At the recent World Economic Forum at Davos, a U.S. panelist claimed that high taxes on the super-wealthy and economic growth had never coexisted in any country ever. The moderator and other panelists were ready to move on, but someone had made the mistake of allowing a guy on the panel who would blurt out the obvious, and he did so, pointing out that those two things had coexisted for decades in the United States up through the 1960s.
While a whole catalog of plutocratic lies has been fine-tuned for many years, very often no lies have been concocted to reply to someone shouting out the truth. Instead, the approach has been to simply not allow truthful voices on the stage. That so many evil things have to be falsely presented as good and decent is some indication that many people are not so much cruel as gullible. That a word of truth can shake up a carefully constructed pretense is indication that many people are not so much gullible as using the wrong sources of news.
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, which existed from 1937 to 1942 identified seven useful techniques for tricking people into doing what you want them to do:
- Name-calling (an example would be “terrorist”)
- Glittering generalities (if you say you’re spreading democracy and then explain that you’re using bombs, people will have already agreed with you before they hear about the bombs)
- Transfer (if you tell people that God or their nation or science approves, they may want to as well)
- Testimonial (putting a statement in the mouth of a respected authority)
- Plain folks (think millionaire politicians chopping wood or calling their gargantuan house a “ranch”)
- Card stacking (slanting the evidence)
- Bandwagon (everyone else is doing it, don’t be left out)
When I wrote a book called War Is A Lie, I examined the following types of lies:
- Wars are fought against evil.
- Wars are fought in defense.
- Wars are waged out of generosity.
- Wars are unavoidable.
- Warriors are heroes.
- War makers have noble motives.
- Wars are prolonged for the good of the soldiers.
- Wars are fought on battlefields.
- Wars are won by enlarging them.
- War news comes from disinterested observers.
- War brings security.
- War is sustainable.
- War can be both carefully planned for and avoided.
In his new book, Political Mind Games: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible, Roy Eidelson examines the following types of lies:
- Vulnerability: It’s a dangerous world; change is dangerous; it’s a false alarm; we’ll make you sorry
- Injustice: We’re fighting injustice; no injustice here; change is unjust; we’re the victims
- Distrust: They’re devious and dishonest; they’re different from us; they’re misguided and misinformed; trust us
- Superiority: They’re losers; we’ve earned it; pursuing a higher purpose; they’re un-American
- Helplessness: Change is impossible; we’ll all be helpless; don’t blame us; resistance is futile
Eidelson begins, rightly, with fear, which tends to turn off the thinking portion of the brain. People are manipulated into fearing less likely and less harmful dangers, while neglecting more likely and more harmful ones. Eidelson uses examples and names names: Attorney General Jeff Sessions claiming marijuana will break up families, Senator Pat Roberts claiming that without warrantless spying you’d likely be killed, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen announcing that the greatest threat to “national security” is government debt, etc.
Eidelson cites Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz requiring his low-wage workers in Washington, D.C., to write “Come Together” on customers’ cups in support of cutting public spending on everything except wars. We’ve been taught that Social Security is in financial trouble, that taxing the wealthy hurts the poor, that paying the poor more hurts the poor, that protecting our rights will get us killed, that protecting the planet for the future of life will result in foreign businesses “defeating” U.S. ones, that lowering incarceration increases crime; that loose gun laws make us less likely to get shot; that countries with civilized healthcare systems have horrible healthcare (and death panels!), etc.
We’re supposed to believe all this crap, and much more like it cited by Eidelson. Or, even if we recognize it as destructive deceit, we’re supposed to respect it and treat a range of opinions in a balanced manner ranging from actually reasonable views over to somewhere at the far end of delusional incoherence.
The plutocratic palaver of, not just the nightly news, but of the entirety of U.S. culture, also persuades people that injustices are about justice and vice versa, or that injustices are justified by a higher purpose, that victims are to be blamed, that predatory lenders but not their victims deserve sympathy, that warned-of disasters could not have been anticipated, and that the bearers of good ideas are devious and dangerous. J. Edgar Hoover once held a press conference to announce that Martin Luther King Jr. was the most notorious liar in the country.
Eidelson’s mind games rely on such tactics as patriotism and racism. Racism is of course useful for war promotion, in the form of demonizing an “enemy,” but also for suppressing activism by dividing a population. Patriotism works beautifully to create opposition to anything labeled unpatriotic.
Eidelson concludes his book with an examination of techniques for persuading people they are helpless, such as claiming change is impossible, claiming a behavior is “human nature,” etc. This is absolutely critical, of course, to recognize and counter. I don’t think it helped that in his discussion of “resistance is futile,” as in his earlier section on “we’ll make you sorry,” Eidelson muddied his analysis by straying from lies people are told to actual impediments put in people’s way. By providing bad educations and racist policing and low pay and a political system of legalized bribery, etc., the oligarchy places actual impediments in people’s way. These need to be overcome, but not in the same way in which lies about incarceration making us safe need to be overcome.
One way to begin to overcome some of the lies, as Eidelson notes, is to recognize our strength. Many progressive positions have majority support in the United States, despite all the lies, but that majority is made up of millions of people who each imagine they are part of some weird fringe minority. Of course we also need to be prepared to spot lies. For that preparation, all tools of categorization and all relevant detailed facts are helpful. Then we have to demonstrate to people that they are not helpless, including by taking on the ridiculous idea that all people can do is vote or whine. Most importantly, however, I think, is that we have to convince people to start getting their news from more reliable, more diverse, and more first-hand sources. The worst lies, never categorized, are lies of omission.
While I think Eidelson could have been more careful in defending the corporate media against Trump’s name-calling — particularly in a book that amounts to a devastating rejection of most of what the corporate media does, and while I wish every example of war lies didn’t have to come from Iraq (we’ve got so many wars and each one has been rolled in a coating of lies), I do think Political Mind Games is a book that everyone should either read or give to someone they know who’s living in a fantasy world of Muslim Honduran rapists and benevolent billionaires.