It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda

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default It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda

Post by BlueEyes on Wed Nov 19, 2008 8:36 pm

I received this article from one of my Seniors I tutor basic computers to. I am still pondering the article... What do you think?


Forget Red vs. Blue -- It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda

By Chris Hedges, Truthdig. Posted November 12, 2008.

Millions of Americans live in a non-reality-based belief system informed by childish clichés - they can barely differentiate between lies and truth.

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation's population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book. The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge.

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice.

Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichs, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both.

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8 ), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today's political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous "person" is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that "Hamlet" can be as entertaining as "The Lion King" and perhaps as educational. "Culture," she wrote, "is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment."

"There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect," Arendt wrote, "but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say."

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers--our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues -- who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.

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default Re: It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda

Post by WissyWig on Wed Nov 19, 2008 8:45 pm

Well, just on first thought, I'm bothered by the notion that the truth is only textual. Something being in print does not necessarily make it so. Not to mention that that statement ignores the very subjective nature of truth itself.

More later Smile
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Post by melodiccolor on Wed Nov 19, 2008 8:48 pm

I find a lot of truth to this. Even if someone does get an education these days, more time will be spent on rote learning, mastering technology and other hands on things and less will be spent on developing critical thinking and learning techniques. There is just much more to learn now and much of it is politically mandated, rather than in the best interest of the student.

It seems also that large portions of the population do not get even this much education, but drop out early or cheat or flunk their way through school.

It is discouraging.


Last edited by melodiccolor on Thu Nov 20, 2008 1:12 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post by lula may on Wed Nov 19, 2008 10:28 pm

Hey, cheatin' and flunkin' are art forms, and I've got 'em mastered! Have you all seen Idiocracy? This article reminded me of that movie. Well, a really depressing number of things remind me of that movie these days. I did encounter another statistic lately, that only 13% of adult Americans can read and write at an adult level. Gave me a panic attack. Seriously, I was in class and it wasn't fun! Mild one, but still.
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Post by SimplyNan on Thu Nov 20, 2008 9:06 pm

Sigh, this is so true. I've seen it for sometime so it merely validates for me. Actually I think it was Reb who emailed this to me. One of the few things that he and I can actually agree on. Smile I don't have a usable TV because (a) mostly there's a bunch of stupid stuff on and (b) I hate commercials! Not to mention that nowadays you have to pay for cable or dish or whatever. I much prefer peace and quiet and reading. Also, most of what passes as news or commentary is neither, but mostly someone trying to influence me to believe whatever it is they are saying. Duh, I have a brain and I use it! I haven't owned a house for a while now because the cost was way too inflated and I believe in living within my means. Besides the financing was getting shadier and shadier. Again, trust no one, especially when they stand to make a buck off of you. Which reminds me a few years back, I got a phone call I think from the local phone company trying to get me to sign up for a supposedly "free" offer. I asked whether this free offer meant that I would not have to pay any more on my monthly bill. The response was, no, there will be a monthly fee for the "free" offer. So I replied that to me that meant this was really not a "free" offer and I wanted no part of it. The caller sputtered and tried to make his/her point and I just hung up. Lordy, some people! Anyway, this is a really great article.
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Post by Nucky on Thu Nov 20, 2008 9:58 pm

I disagree with this article in that I think that using images and abstract concepts can be VERY effective means of communication at times, and can often be much more than words can ever say. Just look at how profoundly some works of art can speak to us.

But I agree that a lot of people seem to be very simple-minded and closed-minded these days.

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Post by melodiccolor on Thu Nov 20, 2008 10:13 pm

It's true that not all critical thinking is through the written word. But I think the author was referring to mass commercial media in all forms that is aimed at mediocrity vs. being able to judge and think independently of what is presented to you in any format.

Another part I disagree with is that people are getting less education now than they have in the past. It's been this way at the very least for the last 50 years in my observations. Those that were taught critical thinking and good learning habits were lucky and most schools don't teach this before college. Even in college it is entirely possible to get a degree without learning this.

But the center of the argument of this article; that people are easily swayed by simplistic messages, regardless of the media or method given due to the lack of ability to see it for what it is; this I totally agree with. I have felt this way for some time.

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Post by WissyWig on Fri Nov 21, 2008 11:52 am

Another part I disagree with is that people are getting less education now than they have in the past.

I agree with your disagreement. (scratch) If anything, people are getting college degrees now to the point where having a bachelor's no longer guarantees you the high level positions it used to.

What has happened is, whereas we are becoming more educated, we have almost completely abandoned thinking. We are educated but lacking in "street smarts." We can recite things from rote memory, but our collective emotional IQ has dropped markedly. There are a lot of really educated people out there with absolutely no common sense. My grandmother had an eighth grade education but was one of the most intelligent (and emotionally intelligent) people I've known, not to mention living through the Great Depression--something that would surely do in the current culture of college graduates.

Interestingly, I thought about posting something like this last week...I was listening to Studs Terkel's Hard Times radio series, which is a collection of interviews with people who lived through the Great Depression, and some of it was very eye opening. And it has me convinced that today's America would not survive at all, much less as well as the folks in the 1930s did. The Great Depression did a lot to unite people who had nothing in common and was probably instrumental in some ways to the success of the Civil Rights movement. That kind of unity in crisis just doesn't happen anymore; if anything, the classes are more polarized than ever, and it has little to do with actual wealth.

My grandmother washed her paper towels and felt guilty for buying them at all. Not in the 1930s--until the day she died in the 1990s. That is a mentality that nobody born after 1950 could imagine.
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Post by adain on Sat Nov 29, 2008 2:02 am

Interesting article!
It doesn't just apply to America though. I think it applies very well to any country in western civilisation.
However, I agree with some of the article, but not all of it.
I find it hard to believe that 80% of American families didn't buy books in last year.
I do however believe that 42% don't read books after they graduate from formal education. Although personally I find it rather incomprehensible. I would go mad if I didn't have any reading matter at all.
It's so funny, I have been discussing this mentality else where. It's almost as if the general population distrusts any one who thinks!
An acquaintance of mine, a rather anti-establishment kind of guy who you can have a ripper convo with, said he's been witnessing this for years. He said I was one of the few people who he's come across who truly comprehends what he's been trying to say for years (he's a bit pompous though). I digress, there does seem to be a literate sub-class, which gets pushed to the fringes of society, and to a degree, ignored and isolated. Mediocrity seems more and more desirable with each passing year. I got told the other day by someone who I would have consider quite intelligent, he found talking with me gave him a headache because I was too intellectual, and so scary smart, he couldn't comprehend what I was talking about!!! I was really kinda hurt by this, but do you know why? 'cos I don't think I ever talked him about anything other than small talk, like how was work? or what did you do in the weekend?
Yeah, it saddened me intensely too, because, yeah I do get on my soap box sometimes about the current state of affairs the world is in but I don't think my ideas are well thought out or particularly outrageous. In fact I seem to just regurgatate things I've read, but few people seem to have any concept at all of what I'm talking about.
I'm sure you guys understand where I'm coming from.
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Post by melodiccolor on Sat Nov 29, 2008 2:07 am

Completely.

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Post by BlueTopaz on Sat Nov 29, 2008 10:03 am

An acquaintance of mine, a rather anti-establishment kind of guy who you can have a ripper convo with, said he's been witnessing this for years. He said I was one of the few people who he's come across who truly comprehends what he's been trying to say for years (he's a bit pompous though). I digress, there does seem to be a literate sub-class, which gets pushed to the fringes of society, and to a degree, ignored and isolated. Mediocrity seems more and more desirable with each passing year.

God, I do relate to this, and I too understand Adain.

I also find it hard to believe about the 80% not buying books. Books a Million and Borders (et al) seem so popular. Maybe it is for the coffee shop (read: liquorless pick-up spot).
Then again, so much of popular fiction/non-fiction is like junk-food not very much different from the propaganda.

I also agree that critical-thinking skills are not being taught as much as they should be. What is being taught is the ability to pass the state comprehensive assessment test. At least that is the case here in Florida. And the bottom line of that is money.... but I digress. mrgreen

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Post by melodiccolor on Sat Nov 29, 2008 3:29 pm

also agree that critical-thinking skills are not being taught as much as they should be. What is being taught is the ability to pass the state comprehensive assessment test. At least that is the case here in Florida. And the bottom line of that is money....

It seems to be the same here as well. There are excellent teachers in the system, but it seems they are micromanaged from above and it has gotten worse over the years. They don't have much choice but to teach to the test.

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Absurdity is one of the great joys of life.

All you need for a rich life is to see more.
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