Dec. 10th, 2016

Propaganda

Dec. 10th, 2016 12:51 pm
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
Propaganda is a professional interest of mine (historically rather than theoretically), and this year has really brought home to me that no matter how tremendously the means of its delivery improve, no matter how much the technology changes, the content and the techniques remain always the same.  At the primitive end, we're still getting nineteenth-century fat-cat capitalists in top hats (almost literally) - as in the email from 38 Degrees that came to my inbox today.  All that targeted social media micro-advertising by Cambridge Analytica that is held in some quarters to have determined the outcome of the US election consisted of the same level of content - you can be at the cutting edge of Big Data, but the images and slogans you're sending out haven't moved on one iota from the pre-telephone age.  At the sophisticated end we're getting the same kind of destabilisation of reality that Orwell wrote about in the 1930s.  People think fake news is new?  For God's sake!  History stopped in 1936, wrote Orwell, because everything the media (of every ideological persuasion) was putting out was lies.  That was about newspapers; in the 1940s he worked for the BBC and wrote about the egregious distortions of reality perpetrated in the broadcast news.  And that was just in Britain - across the channel there were the insane fantasy worlds being created by the Nazis and the Soviets.  Those who think Nineteen Eighty-four is about surveillance haven't bothered to read the book.  It is, first and foremost and most importantly, about living in a 'post-truth' world, and though its technologies are now laughably outdated, its descriptions of the social and psychological effects are more relevant than ever.  When all moorings have been cut loose, when you are floating in a sea of misinformation and no longer know which way is up, when you are too cynical to believe anything and therefore gullible enough to believe everything, including things which are entirely self-contradictory, when concepts such as 'facts' and 'evidence' have lost all purchase, then you are in the world of Nineteen Eighty-four. Sound familiar? That kind of propaganda was never about pushing an ideological line, it was always about securing and maintaining power - and that is the great insight of the book.  Does anyone truly believe that Trump or Putin have an ideology?  Did Orwell's O'Brien? (The answer is no.) Ideologies are a tool for use at the 'primitive' level of targeted messaging - give the white supremacists what they want to hear, and the affluent Republicans something else, and give the lefties a suitable target to vent their rage at.  But over and above all this, undermine truth, logic, reality; mislead, confuse, flip-flop, until people don't know whether 2+2=4 or 5 or whatever Big Brother tells them.  It wasn't 'Russia Today' that invented this, or the internet that made it possible.  It's been around for much of the twentieth century, and those who forget the past... 

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