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June 20, 2006

Social control
Posted by Teresa at 10:27 AM *

Argosy Books on East 59th deals in rare books and prints, but just outside their door they keep a random selection of secondhand books and printed ephemera priced at a buck or two a pop. It’s a fun browse. This last time I picked up an old sociology text: Social Control: Social Organization and Disorganization in Process by Paul H. Landis (New York: Lippincott, 1939).

Thing I learned about which no longer exists: “mental epidemics”, as in the Crusades, the Flagellant movement, and the Mississippi Bubble. Losing this concept is probably a good thing.

Bits that are familiar from age to age: predictably, the book’s big on the idea that, until recently, traditional values held society together and enforced morality; but now that we’ve become an atomized society, other mechanisms of control will have to be found. People say that today, and I remember them saying it when I was a sprat, so it’s nice to find out that they were saying it in 1939. I suspect that if asked how many years earlier it was that traditional values still held sway, you’d have gotten roughly the same estimates in 1939 and 1974 that you get in 2006.

The real reason I picked up the book: It discusses stuff you no longer see stated that bluntly. For instance:

In a nation of voluntary church affiliation, possessing no state church and having a heterogeneous population and culture, denominational stratification on the basis of such factors as wealth, educational qualities, and levels of emotional appeal is necessary if all groups are to be brought under the scope of church control. (p. 252)

But the real prize was a section that turned out to have been quoted (approvingly) from Harold Lasswell’s Propaganda Technique in World War I (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927):

Propaganda is a concession to the rationality of the modern world. A literate world, a reading world, a schooled world, prefers to thrive on argument and news. It is sophisticated to the extent of using print; and he that takes to print shall live or perish by the Press. All the apparatus of diffused erudition popularizes the symbols and forms of pseudo-rational appeal; the wolf of propaganda does not hesitate to masquerade in the sheepskin. All the voluble men of the day—writers, reporters, editors, preachers, lecturers, teachers, politicians—are drawn into the service of propaganda to amplify a master voice. All is conducted with the decorum and the trappery of intelligence, for this is a rational epoch, and demands its raw meat cooked and garnished by adroit and skillful chefs.

Propaganda is a concession to the willfulness of the age. The bonds of personal loyalty and affection which bound a man to his chief have long since dissolved Monarchy and class privilege have gone the way of all flesh, and the idolatry of the individual passes for the official religion of democracy. It is an atomized world, in which individual whims have wider play than ever before, and it requires more strenuous exertions to co-ordinate and unify than formerly. The new antidote to willfulness is propaganda. If the mass will be free of chains of iron, it must accept its chains of silver. If it will not love, honor and obey, it must not expect to escape seduction.

Propaganda is a reflex to the immensity, the rationality and willfulness of the modern world. It is the new dynamic of society, for power is subdivided and diffused, and more can be won by illusion than by coercion. It has all the prestige of the new and provokes all the animosity of the baffled. To illuminate the mechanisms of propaganda is to reveal the secret springs of social action, and to expose to the most searching criticism our prevailing dogmas of sovereignty, of democracy, of honesty, and of the sanctity of individual opinion. (pp. 198-199)

We really don’t see people saying stuff like that in clear any more. Of course, being me, I’d be happier if we did.
Comments on Social control:
#1 ::: Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 04:50 PM:

Mental epidemics are making a come-back under another name: memes. As for propaganda, there's a line somewhere towards the end of John Varley's book Millennium, where God has his monologue and says something like: "But when if you give them free will, you have to lie to them."

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 04:52 PM:

Memes, sure, or tipping points; but nothing so daft as that 1896 Boris Sidis essay.

#3 ::: Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 04:55 PM:

Yes, it is rather unseemly to call a combination of ignorance and desperation "medieval suggestibility", or to suggest its present absence.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 04:58 PM:

There's some reason to think that some medieval manias had more to do with contaminated food supplies than social factors.

#5 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:00 PM:

...the animosity of the baffled.

Wow. That's great stuff. Thanks, Teresa.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:09 PM:

One wonders if Edward Bernays read these sentences and took them to heart:

"If the mass will be free of chains of iron, it must accept its chains of silver. If it will not love, honor and obey, it must not expect to escape seduction."

Bernays is often called "The father of Public Relations," and if PR's not the art of seduction, I don't know what is.

#9 ::: Richard Parker ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:11 PM:

I recall reading about ergot as a possible cause for dancing mania.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:12 PM:

Lizzy, what got me was that cheerful characterization of educated rationality in the working classes as "willfulness," as though they were badly disciplined children, and the equally cheerful assertion that "The new antidote to willfulness is propaganda. If the mass will be free of chains of iron, it must accept its chains of silver. If it will not love, honor and obey, it must not expect to escape seduction." That is: if the citizenry can't just be ordered about, it's not only justifiable but laudable to systematically lie to them.

Why do we assume that all Americans believe in democracy, when we're repeatedly presented with evidence that many people (esp. people in power) don't?

#11 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:27 PM:

that cheerful characterization of educated rationality in the working classes as "willfulness," as though they were badly disciplined children

This may be why so many people who believe they are liberals don't like labor unions--they're all about the working classes making decisions for themselves, and not about having the, um, better-educated progressives who truly have their best interests at heart [/snark] tell the working classes what they want, for their own good. Back in the eighteenth century, they referred to them as the mobile vulgus, unafraid to show their sense of superiority.

Like I needed to point that out to anyone here.

Other groups that can't be allowed to think for themselves: Fertile women, foreigners (especially those whose resources we covet), the disabled...

#12 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:28 PM:

Yesss, I've been having the same sort of experience in reading Jessica Mitford's 1973 book The American Prison System which is eyeopening in that it not only details all the horrors you already expect, but quite a few you would not think could ever happen in any democracy, even the US, i.e. in 1971 ninety percent of medical testing in the US was done on prisoners.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:31 PM:

Fidelio: Liberals don't like labor unions? Since when? That "nanny statist" characterization of liberals is more propaganda than anything else.

#14 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:37 PM:

"We really don't see people saying stuff like that in clear any more. Of course, being me, I'd be happier if we did."

Well, Linkmeister has already pointed out that Bernays used to say this. And Chomsky has now spent a couple of generations pointing out that this is how social control HAS to work in societies that don't rely on direct repression.

#15 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:41 PM:

I find it entirely plausible that ergot could cause mass hallucinations. Ergot derivatives used to be used for migraine treatment, and I accidentally overdosed on some as a teenager. It does cause hallucinations, among other unpleasantness. (My experience was the flashing light kind of hallucinations, not pink elephants, but a person who expects to see saints or demons is going to draw conclusions, seeing lights where no lights should be.) Ergot grows fairly readily on rye that's stored in damp conditions, and there were villages where stored rye was the main food supply over the winter. Obviously, people try to keep their storehouses dry, but if something goes wrong, many of them will eat moldy stuff rather than going hungry.

(Many people who have not experienced an ergot overdose will eat moldy rye, I mean. I won't. The smell of it makes me queasy, even with trace levels of mold that don't bother most people.)

#16 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:42 PM:

Teresa,

Sure, liberals like labor unions, but note what fidelio said: "so many people who believe they are liberals don't like labor unions"

I know those people, lots of 'em. Mostly the ideological move to the right has turned what were moderates and moderate conservatives into liberals. A little of it has to do with dumb-ass hippie individualism as it got old.

#17 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Not to derail the thread that stuff that belongs elsewhere, but

adamsj: I just read that very passage in the Washington Post, and was just about to post it over in the "Torture: the New Black" thread.

I was struck by the fact that Suskind is claiming that Bush knows - and apparently approved - the details of the torture that he has ordered to be inflicted. No more hiding behind a screen of "Oh, we never knew!" deniability.

Bush knew.

#18 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:45 PM:

He also discussed the "four major objectives of propaganda, which are to mobilize hatred against the enemy, to preserve the friendship of allies, to preserve the friendship and procure the cooperation of neutrals, and to demoralize the enemy"

personally, if he uses "propaganda" to mean this straightforward of a concept, I'd say we could use a little more propaganda these days. Of late, most our allies distrust us, neutrals have distanced themselves from us or aligned themselves against us, and the enemy is highly motivated.

#19 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:47 PM:

I probably should've put it over there, Bob, but I couldn't resist the cheap shot.

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:54 PM:

Not to mention that 'I said he was important, so don't let me lose face' bit. (Another example of Shrub not being willing to admit error.)

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 05:57 PM:

a quick literal reading of his text excerpt, I can't tell if he means propaganda as "saying something that isn't true" or simply "social control". social control can be reality based. If you took the word propaganda and replaced it with "memes", then it would be a tool only, and the morality of its use would be determined by who used it for what purpose. The strict definition of propaganda would seem similar to "meme", but it has severely negative emotions attached to it.

#22 ::: Max ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 06:33 PM:

I would replace "so many people who believe they are liberals don't like labor unions" with, "people who are now called Liberal by Conservatives."

As nearly as I can tell, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan now occupy what is called the "liberal wing of the Republican Party."

#23 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 06:36 PM:

Thanks, adamsj.

The drift to the center is part of it, but not all of it. It's hard to explain what I mean without falling prey to Groping Generalizations, and even using gawdawful phrases like "some people"--however, there are a more than a few people that I have talked with, or whose writing I have read, who clearly consider themselves to be liberals--and who, whatever lip service they may give to the idea of organized labor, are as unconfortable as Grover Norquist and the rest of his ilk with the reality of working people expressing themselves on issues, without the guidance of Those Who Know Better--namely, them. (Unions, of course, are the ne plus ultra of this sort of dangerous independence on the part of the working classes.) I hate to brandish a term like "liberal elitists" because these are more often seen in sweaty conservative fantasies than in the flesh--but they do exist, however much they may be a minority among actual liberals and progressives. Some are in elective offices, some are clogging the system as political consultants, and others are among the clan of Pundit.

Some are comfortable with the idea of organized labor as a concept, but get upset when the idea becomes reality, and impinges on their lives--say, if the housekeeper joins a union, or there's a transit strike. Some have just never, through whatever accident of birth and class, really known any working class people (I see this in action every time my landlord, who's worked as a car inspector for the railroad for 30 years, talks to the people gentrifying the neighborhood--for some, he's as exotic as a zebra, and his ability to speak intelligently, in complete sentences and with good grammar clearly takes some by surprise).

It's entirely possible that some of them aren't really liberals any more, even if they once were, and still think they are.

I realize this may not have made what I am thinking more clear. For my part, I can't imagine how liberal principles can not encompass the right to organize in the workplace. However, I live in an open-shop state, and there are plenty of people here who believe they are liberals who are convinced that any other system would be tyranny--because workers would be forced to join a union--never mind that most of the improvements in working conditions (especially in mining, railroads, and industrial workplaces) since the nineteenth-century have resulted from union activity.

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 06:50 PM:

I work in a department where part of the people are union and part are not. The big problem, for me, with unions is that even when you don't join it, if one is there, they can tell you how to run your workday, whether you want it or not. To me, it's another layer of management, and one not accountable to everyone it manages, or to the management of the business either.

#25 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 07:12 PM:

On the notion of "mental epidemics": I've come to think of the sectarian, waiting-for-the-rapture core of the "religious right" --- the folks that take the "Left Behind" books, with their flamethrower jesus (no joke), as representative of their brand of Christian doctrine --- as exactly such a beast. Particularly in their elevation of doctrinal purity over observable evidence in just about every domain conceivable.

(Mind you, this is coming from a guy who has a great deal of trouble figuring these people out. What exactly does it mean to have a "literal interpretation" of the Gospels, when so much of the important teachings in those books are expressed as parables, which aren't meant to be taken literally?)

#26 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 07:16 PM:

Is there a tiered wage system at that department store, or does everybody get paid what the union negotiated? How about health coverage? Does everyone get covered in the way the least of the union members does?

Sure there are downsides, but to me they're far outweighed by the upside.

#27 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 07:49 PM:

In a previous life, I prosecuted securities fraud cases. One of the most interesting was one that involved a gold separation machine. At demonstrations, in the homes of potential investors, attended by 20-30 people, the promoters would take a small vial of gold, mix it into some dirt and then run it through their machine. Voila, the gold, being heavier than the other ingredients would be successfully separated out. This was the first time I ever understood the concept of gold fever, as most of those in the audience clawed their way to the front of the line to invest with these guys.

What was not disclosed to the investors was that in the field, the only way you get material that is of a consistency of the dirt used in the demos, would be to spend tons of money on the electricity needed to power the grinding machines that could grind the earth down that fine. And, of course, the gold content in the field was no where near what these guys had created by mixing the vial w/ dirt in someone's living room. So all profit and more was eaten up by operating costs. Somehow, that was not mentioned in the dog and pony shows these guys put on.

Call it a meme, or whatever else, it spread with lightning speed, like a virus among the audience. The promotoers made millions before we caught up to them.

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 07:51 PM:

Greg London: Propaganda means, quite simply, 'spreading'; the word being related to propagate. It gets the senses used both in the text and more generally from an office of the Roman Catholic Church, the Congregatio de propaganda fide (Congregation for Spreading the Faith) which taught missionaries how to present Catholicism in the best way possible to different groups of people. The messages used by these missionaries acquired the name 'propaganda' and that term came to mean any 'message intended to persuade'.

#29 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 07:56 PM:

Is a moral panic a sort of mental epidemic?

Has there been any difference in how much unions have done for their members before and after unions were able to get closed shops? This is a real question--I have no idea of the answer.

#30 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 08:01 PM:

The hallucinations from bad rye aren't surprising; LSD is a simple derivative of one of the compounds produced by ergot (rye fungus). (Possible irony: the process is similar to the conversion of morphine to heroin.)

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 09:00 PM:

Here's a simple test: Raise your hand if you agree that you're one of those people who need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society.

Anybody raised their hand yet? No? Funny, they never do.

So here's the deal: it might be possible to "manage" a democratic society via PR and propaganda aimed at the unthinking masses--but only if those masses agreed that yes, they were unthinking, and that it's okay for them to be manipulated by their betters. It would be honest. You'd be governing by consent of the governed.

The problem is that nobody ever agrees that they belong to that group. They all think they're entitled to judge for themselves. That means the only way you can use PR and propaganda to manage society is if you're lying to the citizenry about doing it. You don't have the consent of the governed, and anyway you can't base an equitable social relationship on lies. One side having true knowledge, and the other side being fed infantile moral interludes, is so inherently unequal that it could corrupt a government of saints and angels.

Democracy is for dumb people as well as smart. We're always going to have citizens who couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the bottom of the sole. For them, simple wholesome propaganda is going to be about as much as they can handle. I acknowledge this.

There are nevertheless three things we must not do. One is to think it's all right for things to work that way. A second is to feed them propaganda that isn't true. The third is to set up a system where nobody gets to hear the true stuff unless they're already inside the organization.

#32 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 09:04 PM:

What about the "Satanic Panic"?

#33 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 09:40 PM:

Ergotism is, while no longer particularly common, a medically recognized condition, with a sub-entry in the Merck Manual (under "Chemical Food Poisoning"). It pins the rap on Claviceps purpurea, which is obviously related to Noctilucens Yuggothi.

There's the book The Day of St. Anthony's Fire, which covers in detail a case of a village in France going collectively mad -- hallucinating, etcetera -- in 1951. It's now widely considered to have been ergotism, though the French government, for some reason, wanted to blame the outbreak on mercury (which wouldn't have reflected well on anybody, but did provide a "known" excuse). The book is highly readable; unfortunately, it's by John G. Fuller (Incident at Exeter among many other books), who is constitutionally incapable of considering that the solution he's decided upon is the only possible one. The French might have had ergotism (it wasn't provable that long after the fact), therefore they did, just as people seeing lights in the sky means that everyone recounted the lights accurately to reporters, and the lights were intelligently piloted extraterrestrial vehicles.

Camporesi and Gentilcore's Bread of Dreams includes ergotism in a broader study of the mental effects bad food (some of it adulterated), as well as just plain starving, in Medieval Europe.

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 09:44 PM:

Why is it so difficult to note that what is being discussed in propaganda is power?

The real kind of power, at least to the plains ape -- being able to tell other people what to do, and have them do it.

Every improvement in information handling technology allows more complex forms of social organization, and with them, greater exercise of power.

You can't have government without a literate class; you can't have an industrial-age bureaucracy without fast printing presses and cheap paper and telegraphs.

Once you have televisions and advertising-driven profit maximizing commercialism, you have all the machinery of tyranny. The eighteenth and nineteenth century machineries of freedom cope no better than a side-wheel steamer would, competing with fast container ships for carrying trade.

Every time there is the possibility to change society, the current elite fights tooth and nail -- typically successfully -- to prevent any change in how power is exercised, because they will for fair and certain lose power that way. (Always in relative terms, if not absolute terms. Relative terms are what the plains ape cares about.)

This tends to force the struggle into questions of coercion, and not into questions of "how else could society be organized?"

Any successful society will have mechanisms of coercion; any successful society needs people who believe that society is in their best interest, too. Defining best interest is a hard problem.

So is production quality, in any line of work, and at least in most areas of industrial quality assurance it's a truism that the people who do the work know the most about it. Wouldn't be all that difficult to spread the idea that the person who knows best what you want is you.

#35 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 09:50 PM:

TNH said:
Raise your hand if you agree that you're one of those people who need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society.
I think the hostility toward control "for the good of society" is the root of some hostility toward unions, particularly amongst white collar types who have to work with union workers. PJ Evan's characterization of unions as another layer of management is apt (in some cases) and add that members and nonmembers at the same workplace both are "taxed". I.e. even if the union doesn't do anything for you in terms of income/safety, you still have to contribute a slice of your paycheck. White collar types who have never personally seen benefits in their jobs take an especially dim view of this.

A specific example would be graduate student unions - grad students who do not teach, and have big stipends (science nerds) look in askance at the unionization of their schools for the sake of those who have to teach and have wretched comepensation (literature nerds). That some science nerds are a little asbergers-y and have difficulty taking the point of view of others into account doesn't help. Note that the situations that I've actually seen, only a few boneheads have spoken out against unionization.

This is turning out awkwardly. Did I mention that I think unions have been a force for good? That they've saved lives, and made uncomfortable, dangerous, hard work pay a decent wage?

Right then. Share your stories about absurd union rules that you've run afoul of.

-r.

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 10:17 PM:

The first job I had, back in the mid-seventies, was doing electronics assembly. Boring, tedious, and had to be done by hand becouse there wasn't any better way. We were getting 2.20/hour; minimum wage at that time was something like 1.75 (give or take a nickel). Swing shift got more than that; there was a shift differentila that amounted to something like 10 percent. When a union movement started (UAW, for some reason), it was the people on swing shift who invited it in. They didn't have anything for us, quite literally: our wages and benefits were the same as the big companies had, and so was our work. I understand that most of the lines were unionized later, but that was after I left that industry.

The place I'm at now, if you're not management and not in the union, you're limited in the kind of work that can be done - they got into a hissy fit because I, a contract body, was doing QC of their work; I heard that was settled as "QC can only be done by contractors or management".

I've had friends work at semi-union places where the non-members had to pay dues too, the theory being that their wages were set by the contract, so they owed the union. I've known people who got kicked out of the supermarket union for missing meetings - I heard it was a scheduling problem that the local wouldn't recognize.

Yes, unions do good things: they do help people get paid decently, but they also can protect incompetents and favor family members over outsiders in hiring, and they can become corrupt.

#37 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 10:50 PM:

Richard notes:
"I recall reading about ergot as a possible cause for dancing mania."

The Macarena, on the other hand, has been traced to a bad batch of Little Debbies.

#38 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 11:00 PM:

TNH says: "Here's a simple test: Raise your hand if you agree that you're one of those people who need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society.

Anybody raised their hand yet? No? Funny, they never do."

Wrong question to ask. See the hands wave in the air when you ask who agrees that *other* people need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society :-\

RE: Unions. What they get for their members nowadays is often invisible (it usually involves not sliding backwards), therefore hard to appreciate. I've had reason of late to think about what unions offer to white collar employees (specifically faculty...talk about herding cats...). A voice (faint, and often disdained even by the members who don't bother to exercise their right to vote for the people who lead the unions, or to be informed as to what is in their union contract, and how the people at the table through the years have won...or lost...them rights they take for granted).

University hierarchy resembles business hierarchy, and over the years the lean business machines where the president/CEO knew most of the layers of employees personally has disappeared (Ben & Jerry were my heroes for a good business model...but they couldn't make it work when they left). This has one devastating effect: those employees the CEO/president is shielded from knowing personally become liabilities (picture hungry open mouth birdies in a nest). Rather than being appreciated for the work they do, they are denigrated for not doing it faster, smarter, and cheaper (while, conversely, the CEO and those he/she knows get bigger bucks, less accountability, and several layers of high wage assistants to help shield them even further from the people who actually do the work of the business).

I think it may be an inevitable cycle, judging by the historic cycles of the past. Perhaps it's genetic? Because most people don't seem to want a voice--it's way too dangerous. Easier to blame those in power, as if our silence hasn't given them carte blanche.

I always wonder what the human race would need to evolve into a race that would simply say "No." when people like Attila, Hitler, or any of the petty dictators past and present suggest a nice little round of genocide.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 11:38 PM:

Kelly, that was TNH's point. You won't find a guy who thinks he needs to be controlled; instead, he thinks everyone ELSE needs to be controlled.

#40 ::: Painini ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 11:54 PM:

Because most people don't seem to want a voice--it's way too dangerous. Easier to blame those in power, as if our silence hasn't given them carte blanche.

It isn't about not wanting a voice. It's about finishing the day with enough energy to do something so abstract and stressful as speaking truth to power. And then being heard, of course... well, let us say it's a very uncertain way to expend your limited individual power if you really want, you know, any certainty of accomplishing something.

#41 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:31 AM:

My opinion of labor unions had gone back and forth several times over the years. Currently, I consider them a "necessary evil"; they can be corrupted, and a corrupt union is every bit as bad as corrupt management -- but collectivism is the only way to balance the rights of the low-level worker against the power of money, privilege, and the ability to say, "You're fired."

Labor unions came about in order to combat some really horrible abuses. If they go away... there's absolutely no reason to believe that the same kinds of abuses won't start right back up again. I'm sure there are places where they already have -- like China and India.

#42 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 01:43 AM:

Lee: ...like China and India.

It's much, much closer to home than that.

Working people here in America have been losing ground for three decades now. It's not a coincidence that wages and benefits started to decline just about the time that labor unions began to go into decline.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 02:12 AM:

rhandir,

That some science nerds are a little asbergers-y and have difficulty taking the point of view of others into account doesn't help.

I'm a little bugged by seeing one of my family's characteristics (Asperger syndrome) wandering into the vernacular as a tossed-off synonym for "rude". I suppose it's not unlike people who use "narcoleptic" as a broad-brush term for people who sleep a lot.


I work in a white-collar office that recognises a union, but most of the people I know are not members. They join up right quick when they need someone on their side in a disupute with management, and they appreciate the collective bargaining when the pay negotiations come round.

#44 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 02:19 AM:

Back in the 90s (early 90s, I think -- or maybe late 80s?) there were all these news reports about "satanic daycare centers" that were molesting children. Couldn't that be considered a mental epidemic?

#45 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 03:36 AM:

I don't know the history of the "mental epidemic" phrase, but it seems to be a commonplace of medicine that a set of symptoms gets split into many different illnesses, as the different causes are recognised.

Over here in the UK, when we got the satanic child abuse scares, it was a delusion amongst the professionals in the field: the social workers who were supposed to help children in troubled families. And, while people worried, the cases were so extreme in their reported nature that people expected to notice something. You might be able to hide something on a remote Scottish island, but not down my street.

If you call these things a disease, remember that diseases mutate. The satanic paedophile scare infected the professionals: now we have something different in the wider population, less specific, but still an exaggerated fear of paedophiles.

Thinking of these things as an infectious disease can only take us so far. Look at what the idea of the computer virus has done for our thinking on the subject. How many of us think they are just there; nothing to do with any human; rather than being the product of ingenious malice?

#46 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 05:02 AM:

Greg, Teresa's quoted passage does specify that more can be won by illusion than by coercion. I take that to mean that propaganda as discussed is untrue.

Our Government in Ireland is proud of spending money on various PR campaigns - road safety, immunization, health effects of smoking and alcohol, recycling, voter registration and more. Is this stuff an insult to democracy? Perhaps. I think the road safety stuff strays into true propaganda at times, distorting the causes of accidents to focus attention on things the authorities can easily do rather than difficult or expensive problems that they don't want to tackle.

The courts have ruled against them on one occasion when they were campaigning for a change to the Constitution concerning divorce, stating that spending public money to influence the outcome was unconstitutional.

Now we have a "he said/she said" Commission to publicise both sides of any referendum, and it's up to private groups and political parties to canvass for votes.

#47 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 07:21 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote:
Here's a simple test: Raise your hand if you agree that you're one of those people who need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society.

Anybody raised their hand yet? No? Funny, they never do.

OK, I'm a founder member of the awkward squad. But I do think that some levels of social control and some societal myths affecting me are necessary. So I am going to have to raise my hand here.

I need to be controlled into doing such things as driving on the left (I'm in the UK) - and that's a particularly good example because it doesn't matter what the control system is it just matters that everyone uses the same one). I also need to be manipulated into driving at a safe speed...

I need to be manipulated into treating our various fiat currencies as actually meaningful things rather than simply myths made up out of thin air and pieces of paper and arrangements of electrons.

I need to be manipulated by understanding the consequences of my actions and manipulated into not taking my initial reactions as healthy ways to react (or I'd be a raving conservative). I need to have control mechanisms in place that make me actually think things through.

Ultimately I accept these (and other) controls, think of them as a good thing, and put them in place myself. But (and where I part company with propogandists) I want the nature of these controls to be evident and the goals to be shown. And I want the controls based on truth and enough control over them to knock out the harmful ones.

#48 ::: Sus ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 08:33 AM:

Beside the point, but "denominational stratification"?

Orwell would have had a fit...

#49 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:04 AM:

Xopher said "Kelly, that was TNH's point. You won't find a guy who thinks he needs to be controlled; instead, he thinks everyone ELSE needs to be controlled."

I think she was making a larger point, that those who crave power always look for the control angle (church, laws, ethics) and dictate...or propagandize...in an effort to control group behavior, ala 1984. And I was (clumsily) observing that few will admit they feel they need to be controlled, although clearly a large majority of the population feels more comfortable with nice sounding propaganda and black and white rules that can be shredded with one or two applications of logic (Thou Shalt Not Kill...except...except...). The goal of a leader is to "drug" the masses into near blind obedience, because anything else seems chaos: a hundred voices are *loud*, never mind millions of voices).

Painini said: "It isn't about not wanting a voice. It's about finishing the day with enough energy to do something so abstract and stressful as speaking truth to power. And then being heard, of course... well, let us say it's a very uncertain way to expend your limited individual power if you really want, you know, any certainty of accomplishing something."

Is it? I agree everyone can't care about everything, the world is too big. But when you care about something, and you think you have insight, you want a chance to share it (under the theory that the world benefits from your being able to speak up). I am, perhaps, overly influenced by what was accomplished by people taking back their voice during the Civil Rights Movement because I grew up during those times. It took tremendous courage to use our voices back then. Many people couldn't speak up because they were so used to not using their voice, that found they had none.

I observed this phenomena at a job I had a decade ago--I, a lowly part time secretary, always used my voice, while others, who were more vital to the mission of the organization, didn't dare make a public peep (instead, they came to me and let me channel their voices). I urged them to speak up (being socially clueless, I asked specifically, "Why don't you just say that at staff meeting."). They couldn't even articulate why not (and these were smart women, who could articulate a *lot*, with a boss who actually listened and had long since proved she wanted to hear the voices--she promoted me, after all :-). After a while, I clued in to the fact that many people will expend more energy to convince someone else to speak what they could have spoken with less time and effort involved, overall.

I can't say which is more frustrating, though--speaking up and being ignored, or just giving up your voice altogether--because I lack the social grace to keep quiet :-)

Kelly

#50 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:09 AM:

"Raise your hand if you agree that you're one of those people who need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society.

"Anybody raised their hand yet? No? Funny, they never do."

At this time, I think, a majority of USers will state cynical opinions of government and business...except their own representatives, and the makers of the products they buy. I find it eerie. "Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur." To have freedom of mind, one must first want it, and a lot of USers do not seem willing to make even very modest efforts to pursue that freedom, despite all protestation.

Lee, old friend, you write as if you've never had a really bad factory or service job (it's been a long time since I've had one). And unions, do more than fight abuses; they negotiate for fair deals and were once supposed to give people a voice in their work, which it seems to me a basic of any real freedom; one is not free when one has no voice in one's working life.

#51 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:13 AM:

A specific example would be graduate student unions - grad students who do not teach, and have big stipends (science nerds) look in askance at the unionization of their schools for the sake of those who have to teach and have wretched comepensation (literature nerds). That some science nerds are a little asbergers-y and have difficulty taking the point of view of others into account doesn't help. Note that the situations that I've actually seen, only a few boneheads have spoken out against unionization.

I feel I ought to speak up for the science-nerd grad students here. When I was one (Astronomy Dept., U. Wisconsin, mid/late 90s), almost all of us had to spend at least a semester or two as teaching assistants; some more than that, depending on the availability of advisors' grant money or fellowships. I don't recall anyone complaining about the grad student union, and I remember at least two students becoming active in it.

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:18 AM:

Josh Jasper, I'd say Satanic Panic qualifies. (I've stated my basic opinion about SRA elsewhere.) I'd nominate for inclusion in that category the chronic ugly low-level fury we've been seeing on the right for some time now. That was a change in the world, and a change in some people I'd known for years. The Great Awakenings would also qualify, as would the whole "peace and love" thing that got started in the 60s.

We know less than we should about the mechanisms of mass public opinion formation. Or rather, there's less information on that subject floating around loose than I'd expect there to be. This makes me nervous. I'm thinking that as the art and science of influencing mass public opinion has become less theoretical and more practical, it's vanished from the public discourse. That can't mean that people in power have stopped using it. They've just stopped telling us about it. We've all been assigned to the category of over-willful citizens who need to be led about by silver chains. Our disagreement is why weblogs happen.

Mike, I've just read the sample pages of Bread of Dreams and put it on my Amazon list. Very interesting stuff.

Graydon, I've been trying to write about the relationship between the growth of networks and the resistance of elites to changes in the way power is exercised, but it keeps wriggling out of my hands and running off in all directions. I feel the question is related to my model of the primordial division in outlook: would you rather be a relatively affluent person in a comfortably well-off society, or one of a few very affluent people in a poorer society? The former is the superior outcome, but requires cooperation and an understanding of the greater social good. The latter is the default failure mode: not Howard Roark, but Tony Soprano. I have an even more obscure sense that this relates to another of my observations. Speaking here of long-term employment situations, not short-term one-off projects: I have sometimes seen people say they were being overpaid relative to the market, but I have never seen anyone say they weren't earning whatever they were being paid. They always find a reason why the payoff is not too generous in return for whatever it is they're being asked to put up with.

Rhandir, I'd have attributed it to two things. One is that nobody likes being told "no", and unions are one of the mechanisms whereby that sometimes happens. The other is that some amount of friction is inherent in all working relationships. Sometimes you're just plain going to hate your co-workers and the things they do. If unions are in the mix, sometimes you're going to hate them too.

What I note is that in most mass communications venues, flaws and vices in unions are cited as reasons to not have unions, whereas flaws and vices in corporations are credited only to the specific corporations used as examples, or are cited as reasons for corporations to work harder and do better, or are written off as the natural trouble and friction of the form. A childhood spent reading Reader's Digest has left me permanently wary of stories about misbehaving unions.

Consider P J Evans' conclusion (which I hope PJE won't mind my using as an example:

"Yes, unions do good things: they do help people get paid decently, but they also can protect incompetents and favor family members over outsiders in hiring, and they can become corrupt."
If you substitute the word management for unions, the first half of the sentence stops working, but the second half makes as much or more sense as it did in its original form. Management is fallible. Corporations are fallible. Unions are fallible too. But all three keep muddling toward their goals; and the goals of unionists are good ones.

Kelly, what Xopher said.

Lee, you're dead right as far as I'm concerned. And by the way, there are rag trade sweatshops and exploitive pieceworking operations in NYC right now.

Abi, having a touch of Aspberger's is so common in the SF community that there's not a whole lot of stigma attached to it. It doesn't simply mean "rude". It's a way some people have of understanding the world. It has unusual fluency in some areas and unusual awkwardness in others.

BTW, I don't often see "narcoleptic" used as a broad-brush term for people who sleep a lot. Besides, we do sleep a lot when we aren't treated. My medications have completely run out, and I've been sliding in and out of REM sleep for the last hour and a half. The only inaccuracy is that there are other reasons a person can be excessively drowsy. Anyway, what I do see is "narcoleptic" used to mean "boring" -- and that one makes me furious.

In the meantime, I like your description of your semi-unionized white-collar office. That fits with my experience: the difference between non-union and union is whether they perceive that the union serves their interests.

Christopher Wright, that's the same thing Josh Jasper was referring to earlier. As you'll have noticed, I agree.

Dave Bell, the responses to allegations of SRA in the United States would have been saner if the people here had paused to administer that same simple test: How could they have done that without people noticing? The answer is that they couldn't -- not in Britain, and not here.

Niall, I don't think the kind of public service campaigns you describe are an affront to democracy. The information's true and the reasons for the campaigns are public knowledge. I can even excuse the use of them in areas where more serious problems need to be addressed. Public service campaigns are easy and inexpensive. If some good can be done by jawboning, let it be done -- as long as it's understood that it's no substitute for more substantial remedies.

#53 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:19 AM:

abi,
You are right, and I'm sorry. That was a rude way for me to make a point. (A point that is logically flawed anyway, so doubly wrong.)
-r.

#54 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:32 AM:

TNH observes that nobody actually admits that they, personally, need to be lied to and manipulated for the good of society. Kelly observes that everyone is happy to declare that other people need to be lied to and manipulated this way.

I am reminded of an observation by Brad DeLong: the small-government wing of the conservative movement knew for years that Bush was lying about the budget, but they thought that they were in on the con--that once Bush was securely in power he would not only cut taxes, but eliminate all the programs that they hated. Whoops.

#55 ::: jGraydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:00 AM:

Teresa --

Management does sometimes help people get paid decently. Probably not as often as it should, but this has happened to me more than once.

The other thing, well, the reflex, the basic ground ape thing, is a tussle between "share your loot with your band" and "mine!". Figuring out that sharing works better, the whole possibility of organization that rests on the exchange of favours, comes down to socialization, and if that socialization isn't done, you get an adult who is (metaphorically) utterly certain that they'll be eaten by lions unless they have everything.

There's a bunch of competing socializations, too -- who is in that band you're willing to share your loot with?

I think a lot of that seething on the right is to do with band-boundary violation; they're (mostly) still fundamentally racist and very profoundly class-conscious, so the ideas of social security, welfare, educational programs for the poor, et multi cetera, strike them as fundamentally evil because they equate those things with being forced to share with people outside their band borders. (Well, with being expected to change their band-definition in ways they axiomatically regard as evil.)

The whole march of human civilization can be seen as a band-boundary expansion; very slow process, highly dependent on child-rearing practices.

It's -- so far as I can tell -- mostly a race between the desire of the Ancien Regime to destroy the possibility of civilization expanding and the increasing numbers of (mostly) young people who define the band as anyone who is sincerely trying to be polite to them.

Questions of social organization, well, I keep plugging this, but everybody should read Stafford Beer's Platform for Change. He was an extremely smart guy and he spent much of his life actually changing large organizations.

He's also the guy who came up with "the purpose of a system is what the system does"; not a tautology, but a statement of responsibility. No matter what it is claimed that the system ought to do, or should do, or what people want it to do, what it actually does do is what that system is for.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:12 AM:

Teresa,

My problem was not with Asperger's, which I have learned to live with over the years (I score 90 - 95% on most diagnostic checklists - one more revision of "normal" and I'm in). I value the gifts that the neurological profile brings enough to live with its attendant crashing awkwardness. I wouldn't want to change, and my fully Asperger's relatives don't sound like they would either.

My problem was with the elision of that complexity into a shorthand term for "people who have difficulty taking the point of view of others into account". Like exessive sleepiness, this can arise from a number of causes. Unlike excessive sleepiness, it's generally seen as a personal failing.

Enough on that.

My medications have completely run out, and I've been sliding in and out of REM sleep for the last hour and a half.

Are you out of medication entirely, or just out of dose at present? Should we worry again? The silence on this topic led me to believe you'd found a source. I am but an interloper, so I didn't want to pry.


Rhandir,

Handsomely said.

I have no information on the factual accuracy of the argument in question, except that I was instructed by more science graduate students than liberal arts graduate students while majoring in Latin at UC Berkeley. However, the plural of anecdote is not data, and I do not know how that translates into the larger picture.

#57 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:16 AM:

I think the distinguishing feature of propoganda is that it's intended to cause you to change your ideas or behaviors. In general, truthfulness and completeness of the information in the propoganda is secondary to the goal of changing your ideas or behaviors. Public service announcements fit that bill, both in the sense that they're trying to change your behaviors, and in the sense that they often aren't too concerned with giving a balanced or fully honest picture of the world, because their real goal is to make you behave a certain way.

#58 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:22 AM:

Unions are one particular way to negotiate terms between employees and management. For some people, they seem to hold some kind of special moral status, but they look like any other group trying to win the best deal for their members. That can be good or bad, depending on the details. For example, a pretty common consequence of heavily unionized industries in the early 20th century was the exclusion of blacks from those industries.

#59 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:39 AM:

I suspect that a shorthand term for "people who have difficulty taking the point of view of others into account" would be "people."

-r.

#60 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 11:08 AM:

If you strip away everything and try to consider what the minimum things are needed for a society to function at its best, and you assume that individuals in this scenario are as fallible as they are in real life, I think you end up with government acting as a transparent structure to arbitrate how everyone agrees to behave (laws) and hold people accountable if they break those agreements (police). You could then throw in several services which simply solve themselves easier if everyone pitches in to pay for them (police, fire dept, ambulances, garbage removal, sewer systems, water lines, highway department).

The anarchists here might argue that no government is needed at all, but you would probably still want some sort of collective action for things like building roads, and I'd call that a form of some government, not "no government" as the etymology suggests.

But even in that minimal, almost-anarchist, scenario, you still need some form of agreement between people, some list of what people view as acceptable behaviour. Without that agreement up front, you end up with enforcing what is acceptable via ex post facto rule, which is the most open to abuse system you can have. And given the assumption that in this ideal scenario, that people are still as fallible as they are now, then ex post facto is a recipe for disaster.

So, you need a set of agreements before hand that sets out what society deems is acceptable behaviour. Hopefully these agreements respect human rights, treat people equally, leaving beliefs and opinions and expressions as outside the jurisdiction of the law, and simply focuses on actions deemed unacceptable. This would be a required component of this ideal, minimal scenario.

These laws would be passed by some set of the population defined by the instance of time in which the law passed. But the law remains in effect until changed, until stricken down, or whatever. Which means that people who become members of this society after the law is passed must be made aware of the agreements that they assume as being a part of this society.

Therefore, these agreements must be propagated. They must be propagated through time and through new members of this society. If the agreements dont change, but the people do, then the new people must be made aware of the agreements they take on by joining this society.

In my opinion, Lasswell's use of the word "propaganda" seems to fit this minimal, yet ideal, scenario. Other's seem to read in his words much more dark and sinister intents. At some level, it doesn't really matter to me what he meant. To me, it matters only that this minimal, ideal scenario requires some form of means to propagate the agreements through the society, and that it would be my ideal scenario, so to me, it doesn't matter if Lasswell meant propaganda to only be for evil purposes, I know he is wrong. I don't get too wrapped up in what B.F. Skinner, or some flat-earther, thought either, because I know better than them.

I also think that even in this ideal scenario, that you need something in place that reminds people of their principles. This thing could be created and supported by the people, but I see no reason why the government, acting as an agent of the people on the peoples' behalf, couldn't also take on this role.

Regardless of where this came from, such a thing could be wholly unmalignant, and yet some might call it "social control" or "propaganda" or even "evil". But when someone argues that some particular religion ought to be outlawed, and you remind them of the principle of freedom of religion, you are doing this very thing that some would call "propaganda". But there is no evil deed inherent in this process, and it can be a far better approach than enforcing your views on others via a blunt object.

You are talking with the intent of changing someone's behaviour.

Now, and this is most key, the crux of the thing is whether the change in behaviour is done because the person subscribes to what you are saying or because one step behind your words is the threat of mob violence.

I've been working as a life coach for about a year and a half now. And I get great results because I don't tell people what to do. I help them find the principles that are important to them, and when they forget, I remind them of those same principles. Once reminded, they almost always know exactly what action they should take to honor that principle. I don't tell them what to do, I don't tell them how they should feel, but I can act as a guide when they get lost. I take them wherever their principles want them to go.

But this would fit the very same definition of "propaganda" and "social control" that Lasswell and others seem to be using.

I talk and people change their behaviour.

#61 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 11:23 AM:

When Theresa wrote, "We know less than we should about the mechanisms of mass public opinion formation. Or rather, there's less information on that subject floating around loose than I'd expect there to be.", it made me think of that book on "the madness of crowds". Don't have time to Google for more info this morning, but I'm sure someone here can reference it.

#62 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 11:46 AM:

You won't find a guy who thinks he needs to be controlled; instead, he thinks everyone ELSE needs to be controlled.

Those are the guys who need to be controlled.

#63 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:00 PM:

everyone needs some form of social control, at the very least social control in the form of social groups to talk to, vent to, complain to, and get help from when they need it. And when they don't need it, they can help someone else in the group. People need socializing to keep them on an even keel.

#64 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:09 PM:

Greg --

You appear to be conflating socialization and social participation, on the one hand, with mechanisms of coercion and creation of social hierarchy, on the other.

I don't think you can grade the one thing into the other -- if you could, "first names in the mess" would never have come to pass -- and I do think Teresa's expression of concern applies to the latter, and not the former.

#65 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:18 PM:

Randolph Fritz: Re: Cynical opinions of government.

A goodly number of U.S. citizens know *nothing* about their government, city, state or Federal. They can't even look up the department they need to contact in the phone book.

I am not exaggerating. The government office I work for has such an ambiguous name that I get calls for all sorts of things:

"I need a copy of my, or my child's, birth certificate."

"Do you inspect houses?"

"I need to report tax fraud."

"I need to talk to someone about Medicaid fraud."

"I have a complaint about a restaurant."

I've lost count of the number of people I've walked through how to use the Blue Pages of their phone book.

(BTW in most of the examples above you don't want a Federal office, the functions are handled by the city, county or state. The only exception is tax fraud, and that IS handled by the IRS, if the taxes in question are Federal.)

#66 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:28 PM:

TomB: just so!

#67 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:37 PM:

Extraordinary Popular Delusions, and the Madness of Crowds

Written by Charles MacKay in 1841, and usually findable, without too much trouble in the bargain bin at large retailers (I've bought several copies as gifts from the remainder tables at Barnes and Noble, over the years).

#68 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 12:46 PM:

Graydon, read the longer post. propaganda is needed even in the idea scenario, just to propagate the agreements made by the previous generation. I wouldn't call it propaganda, since it has such negative connotations, but it fits Lasswell's use of the word. Even a minimum ideal society needs a way to propagate past agreements and a way to reinforce principles when an individual forgets. That ideal scenario still meet's Lasswell's use of the word "propaganda". So, propaganda, propagating principles, is needed in even an ideal society given unideal humans.

And in the long post I made the simple example of reminding someone of the principle of freedom of religion when they advocate outlawing some specific religion. Reminding the person of the principle of freedom of religion is propaganda, it is propagating the principle to a place it was forgotten or never existed.

The issue I'm objecting to is that "propaganda" must mean evil control or evil manipulation. Or the false separation that propaganda by an individual is "social participation" but propaganda by "someone other than me" is manipulation. That line of reasoning is just the flip side of "everyone else needs to be controlled". it's trying to say "I participate, everyone else manipulates".

No, sorry. we're all doing the same thing. We are talking trying to alter someone else's behaviour. The only difference between good and evil here is whether, in the end, the person acts based on their principles our ours. If the person doesn't believe in something but does it simply because I told him to do it, then that's manipulation. If they did it because they took on the principle that I communicated as their own, then it can be a perfectly good use of propagating a principle.

And obviously, if what I say to the person is a lie ("Iraq has WMD's. We must attack.") then it's manipulation.

But communicating the truth, the facts, about some subject, and communicating a principle, and getting people to take on that principle, can be used for wholly good ends. see MLK's "I have a dream".

And such communications are a neccesary part of a society improving itself by improving the individuals that comprise it. And I object to the idea that its a bad thing, a manipulation or coercion, for communcating principles and truths to get people to take on those principles and act in accordance with those principles.

It can be abused and misused, to be sure, but it can also be used to make the world a better place than it was. It is a tool. And like most tools can be used for good or evil ends.

Whether an individual uses it for good, or a government uses it for evil, it is the same tool. A government could also use it for good, and an individual could use it for evil. It's still the same tool. propagating ideas and principles, and getting people to take them on as their own.

pulling out my broadbrush, the invention of the printing press and all the benefits it brought would seem to indicate that it can be a very good tool indeed, and without that tool the world could just as easily revert to the dark ages. It seems a neccessary tool for good, although it could be used for evil.

#69 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 02:50 PM:

There's also a 10-year-old edition of Charles Mackay's "Delusions" available at Amazon, with a foreword by Andy Tobias (which in itself would recommend it to me).

#70 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 03:37 PM:

I'm a little surprised no one has brought up John Taylor Gatto's book 'The Underground History of American Education'.

#71 ::: MadScientistMatt ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 03:57 PM:

"Here's a simple test: Raise your hand if you agree that you're one of those people who need to be cozened and controlled and manipulated for the good of society."

While I wouldn't go to that extreme, I do believe that I ought to obey moral principles for the good of society, and I am glad that I have been taught such principles.

Not quite sure if that counts as "manipulated," but that did involve efforts by my parents and others who raised me to change my behavior.

As for mental epidemics, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the dot-com mania yet. The way people were standing in line to invest zillions in money losing companies simply because they had top level domain names and flashy online graphics...

#72 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 04:26 PM:

read the prologue, was waffling about it until I hit page 8:

an analysis of the Ludlow Massacre by Walter Lippmann in the New Republic of January 30, 1915. Following the Rockefeller slaughter of up to forty-seven, mostly women and children, in the tent camp of striking miners at Ludlow, Colorado ... As Lippmann tells it, Rockefeller was charged with having the only authority to authorize such a massacre, but also with too much indifference to what his underlings were up to. "Clearly," said the industrial magnate, "both cannot be true." As Lippmann recognized, this paradox is the worm at the core of all colossal power. Both indeed could be true.

how much this explains in the world is a little unnerving...

#73 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 04:43 PM:


(We must not) think it's all right for things to work that way. (We must not) feed them propaganda that isn't true. (We must not) set up a system where nobody gets to hear the true stuff unless they're already inside the organization.

I've been having some trouble unraveling the first point. What does "that way" refer to?

The second and third points demand transparency, and that's something I'd go for. I sometimes ponder what it would take to force our government to surrender its power of secrecy. Truth is impossible to hide when you can't hide anything. Lies become so much easier when all the evidence is sealed in a box, buried, and forgotten. But as long as fear rules, all manner of boogeymen will be invoked to explain why the government must know things that the populace must not, that we must trust the government. Yet, any cryptographic student will tell you that Trent cannot be trusted. Secret governments tend to a state that benefits the government more than the governed.

#74 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 05:08 PM:

Greg, I venture to think that "that way" is: "One side having true knowledge, and the other side being fed infantile moral interludes." But Teresa can speak for herself...

#75 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 05:42 PM:

Greg, Lizzy's not wrong, but what I primarily had in mind was the point that there will always be citizens who couldn't figure out on their own why there's no left turn on red. We have to make allowances. For them, wholesome propaganda is about as much as they can assimilate of the public discourse. But that doesn't mean we should think it's okay that some citizens can't participate at more advanced levels -- or, worse, that it's right, proper, or inevitable that some citizens should have such limited participation. That's because there's no bright line between them and us. "People wouldn't understand it" is a slippery slope.

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Abi, I'm out of everything, and I've been patching through with more and more improbable makeshifts. Times is hard.

#77 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 06:01 PM:

Teresa, thanks. My brain seems to have a very strict parser at times and sometimes gets lost easily.

And I'd agree with the idea of full participation. There should be no "guardian class" that excludes some group from participation because the excluded group isn't "good enough". I think history would show that every time this happens, bad things follow.

Perhaps the name for this idea of limited participation based on some group being too stupid should be "Smart Man's Burden"?

#78 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 06:03 PM:

I suddenly have an urge to build a time machine and punch Plato in the mouth.

#79 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 06:32 PM:

...The second and third points demand transparency, and that's something I'd go for. I sometimes ponder what it would take to force our government to surrender its power of secrecy....
Greg London
...by ending government secrecy, the protagonists have created a world in which personal privacy has been completely destroyed.....
The Dead Past
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia as of 21 June 2006

Obs SF - sift the ashes

speaking of the mess, only for those who can pay the bill in cash:
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

#80 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 07:11 PM:

since a chronoscope doesn't exist, we can ignore its effects and safely hold the government as less than the people. i.e. that the government does not have a right to privacy, anymore than corporations should have personal rights either. They are legal contructs created by society, and should serve society, not the other way around.

Of course a government without secrets is as fantastic as a chronoscope, so there you have it....

#81 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 07:30 PM:

Teresa, competent management does help people get paid decently. That's part of what it's there for. It doesn't help protect people against bad management that if they happen to be working for bad management, but if you're working for good management it makes sure that the product gets produced and paid for, and that employees and contractors get paid.

You're right that some institutions are considered to be on trial all the time and others aren't,
though which institutions depends on the speaker. Right wingers and libertarians tend to think unions are on trial. It may not be reasonable, but I tend to think government is on trial. The BBC frequently thinks business is on trial--frex, by pontificating about some activity being done for money or for profit, as though that's a disreputable motivation in itself.

That's a very interesting question of whether the knowledge of how to manipulate public opinion has gone underground. This seems logistically difficult--no publicly available books, no university courses? Credentialism is pervasive in the culture. Is it possible that important if vile work getting handed to people on a basis of direct perception of personal competence?

Did there used to be good books on the subject?

I have a different theory of what happened, but I'm not sure it's based on enough facts. Once upon a time, there was a country which was a little mean and a little stupid. For reasons which where not clear to me, when a pleasant-voiced man with nice taste in music appeared who was ready to say being mean and stupid were fun and virtuous, a great many people were delighted to spend hours a day listening to him. These people have gotten the government they deserve. Unfortunately, so have a great many other people.

More specifically, I think a lot of this mess is bad luck and evil choices pushed by people who have a strong intuitive sense of how to manipulate some of the public, but there isn't any body of new knowledge backing it. Or were you saying that there's no new knowledge, just that the subject has dropped off the radar screen?

#82 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 07:52 PM:

Greg --

There is a difference in kind between thinking of the other person's free will as a good thing, if a rhetorical challenge, and thinking of the other person's free will as an impediment to the achievement of your desires.

There isn't a moral equivalence there, any more than there's a moral equivalence between a demand to submit and asking a question.

#83 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 08:21 PM:

competent management does help people get paid decently. That's part of what it's there for

But demonstrably the definition of "competent" has changed: these days it means cutting as many costs as possible, of which labor is the most vulnerable.

#84 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 08:45 PM:

There is a difference in kind between thinking of the other person's free will as a good thing, if a rhetorical challenge, and thinking of the other person's free will as an impediment to the achievement of your desires.

Fine, but you're talking motives. I was talking behaviour. the behaviour of propaganda, of propagating an idea or of propagating truth, is neccessary even in an ideal society. My objection was to "propaganda: bad" when the strict definition of the term simply means, really, communication.

You could take the excerpt from Lasswell above, replace "propaganda" with the word "communication" and it would still make complete sense and be just as accurate. From that point of view, propaganda==communication, the behaviour of propaganda of communicating, is morally neutral, like a hammer is neutral. You then have to look at how it is used, to build a house or to smash someone's skull, to determine morality.

#85 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 09:03 PM:

Why do we assume that all Americans believe in democracy, when we're repeatedly presented with evidence that many people (esp. people in power) don't?

Teresa, am I wallowing in cynicism if I make a blanket claim that there has never been a democracy where the leaders didn't invest great time and effort trying to get around the very democracy they were supposed to be defending? It seems to me that one of the easiest ways to manipulate a person is is by manipulating the perception of "freedom" (Guilt having been claimed by Religion). After all, what does "freedom" mean? It is a slippery word, but one that evokes strong emotions. Most of those with power understand that a key element in leading/manipulating the masses (or workers in a corporation) is the idea of equality. If I want to be elected, I must convince those who would elect me that I am one of them, and that I share their values. To lose that trust, once gained, is to lose the office. So maintaining the fascade that *ALL* Americans love democracy must be the primary underlying goal of all propaganda. On this all else is built. Due to it's continuing importance, this idea has been forcefed to the nation since the days of the Founding Fathers. ALL Americans, by definition, LOVE democracy. If you don't believe that you are not an American. After 200 years of this, is it any wonder that the idea is, to most people, unassialable?

Sigh... Ok... I've drained my pen of bitter ink (where DID Henley get that from?) enough for one night...

#86 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:02 PM:

Henley? He's a poet.

#87 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:18 PM:

In this crowd, I'm surprised that nobody has yet mentioned the conversation in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress just after Manny's return from Earth. Luna has become a democratic republic, but, Manny is cheerfully informed, he shouldn't be too upset. After all, democracy is just the superstition of the age, just like the divine election of kings was the superstition of an earlier age. The sensible people who run things just have to make sure that the mob chooses what they're meant to.

I imagine a lot of us read that approvingly when we first read that book. Heinlein was very good at making whatever he wrote seem completely reasonable for at least as long as you're reading it. Part of it is that no sympathetic character rejects that idea as monstrous, and part of it is that the manipulators are the conspiracy that we've been sympathizing with for the whole course of the book. We know that they have pure motives and that they're objectively right. The reader is a member of the conspiracy.

And that's one of the reasons that manipulation and social control by a small elite succeed in real life: lots of people who aren't part of that elite think are under the mistaken impression that they are. They see the manipulation, write articles praising it for its cleverness and high production value, and identify with the master manipulators instead of the manipulated. This kind of falsely clever cynicism just makes you an easier mark.

Teresa asked one good question: everyone who thinks you need to be lied to and manipulated for the good of the state, raise your hand. But there's an equally good question: everyone who thinks that the technology of lies, propaganda, and hierarchical social control would work on you, please raise your hand.

Any hands? It wouldn't work on me, of course. I'm too clever. This is all about manipulating those other people, that undifferentiated faceless mob that doesn't understand serious statecraft. Right?

#88 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:44 PM:

everyone who thinks that the technology of lies, propaganda, and hierarchical social control would work on you, please raise your hand.

[raises hand]

One of the most chilling moments of my life was watching part of a Nazi propaganda film on eugenics, and realising that had I been in that time and that place, not knowing the slippery slope it led to, I would have been taken in by it.

#89 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:45 PM:

everyone who thinks that the technology of lies, propaganda, and hierarchical social control would work on you, please raise your hand.

(raises hand)

I am too much a subscriber to the theory of limited knowledge* to think I could never be fooled.

*that's what I call it. I'm not sure if there's an official term for it. But it's basically the idea that in the set of all knowledge, the subset I know is less than one tenth of one percent of the whole set.

While we're asking questions, raise your hand if someone ever advocated doing some horrible act and you tried to talk them into adopting a higher principle and changing their behavioiur.

for those with your hand up, in one word what would you call what you did with this person?

#90 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2006, 10:58 PM:

had I been in that time and that place, not knowing the slippery slope it led to, I would have been taken in by it.

That probably applies to most people. take any random person from present day, change history so that they were born five thousand years earlier, and the new history would be no different than the previous looking at the grand scale of things.

We are first a product of our culture, and then some make culture a product of them. Which is why I roll my eyes whenever someone harps on the founding fathers talking about freedom while owning slaves. They were a product of their times like everyone else. Ancient greece started the idea of democracy, but one-third of its population were slaves. The thing is they actually turned the course of history ever so slightly to make things better.

There was a cartoon I read once that showed a number of neanderthals gathered around in a circle, and one of them announces "Well, that's it, the motion is passed. We will proceed directly to the information age."

a lot about the quality of our lives is simply the infrastructure of culture, whatever culture we happen to be in.

#91 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 01:47 AM:

Teresa,

Ach, that's not what I wanted to hear. You're in my prayers, though I am not much for believing they work these days.

Julia Jones,

One of the most chilling moments of my life was watching part of a Nazi propaganda film on eugenics, and realising that had I been in that time and that place, not knowing the slippery slope it led to, I would have been taken in by it.

This is one reason, in Good Friday services in the Catholic church, the congregation take the part of the mob calling for Barabbas to be saved and Jesus crucified. Under the right contexts, fed the wrong inputs, we give the wrong outputs.

It's nice to think I'd be the voice of reason against the howling mob, but in my secret heart, I know I would not. It's why I don't despise Bush voters.

#92 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 02:31 AM:

someone ever advocated doing some horrible act and you tried to talk them into adopting a higher principle and changing their behavior

I promised him I'd break his arm by way of prior restraint. I did not lie or mislead him. Hierarchical social control can be a messy thing - good to have me on the right end of the hierarchy. I may have been too much influenced in my youth by C.S. Lewis That Hideous Strength and other such.

Re eugenics - notice that Buck v. Bell where Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for the Court three generations of idiots is enough was an arranged case. The adversary system fails when the litigants aren't adversaries but arrange things in advance and so the findings of fact aren't. When the premises are lies the conclusions are faulty.

In words Robert E. Lee was arguably more critical of slavery, more certain that slavery must end (commonly noted in a Robert E. Lee letter dated December 27, 1856) than Abraham Lincoln at the same time. A debate between those two in later years would have been interesting.

Propaganda is a concession to the willfulness of the age. The bonds of personal loyalty and affection which bound a man to his chief have long since dissolved Guess I'll settle for Leslie Fish/Kipling - Song of the Red War-Boat or in the alternative Black Powder and Alcohol.

No doubt I was a victim of propaganda when I once took progress into a better future for granted. Sad to think that one man one vote one time may be the best we can be sure of.


#93 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 05:32 AM:

While we're asking questions, raise your hand if someone ever advocated doing some horrible act and you tried to talk them into adopting a higher principle and changing their behavioiur.

for those with your hand up, in one word what would you call what you did with this person?

Greg, there is a difference between propaganda and dialectic.

You're expanding the definition of propaganda to include all attempts and means of convincing, which is illegitimate.

There is a real, ontological difference between using [what you believe to be] truth, and logic, to try to get someone to see what you see to be true and good for the same reasons you do, and using what may or may not be true but you don't particularly care, and sophistry, to get someone to do something which is convenient for you, whether or not you think it will benefit them or not. The latter is propaganda, aka "bullshitting."

Your motives - whether you recognize them as benevolent or as selfish - don't affect the nature of the action itself. Bullshit is usually passed off, even by the bullshitter to him or herself, as being done for the good of the bullshittee, at least when it comes to punditry (as opposed to con artistry.)

This is always the problem when talking about "rhetoric," because there are multiple definitions of the word that are used interchangeably, just like the word "heart" or "love" or "freedom", and so "propaganda" is an extremely good coinage imo because it clearly sets off speech intended to convince regardless of factuality from the other definition of rhetoric, which is speech made to be stylistically elegant and unclunky as possible, regardless of what its meaning is.

These have to be separate things - otherwise, it's "propaganda" (by your definition) to teach children that 2+2=4, that water boils at 100C/212F, that there is electricity in sockets which can hurt or kill them if carelessly handled, or that they should wash their hands after defecating for the sake of public health, because there are dangerous bacteria in fecal matter.

--Oh, in fact, I can provide an example of how that last truth was handled in a propagandist manner, "defended with a bodyguard of lies," and why that is, ultimately, a Very Bad Thing from a practical POV to do even to small children. I was shelving in Beginning Readers a few years ago, and putting away a new series which I hadn't seen before, full of brightly-colored pictures on nice paper with a trim size closer to comic books than used to be the case, very high production values, and I came across one that was supposed to be about Germs!!! It had vivid cartoons of the supposed Germs drawn as nightmare monsters out of Babar, showed them lurking and cackling, just waiting to attack and make helpless children sick, and stressed the urgent need to clean, clean, clean everything all the time in order to protect one's self from the Invisible Demons -er, Bacteria hiding everywhere.

While it is true that a certain amount of hygiene is necessary for good health, the inaccurate representation of bacteria as cthonic animals with fangs and claws and personification of them as malevolent, self-conscious beings that revel in the idea of causing harm, and which can be terrified and driven away cowering by Soap, is a bit of a stretcher.

This sort of thing, over generations, is the reason you don't just get things like OCD handwashing and overuse of hand sanitizers among adults, but why, frex, Stonyfield Farm and other yogurts have had to use euphemisms such as "flora" when advertising their live culture foods, because of having found that there are such strong irrational reactions to the word "bacteria" and the idea that there could be beneficial and even necessary ones is so counter-intuitive these days.

#94 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 05:37 AM:

(Since I had a microscope by age 5, and unlimited access to National Geographics, and had helped out making bread and thus knew what yeast was and how it works, and have subsequently been involved in getting lots of other young kids interested in science via simple but accurate explanations to the best of my ability, my response to anyone arguing that this is all children can handle in regards to what bacteria are and why they can cause illness - that they need to be deceived for their own good - is nope, not so but far otherwise.)

#95 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 06:48 AM:

raise your hand if someone ever advocated doing some horrible act and you tried to talk them into adopting a higher principle and changing their behavioiur.

for those with your hand up, in one word what would you call what you did with this person?

Lots of hand-raising here today, this will be mine. Incidentally, I would call it rhetoric. But propaganda would fit it almost as well.

Rhetoric's earliest definition is The art of using one's voice to persuade (this is close to Quintilian's definition). Rhetoric and logic used to be subjects in school (as parts of the classical trivium) but were deemed inappropriate for professions other than priests and lawyers when the education system was reformed.

(Voters, of course, do not need logic. And introverts, and for that matter, voters again, do not need rhetoric. Grr.)

As for publicly available texts on the art of persuasion, there is Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria (it's an old subject). Hitler is supposed to have had a good understanding of propaganda, too, and supposedly described it in that vile book of his, the Mein Kampf. (I have not yet had the dubious pleasure of reading it, so cannot testify to the accuracy of the assertion. Use for good.) I am certain more modern texts can be found.

As for publicly available speeches, there is americanrhetoric.com. Cicero's speeches are an alternative.

#96 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 07:09 AM:

Incidentally, rhetoric is the conventional name for the science of persuasion. Propaganda seems to have mostly negative connotations, even though the tools that are used are the same.

#97 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 07:27 AM:

Mr. London, please don't beat up Mr. Plato. Remember, some very ignorant people had killed his former teacher, and he was trying to design a society in which such a thing could never happen. We know he failed in the short term, by the way. Socrates's fate very nearly became that of Aristotle's, Plato's student.

Ignorant people in government: bad concept. Plato's obvious fix: educate people so they can take over government from the ignorants. Basic principle is still sound, I think...

#98 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 07:30 AM:

Socrates's fate very nearly became that of Aristotle's

Just realised that sentence is ambiguous to anyone who don't know Socrates died first.

#99 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 10:09 AM:

Stephan, since Plato's Republic proposed a system where the intelligent were rulers and took care of the lesser intelligent, that the lesser intelligent didn't have any say about their rule, and that this whole arrangement should be hidden with the "Noble Lie", and that this exact same argument (smart rulers, stupid ruled, no power fur the ruled, and propaganda to cover the whole thing up) has been used by every despot to justify their rule, I think the only appropriate response is to build a time machine and punch Plato right in the kisser.

Once his attention has been won, then I would proceed with a quick explanation of Trent, the person whom must be trusted in cryptography systems for Alice and Bob to have a secret conversation. The moral of that lesson would be that, in the end, Trent cannot be trusted. This then translates to any government that is not democratic, where people are robbed of their suffrage and instead must trust that their government will do what's best for them.

I would then chain him inside his cave and do puppet shows until he agrees with the lesson.

#100 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 10:56 AM:

Greg London: Propaganda means, quite simply, 'spreading'; the word being related to propagate.

Greg, there is a difference between propaganda and dialectic. You're expanding the definition of propaganda to include all attempts and means of convincing, which is illegitimate.

I would call it rhetoric. But propaganda would fit it almost as well.

OK, would someone give me the definitive answer as to whether the term "propaganda", in it's strict definition, denotes lying as part of the process of communication, or whether it simply denotes any form of communication?

I asked this question way up towards the top of this thread, and have gotten completely different answers.

Is propaganda a tool, like a hammer, or is propaganda a tool used only in a certain way with a certain intent, like a hammer used to hurt someone? Is it "communication" or "communication of untruths"?

Could a specific instance of propaganda be nothing but truthful communication with the intent to persuade? Or must it involve untruthful communication with the intent to mislead?

Clearly, it's a word to avoid, given the various meanings that people give it, but I'm trying to get what the word is supposed to mean.


#101 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 11:10 AM:

Greg, supposed by who?

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Greg London: 'Propaganda' refers to techniques of mass persuasion, as in 'the spreading of the faith', lying is not a necessary element.

#103 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 11:27 AM:

supposed by who?

I don't know, the word experts. Merriam Webster. It sort of all went back to Lasswell's excerpted comment and whether you could replace "propaganda" with "communication" and have the same meaning he was conveying, or if he intened it only to mean communcation with deception. Most of the excerpt at the top could be taken to mean communcation, with or without deception. So, I guess I'd like to know what he was supposed to mean by the word, but barring that, I'd be happy with knowing what Webster says. The online definition I found didn't say anything about deception, just propagating an idea, communicating.

Hm. Checking wikipedia for the entry on Propaganda:

in some cultures the term is neutral or even positive, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative connotation. Its connotations can also vary over time. For instance, in English, "propaganda" was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of a certain cause. Over time, however, the term acquired the negative connotation of disseminating false or misleading information in favor of a certain cause. Strictly speaking, a message does not have to be untrue to qualify as propaganda, but it may omit so many pertinent truths that it becomes highly misleading. In English the term propaganda overlaps with distinct terms like indoctrination (ideological views established by repetition rather than verification) and mass suggestion (broader strategic methods).

Ah, well, that pretty much nails the confusion. So, I don't know how far back in time you have to go for this statement to be true: "in English, "propaganda" was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of a certain cause", but what I was trying to say is that reading Lasswell's excerpt above, that his intended meaning of the word could be taken to be a neutral term, dissemination of information in favor of a certain cause. Clearly, the word has negative connotations now. But I was raising the question as to whether Lasswell's text intended a negative connotation of the word or simply a neutral term that could be used for good or evil.

#104 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 11:54 AM:

Bellatrys: It sounds like your brightly colored Germs!!! books are the output of the same clean meme held by the people who created a film on infectious diseases which I saw in elementary school.

Red blood cells were the Good Guys, and infectious critters were black and therefore the Bad Guys. Their oppositions to each other were dramatized in animation as different sides in a war. One scene where the black surrounds the red and overwhelms it, wiping it out, gave me nightmares well into my teens.

I'd say more, but I have a sudden urge to go wash my hands....

#105 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 11:54 AM:

Greg London: Could a specific instance of propaganda be nothing but truthful communication with the intent to persuade? Or must it involve untruthful communication with the intent to mislead?

Not answering your question, but offering another point on this continuum of 'truthful ↔ untruthful'...

People have been known to parse the facts so narrowly that, while what they have said is technically true, you would not have been persuaded if you knew all the facts.

It might be nice if the mass-media 'court of public opinion' had rules of evidence like the actual courts, and would disallow arguments made from 'facts not in evidence'. Public speakers would not be allowed to make claims based on classified information, which they have seen, but which must be kept hidden from you. Similar in concept to the FDA prohibitions of unsupported health claims for various products.

#106 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 12:03 PM:

Lasswell again:more can be won by illusion than by coercion. There is a kind of illusion which doesn't involve outright lies, using misdirection, careful use of the truth and so on, but I think Lasswell clearly means propaganda to imply deception.

#107 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 01:16 PM:

illusion than by coercion

But he could just as easily be talking about the difference between coercion (physical) and persuasion (verbal).

#108 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 01:19 PM:

I don't think he intends to mean that coercion is neccessarily truthful, as opposed to "illusion" which is neccessarily deceitful. So his comparison of illusion-vs-coercion doesn't map well to deceipt-vs-honesty, which is why I think it's more mapping to verbal-vs-physical.

#109 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 01:38 PM:

Bellatrys, I don't think I can agree with you.

Greg, there is a difference between propaganda and dialectic.

You're expanding the definition of propaganda to include all attempts and means of convincing, which is illegitimate.

There is a real, ontological difference between using [what you believe to be] truth, and logic, to try to get someone to see what you see to be true and good for the same reasons you do, and using what may or may not be true but you don't particularly care, and sophistry, to get someone to do something which is convenient for you, whether or not you think it will benefit them or not. The latter is propaganda, aka "bullshitting."

The formal definition of propaganda doesn't specify whether the information in the propaganda is true or the reasoning valid. It also doesn't specify whether you think the propaganda will benefit the recipient. It's just the spreading of ideas and information for the purpose of hurting, helping, repositioning, etc., a cause or person or institution.
Your motives - whether you recognize them as benevolent or as selfish - don't affect the nature of the action itself.
This is where I really disagree. I think intentions matter. I think there's a world of difference between propaganda aimed at people whom you consider to be part of the same polity as yourself, and propaganda by people who consider themselves insiders, of a different nature than the people who are the target audience of their propaganda.
..."propaganda" is an extremely good coinage imo because it clearly sets off speech intended to convince regardless of factuality from the other definition of rhetoric, which is speech made to be stylistically elegant and unclunky as possible, regardless of what its meaning is.
Rhetoric is the art of effective expression in words. Elegance or factuality may or may not come into it.
These have to be separate things - otherwise, it's "propaganda" (by your definition) to teach children that 2+2=4, that water boils at 100C/212F, that there is electricity in sockets which can hurt or kill them if carelessly handled, or that they should wash their hands after defecating for the sake of public health, because there are dangerous bacteria in fecal matter.
I doubt that was the intention.

#110 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 02:03 PM:

Rob Rusick wrote:

It might be nice if the mass-media 'court of public opinion' had rules of evidence like the actual courts

Hear, hear.

While we're at it, back in the day some Usenet groups had rules of debate. My favorite was that if, in the course of an argument, you compared your opponent or his gang to [Hitler, Goebbels, the Nazis, ...] you immediately lost the argument.

It's out of fashion now, but it was a fine rule and I'd like to see it resurrected.


#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 03:05 PM:

Scott H, that was the second form of Godwin's Law. The first was descriptive, not prescriptive.

I suspect it's gone out of fashion because, after all, if we're going to learn something from what happened in Germany in the 30s and 40s, when people who really are acting like Hitler and the Nazis start cropping up, we need to be able to point this out without automatically losing the argument.

People who were in Germany before WWII say that the resemblance is really quite striking.

#112 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 05:28 PM:

I excused myself from Godwin's Law a couple of years ago.

#113 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 05:35 PM:

I like this practical suspension of Godwin's Law that's making the rounds on LiveJournal.

#114 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 05:47 PM:

Teresa, I guess then that we need to distinguish levels of intentionality, different *kinds* of intention: the people telling lies to children about germs, or to young adults about masturbation, or sex period, or about taxes, or about the necessity of invading someone else, may very well have (or believe they have) the best wishes for the well-being of the child, or adult, they are lying to. May truly believe that it's better to "scare them straight" than let them go to hell, or that human beings are better off having their energies channeled into war than slothfully indulging their appetites, frex.

(If they don't know they're telling an untruth, then they're not engaging in propagandizing, strictly speaking, *if* propaganda must involve the *intent* to deceive. It's just the blind leading the blind, the propagandized spreading the memeage. Which objectively is bad, but not the same subjectively moral deed.)

But it seems to me that one necessary condition for it to be propaganda is that the truth content is simply irrelevant to the speaker: if truth convinces, well and good, but it isn't important that the facts be facts or that the causal connection claimed between them actually be causal. What's important is that the listener hear and obey, for whatever reason. You can disinform with nothing but truth, by lying by omission.

The benevolent intent can be (more or less) present, as when parents tell half-truths about sex risks to their daughters; or totally absent, as when a con artist tells half-truths to a mark.

And on a separate level, I agree, you're quite right that it makes a difference what the intention is. At least on the internal level, the subjective one of the moral status of the Disinformer.

But to the Disinformee, it really doesn't matter if the lies are being told "for your own good", "because we wanted you to be safe," "because we knew you couldn't handle the truth," etc etc etc - in fact, it's usually (in my personal experience at least, direct and secondary) much *worse* if someone who cares/claims to care does it from proclaimed benevolent intent, both in terms of personal betrayal and in terms of not being able to trust anyone, ever, to be telling the truth about anything.

A con artist - well, everyone knows that the world is full of scoundrels, and some of them will smile and smile and yet be a villain, by the time they're out of first grade. The idea that you were taken in by one smoother than the rest, that's just not as shattering as realizing that people who talk all the time about the value of honesty and integrity and so on were deceiving you or misleading you with partial truths deliberately, out of proclaimed good intentions. The very claim of good intentions itself becomes suspect, particularly since it isn't very hard (usually) to see what sort of bono and cui from the various deceptions.

So on a material level, there is no difference between the actions (speech which may or may not be contrary to mind, intended not to deceive for its own sake but to control behavior, which is what most lies are for anyway) of the "bad" propagandist and the "good" propagandist.

Rhetoric is the art of effective expression in words. Elegance or factuality may or may not come into it.

It's been more years than I care to remember since we studied Aristotle et al on rhetoric, but the breakdown that I recall was that Aristotle defined it as speech designed for winning (court cases) with the truth or falsehood being totally irrelevant, and then went on to elucidate *how* you could do this; while the Roman philosophers called all the verbal arts designed to make speech more attractive to read or listen to, "rhetoric," regardless of whether you were using it to win a lawsuit, or just make your scientific hypothesis sound more literate and less likely to bore people to death before they get to the point of being able to weigh your claims and arguments and data.

The effectivity of it is not part of the nature of the thing, since one the one hand, all speech is designed to be effective - "Hey, it's 3 o'clock, we're gonna be late!" or "That's my chair, stupid, get out of it!" "Buy now before sale ends!" - and yet may or may not actually *be* effective ("So?" "Make me!" "Nah, not interested") I wouldn't call either of those above statements "propaganda" either; the rightful possession of the armchair might be disputed, and propaganda/rhetoric might come into the subsequent debate, but there is as yet no dishonesty or *veiling* of motive of any sort in these commands.

Generally speaking, the image that runs through my mind of an *effective* bit of rhetoric (in the Aristotelian sense) is the kid whining "Moooom, he HIT me and I didn't touch him!1!!" resulting in a time-out for the sibling who doesn't get a chance to explain that "Yes but" in response to "Did you hit your little brother?!" should be followed by "s/he was drooling on my homework on purpose!" or the like. (For both the Roman and the Aristotelian sense, the slightly-older-kid explaining why the younger kid should give the allowance to help in some kind of Tom-Sawyer-worthy financial scam involving candy transactions - but these are usually not quite as effective in my experience, because children tend to be more skeptical of each other than adults are.)

Or a parent saying, "If you smack your brother, your Guardian Angel will cry"...

#115 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 09:24 PM:

bellatrys,

What you're calling propaganda I'd call sophistry.

#116 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 10:51 PM:

Sounds right to me, Adamsj.

#117 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 10:52 PM:

I should say more than that but I'm crashing.

#118 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2006, 11:08 PM:

I am reminded of an observation by Brad DeLong: the small-government wing of the conservative movement knew for years that Bush was lying about the budget, but they thought that they were in on the con--that once Bush was securely in power he would not only cut taxes, but eliminate all the programs that they hated. Whoops.

And this isn't even new; Stockman in the 1980's admitted that Reagan's program was a con, and (IIRC) implied that a lot of people knew it was a con.

Letting people think they're part of the elect is a powerful trick. Pohl & Kornbluth pointed this out in the revolutionary recruiting flyer Courtenay drafts in The Space Merchants; the flyer claims to appeal to the upper fraction of intelligence, but has an option to be done by voice to attract the illiterate.

Could the "Spanish prisoner" scam could be seen as an extreme form of this? Could most one-on-one cons?

#119 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 09:38 AM:
But the real prize was a section that turned out to have been quoted (approvingly) from Harold Lasswell's Propaganda Technique in World War I (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927)

Amazingly presient, calling the Great War "World War I" back in 1927. What did they know that the rest of us didn't know?

#120 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 10:41 AM:

this practical suspension of Godwin's Law

I got 9 out of 14 correct. not great, but not too shabby either.

#121 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 10:55 AM:

What did they know that the rest of us didn't know?

Did a quick search of the Library of Congress Catalogue. I couldn't find the 1927 publication at the LOC but I did find a book written by Harold Lasswell published in 1938 called Propaganda Technique in the World War. If I read the catalog entry right, they've stored a couple copies off-site at Ft. Meade.

#122 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 11:18 AM:

I got 13 out of 14 on the Coulter-Hitler test. My success is more due to my linguistics background than to real differences in the sentiment expressed, though. Hitler, or his translator, simply used locutions of which Coulter is incapable.

#123 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 11:40 AM:

Jack Valenti writes about effective public speaking several places especially Speak up with confidence: How to prepare, learn, and deliver effective speeches. Jack Valenti also suggested - before Buckley v. Vallejo - that during the period immediately before an election media buys should be limited.

Gerry Spence has also written about influencing opinion in and out of court.

I'd say there is no lack of more or less current how to do it literature from the practitioner's perspective. Perhaps there is a reluctance by scholars to discuss propaganda in a current context. Perhaps the discussion has become more diffuse across several disciplines with different names as communications has become an accepted college major along with political science and all the rest.

I think intentions matter just as I think cardinal utility matters. I'd also say that I can't measure or effectively model cardinal utility in a realistic manner beyond a domestic situation. I can't judge intentions. Granted I am always tempted to judge myself by my intentions and others by their actions still given that even the most noble cause will attract fuggheads I can't distinguish evil acts in an arguably good cause from evil acts otherwise. See e.g. a discussion here some time ago of Paul Robeson and acquiesence in torture with the best of intentions. Interesting to see how the Wikipedia entry on Robeson and Soviet torture has changed over time.

#124 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 11:55 AM:

I got the same score as Xopher, and for the same reason. Coulter's language, compared to Hitler's or his translator's, is limited and impoverished.

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 12:15 PM:

Isn't it interesting, Fragano, that the main difference between Coulter and Hitler are in the latter's favor?

#126 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 12:16 PM:

Differences, of course I meant. Preview doesn't help if it doesn't include proofreading.

#127 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 12:33 PM:

I kind of like “mental epidemics”.
Back toward the beginning of the Bush II Administration, I re-read Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism, and re-discovered his coinage of “emotional plague”, referring more specifically to the ghastly social and political outcomes of mass sexual repression.
“Mental epidemics” sounds like a solid, useful metaphor.

#128 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 03:36 PM:

adamsj, sophistry is usually conceived as much broader and more general. That is, all propaganda contains sophistry, but all sophistry doesn't have to be propaganda (unless we widen the definition of propaganda to all kinds and incidents of flim-flammery.)

Sophistry is a tactic; propaganda is a category of behavior which uses that tactic as a means to an end. Frex, many kinds of trolling are also examples of sophistry, but the troll who is just enjoying setting people off is not engaging in propaganda.

#129 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 03:47 PM:

Bellatrys' definition of propoganda fits with the way I have always used the term. The goal of propoganda is to convince. The truth or falsehood of the statement you're to be convinced of, the honesty and quality of the arguments offered, and the good or bad effects on you if you are convinced are all irrelevant.

I'm not sure how that accords with the dictionary definition, but when someone describes something they see on TV as propoganda, I don't assume they're saying it's just a generic attempt to convince someone of a certain point of view, I assume they're saying that it's an attempt to convince that plays fast-and-loose with facts or logic, and that is not necessarily done for the benefit of the person being convinced.

Examples include political ads, commercials, public service announcements about drugs, pollution, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc.

#130 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 04:42 PM:

James Macdonald: For what it's worth, the OED's first citation for WWI being used is in 1931:

"The salvage of what a dear dead and let us piously hope well-damned colonel preferred to call the First World War" (S. Jameson, Richer Dust)

#131 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 05:03 PM:

albatross, I think its clear that using "propaganda" today would connotate lying, or at the very least decietful, communication, even though the word denotes simple communication of an idea.

The reason this came up in the first place was because I was questioning whether Lasswell meant it that way, or meant it to mean simply "communication".

It's sort of like pointing out that the word in the bible usually associated with "virgin" could also mean simply "young woman". (I don't even know if that's true or urban legend, but it's the example that came to mind.) So people's take on Lasswell's comments should at least consider the alternate meaning before judging his words.

#132 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2006, 06:10 PM:

Hmm. 12 out of 14, and one error was a simple mis-click, I think.

Don't I recall that Hitler had no education beyond high school, and that Coulter has the benefit of a law degree? Why is it that his language is so much more cogent?

#133 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2006, 01:25 AM:

I got 12 out of 14, but for some reason the test credited me with only 10 -- there were two that were obviously Coulter (they referred to "America" and "the Democrats") but it claimed I'd said they were Hitler. Bug, or subtle irony?

#134 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2006, 04:43 AM:

"Isn't it interesting, Fragano, that the main difference between Coulter and Hitler are in the latter's favor?"

In that Hitler had a strong work ethic enabling him to achieve his goals?

#135 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2006, 09:54 PM:

bryan: Or that the translator improved Hitler's prose, whereas Coulter's editor is too intimidated.

#136 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2006, 12:44 AM:

It gets at things that are obviously true, but it isn't actually very insightful.

JDB

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