Thursday, June 10, 2010

propaganda, state religion, and the flotilla attack

Video - Russia today covering British sailors captured by Iran

MediaLens | the hidden ideological source empowering much propaganda is the presumed legitimacy of the state and its actions. We are trained, not just to respect, but to revere the state, the shining "city upon a hill". We lower our heads before 'the flag' and the national anthem much as we would before religious idols. Indeed, people receive an insult to 'the flag' much as they would an insult to their God. This seems just 'the way things are' now, but in 1937 political analyst Rudolf Rocker explained how state managers had very consciously emulated organised religion in their attempts to manipulate the public mind:
"Every church is constantly striving to extend the limits of its power, and to plant the feeling of dependence deeper in the hearts of men. But every temporal power is animated by the same desire, so in both cases the efforts take the same direction. Just as in religion God is everything and man nothing, so in politics the state is everything, the subject nothing." (Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p.55)
Rocker added:
"The Crusader's cry, 'God wills it!' would hardly raise an echo in Europe today, but there are still millions of men who are ready for anything if the nation wills it! Religious feeling has assumed political forms." (Ibid, p.252)
'Balanced' news reporting of state action comes laden with this highly suspect, quasi-religious baggage. Notice how respectable Fickling's "troops" who merely "arrest" seem compared to the "militants" who "kidnap". The "troops" are "security forces", responsible agents of the hallowed state. A "militant" is any Tom, Dick or Harry with a gun. And of course a "terrorist" is a kind of devil.

It sounds much worse when journalists report that civilians have been killed by "militants" or "terrorists" than by "security forces" or "peacekeeping forces". The latter terms instantly tone down the psychological impact of state violence, suggesting that the motive was to maintain order - any civilian casualties must have been an unintended outcome, a tragic mistake. By contrast, the word "terrorist" suggests that civilian suffering was the intended outcome. To propose that "security forces" might be "terrorists" - that they might be intimidating through terror - is dizzying. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, a reversal of the truth.

The end result is that we are trained to react to violent acts, not on the basis of their objective legality and human cost, but on the basis of the perceived legitimacy of the people committing the act. Violence committed by authority figures will tend to be viewed as legitimate and well-intentioned. Violence committed by non-state actors or "rogue states" resisting the state will tend to be seen as illegitimate and malevolent.

This means that the public, in a sense, does not receive "news" - it receives the +same+ event repeated over and over again. The same "security forces" are always taking regrettable but necessary action against "terrorists" and "militants". The public no longer sees real, changing, complex events; it sees the same frozen, benevolent image of the world. As we have seen in recent years, almost literally any horror, any act of mass murder, can take place behind this image with few public attempts to intervene or stop what is happening.

It is the role of the mass media to use language to keep this frozen image fixed before the public mind.


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