Propaganda versus actual facts on the ground

Let me say at the start: if someone holds a view that is not based on rationality — an irrational view —  the calm, friendly presentation of every reasonable reason in the world to see the issue otherwise will not change that view, in most cases.   

A lifelong racist is unlikely to change his views just because one, two, even ten people from the hated race impress him greatly.  This is a famous bypass of Reason we can see clearly in this historical example: every major Nazi had a list of “good” Jews to be spared the “Final Solution” or any part of it.   This was a Jew they personally knew, liked and protected.   Mr. Hitler himself had 340 Jews on his personal list! [1]   “Doesn’t mean we don’t utterly hate the vicious, race-poisoning Jews and want to exterminate every last one of them and their despicable babies, wipe out their accursed seed, just leave Max alone, Max is cool.”

If something as common as “racism” [2], which can be rationalized but which does not have a rational basis, is immune to reason and persuasion, then we can conclude that much else about human behavior is.  Belief, after all, requires faith that one is correct.   Belief and faith are often not based on any facts one can verify.  Faith, some people say, is superior to Reason because while Reason limits one to provable theories that the limited human mind can test, only Faith can bind us to the ineffable, the unexplainable and immortality itself.  Faith-based arguments, famously, cannot be undermined by appeals to mere human logic.

There is a good argument for faith.   Humans need faith.   I don’t sneeze at faith.  It is absolutely essential to “keep the faith” (as my father used to say) when times are bad.   When a person loses faith she loses hope and without hope all that’s left is helpless resignation to the shit show in progress.   We have faith that people who profess to love us actually do, that when things get bad they will act the way we believe they will, the way they’d want us to act toward them if they were in trouble.  

I am not arguing against faith, not at all.  I am not saying human Reason is the end all of the human experience or any kind of infallible guide to human behavior (though, often it is our best option).   There is a universe of things the brilliant homo sapiens (“wise ape”) mind has only guesses about.   Mental health is one of them as are the realms that cannot be detected yet by the senses or by even the most sophisticated instruments we have designed.   

Homo sapiens are famous for acts of mass insanity.  The concept of WAR was invented by the wise ape, after all.  Let’s not get too hopped up about this “wise ape” shit, our history is bloodied by plenty of mindless, stupid, destructive practices too.  Mass killing done in the name of “Reason” and oceans of blood spilled in the name of defending “Faith”.

My aim here is to show  that often facts on the ground tell one story clearly while propaganda convinces people of another, usually invented, story entirely.   That’s where I’m headed, for whatever the exercise might be worth today.

I learned, during a talk with a friend from down south the other night, that his experience in the military, particularly when he was stationed in Germany, wiped away any traces of racism he may have had after years of segregation in his home town.   Overseas the group he hung around with, joked with, sought out, played music with, drank with, were the Americans.   That included Americans of types he did not know well or at all from where he grew up, types he wouldn’t even have encountered in This home state, Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, etc.  His service in the army left him more of an American, in the proudest sense of the word, than when he went in.

Institutions like the military can have a democratizing effect.   Labor unions (whatever their faults and corruptions) perform the same function.   They place people of diverse backgrounds on common ground, united for a common, larger purpose.   No logic or reason is involved in the transformation of personal prejudices, just give a group of people a challenging common goal and you can see the great naturally equalizing effect.   Not every two members of these groups will become friends, rivalries and hatreds between individuals will emerge — but these things will, for the most part, no longer be based on anti-group prejudice.

 We have facts on the ground, actual facts that can be verified — like captured children sleeping on the ground under foil emergency blankets in locked enclosures they are locked into, areas supervised by armed guards.  We imprison these children because they are “illegals”, have entered the United States illegally, or perhaps are the children of asylum seekers, there has been little clarity provided for their detention beyond the president’s repeated assertion that America is full and that we have no room for these little illegals and their criminal parents. 

Trump’s followers get angry when these detention centers, like Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which was an “internment camp” for Japanese Americans immiserated and locked up during the Second World War, are referred to as concentration camps.   They could be called “penal camps”, perhaps, because the children are alleged to be little criminals (“illegals”) and their detention is part of their punishment (which explains why sanitary conditions for these masses of kids appear to have been an afterthought, if any thought was given to their health and safety at all [3]).   They could be called “detention” or “internment” camps, would that be OK?   It is also fair, judging by what similar enclosures for people of a certain type who were collected behind barbed wire and prevented from leaving by armed guards have been called all through recent history “concentration camps”. 

The word got an understandably bad name from the fucking Nazis.   And I know the song: we are sick of being gratuitously and unfairly compared to fucking Nazis!    Protecting our borders from illegal aliens makes us Nazis, now?!!!   FUCK YOU!   

OK, OK calm down.

The Nazis gave concentration camps a bad name, assuredly, but concentration camps are not DEATH CAMPS.    The first camps the Nazis built were concentration camps, armed shit holes in which to collect and intimidate their many classes of enemies.   In those camps prisoners were bullied, humiliated, sometimes brutalized, occasionally killed, but the concentration camp was a collection point for detained enemies.   It is easy to think of these Nazi concentration camps as the same as death camps, but the Nazi innovation of the vernichtungslager was, at the time and as far as we know until today, a purely unique Nazi idea.  

It’s the image of the death camp is what gets so many Americans worked up over calling these detention centers for children “concentration camps”.   The Nazi death camp was a mechanized killing center with state of the art gas chambers and crematoria for disposing of the murdered bodies sent over from a network of concentration camps.  I get why people are angry when they think these internment centers for filthy, stinking little illegal aliens are being compared to death camps. I understand why it is easy to weaponize the use of the term “concentration camp” to underscore what you feel to be an unfair attack.   

Common sense is not so common, as Sekhnet’s mother often told her.   An easy answer if not always a sufficient answer.

Propaganda changes the subject from whether what we are doing to children (and entire families) at our southern border comports with our American ideals about protecting the weak to whether a pushy progressive politician is a fucking disgusting piece of shit for comparing our mild policy of reasonable deterrence to Nazi mass killing!

Mueller Report.  Are you going to believe a 448 page report that Mueller says speaks for itself, presents a trove of evidence and explains why he could not exonerate the president of possible obstruction of justice or the constantly repeated, supremely unambiguous mantra “no collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration” ?

Propaganda spins the “message” of the Mueller report by packaging, branding and marketing it to as many Americans as possible as a particular thing, as NOTHING TO SEE.   Ten detailed instances of the president’s apparent attempts to obstruct justice are reduced by America’s top law enforcement official to a single, clear message “no obstruction.”   Mueller did not find Trump guilty of obstruction, according to Bill Barr, he simply laid out various scenarios while avoiding responsibility by wimping out and leaving it to his boss to make the hard call.   Barr made the hard call, which pleased the president greatly, and loser Democrats still want a do-over!   Like the fucking loser babies they are.

Propaganda makes the entire ground slippery, for even the most sure-footed.   The great Amy Goodman, a brilliant, painstaking journalist and advocate of democracy, stated today that the Mueller report found “no collusion” with Russia.   That is the phrase so often used it has become interchangeable with “could not make a legal case for criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.”  Are the two things different?  “Collusion” is not a crime that can be charged against an American citizen, “criminal conspiracy” is.

As Mueller states in his report, one reason he could not determine that the Trump campaign had been engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia is that his investigators were often lied to, key documents were destroyed, highly placed individuals simply refused to speak to investigators or submit written answers to written questions.   “No collusion” is a significant distortion of what the Mueller report says about the more than 100 instances of proven coordination between members of the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government.

Yeah, I’m speaking to the choir, a barbershop quartet-sized choir.  If you are reading this you probably agree with much, if not all, of what I am saying.   Few who believe, in spite of all the evidence, that Mr. Trump is a great man who only wants to make America great again will read past a few remarks here.   They believe that Mr. Trump didn’t need the job because he’s already rich and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, that he’s sacrificing his own happiness to be a public servant.  They are not going to sit there and read beyond my first smart-ass Jew criticism  of the confused, dithering, incoherent, self-serving massive pile of lies and his blind followers. [4]

I am more sensitive to this kind of misdirection than many people, get more worked up than most about propaganda that distorts things we can see with your own eyes.  All through my growing up difficult questions were routinely dodged, often brutally, by a brilliant but tormented father who employed all manner of techniques to not only not answer anything that made him uncomfortable but to make me feel like an asshole for even posing the questions.    As he was dying my father apologized profusely for this practice, but by then I was almost fifty years-old and my oversensitivity had been long ago instilled.

Propaganda comes in many forms.  Often simply omitting a terrible fact or two, in the manner of the famous Grey Lady’s reporting on certain difficult subjects over the decades, is good enough.  Tie goes to the runner!   Nothing to fucking see here!

Think carefully, friends.  I have faith in your powers of reason.


[1] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, p.  133. 

[2]  I use racism in its most generic sense.  Only an anti-Semite would call the Jews a “race”.   Mexicans (even the rapists) are not a “race”, nor are “Muslims” or “liberal cucks”.   Racism, which America has practiced since long before its founding, is a fabulously pliable notion and a powerful way to keep the ignorant divided and suspicious of their fellow human beings, the easier to manipulate and rule them. 

[3] Many of the children visited by outside lawyers and advocates do not have access to washing facilities of any kind.  Their unchanged clothes stink, they have not been able to wash their clothes or themelves in days, in some cases weeks.  They are not given toothbrushes to brush their teeth or sinks where they can even wash their faces.   Older children are expected to care for younger ones.   They are being treated the way one treats one’s enemies.  Pretty much the way the inmates in every concentration camp have always been treated. 

one source

[4]   Looking for the exact number of Jews on Mr. Hitler’s special list in Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece (see note 1 above)  I came across this evocative description, by Eichmann, of blind obedience based on unquestioning faith in a leader:

Eichmann, with his rather modest mental gifts, was certainly the last man in the courtroom to be expected to challenge these notions [“superior orders”, “law”] and to strike out on his own.   Since, in addition to performing what he conceived to be the duties of a law-abiding citizen, he had acted upon orders — always so careful to be “covered”– he became completely muddled and ended by stressing alternatively the virtues and vices of blind obedience, or the “obedience of corpses,” Kadarvergehorsam, as he himself called it.     

Arendt p.135

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