Monday, January 19, 2015

Right Wing Propaganda: Turning Rational Debate to Incoherent Fights

So it was Virtually Speaking yesterday, and one commentator was explaining how it was important to engage conservative Democrats without disagreement, and how they could be persuaded if one did this. There is lots wrong with this; for one thing it makes it the fault of liberals for losing arguments against one of the biggest and best-funded propaganda campaigns in history. For another, if attack politics were such a bad thing, well, why has it worked so well for the radical right? And, finally, it isn’t realistic: most conservatives I’ve encountered treat even the mildest disagreement as an attack, so the only way to make progress is slowly and carefully, and Fox News churns out propaganda very quickly, so one is always playing catch-up.

And then it was the Second Life dance afterward—really an excuse to hang out with your friends while your avatars dance—and another friend explained how he knew someone who would be a Democrat but…abortion. His friend is a Baptist. Now, what is strange about that is that Protestants mostly didn’t care about abortion until the 1980s, when it was worked up as an issue by to replace racism. Prior to that it was a Roman Catholic issue.

By mass-media propaganda, abortion was taken from an issue that could be debated rationally and had been settled on the evidence for most people to an issue of terror (killing babies! Holocaust!) and identity. And this, it seems is the case with all the issues of the radical right. Government regulation of business was not once un-American (except to very wealthy businessmen), maintaining a giant standing army was not once thought necessary to national defense, it was not necessary to believe that the Second Amendment was an unlimited firearms license, it was not once necessary to believe that Muslims were enemies of civilization. One once could talk about these things without all argument degenerating into angry defensiveness. No more.

The circle of rational debate has narrowed. At the same time, a kind of pseudo-rational debate has moved in, so that now we hear calm but not rational arguments about the need for torture and rightness of brutal policing. Misogynists defend rape and rapists and are not treated with the ridicule they deserve.

If we are to win this fight, we have to begin to reverse this trend. I have before advocated restoring anti-fascist media law and regulation and I continue to do so: this madness would not be possible without mass-media propaganda. But to the broader issue I call on everyone to work to widen the circle of rational discourse and to work to keep it honest and compassionate.

As to the issue of political persuasion… The Enlightenment view of political debate is that society will come together and debate the issues rationally and with the good of the whole in mind. Well…not, actually. There is too much fear in politics, too much at stake. I think there is a trap for people who wholeheartedly embrace the illusions that are a necessary part of politics: one can come to believe them.

2015.01.20 corrected; the commentator I responding to is not someone I know personally. Sorry, Avedon & Ms. Madrak.

2015.01.20 Title changed for the sake of clarity; the original title was "Moderation," which I intended in the philosophical sense, but it confused people.


Avedon said...

The show you were listening to was Susie Madrak on Virtually Speaking Sundays. I was supposed to be on with her but I had a scheduling problem.

Raven Onthill said...

Sorry, Avedon. I've added a correction.

The Blog Fodder said...

Could you do a blog post on freedom of speech? What it is and what it is not. I sometimes wonder if it has been blown out of proportion like the firearms thing. thank you

Raven Onthill said...

Hunh. Free speech has been interpreted and reinterpreted over the years, and the invention of mass electronic media has transformed it. The law is different in different countries. The USA probably has the most liberal free-speech law.

A number of laws were passed after World War II and the frightening demonstration of the effectiveness of electronic media propaganda by the various fascist parties of Europe, but I don't much about those laws. I do know that they were mostly abrogated during the Reagan administration and the following decades, leading to the rise of radical-right propaganda media networks in the USA, similar to the old fascist networks.

Another aspect of this law was the infamous Buckley v. Valeo decision of the Burger Court, which held, bizarrely, that campaign spending was protected speech. There is a line from Buckley to Citizens United, allowing even more money (and media buys) in campaign finance, provided that the money is channeled through a shell corporation.

So I'll have to think more about it.