"How Does Propaganda Work?" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Jason Stanley
8:38PM Dec 1, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Why philosophical discussions about everyday
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Hi, I'm jack Russel Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode, we'll be exploring propaganda with philosopher Jason Stanley.
By the time you hear this episode, the 2020 election will be history. We may not know who won yet, but if that's the case, it will be an issue for the post office and the courts, not the electorate. For the voters. The commercials that debate the texts and the social network battles will be over the season of peak propaganda will be complete. It would be nice if elections were exercises in reasoned debate. For philosopher this would be like the Olympics, we'd be listening to every detail parsing logic and evidence and evaluating all the arguments for fun for our students. And for our own sense of civic participation. Philosophers love argumentation, the way that sports fans adore a well matched rival rate, it gets us all riled up. But this is not how philosophers or pretty much anyone else experienced it. For most people, the election season is one of overwhelming noise and of desperate frustration. We want truth, we want transparency we want to matter. But most of all, we want to not be manipulated. Instead, we get obfuscation insults and appeals to emotion. Politicians spin their records and make promises we know we're empty. Frankly, no matter who ends up winning American elections are kind of depressing. So forced to ask, Is there a better way? Could there be an election without propaganda? Could a candidate speak to our reasoning and not our lizard brains? Could democracy even exist without misrepresentations? If self governance depends on an informed population, is it possible to create a society built on education instead of misleading rhetoric? Notice what I did here, I described propaganda as manipulative and information is education. I suggested that a well functioning democracy is built on reason and a broken one appeals to emotion. I asserted that political speech helps us understand why propaganda makes us more ignorant. Is all of this true? Are these distinctions so cut and dry? as our guest will explain, they are not a fundamental problem with political speeches that the audience is a collective. In authoritarian societies this can be glossed over the public is supposed to be treated as a single monolithic voice, everyone is expected to adhere to the same party line. But in a democracy, the people is an aggregate, a coalescing of different voices, desires, values, and goals. The very justification for liberal individualism is that people are diverse, and that this is a good thing. But candidates can't speak to everyone individually, glad handing kissing babies, and going door to door only gets them so far. At some point, they're going to have to speak to everyone at once. Eventually, they're going to have to address the masses. So what should they do? Should they speak to the highest common denominator? Should they address the most educated, the most informed and the most reflective? Probably not. As aspirational as we want our elections to be speaking so narrowly leaves a lot of people behind, but targeting the lowest common denominator diminishes our expectations too far. Yes, candidates need to address the folks without the proper background knowledge and the people who are barely paying attention. But they also have a moral obligation to tell these same people that their lack of preparation is unacceptable. As a people, we must strive for more as individuals, we should not degrade public discourse. As a country, we should resist debasing democracy. So political speech has to walk a fine line speaking to everyone at once, raising our standards while meeting people where they are. This means using metaphors appealing to intuitions, telling stories, and inspiring emotional responses. political speech has to be more than just argument. Because citizens are not computers or calculators. We're not commander data or Mr. Spock. expanding our repertoire, however, brings fiction into the equation. an apt metaphor works because it's untrue. a compelling story only connects with the audience when it's a dramatic narrative. Our intuitions speak to us when they're pre reflective, not after we deconstruct them, the untruths and excesses of the literary are the very thing that addressed the individuals within the group, that the tools that allow the audience to personalize the message they hear. The ultimate question of political speech, then is how much fiction is too much? Where is the line between creative oratory and manipulative deception? When are the candidates voices for hope? And what are they just liars? The philosophical exploration of propaganda begins only once we accept that communicating truth is much more complicated than just asserting facts. On today's episode, we're going to look at the good and bad effects of it.
propaganda delving into our guests political and moral theories about its use. But let's not get lost along the way. There'll be moments when it seems like propaganda is just a necessary evil, a grand but inevitable compromise in the democratic process. I don't think we should settle on that. In fact, propaganda is a form of creativity. It is as much art as it is craft and as such, it reveals something essential about the human condition. Propaganda exists because the world does not reveal itself to us as it actually is. Only as we interpret it, Aristotle wrote that human beings the political animal, what he neglected to tell us, however, is the propaganda is the natural result.
And now our guest, Jason Stanley is the Jacob Yourofsky, Professor of Philosophy at the Yale University. He's the author of numerous books, including how propaganda works published in 2015. Most recently, he published how fascism works, the politics of us in them, Jason, welcome to why. Thank you so much. It's great to be part of this important discussion. If you'd like to participate, share your moments from the show and tag us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Our handle for all three is at why radio show, you can also email us at ask why umd.edu and listen to our previous episodes for free at why Radio show.org?
I guess I just want to start off by asking you, if my sense is right, is propaganda more than just black and white? Or is the the sort of natural discussion that people have about propaganda more accurate, and I'm just being a philosopher and overthinking it?
No, you're absolutely right. Propaganda only began to have its kind of negative connotation after the depredations of the 20th century, after, for example, World War Two, Stalin and Hitler, you still find in the literature, in literature, for example, written by black Americans, you still find people talking about the necessity of propaganda, for example, abolitionist propaganda, when people write about how, how slavery was addressed by by the social movement that sought to bring an end to it, the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King spoke positively about the need for propaganda. So I think that you're quite right when you say that, that democracy is going to do well. A democracy as all democracies are, that are flawed and and partial, is going to require social movements to employ propaganda. And of course, those who seek to keep it partial. Those who seek to keep democracy, imperfect and problematic, also are going to use propaganda to further their ads.
People will often refer to books like Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is a famous abolitionist novel as propaganda and therefore less literature. Now I know that the history of the book is problematic in a different way. But when Harriet Beecher Stowe wanted to inspire people's empathy, was she doing propaganda? Or is literature and propaganda historically, anyway, a different category?
I think that, that you have to, you have to consider you have I would consider it propaganda and literature simultaneously. There is a long debate, it's the central debate of the Harlem Renaissance, of whether art is propaganda. So Dubois, in, in a famous essay, argues that black artists criteria of Negro art is the essay argues that black artists need to use their art to further political ends, in other words, use their art as propaganda to create empathy for the, for the situation of black America. Alain Locke, a great interlocutor of Dubois in the 20s, and author and editor of the New Negro, in a famous little paper, called the art or propaganda, argued that art sacrifices its greatness, when it becomes propaganda. And he had various objections to art as propaganda, for example, he said, when you use your art as propaganda, then you're aiming it at the person who's oppressing you, and begging for their empathy, but that actually reinforces the logic of oppression and domination. So but Alain Locke was not denying that that art could be used as propaganda. He was arguing that art when it's used as propaganda is necessarily ineffective.
I was struck throughout your book, how much you focused on the voices, particularly of of the descendants of slaves, but also just of the marginalized in general. And I'm wondering, does propaganda look different? When you're coming from a position of less power than when you're coming from a position of more power, when you investigate propaganda, you have to be aware of power relations is inherent in the process? Or is that just something that you, yourself are interested in?
I think that, that, for most for political propaganda, power relations are vital. To understand the effectiveness of political propaganda, it's important and often necessary to understand, to understand who has power, and what the aim of the messages to reinforce an already existing power relation to strengthen it, or in the case of say, the civil rights movement, feminism, movements for justice, the gay rights movement, the labor movement,
you can look at no movie like normal Ray as propaganda for the labor movement, you need to understand that these are attempts to undermine existing structures. And so just to understand why how propaganda works, as the title of my book is called is power relations are often necessary. And, for example, to understand who propaganda works on, I'll give you an example, I was teaching in the Wesleyan prison program of when I was writing my book. And I was I had assigned a paper a piece of mine called the war on thugs about the 1990s campaign to vilify black Americans and link black black blackness with criminality, which is not just in the 1990s, but the long history of American racism. But in the 1990s, it was very, both parties really participate in that. So I was talking about super predator theory, which was this idea by john de julio, that black American teenagers were super predators, and, and especially linked to crime, and you had to have, and you had to have draconian sentencing policies for that. So I was talking about this with these, these incarcerated students. And I said, Yes, we were all convinced that, and I kept kept on saying things like, everyone thought, everyone thought, oh, there are these super predators. And the students became furious at me, because they said, no one in our communities was convinced by this, no one in our communities thought any of this made any sense. It was completely clear to us that it was BS. Now you're coming here and telling us that you are a professor.
In the night when you were in the 19, when you were in the 1990s thought this was plausible, like all of us recognize this for what it is. So that's because I wasn't in the targeted community. And because I wasn't in the targeted community, I went along with the kind of so called experts who were promoting these, these, these dubious and ungrounded claims, because john de Lille was a professor at Princeton.
So john de Lille professor at Princeton, who was responsible for Super predator theory, he, he used his academic expertise to promote an absurd theory, no one who was in the affected communities of black Americans bought into it. And yet, there I was talking as if it was widely accepted.
So I want to ask a follow up question to that. And I'm going to ask it first as a philosopher, and then I'm going to, and then I could explain to everyone what I mean by that. Is, was this lack of belief, epistemological, or was it more linguistic? And what I mean by that is, where the people were you the people you're working with what people in the target community? Were they not convinced by this language? Because they had more knowledge about the alleged super predators or were they not convinced because the language was out of their norm. And so the term just didn't speak to them. It wasn't the right code. It was it. It wasn't about knowledge, it was about language. I think it was about what they did not have.
I think that there were multiple sources and i and i want to, and I didn't fall for Super predator theory, either, to be honest. But I think that people who did fall for Super predator theory already had a pre existing ideology linking blackness to criminality. In other words, the people who fell, fell for Super predator theory, already, were already were inclined to buy into racist study ideology and propaganda. profit, there are several mysteries about propaganda. For instance, how can it create an ideology, but propaganda is effectiveness in general depends on on taking advantage of already existing ideologies. So it's super predator theory did is it took advantage of an already existing ideology, that racist ideology that linked blackness to criminality. And by doing that, by taking advantage of that ideology, the way it took advantage of that ideology, it it created this absurd claim that there were these super predators who are biologically prone to, to rape, murder, kill without feeling or remorse, which is bizarre, because already, because why would you even want to do those crimes, if you had no feelings? If you wouldn't get pleasure interest out of those incoherence in the beginning, but the reason it resonated with with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Bob Dole, the reason it resonated with so many white Americans, is because they already had these pre existing beliefs that made that racist link. And because of that, they, when an expert from Princeton University told them this, they, they, they didn't they, they were inclined to question at last. But if you're a member of a black community, or if you're a white American, or, or person of color, who doesn't already buy into this race, this racist ideology has an element of racist ideology, then it's not going to work with you. And that's what was happening with the people I was talking to. They grew up in communities where they knew that the link that that crime was something that was done because of social breakdown due to over policing, over incarceration, lack of jobs, so they didn't have the background ideology. So propaganda is most effective, when there's a latent ideology that people have, but don't realize they have, the propaganda can use it, the propagandist can use it. And it's an even trick themselves into thinking that what they're arguing is rational.
In a few minutes, we're going to take a break. And at that point, I want to pull that thread because I want to talk specifically about your definition of propaganda. But in the process of answering that question. You mentioned this mystery, a one of the various mysteries of propaganda, and you said that one of them is how can it create an ideology? So there is this sense that if you barrage people with the same message, right, that the that the the pizza place, has a basement, and that's where the children are being molested just over and over and over again, people are going to believe that. What you're suggesting, though, is is that that process of propaganda, creating new beliefs is more mysterious is more ambiguous, why what's going on there?
Well, propaganda, effective propaganda is effective when it can build off already existing beliefs. I think that what you're just referring to is a mechanism by which you can create an ideology, a latent connection. To begin with, that then subsequent propaganda can build off. But when I talk about when you have like a campaign like that, like super predator theory or something like that, much in the news lately, President Trump accused Vice President Biden of using of using that terminology which he which he did not, but certainly he was part of a system that bought into this over punishment structure of the 1990s. So this is what happens when the ideology is already there is that certain claims seem perfectly reasonable.
Certain claims seem like they're logical and rational. But in fact, they're, they're not rational. They're not logical, but the ideology, you have masks that fact from you. So they seem rational. Now, there's now how does there's a different way by which you create the ideology in the first first place, and you've just described it, you connect, say, a targeted group, with repeatedly with, for example, terrible crimes you can act immigrants, with, with gang membership and, and rape. And then you create this connection in people's head over time, via repetition. And that's the way that you that you that that, that you must, with images and connections between groups and images, lay down the ideology from the very beginning. But then the ideology can do its work and making apparently rational claims.
In making claims that are not rational, seem apparently rational, because you've already forged the link, say, between race and crime in your mind. That's what having the background ideology does for you. If you already Connect, say, Jewish people with conspiracies, then somebody's telling you, that Jewish people are out to destabilize the nation or what have you. By controlling the media and the press, that's gonna seem more rational to you because you already have this background narrative in your head.
So even if it's prima facia sort of out to lunch, the story you're being told, if you already have this narrative in your head, it's going to make it seem like oh, yeah, that's common sense that Oh, that makes sense. That's something I've heard before. And that's the key to propaganda to produce a story that seems intuitive, natural, rational, even though it isn't, and it's intuitiveness, naturalness, and apparent rationality are due to the fact that you have a latent ideology that obscures from you why it is so out to lunch. So when we get back after the break, I want to parse what ideology means, in this context, I want to talk about your discussion of demagoguery, and about the various different, positive and negative uses of this. And we'll start off by looking at your definition of propaganda because I think it's super interesting. But before that, we'll take a break. You're listening to Jason Stanley and jack Russell Weinstein. And why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We'll be back right after this.
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You're back with why philosophical discussions of everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, I'm talking with Jason Stanley, about propaganda, an app topic at the end of this election season. I think a lot about growing up. I grew up in a very bad neighborhood in New York City, which I've mentioned on the show before. And I was part and parcel I lived amongst the crack epidemic of the 1980s. I was in high school during that time. And and I heard all of this language that people were using and all of this blame and as Jason was saying, it didn't necessarily make sense to me at the time. I just knew my daily experience. But now when I talk about that story, when I talk about what it was like to live there, it feels like it's developed a life of its own. I I think I may have told the story in the show before and but when my wife and I first started dating and she went back to my neighborhood, she saw a bunch of poor kids playing basketball in with a old garbage can. And she called me and she was very upset and she said kept thinking. She said I keep looking at these little kids and thinking this is how you know young jack grew up and I said to her when I told I grew up in the crack distribution center, the East Coast. What did you think I meant, and she sort of laughed, half laughed, and Kraft cried and said, I thought you were being ironic, right. And I tell that story because it talks about two different things. It talks about the experience of living in a place that people are talking about. But it also talks about telling the story about living in the place. And I worry sometimes, that when I tell the story of my life, I make it seem worse, or more dramatic than I'm propagandizing my own life. Jason, is that something that? I don't know, that I should be concerned about? When you tell your story for dramatic purposes? Are you in essence creating propaganda about yourself?
Well, I don't think that it's wrong to, to, to spread prop to create a narrative of ourselves. That's what we do. And this gets back to our earlier discussion about the relationship between literature, art, and propaganda. So you're creating a narrative about yourself. But what you don't want, what will be problematic is if the narrative about yourself reinforced problematic narratives about the world in which you live.
If, you know, when you when people talk about when people talk about their neighborhoods, and they you know, all the time, you know, we live in a highly segregated city, My children are African American, Jewish, an African American. And I'm married to an African American woman. And, and they recognize that there are that our city is extremely segregated. And our neighborhood is much more white. And there are much poorer neighborhoods that are black and brown. And so they recognize that and when they talk about the city, and they talk about the black neighborhood versus the white neighborhood, and start talking about associations, what those things mean, well, although they're talking about their experiences, they're also reinforcing the kinds of connections that under that underlie racist propaganda. Like, I try to tell them, don't call that neighborhood, the dangerous neighborhood.
You know, you know, so those are kinds of stories that we tell, because we live in a structurally racist society. Those are stories that contribute to the, to the problematic ideologies, that that maintain the very things that keep a city of New Haven segregated by race and class in the first place. But so it when you embed yourself into those stories, you can sometimes then in a way of drama, to dramatizing things reinforce these ideologies of America.
Okay, so let me let me let me pull out a little bit and let me ask you, you know, as every philosopher is, wants to do, what propaganda is, and in your and in the book, you define political propaganda as the employment of a political ideal against itself, the employment of a political ideal against itself? What does that mean? Why is it important? And how does it depart from the historical analysis of what propaganda has thought has beenover the last few years?
So I focus on what I call undermining propaganda, the use of a political ideal against itself, because it seems to me an extremely important kind of propaganda, more generally, propaganda is manipulation of the rational will, towards towards a goal, where what moves you towards the goal is not your reason, but an emotion but emotion, passion, something like that. And this is, but a very, very important kind of that is this kind of propaganda that uses a political ideal to undermine that very political ideal. You can see that it's not rational, because, you know, you're being told, because the very definition is it tells you, you want to strengthen freedom, to honor but the goal it's bringing you towards is to undermine freedom. So take for instance, the extremely well known Frederick Douglass speech what to the slave is the fourth of July. Douglas draws our attention to the fact that the founders spoke repeatedly about liberty. And yet, these were by and large people who enslaved other human beings. So what did what were they doing when they were talking about Liberty?
The Confederates, the Confederacy fought a war of independence for states rights and liberty. But what does Liberty mean? there? It meant in the case of the Confederacy, it meant the liberty to enslave others. So how is it that Liberty can come to mean it's opposite, it can come to me it's opposite, when you've adopted some irrational beliefs about the world, in this case, an irrational belief about the relative worth of black Americans. So it's because people thought that black Americans were not, we're not worthy or capable of liberty, that they thought they could fight for the liberty to enslave black American. So take another example. Religious Liberty, religious liberty, which is a fundamental Liberty can be misused, it can be misused, to deny, for instance, gay rights, the liberty for people to pursue relationships with those they love, regardless of gender. So so you we we've seen in America, people using a fundamental Liberty like religious liberty, fundamental to a democracy, we have to let people pursue their, their religious beliefs. But But people forget, you know, what religious love what Liberty means is you can pursue your, your liberty in so far as it doesn't impinge on the liberty of others. And they leave that out. So religious liberty has come is often used to, to restrict the liberty of gay and lesbian Americans. And so, so that's the use of liberty to undermine liberty.
And one can multiply examples.One can multiply examples here, because there's, there's so much there's there's so many cases in which people use an ideal, like freedom towards a goal that is, in essence, anti freedom, think, for instance of, of the United Kingdom's Brexit campaign, which pushed for freedom and sovereignity for British citizens by preventing them from having all sorts of rights and freedoms to access Europe.
I actually keep thinking, as you're talking about this, about the argument from the recent election. That said, in order to promote democracy and voting, we have to have fewer voting sites, and fewer drop off points for the mail and elections, right that the idea was,we want everyone to vote. So we're going to make it harder to vote. And that only works if you believe this irrational idea that there's voter fraud, and that Democrats and in particular, black democrats are more inclined towards voter fraud than anyone else. Right. So those are two false beliefs. And then you use the democratic ideology to justify an anti democratic activity. So that's the kind of thing you're talking about. Right?
Absolutely. And that exact example is one of the main examples I use in my book, you promote the false belief that there's massive voter fraud. The book was published in 2015. And I, I show I refer to studies showing that Nall state local and national, local state and national elections for some 20 year periods are like a dozen or 1820 cases of voter fraud among, you know, hundreds of millions of votes. And, and so you promote this idea that there's this false belief that there's massive voter fraud. And then, and then you say, what we've got to do is we've got to reduce access to voting via voter IDs, the reduced hours at polling stations, via reduced polling stations in order to protect democracy, whereas in fact, you're undermining democracy. So this is this is this is that's, you know, a paradigm example of undermining propaganda that we're seeing right now. We're seeing we're seeing it with we're seeing the president claim that we've got to do all of these things that restrict access to the ballot in order to protect the election. That is what is rigging the election.
So I have to ask because the the book comes out in 2015, which means you were probably done with a manuscript it may be in 2014, which means you were writing it for many years before and yet even when I was reading it in 2020, right, you, you completely anticipate the rhetoric of the 2016. election, you completely anticipate the the propaganda of the 2020 election. Is this? Is this satisfying as an author to see this? Or does it? Does it make your head explode? I mean, to what extent because I'm gonna, of course have to ask, what do we do about this? But when your analysis is so spot on, that you have predicted the future? How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel optimistic? Or does it make you just furious at the world?
Well, it vindicates the argument of the book, which is that the central problem of democratic political philosophy is the problem or a central and overlooked problem is a problem with propaganda. democratic political philosophy in recent years, since john Rawls is mostly been about, you know, tasks. And Robert nozick, how much taxation versus how much distributions and the point in my book was to reorient democratic political philosophy to, to what I feel is sort of a problem that will always arise with democracy, namely, free speech, enables propaganda and propaganda leads to undermining the very system that enables free speech. So that we see it in every election these patterns, along with debates about how to distribute resources, but we see the centrality of these patterns, vindicates my my view, that that, really the problem of propaganda should have been central, and right in our vision all along. And the reason it wasn't, was probably because of propaganda itself.
In the process, you you make an observation, I actually think it's more in passing. But I think it's one of the key points. And I'd like you to talk a little bit about this, which is, you say that authoritarian regimes have ministers and offices of propaganda. But democratic regimes don't and can't have ministries of propaganda. And I think understanding why is essential to understand your argument. So can you talk about why a democracy can't have an official Office of propaganda, and why that's different from other kinds of regimes?
Brilliant, and that's a perfect follow up to the point I just made that the problem of propaganda is masked in a democracy. Because the system of a democracy is inconsistent with with government, spreading propaganda. So democracy has as an ideal transparency, we're supposed to have, everything's supposed to be transparent, and the ideal version of democracy, we see what our government officials are doing, we can vote for government officials on the basis of our transparent acts, transparent access to their actions. So propaganda isn't consistent with the kind of participatory role that citizens are supposed to have in a democracy. Now, of course, as you know, scholars from Walter Lippmann on if not Plato and Rousseau odd, have known democracy, in actual fact, isn't going to work like that, in actual fact, people are too busy to find out what's going on. Even if things were transparent, they wouldn't have the time to read up on it. So. So when a government wants to do something with the will of the people behind it, it has to engage in various tactics, propaganda tactics. But this can't be done openly via, say, a ministry of propaganda, because that would openly violate an ideal of democracy. So so what happens is you have a system where people people think they're in the system democracy that doesn't have propaganda, but propaganda is happening all the time.
The government is constantly constructing propaganda, particularly surrounding wartime or, or to mask when it is doing things for the wealthiest among us. And citizens are led to believe that that's the kind of thing that only happens in a non democratic society, in a society that doesn't even try to have democratic ideals. As a result, people, including political philosophers, think propaganda is not an issue in democratic societies. And that's why I think that democratic political philosophy has forgotten the problem of propaganda, despite its centrality in the history of political philosophy.
Authoritarian societies, on the other hand, don't have transparency as an ideal. So, so they explicitly have propaganda. The problem in authoritarian societies is because citizens, especially authoritarian societies that don't have a, a firm grip on their citizenry is that many citizens simply don't believe what the government they assume everything is propaganda. So in democracy, people can tend to believe nothing is propaganda, at an authoritarian societies, they can tend to believe everything is propaganda. Now, so the book here, you see the book was written in 2015. Because we're no longer in a moment where citizens believe that nothing is propaganda. Right, we've been, we can see, you know, when I was writing the book, and talking about societies in which people just don't believe anything in the public sphere,
then people were reacting to me like, you know, well, what are you talking about politicians that are caught line will be punished. But what, what we have now is we have a complete destruction of our information sphere, sort of what happened, like what happens in an authoritarian society without being an authoritarian society. So we don't have the then I go, you know, I go to places like Canada speak or Western Europe and, and people.
People don't people don't have a grasp for quite how unhinged things have become in our information space, because they still have a democratic information space.
I really liked that phrase, how unhinged it has become in our information space. I think that that's a really well crafted way of describing it. And as you talk about the difference in reaction to the book between 2015. And now, it makes me think also of the charges that we have become more authoritarian, and we have become closer to fascism. Your follow up book, how fascism works, clearly involves this sort of discussion. Is it fair, as someone who's who's recently completed work on fascism? Is it fair for us to say that the country has become more fascist? Or do you think that's a misrepresentation? And what's the relationship between the growing awareness and the growing power of propaganda in our information space, and the movement towards a more authoritarian, less individualistic, less free society?
Right, good. So So here we are, again, before we begin the discussion, that's going to be very important to, to remember the notion of undermining propaganda. Because when we when we look at, say the President's supporters, they would say that they are anti authoritarian, and they're doing everything for liberty. So, you know, they're not wearing masks because of liberty. But that isn't that's undermining propaganda. That's not really liberty, the notion of liberty they have is not really liberty, we can already see, like, we can see the militia organizations that during Obama, were declaring themselves for lift for liberty and against the government are now lining up to serve Trump. They're lining up in an authoritarian manner, to, to, to go on the streets, these the very to protect the government. And these are the very same militia organizations that claim to be anti government in the first place. So they're acting like authoritarian militias.
But yet they're suffused with the language of liberty. And that it's not liberty, you can see with say, the mask debate, I mean, if, if no one is going to wear masks, if people are, you know, that is going to bring harm to other people. You know, Liberty is, you know, you have Liberty insofar as you don't infringe on the liberty of others. Well, lots of there's lots of infringing on the liberties and lose lots of harming others that's going on in this rather perverse notion of liberty. So so that's just beginning a beginning point, because everyone's going to claim they're on the side of liberty. That's just generally true.
So, so you have to understand the undermining propaganda to see why that's, you know, if you're lining up with guns to support the government, then you know, you should worry about whether you're leaning towards authoritarianism. Now, I think it's completely fair to say the country is going on a gradiation tour is becoming more and more fascist. And by that I don't mean the regime is becoming more fascist. So I think, you know, we're at risk of that at some point in the near future is not under Trump's and under some future leader as this whole upload is shown.
So, so what I mean when I say the country has gotten more fascist is I'm referring to our underlying norms. I mean, fascism is a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of supposedly humiliation by immigrants, minorities and Alaska. And he presents himself as the top guy leader, who will deal with all your problems. Lots and lots of Americans want a tough guy leader who doesn't negotiate with anyone who just solves their problems for for them who doesn't, doesn't come doesn't compromise at all. Lots of Americans are blaming the effects of massive wealth inequality, and brutal conditions, brutal employment conditions, and economic and reduced life chances. They're blaming it on immigrants, they're blaming it on minority. Lots of Americans are paranoid about a supposedly leftist takeover. At a time when the courts are stocked with far right judges, when Sinclair media far right media organization owns huge portion of local news, and Fox News is the most watched news station. So paranoia about the left, blaming your problems on immigrants and minorities seeking a restoration of past glory. This is an ideology. This is an inclination, a culture that is strengthening in America right now. That doesn't mean we have a fascist regime.
But, you know, so I think in talking about fascism, we have to be careful about what we're attributing the word fascism to, we don't, if you only worry about fascist regimes, you're never going to stop fascism, before it becomes a regime. So it's irrational just to worry about fascist fascist regime in how fascism works, I argue that we have clear how clear fascist ideology and politics happening.
And I think that we have a fascist social and political movements, the rallies, Nazi ism, Italian fascism, or, you know, these giant rallies where the leader creates fear of immigrants and, and foreigners and communists doesn't present himself as a strong leader who will protect his people and smash them. I mean, that's clearly the kind of rallies we're seeing, we're seeing the bond between leader and followers in trumpism. And if, you know, we're seeing the lying as a central part of this whole strategy, because at the core of fascism is a friend enemy distinction. Your leader is leading you against the deadly enemy. Q Anon conspiracy theory, wrote that 50% of Trump supporters believe and 33% more are sort of neutral about the queue and on conspiracy theory says that Democrats are pedophiles. So, you know, hiding a pedophilic blood, a pedophilic ring that locks children's and dungeons to to siphon off their blood.
And so if you think that that's what's going on, then you think that Democrats are incredibly dangerous. And even if they say true things, they're just saying true things in order to further their nefarious plots. So you don't mind if your leader lies, the structure of what we're looking at, is a fascist structure.
Okay, so now, as I said, in the beginning of the show, we're recording this a couple of weeks before the election, people are gonna listen to this a few days after the election. So one possible outcome of the election if the results are finished, is that we have elected the opposition party and we have a new regime to transition. So putting that aside, you're describing very complex system. you're describing some really horrible things, but you're also talking about the importance of propaganda for marginalized people. So the greater question I'm going to ask is, is what you know, what do we do about this? How do we fix the information space? And the way that I want to ask that first is to ask, how do we counter undermining profit?
propaganda to steal a line from the National Rifle Association is the only solution to bad a bad guy with propaganda, a good guy with propaganda, right? Can you only fight propaganda with propaganda? How do you fix the information space? And how does propaganda fit into that? solution?
So these are vital questions. These are the vital questions. I'm the best at this. I'm very good at describing the situation. I think the but the most important thing is the answer to the questions you asked. How does one How does one undermine the what we're seeing right now with queueing on should terrify every American? I mean, you know, if you didn't, if you didn't realize the power of these narratives, you know, they spread like diseases.
They're like viruses, and there's no easy way to undermine them. It's not clear Well, you know, how do you? How do you break apart a narrative that's so obviously untethered from reality for those who are not already in it?
You know, I think even I am taken by surprise, the degree to which Q anon on has taken root and spread not just in the United States, but elsewhere. And interestingly, it spread, of course, and predictably, in countries with long histories of extreme far right. Particularly anti semitic far right, because ultimately, conspiracy theories always end up being anti semitic.
The shadowy group that's behind things and controlling things, historically, has been the Jews. So Germany, for instance, has created there's now a substantial queue and on movement. So, so that's stalling for time. Before I respond to your question. Right.
So, so what, what, you know, what's going to convince people who think that Joe Biden is concealing dungeons filled with children, who are having their blood removed from them and sold, that they are completely untethered from reality.
But and I want to interrupt for just a second because I've never, you know, it never occurred to me, which is sort of embarrassing on my part. But, um, but the description of Q anon is the description of the conspiracy theory, as you describe, is the old anti semitic trope, right? It is the Bible. And and and as I said, I, I'm embarrassed that I never saw that before. But, you know, because I tell people all the time, what you what you say, which is it always it always ends up in anti semitism, but but it is so blatantly the blood libel, that it's, it's kind of it's both shocking and embarrassing, right, that people still believe it, even if it's in another form. So I just want to interrupt that to make that point that it is the blood libel to undermine to underlie the point that you made earlier about anti semitism. But please continue.
Q anon is the protocol for the Elders of Zion plus blood libel. So it's that there's a shadowy elite, seeking to bring communism, destroy the nation. There's a heroic figure Trump's fighting against it. And underlying, and, and they're not just trying to destroy Christianity in the nation, and all that is good and valuable. They also have a nefarious plot, they keep young children they're trafficking in, in young children, which they're using, whose blood they're using for various purposes. So
it's a protocol, libel, it's a star show and, and and when you and, and and it isn't astonishing, because the way the mind works is it goes back to familiar narrative row, you know, so that's why q anon has such a base in Germany, among the far right, because of course, these anti semitic stories have a base and a history there. So, and many Americans have this so I spoke earlier of latent anti semitism, of latent ideology making propaganda effective. Well, the latent ideology that q anon draws from his anti semantic ideology.
This doesn't now of course, are no doubt many Jewish supporters of Q anon. Because anti semitism is something just like racism is something that you can have if you're Jewish or black. It doesn't insulate you. But it it seems plausible because of its familiarity.
So that's why these old tropes are, are hard to eliminate. So what we have to do is we have to look at how these old tropes in the past, were reduced. Because a lot more people believe blood libel, a lot more people believe the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
But what we've seen with q anon is it's in our society and always has been in our society to be exploited in strength. Henry Ford gave out 500,000 copies of the Protocols of the Elders a sign in the 1920s. So we obviously need public announcements, it's the president is very strongly leaning into q&a. So if you look at say, Ivanka Trump's Twitter page, it's just all about how the president is the world's greatest champion against human trafficking. Now, Human trafficking is horrific, and it's very laudable, a laudable goal to be a powerful persons, challenging human trafficking. But the President is not been some kind of hero on that issue. And, and why is it such a huge thing on the social media, it's such a huge thing in the social media, because they're trying to send the message that human trafficking, that, you know, that cute, cute that there's some huge human trafficking problem connected to the democrats and the President is fighting against the democrats and is therefore fighting against human trafficking. So So I hope that removing a force of disinformation from a role where they have enormous practical authority, the President of the United States has enormous brockville authority, when the President of the United States is approving of Q anon and the interview after interview in the White House that strengthens that strengthens this toxic historical conspiracy theory. So one way is simply by removing that source of misinformation, when the President approves of things, as he's been doing repeatedly with q anon.
Because not condemning it, when you're asked to, is approving it, when you're the president of the United States, then then it's just going to get worse and worse and worse. So, so if there's a change in administration, and the new administration comes in, is firm about this nonsense, and that is nonsense, and condemns it in no uncertain terms, then I hope we'll, we'll we'll go back to a somewhat saner time.
I think a lot about and I often talk about it in my class, my classes, how on if you look at the data, particularly in the African American community, about approval ratings for gay marriage, that the moment that Barack Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, the approval rating jumped up, I'm making these numbers up, but it was something like from from 30% to 70%. Right. I mean, it was just it was just overnight. And I think that that's the kind of thing you're talking about, right that the leader and this is this is.
This is what has always been at the heart of dealing with the Trump presidency is President Trump seems like he doesn't understand that every word he says matters as President. But of course, he absolutely understands that every word matters. Is there anything that we can do on the local level as folks who aren't necessarily in power? I mean, you and I are professors and I have a radio show. And so we have more voices than that, then some people, but what can the ordinary person do to counter the undermining propaganda? And to sort of restore some sort of reasonableness to our political discourse and to the information space?
Well, I think we need principled conservatives who speak and speak to and denounce this nonsense.
You know, the trumpism has captured the republican party and has transformed that into a kind of Cult of the leader. But we need principled conservatives. I'm not myself conservative. But I recognize that democracy requires conservatives. It requires social conservatives. It requires libertarians, it requires socialists it requires centrist of both kind of center right and central office requires a whole bunch of different views because the problems we face as a society don't all have a uniform solution. You know, you might think health care should be run by the government.
And when separated from private profit, and you might think that cars should be part of private profit, probably, you know, or computers should be sold in terms of a more straightforward capitalist model. So we have these multiple problems. And they require different solutions. So you need a difference of political opinion and compromise that argument. But what we have now is we have the conservative movement captured by a sort of authoritarian, culpable leader mindset. And ultimately, what we're going to need is we're going to need conservatives standing up to this and saying,
No, actually, the last do not control the media. There's huge swathes of the media are controlled by the far right. The New York Times is not all that leftist, that's just basically a bunch of centrists.
We need conservatives restoring rationality. Because in the current moment, which I don't pin on Donald Trump, I tend to blame mainly on newt gingrich for this term. The Republican Party has demonized the Democratic Party and treated them like they're not a legitimate opposition. So until we have conservatives, speaking up about how extreme things have gotten and challenging it, then I don't think there will be much hope, because I think part of the ideology here is, you know, I mean, I am, you know, a democratic socialist. So a lot of people are going to look at me and say, Well, he's just a leftist. Why should I listen to him?
And so until we have conservatives, restoring some conservatives saying, frankly, the kind of thing that I say about conservatives, I think, you know, I've got plenty of conservative relatives and, you know, Orthodox Jewish in the Orthodox Jewish community, and Midwood has that, and they, you know, and they have every right to live their lives. And so I hope that we will, again, have principled conservatives who say, look, no, people who disagree with us aren't monsters, they have a different set of values. A democracy is they're not going to threaten our values, they can have their values, and we can have our values and people growing up can choose what values they want to live by. But until we have conservatives, who don't want to dominate our society, until we get this paranoia out, this paranoia that leftists want to seize control, which is the underlying, underlying protocols of Elders of Zion message that leftists are seeking to destroy religion, and create communism, and force everyone into reeducation camps. That's what motivates a far right, push. So until we have conservatives who are like Calm down, actually, conservatives run a lot of the country, I don't think we're going to get much improvement of our information space.
And and just as a way outside of the conversation, I will I will tell our audience that the second book that I refer to how fascism works, the subtitle of it is the politics of us in them. And that's very much what you are talking about that, that, that we need both sides of the equation to undermine that us and them and to say, No, we can live together with different values we can. This is what a diverse and pluralistic society is what Jason is, this has been a fascinating and tremendously relevant conversation. And I hope that we can do this again. So we can talk about your other work, because it's super fascinating. And I hope that it will be at a time when there is less urgency and less public anxiety. But thank you so much for joining us on why I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. It's been an important conversation and thank you for doing the work you're doing which is vital for democracy. I appreciate it very much. You have been listening to Jason Stanley and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussion of everyday life. I'll be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with jack Russel Weinstein on Why? Philosophical discussions about everyday life, we were talking with Jason Stanley about propaganda. The way Jason wants us to think about propaganda is in terms of the ideology undermining itself. We want people to vote. So we're gonna make it harder. We want people to be free, so we don't let them do certain things. We want to treat everyone equally. So let's blame a scapegoat. All three examples of this are instances of doublespeak, of claiming we want one goal and using the opposite goal to achieve it. Now, that seems crazy when you put it out there. But of course, so much propaganda is about that so much propaganda is about undermining our purposes. The first goal is to identify when we do that, and to try to stop it. But there's another aspect of it, the Jason product is super interesting. And that's the idea that propaganda doesn't work unless the ideology is already latent in the culture. We wouldn't believe racist things, if there wasn't racism, to inspire us to believe it. We wouldn't accept anti semitic tropes if there wasn't already anti semitism in the culture. What propaganda tells us when we study it is more about ourselves than propaganda. We're looking at a mirror, we're exploring our vulnerabilities. We are identifying our blind spots. If we believe propaganda, it's because we have shortcomings. Yes, you can look at propaganda. And you can look at the methods and you can look at the techniques and you can look at the words, you can identify dog whistles, and you can find procedures that people have used to manipulate groups and individuals. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, there is a reason to study propaganda just to learn the techniques. But there is every reason to study propaganda, to make ourselves better, and to make our cultures better, no matter how many times they tell us. They're not made to convince us that we have four eyes, no matter how many times they tell us, they're not going to convince us that we have five legs. But the fact that they convince us that immigrants are evil, that some group is here to undermine us that you can think of every ethnicity and race as identical to one another. That means that we're already thinking something like that in our heart, and that it permeates our culture. We are in a period of tremendous conflict and great change. We're at a turning point, regardless of who won the election. We can continue on the path we're going and use propaganda to promote hate and division, or we can stop and we can use our philosophy to reflect on the message we communicate and the assumptions about who our neighbors are. Jason has put that on the table. It's up to us to act on it. You've been listening to Jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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