Propaganda has taken a great leap forwards in the New Internet Days. In the broadcast days of radio and television, propaganda was streamed to the audience, who received it passively. The content was largely pre-assembled into relatively big chunks of information, arguments and demonstrations. As the capacity of an audience to attend to rhetoric diminished with their attention span, propaganda in the Television Age had to constitute more discrete, refined nuggets of simply connected information. All the propagandist needed to do was to offer a framework under which the individual elements could be assembled. The elements, of course, were presented as fact nuggets. No challenge was allowed to their veracity. The Communist threat. War is peace.
Of course, contempt is the backbone of propaganda. If one can engender a broad and readily applicable predilection towards contempt – both individual and as a group – the Devil’s work is half done. The metaphor of the greedy doctor allows the healthcare system to be wrecked with the enthusiasm that ‘reform’ brings, even though the ‘revolution’ is a counter-revolution. It would not take long to arouse the nugget of International Jewry, that’s been in mothballs since WWII. That meaningless idiocy could be added to the arsenal of elements in the propaganda process with a little pruning and sprucing-up.
Now that the Internet controls the American mind, there is a new structure entirely to propaganda, which emerged in the mid-1990’s. The task of assembling the particles of propaganda, the fact nuggets, was left to the advocates, the talk-show hosts, anyone who could put these things together for the passive listener. But the Internet created a new adventure in propaganda, the rise of self-assembly propaganda. The individual can assemble their own kit, pretending to engage in independent thought, but no more so than the assembly of dedicated Lego toy kits that make a starship or a building. It resembles independent thought to some degree, but it is pseudo-thought. The assembly is determined when the pieces are selected.
The pieces are peddled out in the space between the statements in the news. The mob hears the orders to hate this-or-that politician, same as always. However, the mob is not driven by the Leader’s propaganda, that would be too obvious. The mob is driven by the perception that these are one’s OWN ideas, self-constructed.
We are in a post-literate age. We do not know what to think about Brexit, because nobody has told us. We do not know what to think of the Chilcot report, because nobody has laid down the assembly instructions. Perhaps I need to post the arguments on school choice. That demonstration, for and against, shows the vapidity of the American political landscape.
We are now into Phase Two of the Presidential campaign, the Gathering of the Hate. That will go on for quite some time, until the hatred is exhausted, and there is only the time to vote left. The minority that still hates, will vote. The majority who is tired of it all, will pass on it.
If you look carefully, you can see the threads of propaganda everywhere. But the risk is that seeing it clearly will threaten the validity of one’s own beliefs; that one has built an identity on a false or foreign construction. That is intolerable, and most people will never do it.
Nietszche would, I suppose, call it reading with humility, as opposed to reading with ressentiment. To do the former is to risk becoming shattered, and growing to a greater being, a greater self; the latter, to remain small.