The Seven Tools of Propaganda
ignore history and you will relive it.
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Wm. Faulkner
I recently posted the following on the Oregonians for Rationality (O4R) list serve in response to some depravities committed in Los Angeles. We think it points to some "obvious yet unobserved" underlying causes of many of society's problems.  We also think it's a partial response to Ralph Nader's presidential candidacy in 2000:
At our da Vinci days booth, a visitor went home and found answers to some questions I’ve had in the back of my mind for about 60 years.  It had to do with something taught in my grade school in about 1940: “The Seven Tools of Propaganda.”  I recall that they seemed pretty important at the time. 

I could remember but two: “Bandwagon” and “Glittering Generalities.”  What were the other five?  Is this kind of lesson still being taught?  Apparently not much, but then why not?  How relevant is this today? 

John Morris, recently of OSU’s Zoology Department, found references to the source of “The  Seven Tools,” a study published in 1939.  He even found a place or two where they were still being taught, Univ of Washington, for example -- but that effort has moved on to Temple Univeristy:: 


Name Calling 
Glittering Generalities 
Card Stacking 
Band Wagon 
Plain Folks 

and somebody added an eighth: Fear. 

My grade school teacher made it clear that use of these tools is a set of techniques to tell lies.  But these are lies that very easily get passed off as truth when we are uncritical.  Today I would describe the lying as too widely “obvious yet unobserved.” 

Today, I would also describe the errors communicated through that lying in terms of elementary logic that is “simple but subtle.”  It’s the reasoning needed to “see” as nonsense those bizarre beliefs O4R questions. 

Our grade school pupils didn’t need to wield Boolean equations and truth tables to see a lot of that error.  It was obvious enough for even us. 

Today, I see a culture whose norm is acceptance, as truth, of the lies of The Seven Tools of Propaganda.  Advertisers have honed those tools to carve any public opinion they wish to carve.  Spin doctors wield them like scalpels.  Journalists seem to be a disappearing species, being replaced by those spin doctors.  (One of the few remaining journalists, Daniel Schorr asked to be relieved of attending the political conventions this year on the grounds that there was nothing there for a journalist to report.) 

It’s all PAP — and our culture feeds on it:  LOOK OUT FOR THE HIDDEN "...LOOK OUT!!..." LINK!!

With PAP we can prove any hypothesis (the most ridiculous pseudoscience, for example) and justify any behavior (the most depraved sadism inflicted on fellow human beings, for example). 

When the movie commissioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities showed police beating seated, peacefully protesting students on the head and dragging them down the marble stairs in San Francisco City Hall, heads bouncing on the edges of the stairs, the narrator said the students were attacking the police.  An audience in Berkeley were appalled  by the depravity of the official behavior and mystified that any script writer would write such blatant untruth.  An audience in Walnut Creek was appalled by the violence of the students and cheered the behavior of the police. 

No matter where you live you are close to Los Angeles. 

And San Francisco City Hall. 
And under the gasoline-air bombs along the Persian Gulf. 
And Kristallnacht. 

In the Persian Gulf War, the American military noted that they had "learned the lesson of Viet Nam."  Just what was that lesson?

Simply this:  In Viet Nam, the American public turned against the war in reaction to the news coverage given by the American Press.  In a democracy, the public must agree to your war.  The "lesson of Viet Nam" is that the military must tightly control the press and its journalistic output.  In the Persian Gulf War, the press was managed with the tool of "The Press Pool" an information bottleneck under strict control of military spin specialists.

Of course, leaks (of truth or the whole truth) might occasionally occur.

Example:  A gun-camera video of American tankers shelling a column of Iraqi soldiers trying to escape the onslaught showed men walking beside vehicles.  As the shells exploded into the vehicles, body parts of the walkers could be seen flying.  A British journalist asked the spin-doctor if those weren't human beings in the pictures.  The question was deftly side-stepped, and that British journalist wasn't seen again on TV in the press pools.

Example:  Videos were shown of the remains of vehicles that had been moving in a long column north out of Kuwait and into Iraq.  The vehicles, and their occupants, were charred beyond recognition.  A reporter had ascertained that gasoline-air bombs had been used extensively on that escaping column, and that about 200,000 people had been burned alive.  "News" reports afterward began a slow rewrite that steadily reduced the numbers killed and never again mentioned gasoline-air bombs (once called "the poor man's atomic bomb").

Example:  (January, 2002 . . . 9/11/2001 is in the past, and America is conducting its "war on terrorism.")  The man trusted with the shaping of public opinion about "America's War on Terrorism" gave an interview on NPR.  He described his techniques as involving nothing but truth (when that will do the job).  The logo for a group he once worked with was drawn in white, black and gray, representing truth, lies and in-between.  By carefully selecting just those "white" facts which point to what he wants the public to believe, he can (almost) always reach his goals, he said.  He clearly did not consider PAP or the Tools of Propaganda to be techniques for telling lies.  He did not see these issues at the fourth level of abstraction where his "black lies" and his use of "white" PAP have in common an essential abstract pattern of deception.  He did not see that the essence of communication is the picture generated in the mind of the recipient and that his "truth" that lacks "the whole truth" generates a picture that is a deliberate deception; that is, a lie.   He did not see that his profession is telling lies, lies capable of justifying, and possibly promoting, unlimited cruelties.  He ignored the fact that many of the foreign world's leaders have expressed fears that actions he is "justifying" may have begun to cross into that territory.  Most of the foreign leaders, and an ever-growing number of the leaders of the more intellectual professions of the United States.

Example:  On April 9, 2002 NPR's "Morning Edition" aired a commentary by Matt Miller that many will see as a nose dive into a bottomless pit of depravity.   However, some will see professor Miller as responding to the depravity, while others will see his response as depraved.  His rationalization of torture will be troubling to some, as might be his call for deliberate ignorance.  We should ask what differences in abstraction skills might we find between those who are troubled by Miller's rationalization and those who see it as justified. "Commentator Matt Miller says U.S. officials should do all they can to get information from suspected terror leader Abu Zubaydah, who is now in U.S. military custody. He just doesn't want to know how they get it."
And the April 25, 2002 issue of The New York Review of Books has an article entitled "The Torturers Among Us," by William F Schultz:  "...the number of torturers and other human rights violators at large in the US may be as high as a thousand. Whatever the exact figure, the problem is not trivial, particularly since persons charge with torture or massacre may have committed crimes against many victims."  The United States has "recognized the concept of 'universal jurisdiction,' the notion that such offenders are hostis humani generis, or enemies of humanity, and that all states have the authority to prosecute them. Nonetheless, the US has never prosecuted a suspected torturer..."

Schultz makes it clear that US policy sees "crimes against humanity" as ethnocentrically restricting "humanity" to something much less than all human beings.  Miller limits his view to the most immediate consequences of torture and seems blind to the reactions to the torture which he justifies, reactions which are sure to come from that part of humanity he does not ethnically identify with.  Seeing 9-11 as an "attack on America," but not as an "attack on humanity," is a potentially dangerous failure to see the implication of mutual reciprocity.  In the midnight broadcast, October 11, 2003, of its world coverage, BBC announced that a report on the US treatment of its prisoners at Guantanamo accused the US of both physical and mental torture of those prisoners.  This is news coverage of a kind virtually invisible to the majority of Americans.  The Bush Administration continues to support the greatest possible conglomeration of U.S. News media.

There are "fourth-level" abstractions here that could save a lot of human lives.  A fraction of those lives could be American.

return to
Butterfly Ballot
What about Ralph Nader's candidacy?

Nader sees many absurdities and feels that when those absurdities are pointed out, others will see them as does he.  They will then, of course, switch allegiance to Nader or someone else of like mind.

He will not succeed until he can influence the mass media with at least the effectiveness of the American military during the Gulf War.  Rationalities are in the mind of the beholder, and the needed rationality insights require hard work on the part of the seer before they function well.  The spin-doctors are very skilled at encouraging dumbing-down, at enticing with glittering generalities, at helping us take the most easy, comfortable, and pleasant routes.

American society is widely influenced by skilled spin-doctoring and is meticulously manipulated by it.  The first thing a skilled manipulator of human opinion does is tell his potential victim, "You're much too smart to be fooled."  Then he takes him: it's easier if you first grease the skids. 

...and then there was a knock on my door.  And there was nobody left to...