fixated on him.  He is not a True Believer, but rather is using the Birther movement as a tool for whatever his actual purpose is.  Remember, you do not have to believe the propaganda to have it work for you.  This person is the ultimate opportunist, and is taking the opportunity.

But to keep the lie alive, someone has to believe.  I saw some commentator on, of course, the Fox “News” Channel actually make the case that the long form that was just released “proves” that President Obama can not be President because his father was Kenyan, making the President, in fact, a British citizen!  I kid you not, this person actually said that, basing his “proof” on the fact that Kenya was at the time a British colony.  No regard was paid to the real fact that the document also indicates that his mother was a natural born United States citizen and that the infant Obama was born in a state of the United States.

You see, facts do not matter.  The bigger the lie, the better it works in many cases.  Now, the Manhattan Megalomaniac had his hand called, so he is already moving on to other topics, including the claim that Bill Ayers wrote the first book “purpotedly” written by our current president, and that as a student Mr. Obama was just terrible.  I guess that being graduated Magna Cum Laude and being president of the Harvard Law Review is for slackers.  The MM is just trying to switch topics because he knows that there is a large group of people who will pay attention to him if he says scandalous things about the President.

I can not leave this topic without mentioning the Queen of the Birthers, Orly Taitz.  She is a piece of work.  Herself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, she is certainly a True Believer.  Here is a video clip of her stating her case.

King was too easy on her.  Lawrence O’Donnell had a better approach Wednesday (I think) night on his show.

That is the way to handle propagandists!  This woman is not stupid, as she holds a degree in dentistry and in law.  But she had drunk the Kool-Aid.

In closing, propaganda is everywhere, and everyone has a vested interest for why they say the things that they do.  Here is a quote from Mein Kampf about the three kinds of newspaper readers (paraphrased from the English translation that I have).  This can be expanded to radio listeners and TeeVee viewers.

There are three types of newspaper readers.  The first is the kind who believes everything that he reads.  They are easy to influence, since they believe everything  that you print.  The second is the kind who believes nothing he reads.  This type used to belong to the first group but repeated disappointment has caused them to become cynical.  They are also easy to influence because you just have find outlets that they read and say the opposite of what you mean to say.  The third kind are the ones who read and think carefully, checking facts and getting all sides to an issue.  They are almost impossible to influence, but fortunately this is by far the smallest group.

Please try to be part of the third group.

Warmest regards,



  1. the truth?

    Warmest regards,


  2. I appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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