Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Physics of Propaganda

EVER LISTEN to the late night radio show “Coast to Coast”? Much of it may be madness. 99% of the ideas discussed on the show may be false. (Flying saucers and such.) What I like about the show is that the host, guests, and callers are attempting to look behind the appearances of what passes for us as reality.

We’re trapped in a universe which doesn’t provide us with all the answers. The answers, if they exist, lay behind the appearances. Complicating matters is the way our senses are bombarded around the clock with a constructed, artificial reality, via many cultural mediators.

I’m not saying there’s no such thing as reality. I’m saying we have to test what passes for reality.


EVER READ the works of Gustave Le Bon? Though he wrote 100 years ago, his ideas remain ahead of our time. They may have been an influence on thinkers like Orwell and Lacan.

Le Bon pointed out that humans remain basically irrational animals. The stands we take, the ideas we adopt, are more often than not adopted for emotional reasons, more than because of reason and logic. We decide what side we’re on first, then look for arguments to justify the decision.

For example, people seem to either love or hate President Obama. The stance is that he’s all-good or all-bad. Either-or. However people view him emotionally, pro or con, they proceed to rationalize their viewpoint.  

We don’t know Obama, of course, not personally. We only know what we’re told about him by the media, mainstream or other. The arguments that we decide are right make rough sense to us. We’re still judging from appearances. We don’t know whether or not we’re being scammed. The tragedy is that each camp envelopes itself in its own viewpoint. They’re looking at the object of study—Obama—from only one side. They’re looking at the same mountain, but are looking at it from opposite sides, so for each camp, it looks different. There’s no perspective.

Lacan said that we can never eliminate God. In the same way, we can never eliminate religion. Those who think they’ve eliminated it, have merely adopted a new belief system. Say, secular materialism, which is the belief system of most in the media mainstream, and conditions their view of the world.

A good example of the need to believe is writer George Saunders, hailed by the literary elite as one of their leading intellectuals. Witness this snarky piece of his in a recent issue of The New Yorker:


George Saunders is playing to the crowd. The mere mention  of Ayn Rand’s name brings on a reaction among the intellectual mob—the New Yorker readership—akin to Orwell’s Two Minute Hate. Saunders has no perspective about Ayn Rand and never had perspective. As he says, he went from “lover” of her writing and ideas to full fledged hater. There’s no in-between. This esteemed intellectual seems incapable of seeing that Rand and her ideas aren’t all-good or all-bad. He doesn’t realize that however true or false her ideas, her writing itself must be fairly terrific to hook so many acolytes—DESPITE the flaws of her ideas. (In truth, she’s a terrific novelist.) The herd, however, has condemned her whole. Every part of her and her work. George Saunders is nothing if not a herd writer. (I satirize him briefly in my new e-novel, The McSweeneys Gang.)


The Question: How accurate are the narratives we receive from the omnipresent media? Based on what happened with the Tom Bissell smear essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, on how journalists swallowed his distortions whole, then perpetuated them, I’d say media narratives aren’t accurate at all.

Think of two lines drawn from a dot on the ground. From the same starting point. The lines differ in angle by a couple degrees. If the lines extend a few feet or a few yards, this is a marginal difference. The lines appear to be on the same path. Yet the further the two lines extend, the greater becomes the gap between them. This is like the difference between truth and distortion. The distortions placed into the culture by a propagandist-masquerading-as-journalist perpetuate themselves and become more distorted versions of reality. As time goes on, more and more distorted. The false picture that goes into the herd’s mind, and becomes accepted as the true picture—whether of a watch, a mountain, or a writers group—is distorted to the point of caricature, and does real damage.

I hope I haven’t gotten too heavy with these “mad” thoughts. A few of them are better portrayed in my latest e-novel, The McSweeneys Gang. Buy it at Kindle Store or Nook Books now, before the real-life McSweeney’s gang gets it removed.

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