Doonesbury, the venerable but edgy comic strip, has been running a mini-series on Sarah Palin. I won’t go into the details.
Today’s episode has the Palin-esque character trumpeting a series of blasts: death panels, fine troops losing coverage plans, the IRS taking non-compliant citizens to jail.
The cartoon owl – representing something along the lines of rationality, knowledge, reasonableness, wisdom and (gasp!) Maturity generally – points out to her that “None of what you say is even remotely true”.
To which the Palin character replies: “So? Who GIVES a hoot?”
It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not – since ‘truth’ isn’t the object of the exercise. What you want to do is simply whip people up and start the stampede in the direction you want it to go.
This isn’t at core a ‘conservative’ (or ‘liberal’) or ‘Republican’ (or ‘Democrat’) sorta thing.
No. At core this is nothing more than a restatement of one of the fundamental maxims of propagandistic agitprop – as practiced by the revolutionary agitators of the early Communist era, but brought to sharply honed perfection by Josef Goebbels (aka ‘The Poison Dwarf’ to his Nazi colleagues, though never to his face).
Goebbels had drawn a great deal of his thinking from his boss’s magnum opus “Mein Kampf”, but both of them had picked up a lot of ideas from Eduard Bernays, the Swiss thinker who provided much of the underpinning of early-20th century American advertising . And perhaps Bernays picked it up from watching the early Bolsheviks, and from Gustav Le Bon’s 1896 work on the emotional volatility of ‘crowds’ – you can see where ‘things’ have histories, even ‘ideas’.
So Goebby wanted not only to ‘sell’ Nazism and its agenda, but to manipulate and control his country’s public opinion into supporting the frakkulent Third Reich in all its pomps and all its works.
In his game-book: you don’t want to ‘persuade’ or ‘convince’ people; you wanted to move the whole dynamic out of their advanced ‘human’ brains and move it into their emotional ‘animal’ brains. (Which also goes to show you what so-called elite manipulators think of ordinary ‘people’ and thus of ‘Citizens’ and ‘The People’ – it’s all a useless and inefficient costume party where you have dressed up animals in the rights of masterful human beings … and the role of animals is to be saddled, herded, and if need be stampeded; and the role of the masterful ‘real’ humans is to lord it over the sub-humans … charming. Also rather anti-Constitutional, if that thought hasn’t yet occurred to you.)
This playbook was deployed – suitably ‘baptized’ by the high and good intentions of the vote-addled Dems – by the ‘revolutionary’ advocacies of the late 1960s and early 1970s here: after all, when you’re not after ‘reform’ – especially through the slow and uncertain process of public deliberation – then the best way to get people to go along with you is to do an end-run around their ability to think, and simply keep them continually whipped up emotionally.
And you do that with all the ‘Correct’ images and sound-bites and ‘stories’, and by making sure that a friendly (if not controlled) press makes sure that no un-Correct alternative information, opinion, or explanations gets out into the public arena.
This is what agitprop is all about. This is what agitprop does.
The country has been ‘scared’ since the beginning of the Cold War. Indeed, one of Truman’s advisers told him back there in the late 1940s that if Harry wanted to make the United States the focal leader of the non-Communist world, then Harry would “have to scare the hell out of the American people” – because otherwise they’d really just like to get on with their lives and not have to be going into overseas wars again.
But there was always a strong Liberal element in the country that stood against irrationality, untruth, and the repression of free speech by the Communist-addled Right. McCarthy tried the agitprop approach but it didn’t last long.
But in the late 1960s the vote-addled Dems – having pulled the rug out from under the New Deal era alliance of Southern Jim Crow and northern industrial workers and mid-West farmers – accepted the Mao-addled ‘revolutionaries’ when they insisted that agitprop could be ‘baptized’ into a ‘good’ cause.
Nobody was really ready for the wholesale introduction of agitprop over here from the Left, from the ‘Liberal’ side, under the guise of ‘liberation’ and mere ‘reform’. Yes, there had been some acute insight into the manipulative excesses of ‘advertising’ (especially when combined with ‘television’), and everybody realized that McCarthy’s ‘Red-baiting’ was somehow a scam. But those had been elements of the corporations and the Right – and you sorta expected that. And thanked God that – as had been true since 1933 – the Democrats were looking out for ‘the common man’ and ‘the little guy’.
Alas, the Dems of 1966 and certainly 1968 and subsequently, had hoped to replace their Southern losses by adding ‘women’ to ‘guys’ – only to find that the radical feminists had conceived a zero-sum game: in order to ‘get’ the ‘women’ (or the votes of as many real women as the radical feminists might actually control) the Dems would have to accept and support a zero-sum ‘war’ against ‘men’ – although politely abstracted as ‘patriarchy’. And against ‘white’ men – as a political nod to the ‘black vote’. And against ‘white working men’ – as a way of preparing the ground for a post-industrial culture that was too thoroughly built around ‘men’ to be of much use in the New Feminist Order.*
So things continued through the 1970s. The infection spread virulently: the Republicans by the later 1970s were adapting the same game-book. Their ‘moderate Eastern Establishment’ types were shunted aside in the zero-sum game to make room for a reach-out a new ‘base’, the hitherto (and not inappropriately) marginalized whackery of American Fundamentalism, a religious approach that united an emphasis on ‘feeling’ (or, more nobly, ‘spirit’) rather than ‘reason’.
AND on top of that, absent any larger organization (such as the American Catholics had in the Universal Church) upon which to rely, the Fundamentalists had the ominous tendency to ‘sacralize’ the national government (so lethally similar to Russian Orthodoxy’s theological self-submission to the Russian Throne).
The Fundamentalists anchored themselves in this world by appointing themselves the chaplainry of the national government. Which, they ‘reasoned’ or 'felt', was only right and proper since the national government was the incarnation of God’s Will on earth (not only so lethally similar to both Imperial Russian Orthodoxy and Imperial Japanese Shinto, but also so profoundly anti-Constitutional and – being hell and gone from the vision of the Founders – frankly un-American). And of course there's that curious "imperial" connection.**
Though let Us pause for a moment to remember that great Democrat who bipartisanly combined Concern for Liberty with Jingoism, who didn’t need ‘facts’ or ‘thinking’ to justify stretching forth the nation’s arm into large-scale overseas military adventure: Woodrow Wilson, who said – contemplating a military rather than a diplomatic role in World War 1 – “There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it doesn’t have to prove to the world that it is right”. Of course, he did it for ‘Liberty’, and for a while, indeed, he was greeted as a liberator. But then the consequences started to make themselves obvious.
So now both national Parties had given themselves whole-hog to the agitprop presumption that ‘feeling’ and not ‘reason’ must be the driving force of politics.
Which, not to put too fine a point on it, tied in nicely both with the feminist effort to valorize feminine ‘feeling’ and ‘intuition’ over masculine ‘rationality’ and ‘thinking’ and also with the Fundamentalist theological valorization of ‘feeling’ and ‘spirit’.
Thinking, evidence, actual facts – none of them counted for anything any longer.
And here We are.
*Alas, the radical feminists and their Dem (and later Republican) supporters made Shylock’s Mistake: you can’t get rid of an industrial culture without getting rid of the industry itself … so today We see that Shakespeare was right and now We have no manufacturing capacity left. And how many of the Citizens are actually formed by any sense of personal ‘industry’ in the broad and classical sense … well, Industry in that sense was a Virtue, and Virtue – no matter how traditional, reasonable, and vital to human fulfillment – had to be jettisoned in the zero-sum game in order to clear a path for the New Order as well.
**Of course, things never remain static. There is now "humanitarian intervention" and "humanitarian partnering", whereby the American nation now considers itself empowered by Whatever to impose its enlightened post-1968 New Cultural Order on any resource-rich nation not able to reject such importunings. (Which 'vision' is an eerie simulacrum of the oh-so-demonized male sex-offender forcing his attentions on unwilling or less-strong women - funny how the night moves.)