“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”
“Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”
You clicked on the article because of the cool image, right? And you’re still reading because I quoted Hitler, right? In a nutshell I’ve just demonstrated my core point without having to write a complete paragraph. I should quit while I’m ahead!
I’m not quite the nihilist that Hitler was, but like all true Psychopaths, he picked up on an unpleasant weakness in human psychology. For most people, slogans and soundbites have always been the main conveyance of ideology, if you can even call it that. In reality, most people don’t have an ideology (sorry left wing nerds). They form their opinions and prejudices through day-to-day lived experience. How something or someone makes them feel is the prime motivator of mankind not whether rationality is present. Nothing exists in a vacuum however, and I’m not implying that the world is devoid of ideology. Quite the opposite! Forever and always, there has been a ministry of propaganda, and rarely has it been titled as such. For most of history it was the media, whether state or corporate controlled, that provided the majority with their emotive slogans. As long as there has been newspapers and journalists there has been fake news and manipulation. They understood long ago that to appeal to emotion, to employ slogans and soundbites was all they needed to do to see the results they desired.
We must also share some of the blame, we are the product of our evolution and a celebrity obsessed culture. I mention evolution not to imply permanence. There was a time when strict hierarchies, fearless leaders or messiahs might have been useful, clearly that’s no longer the case. It is also clearly true that we have a penchant to idolise celebrities and move with them like a shoal of fish. The fact that 20% more young Americans registered to vote after Taylor Swift told them to, speaks for itself. This has allowed the media to ignore complicated issues like the reality of poverty or direct provision, and instead faun over Ariana Grande’s love life. To ignore our lemming-like desire to follow celebrities, or even worse demagogues, and their self-help slogans doesn’t help us one jot to come up with a response.
If that sounds like a relentlessly cynical view of human society, congratulations you’re beginning to understand what it’s like being a historian. To step back from the precipice for a second, I’m not trying to imply you can’t find unbiased news or that people can’t become informed citizens. You can, but it is exceedingly rare and time consuming. A good rule of thumb for me is, if I’m looking for information on Brexit, I don’t go looking for it from the BBC or Channel 4 News. I might, however, try Al-jazeera English or even Euro News. At least in the case of the former they don’t have, as the Americans would say, skin in the game. Most people simply don’t go to those lengths, they believe the BBC or Fox News in America and therein lies the problem. But to avoid going down a rabbit hole of what media can ever be truly honest or for that matter a philosophical discussion on the nature of truth or bias, I want to focus on why I am writing this article: what are we as Anarchists meant to do about this unpleasant reality?
The simple fact is if you don’t have a media imprint, you have very little chance of convincing anyone that your ideas aren’t the insane ramblings of a pseudo-cult leader (the frequent use of the label comrade doesn’t help). The internet has helped open up the discourse to new ideas, the importance of Breitbart News and Infowars to the Fascist movement in the US is a clear sign of that, but no such platform has emerged from the Anarchist movement (I love Libcom but it’s not being name checked by major news outlets as an imminent treat to capitalism). In any case the google algorithms are beginning to filter out even the limited alternatives that do exist. So what should we do?
In every sense this article is what we shouldn’t be doing, analysing to death something that is rather simple: how do we convey our propaganda effectively through emotive soundbites? Personally I think the only way to do this is to accept two inevitables: The first that we have to fundamentally reconsider the language we use to talk to people, and if that means embracing slogans and simple emotive narratives, then so be it. And secondly either upping our internet game at a time when the state and global capital is shutting off this avenue as an option, or embrace the style of door-to-door decades-long campaigning that no one with an ironically named cat is currently willing to do. Sounds horrible, huh? Do you feel grimy? Need a quick shower to rinse off the cynical slime I’ve coated you with? I understand how you feel, but I also know that part of the reason you’ll stay in the shower an extra few minutes is because I’m right.