Sunday, December 05, 2010

From the mouth of the babe

My son went to an Xmas event at church the other night. He told me that some girl was bothering him, so he called her a "dumb ass." Then he clarified that what he really called her was a "dumb asshole."

My first thought was, "Son a bitch, son, you can't say shit like that at church!!!"

How I wish I could speak the truth. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Thursday, December 02, 2010

It's the behavior, NOT the revelation about the behavior

I heard on the news on the way into work today that some folks are claiming that the Wikileaks cable release about the Yemeni President lying to his country about U.S. bombs dropping in Yemen might serve as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. This immediately reminded me of when I worked with substance-abusing felons...

Part of my job as a counselor was to challenge them about their behavior and to encourage them to be honest about any behavior that violated the rules of the treatment center. This was in keeping with the treatment philosophy of "honesty is integral to recovery from substance abuse." If they admitted to a violation, however, they would receive a consequence. Needless to say, it was indeed challenging to get them to fess up. What was interesting was their main reason for NOT fessing up; it is essentially the same thing that is happening with the above situation.

Their argument was that being honest (i.e., fessing up) would cost them...and indeed in one sense, it would and it did. As such, it was in their best interest to lie. I pointed out that this was in fact incorrect. It was not their HONESTY that resulted in the consequence, it was their BEHAVIOR that resulted in the consequence. In other words, it was not the revelation about the behavior that was consequential, it was the behavior itself.

Put simply, don't do stupid shit and you don't have anything to lie about; you can in fact be honest with people about what you have been doing.

Who knew that people in power could act like felons?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

( Some comments I made at an Honors Reception)

Beware the Glittering Generality

I want to start by asking you to consider the following three statements from three different individuals, all made within the last decade…

1) “I think our core businesses are extremely strong. We have a very strong competitive advantage. Of course, we're now transferring this very successful business model and approach to a lot of new, very large markets globally.”

2) "The fundamentals of our economy are strong,"

3) "There is a reasonable chance that the biggest part of the housing correction can be behind us in a number of months -- I'm not saying two or three months but in months as opposed to years,"

Now before I tell you who made these statements and when, I want to ask if you noticed any similarities among them? Aside from their assessment of the economy and/or their business?

If, when asked to notice similarities, you thought of the use of the words strong, successful, competitive, correction, advantage, all different in form, but similar in type (they all speak to something that is good, a “virtue”) then you are on to something. The question is, of course, what are you onto? The answer is…propaganda. And more specifically, a specific form of propaganda termed, Glittering Generality.

I can hear some of your thoughts (Sociologists are imbued with psychic powers, so beware what you think in our presence) Propaganda you say? In America! In the 21st century! Nyet! Can’t be so! You’re lying!

Um, yeah, afraid not that I am lying and afraid that what that is…is propaganda. In America…in the 21st century…so common…so much a part of our culture…so integral to the discourse of our culture (especially political discourse)…that we don’t even notice it.

And why should we notice? Very few of us have ever been educated about propaganda. We might hear about it and the word might conjure up images of soldiers with rifles, charging a hill or decrying bad habits during wartime, but most of us have never been educated on recognizing the more subtle, linguistic, discursive forms…the forms that dominate our social world.

Believe it or not, there was, at one time in our national history, a brief 5 year period during which a concerted effort was made by a national organization to do precisely that…to educate the general public on propaganda in general, and seven specific forms it takes, in particular.

This work was conducted by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Inc. A non-profit organization founded in the United States in 1937. Its aim was to educate the general public on recognizing and then refuting propaganda. It produced pamphlets, newsletters, even a few books, all intended to raise public awareness about propaganda, which they defined as

“…expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinions or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends.”

Or to put it another way (my words)

“Specifically designed linguistic and visual efforts to rouse people to respond in precise ways without requiring their conscious acknowledgement”

Or perhaps, even simpler…getting people to do stuff without thinking about what they are doing.

Now, as I mentioned, the institute actually identified seven forms of propaganda. Time does not permit me to explicate each form, but briefly, we have:

Glittering generality

Name-calling (So and so is a communist, socialist, Marxist, etc.)

Transfer (all members of the Tea Party are patriots)

Testimonial (Wear Hanes underwear because Michael Jordan does!)

Bandwagon (Don’t be the last one to join! Have! Get!)

Card-stacking (Gay marriage will destroy the moral fabric of America!)

Plain folks (You betcha! I’m not a witch, I’m you!)

All of these share several features...

First, they are designed to shape public opinion

Second, they are designed to inhibit consideration, i.e., thinking

Third, they are designed to get people to respond in specific ways

Fourth, recipients (i.e., the public) are not supposed to notice that they have been designed nor are they supposed to notice their effects; they are simply supposed to respond.

Powerful stuff, eh?

So what about the statements that I started this with? What was the form of propaganda they employ? Oh, yes, as mentioned, they use something called, Glittering Generality, which is:

“…associating something with a ‘virtue word’ [it] is used to make us accept and approve the thing without examining the evidence.”

Let’s hear those statements again and this time listen for the “virtue words,” the Glittering Generality

1) “I think our core businesses are extremely strong. We have a very strong competitive advantage. Of course, we're now transferring this very successful business model and approach to a lot of new, very large markets globally.”

2) "The fundamentals of our economy are strong,"

3) "There is a reasonable chance that the biggest part of the housing correction can be behind us in a number of months -- I'm not saying two or three months but in months as opposed to years,"

Did you hear them this time?

Remember, I pointed them out earlier; they are:

strong, successful, competitive, correction, advantage

Notice that they all are “virtuous” and suggest “good” things… strong, successful, competitive, correction, advantage

These are things that we all want, right? Only a fool would not want them!

Do you see how they almost immediately stop any questions, any discussion, any consideration of their accuracy? We are supposed to take the people who said them at their word. We are supposed to say, “Okay, nothing to worry about, we can relax…”

The problem is that at the time each one of these statements was uttered, there WAS something to worry about, things were not going “swimmingly.” Who said them and when?

The first, was something Ken Lay, CEO of Enron said during a conference call with employees right before Enron tanked.

The second statement was made by John McCain during his campaign for Presidency at the beginning of the financial crisis, and

The final statement was made by Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary during the Bush Administration at the start of the housing crisis.

And how was the public supposed to respond when hearing these statements? Were they supposed to question them? To challenge them? To attempt to refute them? It doesn’t seem so; rather, it seems that they were uttered in an attempt to allay any fears about what was occurring to our economy.

So, why talk about propaganda? Why give examples of glittering generality? Is it to bring everybody down? Poke our society in the eye? No. It is a small attempt to continue the work started by the IPA back in 1937. A brief, however limited, endeavor to educate us about the efforts of other people to direct our attention, our thinking, and ultimately, our behavior. It is to increase critical analysis of social discourse and social interaction. It is to invite everyone to develop a healthy skepticism about what is being said by whom and perhaps most importantly, WHY something is being said. Our world has always needed well-educated, thoughtful, people. We need those same kind of people today. We desperately need a well-educated public in this country. We have a future that is like so many other futures of years past…uncertain. We need to take action to make sure that all people are prepared to respond effectively to that uncertain future, to respond in ways that will ensure a better world for all of us, to increase the chances of us individually and collectively living to our fullest.