Redefining freedom.

 

orwell_words

Despots and dictators throughout history know how powerful language can be, and they know that by changing the definitions of words, without people realizing it, they can change the way people think and what they believe.   Without language and the words that comprise it, propaganda and revisionist history (changing commonly held historical beliefs in order to fit a desired political or religious narrative) would become impossible, or at least a lot more difficult.

George Orwell described the insidious process of changing the meanings of words in order to change public attitudes in his classic dystopian novel, “1984.”    He called this process “Newspeak.”   It is a form of mind control commonly used by cult leaders and dictators to get people to abandon their previous ways of thinking and accept a lie as the truth (repetition of the lie is another way they get people to accept it).    Sometimes the lie they push may be an actual reversal of a previously held truth.   We can see this phenomenon today in many of extremist evangelical and fundamentalist churches, who now say that ripping migrant children away from their parents or taking away people’s healthcare is “Christian” even though Jesus would be appalled by these things.

“Freedom” (and its synonym “liberty”) is probably the word that comes to my mind first when I think about the ways language is used as propaganda.    It appears in both religious and political rhetoric.  In right wing extremism, the definition of “freedom” or “liberty” has become almost the reverse of what its commonly-held definition is.  Here is the complete dictionary definition:

the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
“we do have some freedom of choice”
  • absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.
    “he was a champion of Irish freedom”
    synonyms: independenceself-governmentself-determinationself-rulehome rulesovereignty, nonalignment, autonomy;

    democracy
    “revolution was the only path to freedom”
    antonyms: dependence
  • the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.
    “the shark thrashed its way to freedom”
    synonyms: libertyliberationreleasedeliverancedeliverydischargeMore

    antonyms: captivity
  • the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily.
    “the shorts have a side split for freedom of movement”
  • the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing).
    noun: freedom from; plural noun: freedom froms
    “government policies to achieve freedom from want”
    synonyms: exemptionimmunitydispensation;

    impunity
    “freedom from local political accountability”
    antonyms: liability
  • the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.
    synonyms: rightentitlementprivilegeprerogativeMore

    antonyms: restriction
  • unrestricted use of something.
    “the dog is happy having the freedom of the house when we are out”
  • archaic
    familiarity or openness in speech or behavior.

 

Most of us agree with this definition.  We think of freedom as a concept that allows all Americans individual liberty and the ability to make their own life choices.   It is the absence of oppression.   When we think of freedom, we aren’t worrying things that benefit everyone, such as healthcare or public education, might be potentially oppressive (because of higher taxes necessary to have those things).  I think most of us would say that a person who doesn’t need to worry about going bankrupt or dying should he become sick or injured is more free than someone who can’t afford necessary surgery and loses his home trying to pay for it, or even his life.  A person who can take time off from their job to recover from their illness is more free than someone who is forced to work even when they are ill because their wages are too low to allow them to take time off.

Back during the time of Lyndon Johnson and his “War on Poverty,” this was generally understood.  Empathy still existed within high levels of government and in both parties.  Measures were taken to alleviate poverty, one of the most oppressive and limiting things a human being can experience.   An impoverished person is not a free person. Poor people spend so much time just trying to survive they cannot reach their full potential.   Rich people and corporations paying more in taxes was seen as the right thing to do for society at large and for the greater good, not as a form of robbery or wealth redistribution (this phrase is a common dog whistle used by the right to manipulate attitudes to get people believing the wealthy are the real victims).   Eventually, the commonly perceived causes of poverty shifted from the society to the individual.  Personal responsibility became another dog whistle used by conservatives to influence public attitudes and make people begin to perceive poverty as a personal weakness rather than an affliction.

“I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.” — Paul Ryan

 

Over the past few decades, especially since Reagan’s election in 1980, the definition of freedom has been co-opted by the right.  They whine that environmental regulations and higher taxes are a form of tyranny by the majority that limits the freedom of the wealthy and corporate elite to do exactly what they want and suffer no consequences.   To suggest they should contribute to the common good through a higher tax rate or not gut laws that protect human health and wellbeing is to restrict their freedom — which is really the freedom to exploit their workers, not pay them a fair wage, deny them a safety net, and destroy the planet.    In Trump’s America, freedom is no longer freedom of the people, it is freedom of the minority (the wealthy elite) to oppress the majority.

In redefining freedom, the word democracy itself underwent a transformation from government by the people for the people, to tyranny of the majority (where the wealthy and powerful are perceived as superior and therefore naturally entitled to take whatever they want with no accountability).  The term democracy, at least in the circles of greatest power and influence right now, has become a pejorative — something bad worthy of destruction.

Religious freedom.

Similarly, religious freedom or religious liberty has also been redefined.    Most people would agree that religious freedom in America means the right to worship the way you choose — or to not worship at all.  The separation of church and state was one of the key elements the Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution, knowing that mixing religion and government not only doesn’t work, it’s extremely dangerous and has always led to wars, oppression, and violence.    We can see this today in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is the state religion and is written into their laws.  These countries are constantly at war, including civil war.   Violence and terrorism is rampant and women, children and minority groups are victimized every day by the harshness of Sharia law.

In the early days of America, before the Constitution was written,  there were pockets of religious intolerance, most infamously seen in the Salem Witch Trials.   Other groups of colonists came here as a way to escape religious persecution in their home countries.  They came here to be free to worship the way they chose.

The Founding Fathers, while they might have been religious personally, were influenced by the Enlightenment and the primacy of reason and openmindedness over medieval superstition and intolerance.  America was founded as a secular, not as a “Christian nation” or saddled by any other “state religion.”  While Christianity is the most common religion found in America, to declare it as a state religion would automatically make anyone who wasn’t Christian — or even not the right kind of Christian — a second class citizen.  The Founding Fathers knew this, and that’s why they rejected the idea of a state religion.

Far right extremist evangelicals have been busy writing revisionist history,  insisting that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that the Constitution was divinely  inspired and never meant to be secular.   Some go even further than that.  Dominionists and reconstructionists actually want the Constitution rewritten and replaced with Old Testament Law.   If that were to actually happen, living in America — especially for vulnerable groups such as women and gays — would be no different than living in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

Yet Christian extremists say that imposing biblical law on everyone through the government is actually religious freedom!   By their logic,  if Christianity were enforced, you would become free of the temptation to sin.   Knowing that sinning might result in draconian punishment or even execution, you would not sin — and therefore be more pleasing to God.   Extremist Christians whine that they are persecuted not because they actually are, but because they are not allowed to discriminate (or oppress!) based on sexual orientation, gender, or religion.  In Trump’s America, the definition of religious freedom has transformed  from the right to worship as you choose to the right to inflict my religious beliefs on you.

I can’t think of anything more un-Christian or unloving.   If you believe in God, why wouldn’t he want you to have free will and choose to worship him?   Forced religion isn’t a sincere declaration of faith, it’s spiritual terrorism.   It’s a way to control and oppress people.  It uses fear of punishment rather than the promise of love as a motivator.   I doubt God wants his people to worship him or behave a certain way only because they’re afraid of the consequences if they don’t.    I believe we were given free will and that it ought to be respected.  That means leaving religion out of government and its laws.    Nothing good has ever or will ever come of it.   It is religious fascism.

There are other words and phrases that have been redefined by the far right, but freedom is one of the most pervasive and common.   We need to become aware of this and other words that are being redefined by extremists as a means of mind control and propaganda to change our thinking patterns.  Critical thinking is necessary to make the distinction, and this is why education (and science) is so maligned by political extremists and fascist groups (including extremist religious groups).

Advertisements

Why the Fairness Doctrine needs to return.

Just-the-Facts-Maam

I’m old enough to remember the days when the news was simply the news and the  various networks and other outlets didn’t differ much or at all in what they reported, only slightly in style.   Reporters were mostly emotionally detached and broadcasted the events of the day without much partisan opinion or editorializing.  When they did, an opposing viewpoint would always be presented.     Sure, mainstream news back then could be boring and dry.  Opinion is  based on emotion, and an emotional, sensationalized delivery of the news is more enticing and sells better than the reciting of facts.   Old-school reporters and anchors were well respected even though they never were considered celebrities.

Until the 1980s, American mainstream news was for the most part “fair and balanced,” with only actual facts delivered or both sides given airtime when an issue was politically controversial.   Sure, there were always tabloids that were more sensationalized or opinionated, but they weren’t taken very seriously by most people and even they didn’t usually descend into telling outright lies.   Highly partisan journalism was relegated to op-ed pieces, guest spots, and letters sections.    Opinions were clearly stated as such. There was good investigative journalism like 60 Minutes or Hard Copy if you liked a little more intrigue and excitement in your news, but it was still based on facts, not opinion and pure emotion.

Today, it’s very hard to find an American mainstream news outlet that isn’t partisan.   To do so, you almost have to rely on foreign news outlets like the BBC or public radio (which Trump has marked for elimination in his budget).   On the left, the most famous examples are MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times (the last being somewhat more centrist and less politically partisan than the others); on the right, there is Fox News, Breitbart News (which has become almost mainstream due to its enormous popularity) and many of the tabloid daily papers, both on- and offline.   Now we have Trump TV, an actual propaganda channel owned by the far-right Sinclair Broadcasting that veers dangerously close to state TV like they have in Russia or North Korea.

News outlets are not required to let you know if what they are reporting are facts or opinion, and it’s been this way for thirty years.   The problem has gotten so bad that Fox News can report outright lies — such as the Seth Rich story and denial of climate change — as facts.   On the left, the problem hasn’t gotten quite that bad (yet), but I have noticed the loaded and leading questions posed to right-wing politicians and guests, and a lot of liberal editorializing and opinions without opposing opinions providing a leavening agent.

Newscasters are now celebrities.  Market share and popularity has eclipsed factual, ethical reporting and responsible journalism.  Opinionated pundits (much like our president) rely on the force of their personalities over honesty and public service.   In so doing, they have won rabid followers and have influenced politics itself,  regardless of facts.   I’m not trying to be biased, but it seems this problem is especially prevalent on right-wing radio and on Fox News, where reactionary pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly need not stick with facts at all.  They can tell outright lies and spend the rest of their time building loyalty and vilifying “the other side” using name-calling and demonizing those with different views (that’s how “liberal” got to be a dirty word and “feminazi” Hillary Clinton got to be so vilified by conservatives), emotional rhetoric, and outright propaganda.   The problem exists on the left too, but not to the same degree as on the right.   In general, the mainstream news in 2017 is more entertainment than anything else, and yet people on both sides of the political spectrum take it more to heart than ever.

The problem seems to have started in 1987, with Reagan’s elimination of a little-known FCC policy called The Fairness Doctrine.  According to Wikipedia, The Fairness Doctrine, which was made into law in 1947, did the following:

It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.

The Fairness Doctrine was the reason why the news prior to 1987 seemed less compelling and more “boring” than it does today.   Sticking with facts or giving both sides equal time just didn’t sell as well, and networks wanted to make as much money as they could. The easiest way to do that was to turn the news into entertainment (“infotainment”) and appeal to pure emotion and their own greed instead of education and public service.  Removing the Fairness Doctrine allowed them to market the news the same way a new product or sitcom could be marketed, and not have to bother with presenting opposing viewpoints.   After all, a Ford commercial didn’t have to also present the advantages of buying a Chevrolet, so why should the news have give both sides a voice?

At first, the law’s removal seemed innocuous enough, even harmless.  No one really gave much thought to the way it could lead to democracy itself becoming endangered.   No one seriously considered how  such a little thing could lead to the dumbing-down of the population so they would no longer know how to think critically or consider any point of view outside their comfort zone.   Wasn’t it a good thing for everyone if the news could be made more exciting and entertaining to its consumers, while at the same time making the owners and sponsors more profitable?   It was a win-win, right?

Not by a long shot.   The dangers of removing the Fairness Doctrine were insidious.  Over time, the lines between facts and opinions (and later, outright lies and facts) became increasingly blurred, so that by 2017, most people no longer trust the mainstream media or can tell for certain what are facts and what’s fake news.  Such a distinction — where people know what’s real and what isn’t — is vital to retain a democratic system where an unethical or even dangerous “cult of personality” cannot arise easily or at all.    Another major problem was the way it led to the political polarization we see today.   Being required to present opposing opinions in reporting kept people from drifting to either the very far left or the very far right.  It may seem like a small thing, but it was the Reagan-era removal of this little FCC law that started us down the slippery slope to fake news and political propaganda reported as fact, which in turn led to the political extremism and hatred that divides our nation.

The removal of the Fairness Doctrine is only one example of how dangerously out of control deregulation has become.   It’s time for the FCC to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.  It might be the most important way the divisions between us can be bridged and our  democracy be saved.

Small city in Macedonia churned out pro-Trump propaganda during his campaign.

veles_macedonia

Credit: BBC News

 

I stumbled on this story and was just gobsmacked.  Donald Trump seems to have some mysterious and bizarre connections with both Russia and Eastern Europe, but nothing surprises me anymore about this corrupt president and his administration.   The fact that this story comes from the BBC gives it credibility, in my book.  They don’t churn out “fake news.”   I’m surprised this story didn’t get more traction and I’m only hearing about it now.

Macedonia is a small landlocked country in southeast Europe.  It split off from the former Yugoslavia and established its independence in 1991, so it’s a fairly new country with a struggling economy.    Macedonia is one of the poorest European countries, but in the past few years its economy has been improving.  Still, there are young people seeking to get rich quick in a place that seems to offer them few opportunities.    Why not write fake news stories and disseminate them on right-wing websites to earn a fortune?      Most of these “fake news” stories have been traced to Veles, a small city in that country.   Most of the articles are written by kids looking to make a buck.

I wonder if someone in the Trump administration–or even Trump himself–might have paid off these Macedonian kids to write pro-Trump “news” stories? Who knows?  I wouldn’t put anything past him.    Here is the BBC article.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38168281?post_id=10212631627813467_10212631633893619#_=_

 

From Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda.

We are living in an Orwellian society. Here’s a long but important article about the way language has been used to promote psychopathy in society and politics, and target the most vulnerable members of society. It’s a form of societal scapegoating, not much different than the way dysfunctional families target their most sensitive member (the “truthteller”) for abuse and ostracization.

Although this post is told from the perspective of modern British society, it definitely applies to America too (probably even more so), and most of the western world. Psychopathy–and its attendant lack of empathy and ruthlessness–is glorified, even though it’s not called by that name. The real victims of this compassionless agenda–the poor, disabled, minority races, immigrants, and people who otherwise don’t fit the stereotypical “ideal”–are blamed for all the ills of society even though they have never had any power. Think about how similar this is to what goes on in dysfunctional families headed by narcissists. It’s society-wide gaslighting and blame-shifting.

Language is a powerful weapon, and is being successfully used to promote this evil agenda of selfishness and callous disregard. It’s the real world Newspeak.

Politics and Insights

68196_116423458427191_5364492_n

1. Propaganda Techniques

Metacognition: We need to be mindful of how we think as well as what we think.

While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples (e.g. Nazi propaganda used to justify the Holocaust), propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging people to report crimes to law agencies, amongst others.

So the exact definition of propaganda is constantly debated, and no specific definition is completely agreed. Some argue that any persuasive communication is propaganda, whilst others hold that propaganda specifically alters political opinions. However, it is doubtless that propaganda is material which is meant to manipulate or change public opinion, and though it may vary in form and technique, it always…

View original post 8,370 more words