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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/30/09

Propaganda 101

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Message Marilyn Ferebee


Beneath the Palin sticker on the back window of my brother-in-law’s SUV is another one that says: “What about ‘the terrorists want to kill us’ don’t you morons understand”. As an advocate of free speech, personally, I’m okay with the sticker saying: “What about ‘the terrorists want to kill us’ don’t you understand”--a kinder and gentler exhortation: “Don’t forget to be afraid.” However, “morons” tweaks it in a more political direction. I think I know what my brother-in-law would say, if I asked him who he has in mind as the “morons.” “It’s those god-damned, knee-jerk, bleeding-heart, soft-headed liberals“--the same ones that demonstrated against the Vietnam War, while he was a teenager fighting to keep America free--and of course, God bless him for his efforts and good intentions.

Violence is, as a destructive force, ultimately an impotent agenda. Like screaming into the wind, violence fatigues, drains, is the opposite of life-affirming as it takes the body biologically-speaking into places nearer to death than life, e.g., stroke, heart attack. War as violence writ large also dead-ends, in the destruction of lives, property, dreams. It’s the supreme example of the one-step-forward-and-two-back scenario, since once concluded, it’s then necessary to rebuild everything that existed before the onslaught. War engenders waste.

Those blinded by the red-hot glow of unfettered capitalism might say, look at the good that has come out of Iraq, all the profits we made, long live Halliburton (assumed is the incessant yammering about trickle-down), the free market is ascendant, mammon reigns, all is well with the world. I would say, the profligate profiteers confuse tumescence with goodness.

This is what Calgacus had to say about that (85 A.D): “To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”

History is continuity. If the people know their history, they can more quickly recognize and reject agendas that do not serve their best interests, and stop the endless cycles of financial destabilization and war.

Woodrow Wilson in 1917, read in the context of the last decade of American history, sounds quite prescient: “Once lead this people into war and they’ll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street.” Can you spell militarization or Northern Command?

Peace is another story altogether. Peace is engendered by understanding how other people think, what they think about, how they came to think that way, what they hold as self-evident truths. To crack this nut more of an anthropological mindset is needed--parking biases as best one can in order to achieve familiarity, to see the world through new eyes.

Salvation, as it turns out, may lie within the discipline of architecture, albeit a people’s version. In her book, The Death and Life of American Cities, Jane Jacobs argued that the stoop-sidewalk-store configuration was life-sustaining for the city as opposed to the grand, architect-planned projects that sterilize the community and promote its destruction, i.e., alienation, crime, and eventual displacement. Humans navigate their landscape in a manner not unlike animals (not a nod to Darwin) and make their own trails. There is a picture in Jacob’s book of a cement path the architect designed and built and then the alternate route the people trod. The people on the ground intrinsically know how to commune. The “Great Unwashed” do not build walls. The “Powerful” do.

It’s ironic that the GI bill may be responsible for promoting the viability of liberalism post New Deal. For the first time in America’s history, post WWII, the average man had access to a college education--the “average man” meaning those who dwelled outside the bastions of power, the ones who did their due diligence by feeding the war machine. The survivors who took advantage of their education benefit had spent several years with their faces shoved against the window to the truth and reality of war, and could see, clear-eyed, the propaganda of power. Some--Howard Zinn for example--chose to educate a new generation with their vision, others jumped on the powerwagon, still others--the largest cohort--spent their lives simply dealing with their memories.

War and peace--not just the difference between apples and oranges--more like the difference between gestalt and label. According to my dictionary, gestalt is: “A configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.” Kind of sounds like a human being to me, or extrapolating, a society. Label is defined as: “[A] descriptive word or phrase applied to a person, group, theory, etc., as a convenient generalized classification.” The operative words here are “convenient” and “generalized”. What’s that I hear? Could it be the national anthem? Convenience and generalizations have been promoting togetherness in America since the Salem witch trials. They can create a veritable quiz show love fest of sports bar aficionados and rapture-loving Christians playing “name that label” at the drop of Uncle Sam’s hat. Why, anybody can play this game, don’t need none of that high-tone book learnin‘.

Practitioners of the gestalt school beware of Bill O‘Reilly, he who labors intensively on that label-loving channel Fox. Guests attempting to provide background to what they say will be given the O’Reilly treatment, i.e., “I can talk faster and louder than you can and besides this is my show not yours, and [leaning toward the guest] I‘m bigger than you are” (usually true). He functions as the main pump for Fox’s replete reservoir of propaganda masquerading as news. Since the word propaganda only means “[m]aterial disseminated by the advocates of a doctrine or cause” and even includes all those times your mother told you that if you didn’t brush your teeth regularly they would all fall out, our criticism must come from the intent in the mind of the propagandist. An example to ponder: What did George Bush intend when he planted the image of a mushroom cloud in our minds as he pushed for war? You don’t need a Phi Beta Kappa key to answer this question.

I move that Rodney King’s plaintive plea in 1992 should resound throughout the land on an endless loop as long as humanity inhabits the planet: “Can we all just get along?” Well, can we? What part of peace don’t you understand?

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Max Ferebee is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, whose interests are politics, history, and languages.
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Propaganda 101

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