Tag Archives: propaganda

How many lies are too many lies?

15 Jan

by Dr Stewart Hase

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell

The storming of America’s Bastille, the Capitol Building has, finally, forced the debate that we needed to have had years ago. Propaganda, lies, and misinformation have been with us for thousands of years – they are part of the human condition. Print media has long traded on the propensity for humans to need simple solutions to complex issues, to accept whatever reinforces their biases, to be influenced by the influential, to respond to emotions rather than facts or science. Murdoch and others have made the trade in misinformation and artform. The communication tech giants just did what they thought was their job, being vehicles, platforms, for people to communicate. They never gave the consequences a thought.

January the 6th and the threat of major protests across the USA up to the inauguration have created the perfect storm for a sudden gnashing of teeth. Finally, the lines are being drawn, pretty well in accord with the right and left of politics, about what constitutes freedom of speech. Are their conditions in which it is fine to lie, to spread misinformation, distort or ignore the facts, quote questionable ‘science’, to spread hate, and slur others? To create the conditions to overthrow democracy?

Well, Scott Morrison seems to think so by refusing to censor Craig Kelly over his Trumpian behaviour, using the ‘freedom of speech’ argument. Not a whisper from anyone on the right about his mate, George Christianson who, among other things and blind to the irony of it, wants to censor the tech giants for fact checking. Freedom of speech, then, means anything goes-say what you want. The real tragedy is that Facebook have let Kelly and Christianson get away with campaign of disinformation for so long. 

Kelly has now used the platform to discredit the wearing of masks by children, calling it child abuse, has prompted the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past and now thinks that Betadine (a topical antiseptic) is the miracle cure. All based on unsubstantiated and even spurious research. What they fully realise is that they are coming from a position of power, and, wanting hope and miracle cures to reduce their anxiety, many will believe what they say. And even act on it. 

No doubt that such power massages the politicians’ fragile egos.

The best that even the health Minister, Greg Hunt, can manage is to say that we should listen to the health experts. No censorship of his compatriots or recognition of the misinformation. Just a beige response.

Now we have the acting PM, Michael McCormack legitimising MPs who want to spread lies and disinformation, claiming that facts are contentious, and gracing us with the profound logic that the sky can be grey and blue at the same time because facts are subjective. Presumably he’s a fan of Kellyanne Conway’s thesis on alternate facts.

Not content with that, McCormack has now fuelled a storm by making an astounding comparison between the riots in Washington and the BLM protests.

We have seen the result of the ‘say what you want’ version of free speech in America and how democracy is being tragically undermined. The question is, when will we follow suit? We already saw an inkling of this with Tony Abbot’s unconscionable dismantling of Julia Gillard that went unchecked, and was fuelled by the media of the print and the social kind.

Australia is good at lying to itself. It’s done it for years over racism and misogyny. Are we going to kid ourselves that we are a fair, progressive, intelligent nation while allowing the manipulation of truth, as identified by George Orwell, to run rampant? 

How far are we willing to go? Perhaps fostering hate to the point that people feel that it is OK to kill? Allowing the entitled to destroy our democracy, as nearly happened in America over recent weeks?

How far Australia, how far?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

Morrison hammers another nail into decency’s coffin

28 Feb

Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s latest stinky brain fart that everyone should be warned when an asylum seeker is lodged in their neighbourhood is stomach churning on a number of levels, but perhaps the most alarming is that there are people living amongst us, and likely quite a few, who agree with him. Obviously it’s such people he’s seeking to engage with, and he will succeed.

The ALP has well-exceeded the barbarity of Coalition asylum seeker policies. What once seemed so shocking now appears comparatively tame. Morrison has to dig deep to compete. The sad reality for our country is that both major parties believe that hostility towards asylum seekers and refugees is a vote winner, and there’s enough of those votes in play to make this race to the bottom worth their while.

Morrison’s statements are propaganda. There is little point in engaging with their content, except to suggest replacing the term asylum seekers with Jews, or Muslims, or women, or even privileged white males and see how it sounds. His message is that for current political purposes, asylum seekers are the group which will be scapegoated. Scapegoating is employed as a legitimate political strategy. There is no difference between what Morrison is doing, and the early propaganda of the Third Reich. Call Godwin’s Law if you like, but sometimes it really is the only appropriate analogy.

The only hope we have is that there are enough thoughtful women and men in both major parties to loudly protest this unrelenting moral decline on the part of their leaders. The  sickening willingness of so many politicians to remain silent in the face of this vile othering is contemptible.

It’s all about Julia. Nostalgia, trust and fear

15 Jul

There’s a member of our household we affectionately call Mrs Chook, for reasons none of us now remember. Mrs Chook is central to everybody’s emotional well being as she is generally unfailingly just and fair, and takes a reasoned position on matters some of us might get rather too het up about. She’s also broadly supportive of the Carbon Tax, and is gently critical of my attitude to Julia Gillard.

So imagine my astonishment when last night watching the ABC news clip of Julia’s speech at the Press Club, the bit where she got all choked up, Mrs Chook yelled: “For God’s sake, it’s not all about you!”

We have two dogs visiting while their humans are overseas. These dogs leapt up from their fireside spots in anger and fear at the tone in her voice, as did the Dog who lives here all the time. I stared at Mrs Chook until I could manage a feeble “What?”

“I’m sick of it,” she yelled, getting up off the couch with great energy, and striding into the kitchen.

“Sick of what? Sick of what, tell me, tell me,” I begged as a scurried after her, my world rocked.

“Haven’t you ever noticed? She always says ‘I.’ I have done this, I have done that I will do this, I will do that! Right back when she took over what did she say then?”

I opened my mouth but Mrs Chook wasn’t interested.

“She said ‘I have taken over,’ I I I. What about the bloody government? What about everybody else, all those people, some of them actually good, who do so much bloody hard work and it’s always I! She isn’t a bloody President! What has she got against saying ‘we?’  Or ‘The government?’ Why is it always about her?”

I take this outburst as a bad omen for the government. If someone as fair and rational as Mrs Chook gets this fed up, anything can happen.

Julia became nostalgic at the Press Club for where she came from, the school she attended, and her first win when working at the law firm Slater and Gordon. I’ve noticed that when things in the present are difficult and testing it’s a fairly normal human reaction to become nostalgic, and yearn for a time that in retrospect, and compared with the shit field one is currently attempting to negotiate, looks rosy and comforting and is one to which one longs to return.

The ABC rather cruelly titled their clip “Real Julia.” However, we did get a glimpse of the real Julia in that emotional slip. Unfortunately, and this is what so aggravated Mrs Chook it seems, the emotion was all about her.

Tony Abbott is very good at manufacturing fear, he learnt it from John Howard who learnt it from Goebbels. Yo! Godwin’s Law already!

Abbott has fertile ground – in general Australians have become (have always been?) a fearful people, controlled by catastrophic expectations that create a free floating and irrational anxiety about what could happen to us if…

This fear of catastrophe is apparently unassailable. Reason and logic stand no chance against it. It dominates the public and private  imagination, and people look to governments to protect them and assuage their fears.

The public doesn’t want governments offering challenging vision and the excitement of change.  The public wants things safe and ordinary.

In general we live in a mindset of scarcity, rather than abundance. No matter how good things are for us in comparison with the rest of the world,  we worry that it might get worse soon. This causes an inability to empathise with anyone who is not in our immediate circle of concern. That circle can be very small, and as fear takes hold it will inevitably shrink further.

We live in a culture of constructed vulnerability and this creates a diminished sense of agency. There are experts in every aspect of human life, telling us what we should do and how we should do it. Even the most common sense matters must be subjected to expert research in order to be validated, in fact common sense has been so thoroughly discredited as a human value it barely counts any more.

As a consequence we increasingly perceive ourselves as passive subjects who must be protected from walking too close to the edge of a cliff as we are incapable of judging for ourselves when we’re in danger. Somebody in authority has to tell us and put up a fence. This constructed powerlessness makes us angry, frustrated and incompetent. We can’t trust ourselves, the dominant culture tells us. We must be regulated for our own good not to take risks.

Enter the LNP. Only too happy to tell us the danger we are in, and only too happy to offer us the solutions. Abbott and his cronies are whipping up a perfect storm. The government’s popularity is in the death zone. Gillard has a major trust issue with the public, and has ever since she took over the leadership. Abbott would not be nearly so successful if the ALP had a leader the public trusted a good deal more than it trusts Gillard. In this sense, the ALP did the groundwork for Abbott, and he’s used classic propaganda techniques to run with it. The public is ready and waiting, prepped by learned helplessness to follow the one who apparently offers security and freedom from fear.

“It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success,” Goebbels wrote, and Howard, with his propaganda war on asylum seekers that led to his re-election, brilliantly demonstrated this. Abbott watched and learned.

This is not the time for the PM to get personal with us about herself. That moment is long gone. Mrs Chook has a point. There is an entire government there. We need to be hearing from many more members of it. Gillard will do herself no favours getting emotional about her personal history at this point. Abbott is conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign against her and against the government, and he’s succeeding. While it’s two years till the next election, there could be a by election at any time. The government doesn’t have the luxury of thinking it’s got time on its side. The threat of an Abbott-led government is constant.

Now there’s a catastrophic expectation, if anybody’s looking for one.

“From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

Gillard’s premature enunciations

17 Jun

The Gillard government’s announcement of its plan to spend 12 million taxpayer dollars on an advertising campaign to sell the carbon tax  beggars belief.

The carbon tax is by no means a done deal. The multi party committee on climate change may not arrive at a consensus. The proposed carbon tax may not progress to the legislative process. The Independents without whom Gillard cannot function are enraged, both by the proposed advertising campaign, and the presumption of their compliance upon which it is based.

Informing these key players just one hour prior to making the plan public would seem to be yet another unwisely arrogant move. While in itself it will probably not affect the Independents’ committment to the negotiations, the move does imply a degree of government contempt for the process, and an assumption that the decision is already in the bag.

Perhaps one of the motives behind this bizarre campaign to sell something that does not yet exist, is a hope that if the public can somehow be convinced by the mere announcement of this campaign that it’s a certainty, the multi party committee will be forced by public opinion to reach the consensus the government wants. Independent Tony Windsor said the advertising decision bordered ”on asking us to endorse publicly funded propaganda”.

This type of tortured magical thinking is quite characteristic of the Gillard government, from the day twelve months ago when it became the Gillard government up until now. Think the East Timor solution, the Malaysia solution, and the carbon tax Gillard was never going to introduce till she changed her mind about it.

Gillard’s assumption that the carbon tax outcome is so certain that the government can already commit 12 million dollars to explaining it is mind-boggling, anyway you look at it, and everyone is scrabbling to find a rational explanation for the move.

Gillard has acquired a reputation for putting the cart before the horse. She did not consult with East Timor before assuming their willingness to take our cast off refugees. The Malaysian solution was announced way before those negotiations were settled, indeed they are on going, and we have no idea what that outcome will be. Now she wants to sell a carbon tax that does not yet exist. Isn’t that false advertising?

Although Gillard appears outwardly calm and in control, her consistently premature and inappropriate announcements reveal an underlying profound anxiety and lack of control. She continues to indulge in premature enunciations that leave everyone embarrassed and unsatisfied.

Gillard may not believe in God, but she seems to believe in some kind of supernatural force, because from day one, her government appears to have operated on a type of blind faith in itself that has no connection with reality. The arrogant assumptions as to the outcome of the multi party climate change committee negotiations is yet one more example of this excess of self belief, now looking increasingly more desperate in spite of Gillard’s outward efforts to appear calm while the boat lurches sickeningly yet again.

In circumstances such as this, Gillard’s much remarked inability to express appropriate affect becomes a positive advantage.

Magical thinking was intrinsic in the overthrow of Kevin Rudd: who else but those with their heads in fairyland would have believed for one moment that Rudd would just go away?  Instead he’s been a fierce and constant thorn in their side, and will continue to be so, publicly undermining, destabilizing and dividing just by his very existence.

Polls reveal he is considered a better contender for PM than is the woman who deposed him. Anybody could have seen that coming, but not, it appears, those who chucked him out. Actions have consequences, and frequently they aren’t the consequences you hope for. Any first year psychology student could have predicted the consequences of that coup.

“I have taken control” Gillard brayed 12 months ago when she ousted Rudd, claiming that the government under  his control had “lost its way.”

If this is an example of taking control, if this is a government that’s now found its way, beam me up Scotty.

The government’s motives in announcing this ad campaign are unfathomable. The use of public money to fund a campaign about something that does not yet exist is nothing more than a cynical exercise in propaganda. It will backfire, as has much else this government has done so far.

Fundamentalist sexual propaganda dominates at the ABC’s Drum

1 Mar

Masturbation by Klimt, drawing 1913

Gustav Klimt 1913. Masturbation. via Wikimedia

Lately The Drum seems to have been co-opted as an advocate for right wing fundamentalist Christian propaganda about the “pornification” and “sexification” of women.

Commentator Melinda Tankard Reist, sometimes supported by observations from journalist and researcher Nina Funnell, has published three pieces in the last three weeks, peddling her views on the “proper” expression and representation of female sexuality in the media and popular culture.

Given that some of her opinions can only be read as extremist (her war on Victoria’s Secret underwear, for example; her unrelenting insistence that women are doomed to be the hapless victims of men) it is astonishing that the Drum hasn’t come up with anything that directly contests these views, and gives voice to the opinions and feelings of the millions of women who find Victoria’s Secret fun to wear, and consider ourselves anything but victims.

If this right wing agenda manifested in any other subject area on the Drum, we would all be astonished, and a challenge would immediately be published. But not when it’s about controlling how women express our sexuality, apparently.

Tankard Reist’s grim visions of the inevitable baseness of men, the fear of and contempt for female sexuality revealed in her propaganda, continue to dominate the Drum’s pages.

It’s left to a handful of determined commenters to take her on.

Perhaps the Drum doesn’t consider the representation and expression of female sexuality a topic worthy of defense, even on the eve of International Women’s Day.

This is not on, our  ABC. There’s no balance here. You should be putting up articles that celebrate female sexuality, and support a woman’s right to decide how she’ll express it. Centuries of patriarchy have tried to control our sexuality, and now we’ve got the Christians at it again. Enough, already.

Why are you assisting the fundamentalists in this project, Jonathan Green, and why aren’t you giving a voice to women who love their sexuality, don’t see any reason to hide it and have no quarrel with underwear companies and stupid songs?

Women who revel in taking responsibility for ourselves, and don’t need MTR and Nina Funnell to do it for us, thanks all the same.

For those of you dissatisfied with the Drum’s promotion (by omission) of a right wing sexual agenda, On Line Opinion will fight back on Friday.

At least there’s still someplace where a woman can say she doesn’t mind a lacy thong and cleavage.

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