Capturing the Western Eye
A series on the history and practice of propaganda
This is the first part of a series I shall do on propaganda.
I begin with an introduction to propaganda.
I will then speak about
The Mass Production of Belief
Ways of Seeing
Forgetting and Remembrance
Institutions and Illusions
Madness as Separation from the World
I will mention the names and types of propaganda and give some examples of its successful absorption into a reality in which you may yourself believe.
Subsequent parts will treat subjects such as revolution, memes and the shaping of the modern mind.
Introduction to Propaganda
Propaganda seeks to obliterate the why with the what. Its purpose is to colonise minds, making of them an empire of opinion.
About warfighting, Napoleon said
“A man does not have himself killed for a half pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.”
Propaganda is the means by which the war of ideas is fought. It succeeds by altering people’s beliefs by the injection powerful emotions, and the reduction of complexities to a simple dichotomy.
The preferred pronouns of propaganda are “us” and “them”.
Thinking is an unpleasant effort and it often leads you away from what you prefer to believe. To think it is necessary to bear with thoughts you dislike and ideas which may contradict one another – as well as you. The longer this process goes on the more familiar becomes the unsettling tension of uncertainty, which may never resolve into a simple answer.
Thinking makes people anxious. It is preferable to pick something up that has been engineered, sterilised and packaged beforehand, from what I like to call The Supermarketplace of Ideas.
The Mass Production of Belief
The opinions which are repeated verbatim from the Regime media are a product. Like a supermarket ready meal, like a McDonald’s hamburger, they have been prepared according to the following principles
Uniformity of product
British supermarkets have been renaming Chicken Kievs, for example. McDonald’s is fun to eat but it is junk. To consume these things is very easy, taking little or no skill to prepare. This enables a passive attitude to the fodder that sustains you.
Low price as well as low effort is a winning formula. Internet news is free at point of use. The true cost is that the tech giants are selling everything they know about you, which is everything.
Trusted Sources can be trusted not to surprise you overmuch. You know, largely, what you are going to get. Your opinions are churned for you by algorithms to improve upon the traditional brand loyalty which was always the lifeblood of the press.
The product is predictable and it is the same everywhere. The same spectrum of ideas are on sale in the supermarketplace of ideas. From country to country, the spelling of the aisles changes, but the content is largely the same. It is a global supermarket.
Loyal subjects of the Regime pluck their feathers proudly when they mention that they downloaded today’s thought update from Reliable Source #2276. It is a point of honour to invoke the august names of the newspapers, whose old world typeface or achingly modern mastheads perform the same function of reassurance to their readers.
The old fonts attach to the newspaper to an imagined past through a sense of nostalgia, a proud homesickness which conjures a feeling of attachment to a tradition which the newspaper itself utterly traduces in the columns beneath its ersatz claims to continuity.
The new style fonts do the same for the future, giving to the reader a sense that they are superior to those fustian buffoons with their Fraktur and their flapper chic.
This appeals to people who excuse their similar dislocation in the present with the belief that their time is coming, and that this publication is part of the means of travelling over the horizon.
Both representations - of the past, of the future, are false. Their function is to exclude the present with fantasy.
Ways of Seeing
John Berger, the marxist writer and art critic, wrote a book called Ways of Seeing. He remarked that
The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose.
He makes the usual Marxist observations about class but his book has considerable merit besides. He points out that “seeing comes before words”, that images have an immediate power which we see today in memes just as in phone cases featuring classical art.
The products of The News are also memes, which are simplifications of cultural meaning. Cringe memes and dank memes are not the same. Think of cringe memes as the kind of currency which impoverishes you, leaving you as drained as does the company of a self important empty fool with no wider moral structure. Dank memes make you laugh, and are often shocking, as they state the facts bluntly. We live in an age where the correct reaction to truth is horror. Everything is appalling save euphemism.
A people or a class that is cut off from its own history is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one which has been able to situate itself in history
Maintaining living links with the past is subversive to Regime propaganda. Architectural vernacular roots people in a place, and provides them with everyday beauty on a human scale. To see what your ancestors built is to hate what your contemporaries destroy. There is a big word – autochthonous, which means something like ‘person sprung from [this] land’. Perhaps we should have local politicians who are local, as once we did.
In life your bonds are who you are. To the land of your fathers, to your family and to your kinsmen and friends. To God and eventually, to country. To all the songs our neighbours in time, the dead, would sing to one another, our chronicles in story and rhyme.
This is a different type of loyalty than that to a brand. No pair of trainers can compete with that, and so the past and our attachment to it, along with all the silt of meaning laid down over the centuries, is an unwelcome competitor to the global trash and addiction economy.
What happens to time? Why is all this so wearily familiar? Berger’s name for propaganda is “publicity”. That also what the French call it.
Publicity is essentially eventless.
What does he mean?
It extends just as far as nothing else is happening.
I think he means something like ‘publicity will shift its focus whenever it notices something new’. That is, publicity does not care about anything but attention to itself. Publicity is “ ‘Look at ME’ - the business model.”
For publicity all real events are exceptional and happen only to strangers.
Berger imagines ‘publicity’ as if it were some kind of inhuman person, with an inhuman imagination, which considers all human activity from an inhuman perspective and turns events into sensational, unreal events. He imagines publicity as the imagination of a passionless machine making product out of real life because that is what it is.
Forgetting and Remembrance
Pythagoras – the triangle man of Pre-Socratic Greece, believed in a kind of Orphism. He declined to eat beans, because he believed they may contain the souls of his dead friends. The mystery cults of these peoples included, as with orphism, the belief in reincarnation.
It was fabled that the dead soul, before he returned to life, could choose to drink from one of two fountains. Mnemnosyne gave the waters of remembering, so that the initiate could return to life with all they had known intact. Lethe’s were the waters of forgetting, wiping clean the slate of memory and gifting the rebirth of innocence, of new eyes.
Propaganda gives you the eyes of Lethe. It guides you to a way of seeing that is forever now, never then, because the past to which it refers is also a phenomenon of its own creation. The power of historical memory is the bulwark of sedition.
There was an old method of damnation wherewith the prisoner would be locked up in a cell deep in the bowels of some redoubt, there to be forgotten. That was the oubliette – the forgetting place.
Institutions and Illusions
Propaganda has consequences. It is intended to produce certain changes in behaviour by means of another consequence – the increased tension in the self. Propaganda is most necessary when the competition presented by reality is intense. To overcome the habit of seeing things for oneself, propaganda must be so compelling as to overwhelm the willingness to trust your own instincts. It teaches you that you are being deceived by the world, and it does this by deception.
Obviously, this will drive people mad.
This type of madness fits perfectly into the workings of the kind of managerial bureaucracies which govern us all. My wife, in trying to get a doctor’s appointment, encountered the fact that the receptionist exists to prevent you from ever meeting a doctor, whilst greeting your failure to do so with a querulous incredulity.
They make it seem reasonable to act unreasonably in order to make your reason seem unreasonable.
This is of course another means of transferring to you, the individual, the cost of all the chaos, mess and anxiety of the bureaucratic labyrinth in which we find ourselves whenever we ask something of the machine.
The profits are privatised, the costs personalised. The doctors are still getting paid, whilst seeing no patients, and my wife’s untreated sickness carries on into a third month. Why didn’t you use the impossible methods available? They politely ask, casually questioning your ability to read. You are humiliated by the process, which is intentional.
The methods to which they refer exist to sabotage your attempts to see the doctor. The online messages are never answered. The online consultations cannot be booked. You call the surgery 47 times and no one picks up.
The surgery exists, it is a modern building with clean lines, high blank windows slit the smooth white walls. The doctors’ names are on the website. The institutions exist but they do not function in accordance with the impression given. There is the mask and there is the face. To see them up close is to receive a shock. The shock of how quickly things have fallen apart.
To say this is to contradict the very idea of the NHS, the buildings, its place in the national consciousness. To say this is to say what has happened in real life. It is happening to millions of people. Now.
All of our institutions are like this. The buildings are real, but their functions are not as they are imagined. This imagination itself is an internalised notion of reality that is no longer real. It is an advert.
It is propaganda.
Madness as separation from the world
Georg Buchner’s work was probably anathemised during the World Wars. Currently it is unfashionable to hate Germans and so we can safely refer to Lenz, his brief study of madness in the form of novella. Written like a kind of diary, it details a walk up the Vosges mountains, during which we participate in the disintegration of Lenz’s mind.
The subheading above is the key to Lenz’s insanity, which shows his understanding of his alienation from the world. It says
If I could only stop hearing it I might be helped.
Hearing what? What is it that Lenz hears that we cannot?
Can’t you hear it?
Can’t you hear that horrible voice that screams across the horizon?
Lenz says we call it silence.
Ever since I was in that peaceful valley I hear it constantly, and it will not let me sleep.
The silence – the normal state of the world – is that from which Lenz is divorced. His mind is an enemy of reality, and peace to him is alarming. Silence shrieks at him. His madness is both enmity to the ordinary and an attitude of involuntary inversion. His own senses attack him.
The example of Lenz serves as an example of the goal of propaganda, which wishes to lead us all up a mountain path to a pinnacle of anxiety, where even the silence howls at us.
Look out for Propaganda: Part Two - Art and Revolution next week.