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Beardcicle Chronicles: Propaganda

Photo by Mark Zwolanek, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo by Mark Zwolanek, Creative Commons Licensing.

What would Joseph Goebbels do?

I just stumbled across a news article that shows an image of a billboard in some Russia-affiliated country with an image of Trump and Putin side by side with the tagline “Let’s make the world great again — Together!”

The story that goes along with it is that the Obama is trying to break relations with Russia beyond repair before Trump comes into the White House. And it reeks of propaganda.

This American Life ran an episode the weekend before the election that was focused on Hillary Clinton and the email scandal where they assert that the whole email thing really comes down to general bureaucratic incompetence and technophobia. And it, too, reeks of propaganda.

How are we to know anymore what facts are facts and what facts are misrepresentations of the facts and what facts are outright lies told in an effort to sway and, ultimately, control our thinking?

How long until we end up like Germany 1933? And by that I mean how long until we devolve into the rampant and reprehensible reporting of our neighbors to the powers that be — not because of actual crimes, but because of small slights? How long until we report our neighbors as illegal immigrants from Syria who seem to be building a bomb in their back shed simply because they didn’t wave to us when we went out to get the morning paper or thank us for scooping their driveway for them when they were out of town.

That’s the thing about propaganda — call it by it’s more common name, marketing, if it makes you feel better — it is insidious and quiet and powerful when done right.

They say that you lust after the things you see everyday. At least Hannibal Lecter does through Clarice in the film and book. Maybe an actual person said it first. I don’t know. It doesn’t change the fact that we do lust after those things we see regularly. And, as with lust, we start to think and assess the world based on the lenses to which we are exposed every day. Surround yourself with the so-called “Alt-Right” and you’ll start by agreeing with some of their tenets. Eventually you may not go all in, but your thinking does change to align with the thoughts that you are exposed to daily. Hang out with enough Marxists long enough and you will start to view the world through the Marxist lens.

That is all propaganda is: the repetition of an idea or ideology that infects the listener and affects the way that the recipient of the message interfaces with the world. Be it to go buy a burger or to denounce your neighbor as a commie or a Jew.

Of course, there is a lot of nuance that is missing from this discussion — self-aggrandizing diatribe, some may claim (insert winky emoticon here if you are under the age of 30) — but the broad strokes are true, I think.

Marketing (propaganda) holds a much stronger sway on us than any of us would like to admit. It lays to waste the idea of free will. If a cartoon character singing some stupid jingle can make us go buy cereal, how can we say that any of our decisions are self-directed?

More worrisome is, how do we know what to believe? Does Donald Trump really read Mein Kampf each night before bed as some outlets have reported? Does Hillary Clinton really have Parkinson’s disease, as some local right-leaning talk radio hosts are presenting as 100 percent verified fact over the airwaves (reference the Amy Demboski Show from November 15 — Amy was not on air so I can’t blame her as much as I’d like to)?

A simple search to try to get to the heart of the manner shows from where the Trump/Hitler connection may have sprung — his ex-wife. Now, in my experience, an ex-wife may not be the most reliable source of unbiased information. I didn’t even bother trying to find the genesis of the Clinton/Parkinson’s connection because: a) I am a lefty, b) I am too distraught by the whole election thing to put in the effort, and c) the left’s propaganda is just as pervasive as the right’s and I don’t feel like wading through anymore of the stench today.

But, back to Trump/Mein Kampf because it interests me.

I don’t doubt that Trump has read Hitler’s speeches and studied the breakdown of how those speeches affected the populace. Likewise, I don’t doubt that any political adviser or campaign adviser worth his or her salt has not done the same. Regardless of everything that Hitler did, one cannot discount his success at bending the will of an entire country to his evil ends.

He used and embraced propaganda. Just like every politician since has done. Strike that: Just like every successful politician since then has done. You figure out the base fears of the electorate and then you build a campaign on inciting those fears and build the belief that you are the only one who can strike the death blow to the embodiment of those fears.

Hell, we are now in the age of techno-propaganda. Ever read the comments on a news article? There’s a good possibility that they are posted by a bot. Software code. Artificial intelligence. Scary, no?

We are surrounded constantly by so much noise, so many potential sources of knowledge and information, but so much of it is just noise. Like blasting AC/DC songs at detainees at Guantanamo, we are blasted with such a deluge of information — ranting — that we can’t be really expected to accurately decipher what is live and what is memorex, what is real and what just has the illusion of reality.

Here is where I should say something about simulation and simulacra.

But what is real anymore?

Are we in the Matrix?

Are the dystopian stories that have been so popular in the last few years dispatches from the future trying to get us to see where we are going as a culture?

How far can the ruling class take us before we really, finally, once and for all fight back and disrupt the status quo?

I look around at the world from the periphery — I’m not involved in much beyond the minuscule details of my own life — and it seems like the world is generally trying to tear itself apart. Riots and terrorists. Refugees and shocking elections. What of this is real? Any of it?

Are the riots just a way to keep status quo? Keep us in fear? Who’s paying for them? Are they really home-grown? Fake news gets picked up and run as if it were fact. Chat-bots clog the Twitters and the comments boards. Everyone is shouting from the rooftops, but…

I guess I have to wonder if the propaganda machine has broken free of its masters. We twist the facts and figures to meet our desired ends, but who, or what, is planting that seed of desire?

Free will?

Not likely.

Phil was born and raised in the Midwest. He moved to Alaska in 2010 and started his bike commuting life then and hasn't looked back yet. He is primarily focused on how bikes can be used to supplant other forms of transportation, when it makes sense to do so, but he is also interested in how to combine different forms of alternative transportation to create a sustainable and enjoyable commute. Besides cycling, Phil works as a business analyst, is a recovering poet, teaches technical writing, and still harbors a dream to write a great novel some day.


What do you think?