Monthly Archives: February 2017

Propaganda — I

I met with some friends on the afternoon of Monday, 27 February, for a discussion of propaganda. We had all read or at least browsed the same book, Stanley, Jason. How propaganda works. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2015. The author is a professor of the philosophy of language, epistemology, action theory, and early analytic philosophy. If that sounds to you like a terrific background for understanding propaganda then you might find much interest in the book; I for the most part didn’t.

The author’s problem is that he is much too self-consciously the academic philosopher to make his case clearly and straightforwardly. I studied a fair amount of philosophy but my teachers had turned away from the over-elaborated, obscure style Stanley favors.

His faults not to the contrary, however, Stanley does make some good points on issues that are of even greater importance today than they were when he wrote (which must have been no later than 2014). I’ll take up some of them and their implications in later posts.

And some of what I say will tie into “The Man in the High Castle.”

The Man in the High Castle

It was in 1953, in the summer between 6th and 7th grade, that my family first got a TV. 14 inches, as I recall, black and white of course. It was kind of exciting and I watched it quite a bit for a while. But by the time the summer was over the novelty had worn off. I never watched TV very much after that.

I went to movies. I liked a lot of movies. But movies were different. Mostly movies were a social experience, and my friends/date and I would eat before the show and discuss it after, perhaps playing out some of the roles. But movies didn’t really stimulate my imagination as much as reading for the most part. By the time I went to sea with the Navy in the early 1960s I’d become very selective about movies. We got pretty rotten ones for the most part and my shipmates would kid me about sitting in my stateroom reading while the movie was showing. I was navigator and thus the senior watch officer and sometimes I’d relieve the bridge watch so the OOD could see the film.

My wife, who loves films and is extremely perceptive about them, finds my disinterest a bit frustrating. We do have a regular Friday evening movie night with friends, usually at home watching videos. And lately we have found common ground in watching videos while I exercise on my elliptical trainer.

I’ve never liked exercise per se, never played games. It’s a little unnatural to be exercise-averse and I knew I’d be better off if I exercised, but that didn’t move me all that much. I compensated some by walking a lot, finding reasons to walk rather than ride. But in recent years walking has grown less comfortable.

So I got the elliptical and somewhat to my surprise I’ve managed to establish a fairly regular pattern of three 20 minute sessions per day, at a fairly brisk pace. I miss sometimes, but altogether get in five to six hours of exercise per week.

The videos play an important role in the economy of my exercise. On occasion, when Anne is away, I read rather than watch videos, but watching with her is most pleasant and motivating. The trick of course is to find things we both like,

Somewhat to my surprise, Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” is filling the bill. It’s less psychological and more action oriented than most of the things we watch, and she tends not to care much for SciFi in general, but it seems to work pretty well for both of us.

I think it’s really mostly because of the characters rather than plot per se. What happens to these people is more involving than what happens to this mutation of Philip K. Dick’s dark world.

It’s a bit odd, really. There are an awful lot of glitches and loose ends. That was always one of my problems with Dick’s fiction: his imagination outran his understanding of many aspects of the real world. I often get turned off when films are too far out of synch with reality, but this one doesn’t bother me so much. I suppose a lot of it is that the story is frankly fantastic and doesn’t really pretend to be about the real world.

Terrific performances count for a lot, particularly Rufus Sewell (John Smith) and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Nobusuke Tagomi).

A chance of what (for President Trump)?

I have friends, good people, who are distressed that President Trump is not being “given a chance.” We should not be so negative about him they feel, so skeptical.

I am a skeptic by nature, as my father was and as my son is. The credulous, those who instinctively align themselves with authority and power, fill a role in this world, but so do we skeptics. Credulity can bring material benefits, I have often observed, but I cannot change my nature.

My father, skeptic that he was, worked for a number of years as a political newsman. (Newspaperman, as he would say; he never liked the term “journalist.”) Through him, and some other family connections, I early came into contact with political figures. The first whom i recall with any clarity was J. Goodwin “Goodie” Knight, then governor of California. By chance, when I was 16 I passed about three-quarters of an hour with Knight in the guest house at Camp Roberts while we awaited the delayed formal review of the 40th Armored Division, California National Guard. (My godfather, Brig. Gen. Wayne C. Bailey, was the assistant commander of the division.) I did my meager best to hold up my end. I had no quarrel with what I knew of Knight’s policies and he certainly was very nice to me. But as I reported to my father afterward I felt that there was something fake about him. He assured me that there was nothing unusual or unnatural in this.

So I was to find in succeeding encounters over the years. If you think a politician is genuinely interested in you, you are likely wrong. His interest will usually prove largely if not purely transactional. There is nothing wrong or unnatural in this, but if you repose trust in him because you feel that he understands and cares about you, you are very probably making a mistake.

But there are degrees in this, and they are important. While J. Goodwin Knight’s interest in me was no doubt somewhat feigned, I did feel that he cared enough about me and other ordinary Californians (at least white middle-class Californians) not to betray us in any serious way, a judgement borne out by his record. (That he was brought down by the rather reptilian Bill Knowland speaks not too badly of Knight.)

I make judgements of people, and I offer no apologies about it. We are equipped by nature to judge those we come in contact with; it’s one of our important faculties. (Psychologists know it as “theory of mind.”) I try always to review and revise my judgements as I acquire new evidence, but find most frequently that my theory of mind as regards others becomes deeper and more subtle but is not radically transformed in the process.

For one of my disposition, to know Donald J. Trump is to mistrust him. His overbearing, boastful, and brutal style immediately marked him as untrustworthy in my view. As I heard more from him I found that he lied constantly, often in matters where the truth would seem to have served him equally.

Oh, but I am being deceived by the falsehoods of the press, am I not? No, I am not. I no more take the word of the press at face value than I do that of politicians, but I have made a long and reasonably successful career of digging out the facts behind appearances, and time and again have found Trump’s assertions to be radically at variance with facts I could verify independently. Since I read a lot and can do mathematical calculations to check the consistency of data—actions he is evidently not only incapable but contemptuous of—I have a significant advantage over him in this.

So if by giving President Trump a chance it is meant that I should abandon critical thought and surrender to his lies, then the answer is no, I have no intention of doing that. Indeed, I am incapable of it.

And as I see some of my credulous friends do just that my trust and respect for them declines in proportion.

Just another blog

I’m coming very late to the blog scene, but here I am. There’s nothing special about this one, just my thoughts and ideas at random. It’s mostly for me, mostly a medium to organize my thoughts, but if it’s of interest to you I’m very glad to share. I do hope to post pretty frequently, just to reassure myself that I’m still thinking.