truth

Agitprop and Us

The point is not what we expect from life,
but rather what life expects from us.
~Viktor Frankl

agitpropWe constantly look to heroines or heroes to “save“ us. We wait for messiahs, we follow gurus and place considerable faith in politicians and other individuals, elevating them to the status of societal leaders, policy makers and ultimately gatekeepers of societal norms. Many of us dutifully cast our votes at election time, assuming our ballot can effectively shift the scales in our favor regarding civil liberties, personal protection as well as economic and physical well-being. Essentially, when it comes to getting things done, to make life better, we tend to look elsewhere instead of looking to ourselves.

History belongs to the people. So says Sophia Burns in her article “Star Wars: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Revolutionary Agitprop”. Such a belief portrays us as the captains of our fate, the rulers of our days. However the attitudes and behaviors expressed by most people seldom justify such heroic notions.

Yhero-01ou probably do not know the Russian word “agitprop” although you are certainly familiar with the concept. The term roughly refers to effort to spread ideas (pejoratively called “propaganda”) through popular media like movies, music, etc.. Sophia Burns proposes that while previous incarnations of the Star Wars saga presented a top-down view of leadership and socio-political change, The Last Jedi presents a very different idea. Stepping away from the focus on a single individual possessing some sort of royal birthright and almost single handedly challenging an evil empire, The Last Jedi manages to open the door for the rise of common people as a collective force against the Empire. But do we hear this message? Do we look beyond the space battles and the archetypical heroic figures to more pervasive, people-centered possibilities? Do we get the Gestalt, the overall message embedded in the relationships, the general narrative of the art form (the movie) itself? Are we even aware of the “propaganda” conveyed in ANY presentation over which we decide to linker for an hour or more?

Using our previous formula—to feature an article one week, then to post a more extensive follow-up in subsequent weeks—this week we present the agitprop article centered around the recent Star Wars movie. In the next few weeks we will delve into personal responsibility and the need for action by common people highlighted by Ms. Burns’ article. In the meantime, also consider Paul Street’s call for a strong leader of the more radical MLK ilk compared to a Naomi Klein/Opal Tometi article urging us to look past “leadership” personalities toward a more broad, global, interconnected understanding of our problems and the need for common people to build a saner society.

 

What is Democracy?

Death of Democracy

Part IV: What is Democracy

Demacracy is a Fraud.PNGClasos/CON/Getty

What is this thing we call “democracy”.  Just as once there was some general consensus about the nature of truth—facts in the public sphere—we once believed we shared a relatively common meaning of the word “democracy”.  One of the reasons we (both in the U.S. and internationally) do not agree on how our governments should operate is that while we might call our form of government “democratic”, that is, reflecting the basic principles of democracy, we do not necessarily agree on the set of principles that constitute such an idea.  When we use the phrase “death of democracy”, we might not be talking about the demise of actual “democracy” at all.  In fact, we might be talking about something considerably more pervasive, profound and, if lost, catastrophic for American society.

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Death of Democracy III

Part 3: Morality That Divides Us

“I loathe nationalism.  It is a form of tribalism–the idolatry of the century”
~Cornel West

When many of us hear the word “morals”, we often withdraw, flinch, find someone else to talk to or another place to be.  In fact, morals, in the simplest terms, only refers to what we consider “good” (or “bad”).  All of us hold them (moral positions, that is).  We might not talk about them much (in a metacognitive, that is, self-conscious manner) but we express them constantly.

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On Tyranny

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In a country fond of seeing itself as “the land of the free”, in the last couple decades, fear seems to have considerably tarnished this idealistic notion. We say we want freedom, but for whom? Too often, such notions suggest that we want freedom within the boundaries of what we idiosyncratically define as “US”—a term that has increasingly become more grounded in exclusivity than inclusion. This “US” comes to inform our socio-politically charged definition of freedom. In an attempt to stave off fear, our expectations are tinged by a new found xenophobia; we redefine a continually shrinking concept we used to refer to as “a free American”. In so doing, we open the door for those who would exploit our assumed sense of vulnerability. But when freedom does not apply to all, ultimately, it will fail to encompass any of us.

On Tyrrany“European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s… The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

So writes historian Timothy Snyder in his recently published book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. On Tyranny is a tiny book, 126 pages measuring only about 4×6 inches. Each of the twenty suggestions forms a chapter consisting of only two to five pages.

Mr. Snyder does express certain biases (such as casting a jaundiced eye toward the Internet). However, for the most part, the book is largely written from a non-partisan perspective, focusing on various means of preserving freedom and staving off tyrannical control. As the book is quite easy to read, you can probably finish it in an hour (although you will likely ruminate over its contents for much longer).

Some of Snyder’s suggestions are expected (such as #3 – Beware the One-party State). Others are either surprising or defined in a thought provoking manner. For example:

  • #  2 – Defend Institutions
  • #10 – Believe in Truth
  • #11 – Investigate

All address–directly or indirectly–some of the more hidden aspects of what is currently happening in the United States.

In a Washington Post review, Mr. Snyder’s book is described as “a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital.”  Some folks have been so taken with this little gem that they have bought multiple copies to distribute for free (a little over $6 on Amazon).

Requiem - Chomsky book coverOnce you have read through the Snyder book a couple times you might, on reflection, find yourself thinking a bit differently about the state of affairs in the United States. While the twenty suggestions Snyder offers are pointed and helpful, the brevity of the book prevents comprehensive treatment of any idea. As such, you might want to follow-up Snyder’s book and expand your understanding the mechanism of tyranny by tackling the more in depth descriptions of “reality” in the U.S. by reading Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky’s new book. Professor Chomsky addresses tyranny from the perspective of identifying various tactics of oppression such as reducing democracy, attacking solidarity and marginalizing the population—all of which have been happening and continue to occur as you read this. Like On Tyranny, Requiem is easy to read, although not quite so brief.

Finally if you are really committed to understanding tyranny and how it might have been the underlying mode of governance in the United States for decades, consider Sheldon Wolin’s more challenging and comprehensive book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

Metaphor as Identity as Metaphor…

We know from neuroscience that most thought is unconscious, carried out by neural circuitry. In Metaphors We Live By, Mark Johnson and I showed that much of that unconscious thought is metaphorical, and further, that we often live our lives according to those metaphors.

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So says George Lakoff, neuroscientist and linguist.  Mr. Lakoff recently posted an article in which he presents his take on the nature and implications of a primary metaphor driving the person currently occupying the oval office.  Mr. Lakoff’s central premise is that POTUS 2017 operates according to the assumption “the president is the nation”.   The “meaning” of the phrase itself, out of context, presents very little significance.   However, the true meaning of such a metaphor only appears in the expressed attitudes and behaviors that ensue from it.  Assuming the Lakoff depiction is accurate, an important question arises:  how might a person who suddenly finds himself in the most power office in the world behave as a result of the validation offered by the new found title “President of the United States”?

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The article describes an interesting psychological configuration as it plays out in specific desires, decisions, and communications delivered through the current White House occupant’s tweets.  Perhaps what is most interesting is not what Mr. Lakoff has to say about POTUS 2017, but how the psychological structure of what he is proposing might (and probably is) operative in ourselves.   How much does self-identification by this person in the chief executive’s seat parallel our own understanding of ourselves?   On a deeper level, to what degree does our reaction to the current person posing as the 45th president reflect our own attitudes toward the world in general rather than toward any specific person? Similarly, what might be the metaphor operating in each of us as we assess the various reported events presented by the news media?  When we react in defense of the office of this loser president, for instance, to what degree are we actually reacting to feelings about ourselves, our own fears and our own need for self-protection?  Similarly, when we reject actions and statements relative to the current regime, to what degree are we not reacting to any particular person, but rather, to our own sense of indignation and sense of violation regarding the general state of affairs in the United States?

When Mr. Lakoff says something like “We need to reveal the existence of the metaphor”, we should hear the statement not so much as a discovery of something unknown to us, but as a paradigmatic manner in which we all encode and perpetuate what we believe to be real. We need to identify our own metaphors. What do you believe to be the central metaphor driving your life?  When you say “I am a <fill in the blank>, what are you actually attempting to communicate to the world, and, more importantly, to yourself?  If your description of <fill in the blank> is accurate, what assumptions do you habitually make because of this, your, particular metaphor? Are you a beacon of what a person should be (by your own standards)?  How do you know your guiding metaphor actually is what you think it is?

Suggestion: Read through the Lakoff article focusing on your life situation and the ways in which your behavior and attitudes “play out”.  We too often relate to depictions of people and current events as if we are watching a movie, as if the world comes to us as entertainment.  Most important, we too often allow these depictions to remain in the realm of “other”, as if they are not about us.  We allow the stories to be about them, written by them, presented by someone else.  Doing so, we can easily judge—either the person or situation that forms the focus of the presentation or the author or medium presenting the ideas.  In this case, forget POTUS 2017.  Reality–for each of us individually and collectively–is so much larger than such a person.  Forget George Lakoff.  You might accept or reject his ideas.  But what about you? What about us?


George P. Lakoff is an American cognitive linguist and philosopher, best known for his thesis that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena. (Wikipedia)

Consider a Think Tank

The seekingGood.blog has endeavored to provide useful information such that readers might expand their understanding of themselves and their overall knowledge as well as to subsequently act in accordance with the “Good” they individually manage to determine. This blog has offered repeated admonishments to “find out for yourself”, to do your own investigations.  Furthermore, while this is a decidedly left-leaning blog, we have also endeavored to encourage open-mindedness, exploration of competing ideas and transcendence of the comforting limits of habitual ways of thinking.  In this light, consider the following.

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[IMAGE from ClipartFest]

Introduction

Governments do not think.  People think.  Think tanks represent people thinking collectively.  Governments implement and enforce policies.  Regardless how much thinking individuals do, most will have little direct impact on public policy issues.  Think tanks—collections of thinking people–often help to develop or influence public policies. (more…)

Are We Prepared?

Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.      ~ Adyashanti


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Naomi Klein: “The worst is yet to come!”

What happens when disaster strikes?  What do we do when all normalcy ceases?  To whom do we turn when events like the recent Manchester bombing, the Paris attack or events like those on the morning of September 11th, 2001 in New York occur?  In her new book, No is Not Enough, activist and author Naomi Klein encourages us to be prepared for such disasters—which she calls “shock” events—not so much for the event itself but for likely actions by the U.S. government in the wake of these occurrences.

In the video below, Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow! interviews Naomi Klein about her book Naomi Klein Interview.PNGand the general proposal that in the wake of a cataclysmic event, the U.S. government is likely to invoke a series of actions designed to tighten control of the general public.  Under the guise of national security relative to a shock event, the government is likely to suspend civil liberties, human rights and the right to privacy.  (Part 2 of the interview begins at approximately the 2:20 minute mark and lasts about 15 minutes).  In addition to the usual question and answer format, the interview presents a video within the video.  In the internal video, produced by the Intercept, Naomi describes a five step preparedness toolkit. She urges us to anticipate inevitable crises, at which times we need to be prepared to mobilize rather than comply with the government’s attempts to  contain us—to keep us in our homes, for instance, “for our own safety”.  We need to be mindful of the history of the previous U.S. government’s uncharacteristically freedom-destroying responses such as internment of Japanese-Americans during WWI, deportation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the early 1930’s and abandonment of freed slaves in the wake of the Civil War. (more…)