Philosophers are interested in what we know as real, and how we know and what we believe we know. Epistemology is what philosophers call the theory of knowledge. Bertrand Russel is well known in this area of thought. Philosophers ask: What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? What do people know? How do we know what we know?
But how do we un-know particulars we thought we knew, when new evidence comes available that completely undermines what we thought was true? There is the famous quote of economist John Maynard Keynes “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? ”. It is a shame that more economists do not revise their work in light of reality.
Psychologists have a term “cognitive dissonance “ for the situation where people carry two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
In science, we have the concepts of epicycles, aether, ectoplasm, electric fluids, phlogiston, and caloric which have been discarded as observations and experiments have shown them to be false concepts. The plate movement hypothesis of Alfred Wegener took a while for geologists to accept, but now it is accepted as a valid theory with masses of supporting evidence. Over the last millennia, there have been scores of cults that have prepared for their predicted apocalyptic end of the world, only to be disappointed. With the dogmatic views held, usually propagated by some charismatic leader, the failure of the belief does not change any views but the beliefs are often even more strongly held. Why is that? As another philosopher, Tertullian said: ”The greater the absurdity, the stronger his belief in it.”
You might like to take a moment to think of a time and a case when you held a strong view that you had to discard as wrong when you were faced with contradictory information. How did you feel about the fact that you have were deluded or had been deceived? There is a term “buyers remorse” for the feelings you get when you realise that a purchase you made was a big mistake.
I have an example from my own experience. With the destruction of the World Trade towers in September 2001, I accepted the official conspiracy theory that it was caused by Muslim fanatical suicide pilots flying into the towers under the direction someone called Osama bin Laden. The identification of Bin Laden so soon after the event suggests that the fingering of him was part of a plan. However, when I viewed a film of the collapse of the third building, WTC7, I could not help but realise that it was professionally demolished, not a failure caused by fire. Then a look at the films of the two other towers made me realise that they too could not have failed through the effects of burning jet fuel. My new disbelief consolidated when faced with new evidence, for instance the work of a Danish scientist who has detected trace of explosive devices in the rubble.
Now even ex-Prime Minister John Key talked about “explosive devices”. This new information made the official conspiracy about Muslim suicide pilots suspect but not actually falsified. Later I learned of the arrest of five Mossad agents who were spotted at the New York Liberty Park cheering as they documented the destruction of the World Trade towers. This brought a new realisation that there was more to this destruction than the official story. With Israeli agents on hand on a documentation assignment, either they knew of this conspiracy and did not alert the US authorities, or they were actually part of the real conspiracy.
When people do not want to accept new information that is contrary to their previous views, they can go into a state of denial. According to Sigmund Freud, denial is a defence mechanism enabling the person to reject uncomfortable facts. The new fact can be denied or it can be minimised in some way to avoid its significance. People whose power depends on a strongly well held incorrect view resort to emphatic denials which becomes a habit, hence DAS (denial addition syndrome). This is particularly common where the wrongly held view is a more comfortable one. This results in what is called the Panglossian/Casandra feud where unpleasant facts, even if true, are rejected just because there is a desire to remain in a deluded happy positive frame of mind.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles who has identified a number of rules for the propagation of disinformation in an article entitled “Everything Is A Lie: The Deliberate Intent To Deceive People Is At An All Time High”. He says “From pollution to politics, the era of deception and duplicity has reached new heights and hijacked almost every form of media in the world. In the last frontiers for truth such as the internet, disinformation operations are in full swing to discredit and destroy any semblance of authentic and factual information available to the public. How many more lies will people around the world accept as truth? Some say a global awakening is taking place, but at what cost? Will it take the destruction of most of the earth and its resources before people are enlightened? The escalating media and political reports are so far fetched, cunning, and so beyond reality, it’s as if each is trying to top the other with one sinister plot after the next. To demonstrate the outright lies by national governments and the media.”
We have heard of “lies, dammed lies, and statistics”, well to that we can add “advertising, public relations, and propaganda”. (and economics) In Israel classes are being held to train people to alter Wikipedia content to reflect the Zionist point of view.
Torres has identified twenty five rules for producing disinformation. Here are some of them.1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Avoid any unpalatable ideas.
2. Become incredulous and indignant. This “how dare you” gambit is used to prevent the disclosure of unpleasant ideas by shutting down discussion.
3. Create rumour mongers. Diverts attention from reality by undermining it, as just a rumour.
4. Use a straw man to divert attention from the real issues..
5. Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. Attack the messenger, not their message.
6. Hit and Run. This avoids having to hear repudiations.
7. Question motives. Diverts attention from the real issues.
8. Invoke authority. This is a bluff that confines the issue to one favoured expert.
9. Play Dumb. It s hard to get somebody stupid to change their prejudices.
10. Associate opponent charges with old news. But isn’t it always new information that requires a paradigm to enter into consideration.
Torres has several more rules for producing dis-information and he has come up with 8 traits of people who specialise in disinformation. It is very common.
Children who do “Media Studies” learn to be cynical about advertising claims, but this does not provide a skill in mind changing when new information discredits old entrenched ideas.
Can you resist all the deceptions you are bombarded with and take on a new truth?
The word Propaganda comes from the “Congregation for Propagating the Faith” founded by the Catholic Church in 1622. Its activity was aimed at “propagating” the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries. From the 1790s, the term began being used also for propaganda in secular activities. The term began taking a pejorative connotation in the mid-19th century, when it was used in the political sphere. This is also shown in a 1961 dictionary where it had “Organised method and system of propagating or disseminating principles and doctrines.” but a more recent 1998 dictionary had “The organised spreading of doctrine, true or false information, opinions etc.”.
Edward Louis Bernays (1891 – 1995) is the author of a book “Propaganda.” published in 1928. He was an Austrian-American who was a nephew of Sigmund Freud. He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle. He saw that the use of the word Propaganda had acquired some negative connotations so invented the words Public Relations as an alternative. He is referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”. Another meaning for PR is “propaganda repetition”. The term ‘public relations’ is being replaced by ‘corporate communications’.
Gustave Le Bon (1841 – 1931) was a French social psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, inventor, and amateur physicist. He is best known for his 1895 work “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”. His writings incorporate theories of national traits, racial superiority, herd behaviour and particularly crowd psychology.
Bernays, working for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information, was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. Following the war, he was invited by Woodrow Wilson to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. This thinking was heavily shared and influenced by Walter Lippmann, one of the most prominent American political columnists at the time. Bernays and Lippmann sat together on the U.S. Committee on Public Information, and Bernays quotes Lippmann extensively in his seminal work “Propaganda”. In 1919, he opened an office as Public Relations Counsellor in New York. He held the first Public Relations course at New York University in 1923, publishing the first groundbreaking book on public relations entitled Crystallizing Public Opinion that same year.
Bernays refined and popularized the use of the press release. He proved his ability in the manipulation of public opinion with his first exercise for the tobacco industry. He arranged for the staging of the 1929 Easter parade in New York City, to show models which he organised holding lit Lucky Strike cigarettes, or “Torches of Freedom”. After the historic public event, women started lighting up more than ever before. It was through him that women’s smoking habits started to become socially acceptable. Bernays created this event as news, which it was not. Bernays convinced industries that the news, not advertising, was the best medium to carry their message to an unsuspecting public. Now TV is saturated with “informercials”.
One of Bernays’s favourite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of “third party authorities” to plead his clients’ causes. “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.” he said. In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat heavy breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as an ideal heavy breakfast and superior for health to the then traditional breakfast of tea (or coffee) and toast.
Hitler and Goebbels read avidly Bernays and applied his doctrine very successfully. Goebbels was using Bernays’ book “Crystallizing Public Opinion” as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked the journalist who reported this. Obviously the attack on the Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a deliberate, planned campaign. Adolf Hitler is said to be source of the quote “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
Bernays’s most extreme political propaganda activities were said to be conducted on behalf of the multinational corporation United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita Brands International) and the U.S. government to facilitate the successful overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Bernays’s propaganda (documented in the BBC documentary, “The Century of the Self”), branding Arbenz as communist, was published in major U.S. media. According to a book review by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of Larry Tye’s biography of Bernays, “The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of PR”, “the term ‘banana republic’ actually originated in reference to United Fruit’s domination of corrupt governments in Guatemala and other Central American countries.” There was not even an embassy for the USSR in Guatemala but the fear of Russia and the “reds” became a well orchestrated PR campaign and swallowed completely by the American public and continues today.
Operation Mockingbird was a secret campaign by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to influence media. Begun in the 1950s, it was initially organized by Cord Meyer and Allen W. Dulles, it was later led by Frank Wisner after Dulles became the head of the CIA. The organization recruited leading American journalists into a network to help present the CIA’s views, and funded some student and cultural organizations, and magazines as fronts. As it developed, it also worked to influence foreign media and political campaigns, in addition to activities by other operating units of the CIA.
If one is awake, it must be apparent that there has been a persistent campaign to get people to believe, first that Iraq was making an atomic bomb. Remember the face of Colin Powell with all the sincerity he could muster, that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” An attack based on these lies has not found any trace of such weapons in Iraq while reeking much destruction and deaths of Iraqis.
Ever since last century (1992), Israel has been “warning” us that Iran has been making an atomic bomb. If you make a carful study of the statements made you can see that we have been given a shortening time to when their bomb would be ready. And this is from a country that has 180 atomic bombs (standard deviation of this estimate: 50 bombs) and started with stolen uranium (google search PLUMBAT). Israel is not accommodating to end the atomic weapons in the hands of psychopaths.
The statements made by a girl, Nayirah before a Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 hearing that she had seen Kuwait babies in incubators being thrown out. She said “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital with twelve other women who wanted to help as well. I was the youngest volunteer. The other women were from twenty to thirty years old. While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying.” She had a good cry.
In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah’s last name was al-Sabah. and that she was the daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. It was revealed that her testimony was organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign which was run by Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Following this, al-Sabah’s testimony has come to be regarded as a classic example of modern wartime propaganda. The girl was coached by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. Hill & Knowlton is estimated to have been given as much as $12 million by the Kuwaitis for their public relations campaign.
There is an underground media which presents a different view of political activity. Some of these people working in this environment do magnificent investigative work counteracting the spin provided by the mainstream media. The universal use of filming devices, cameras and cell phone have provided proof of alternative news. Thorough work has often exposed doctored photos. But one of the amazing exposures from such detailed work is the film seen over the internet of the Prime Minister of Australia giving a speech (on March the 18th 2003) giving a speech on the weapons of mass destruction etc. in Iraq and simultaneously showing the exactly the same speech being given by the Prime Minister of Canada (on March 20th 2003) to their respective houses of Parliament. It must have taken much detailed work to uncover this “coincidence”. We are left to wonder where this PR spin has come from.
A recent and more egregious example of the way the public is “spun” comes from the once respected BBC and their journalist Ian Pannel. In August 2013 a news item was played coming from the war in Syria. A doctor was interviewed while working on some victims. She says it was “some form of napalm”. In September 2013 the BBC broadcast the same clip, but the reference to napalm had been changed to “chemical weapons”. We must be grateful that there was an observant person who spotted it. The BBC has yet to explain who and how the clip was doctored.
I must check my thinking!