Propaganda 2.0? — Revolution 2.0!

By now it has become clear, that we have reached a stage of our post capitalist and post-industrial society, which leaves us almost unable to agree upon how we want to live and how to live in a way that leaves the next generations a stable and nourishing environment. We further reached a point in time, at which projections about the outcome of certain events seem impossible to make. Uncertainty but also the frustration about enduring economic imbalances and insufficient far-reaching improvements of the reality of life, has risen and people started (once again), “feel betrayed” by “establishment”. Criticism is legitimate in various ways, but the debate is being undermined by various groups following their own, self-enrichment motivated agenda. One may tell legitimate criticism and “hate groups” apart from “back to old values” rhetoric. The same as “back to the roots” rhetoric used by movements in the 30s and 60s. Over 70 years ago, Karl Polanyi established the term “double movement” Reviewing the most recent developments, and, one may understand the value of his vision and why his ideas have been discussed lately. But even though he provides us with an idea of what the underlying issues of current events may be, it does not give an in-depth explanation. Similarities between Polanyi’s theory and Kate Millet’s theory of the “Counter- revolution”, suggest, that combining both authors fields of research and their core ideas can help us to understand our current situation in such depth. In the following, recent developments will be analyzed by combining both theories.

Post-truth politics

Adjective: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” (Oxford University Press.2017.)

This definition not only sounds familiar. The most recent events in global politics give incessant evidence that what is described as an “era” is nothing but history repeating itself. From the economic and social context to commonly used rhetoric. It all boils down to something we all know as “Propaganda” and what it is its intent. To back these claims up, let me first outline the essential characteristics of propaganda and their objective.

Stanley’s definitions

“Propaganda is characteristically part of the mechanism,” he writes, “by which people become deceived about how best to realize their goals, and hence deceived from seeing what is in their own best interests.” This is achieved by various time-tested means — by appealing to the emotions in such a way that rational debate is sidelined or short-circuited; by promoting an insider/outsider dynamic that pollutes the broader conversation with negative stereotypes of out-of-favor groups; and by eroding community standards of “reasonableness” that depend on “norms of mutual respect and mutual accountability.” (Stanley, Jason. 2016.)

“Anti-Establishment” and “Mendacious press” allegation — Wolves in sheep’s clothing”

The most common rhetorical strategy is characterized by mixing up information with opinion. When being confronted with them, facts get mangled. Political and other opponents are bombarded with false claims. Especially when being exposed to accusations of wrongdoing themselves. Let’s recap the “voter fraud” accusations made by Trump. But the by far most revealing rhetorical peculiarity is a reductive, Manichean storytelling (the philosophical doctrine of dualism). Economic imbalances due to failures in reforming institutional structures and crises caused by loosened economic restrictions, in combination with erosion of social structures, political and social tensions are ubiquitous. Increased mistrust into a government’s capacity to give its citizens with the essential resources still lingers on. Propagandists strategically exploit this mistrust and occupy these topics to establish themselves as saviors in midst of a world full of “fraudsters” In fact, they are just projecting their own manipulative traits onto the “establishment” in an effort to discredit political and social institutions in a phase of a steady progression of society. In times of increased criticism of capitalism and establishment of economic restrictions and social support. (key word “Obama care”) Typically, at a specific point in time of this process: Just when the market has stabilized due to these changes. This, so it appears, must be the last exit before the driving forces of neo-capitalism become obsolete.

Muslims and Mexicans

Constructing enemies while withholding own agendas:

“(…) standard slurs for ethnic groups are too widely recognized as slurs to occur in political debate in a liberal democracy,” (…) “apparently innocent words,” or phrases — like welfare, work ethic, illegal immigrant — can take on negative connotations as they become “imbued, by a mechanism of repeated association, with problematic images or stereotypes.” (Stanley, Jason. 2016.)

As for Mexicans in the US, it goes for Muslims in Europe.

Playing the part of the “Bogeyman” both are being accused of a “hostile acquisition” and trying to grab what’s not have been lost during the crisis. This is, in both cases, just a hook and simultaneously distraction from their own agenda on keeping structures of self-enrichment alive. Nothing but the same has happened to the Jewish prior and during WWII.

Patriarchy and Propaganda

“Of all artistic forms in patriarchy, it is the most frankly propagandist. Its aim is to reinforce both sexual factions in their status. “(Millett, Kate. 1971.)

What seems confusing, is the fact, that not only men are involved in such groups. A number of women, not to be underestimated, seem to share their ideology. Not to forget that a large number of women also voted for Trump in the last US election. Which seems to be an act against their own best interest, is a widespread phenomenon in patriarchal societies. Even though, as recent examples have unmistakably made clear, some of these opinions ( “Locker Room Talk”) are misogynist and devaluing against women. Due to the still existing dependency of women to their “breadwinners”, at least economically, tendencies to adjust their own opinion to those of the “breadwinner” are still common.

Kate Millet’s definition of Sexual Politics can be understood as a set of Patriarchal policies regulating the characteristics of a person’s temperament, role, and status on a societal level, in order to achieve a consent through socialization. The (sex) role is a “… code of conduct, gesture, and attitude for each sex…”

Roles include defined activities for each sex. “Domestic service and attendance upon infants to the female, the rest of human achievement, interest, and ambition to the male,”. (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

Temperament is defined as “… the formation of human personality along stereotyped lines of sex category (“masculine” and “feminine”) …” and “… based on the needs and values of the dominant group…” (Millet, Kate. 1971.).

“Aggression, intelligence, force, and efficacy in the male; passivity, ignorance, docility, “virtue,” and ineffectual in the female.” (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

The desired Status for the sexes is male superiority and female inferiority. At the same time, status is meant to be the political component. Whereas role is the sociological, and temperament the psychological.

A mental state of “unquestionable values” is kept alive, preventing independent and critical thinking. This is achieved by taking advantage of the fact, those gender roles are learned in the early childhood and are unlikely to be “unlearned”.

“Under their aegis, each personality becomes little more, and often less than half, of its human potential. Politically, the fact that each group exhibits a circumscribed but complementary personality and range of activity is of secondary importance to the fact that each represents a status or power division. Since woman’s independence in economic life is viewed with distrust, prescriptive agencies of all kinds (religion, psychology, advertising, etc.) continuously admonish or even inveigh against the employment of middle-class women, particularly mothers. Its wages and tasks are so unremunerative that, unlike more prestigious employment for women, it fails to threaten patriarchy financially or psychologically. Women who are employed have two jobs since the burden of domestic service and child care is unrelieved either by day care or other social agencies or by the cooperation of husbands.” (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

Since the inferior position is maintained, the number of women that voluntarily chose to participate in the workforce will remain as low as it is now. At least in higher career ranks, and result, as it always did, in keeping women a marginal group.

“Women have therefore less of an investment in the class system. But it is important to understand that as with any group whose existence is parasitic to its rulers, women are a dependency class who live on surplus and their marginal life frequently renders them conservative, for like all persons in their situation (slaves are a classic example here) they identify their own survival with the prosperity of those who feed them.” (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

Scientific evidence shows that likely such an emotional state is preferred to enduring the uncertainty during a process of durable change of social structures. Especially in societies in which conservatism is or was widespread (not unlikely, as findings of 2011 suggest, changes that do not fully In line with a person’s belief are less likely to be accepted.

Strategic use of emotions

Economic imbalances and crises in combination with the erosion of social structures increase basis for fears. In a state in which it is hard to tell, whether fears are legitimate or not, populists have it easy to fuel anxiety. Tactics rely on triggering emotions, particularly fear to fuel such anxieties. In addition, creating an enemy (like Mexicans, Muslims, Women) creates a shared identity and provides a source of stability. Especially when social changes have not yet fully created a stable and satisfying environment, giving in to this dead — end constellation provides at least some stability. The result is a “double bind” situation in which both destruction and salvation are bound to the same source, arguing, liberals are responsible for the frustration of the “working people” (“identity politics” and “political correctness.”).

Polanyi’s Double Movement

The Great Depression of the 1930s was mainly caused by systemic failures of economic policies (Colander, David, Michael Goldberg, Armin Haas, Alan Kirman, Katarina Juselius, Brigitte Sloth, and Thomas Lux. 2011.). Back then, of the global economic downturn, resulting from WWI lead to a recession in Germany. It occurred, that, just when things started to get better, the national socialists appeared on the political landscape, later took over. The rise of fascism all over Europe is the same phenomenon we today observe in the US. Recently established democratic structures, progressiveness, and implementation of social security had been achieved, not long before the take — over. While Europe was led into its own devastation, in the US the first steps towards a (limited) Welfare state have been undertaken. The Welfare state is a classic example of a counter, defined by the center-left. The paradigm shifts Polanyi anticipated was close to its realization during the 1960s and 1970s. Just when, as it did in Europe before, the far — right shifted policies back to the neoliberalism advantage during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The rise of the right-wing in the US today is beyond has already caused damage far beyond what the 1980s rhetoric has left us with. Recent events go beyond a “push and pull” of political forces. The last time in history the right wing was as strong as today was before and during WWII. It is thus self-explanatory why a counter movement is urgently needed.

The impact of “neo-liberalism”

Diffusion of responsibility

A deregulation of markets incites a diffusion of responsibility. This “culture of irresponsibility” is offering “gamblers” to speculate thoughtlessly — and end up “Down to the Felt”. It shows, that globally we have to deal with the same systemic failures we had to in the early 20th century. Crises caused by loosened economic restrictions, (Financial crisis of 2007–2008) were the result. Instead of the perpetrator (rescuing banks, financed by taxes), the taxpayer was burdened with preventing banks from getting bankrupt. To offset the national budget economic growth must be promoted, resulting in increased pressure on the middle class (and lower class), a decrease of income, increase in vulnerable employment, insufficient social protection, temporary employment, and stigmatization of unemployment. In short: to the erosion of the labor market and social inequality that struck the global economy back then. At this point remaining patriarchal structures within the legal system was in full effect, resulting in the deterioration of marginal groups situations, fueling (to a certain extent) the rediscovered political activism among various of these groups.

The “Counterrevolution”

Criticism is in some ways legitimate as the “establishment” has clearly failed to achieve economic independence of women as an economic marginal group. Not odd, since patriarchates have institutionalized force through their legal systems. Our legal systems are still permeated by patriarchal structures and their values. The similarities of historic political and economic events (in comparison of Millet and Polanyi) and the tone of public debates revolving around it (back to the “good old days”) are salient. Millet’s thesis of the “Counterrevolution” suggests, that we are also confronted with a resurgence of sexual politics. It threatens to revert recent achievements of progressive politics. In the wake of the events of the 1930 and 1960, such a backlash led to exactly that.

“And yet, just as under other total ideologies (racism and colonialism are somewhat analogous in this respect) control in a patriarchal society would be imperfect, even inoperable, unless it had the rule of force to rely upon, both in emergencies and as an ever-present instrument of intimidation.” (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

According to Millet’s ideas on Sexual Politics, these groups could be considered as the driving forces of patriarchal societies.
 And thus, they are the same as the driving forces of neo- capitalism.

Why Europe (EU) isn’t immune

Although Europe seems not to be the center of attention of this backlash, there is evidence, that it might jeopardize itself, due to insufficient concrete and fundamental institutional change and overdue political reforms.

Democratic deficits

Despite the support, some critical issues remain to challenge the political legitimacy of the EU. Especially insufficient civic involvement has been widely criticized for decades. Moreover, political experts are concerned, that the next severe economic crisis could cause irreversible damage to European solidarity.

Risky policies

States of the EU continue to undermine the foundation of the EU. Aside from Brexit, other states repeatedly try to establish their national agenda and violating laws. Apart from this, the EU’s current precarious financial situation which culminated in the ECB’s decrease in base rate to 0 per cent could indeed spark a severe financial crisis in the near future. Thus, form a basis for propagandists to gain ground also in Europe. (of which parts already exist, according to findings of recent studies, reviewed by Armin Schäfer) The free market does not operate self-regulatory but is an artificially created system, based on accelerated economic inequality, founded by shifting political, economic and social influence for capitalists.

Additionally, the fact that religion plays a big part in current conservative politics, proves that the status of women in Germany is still considered naturally inferior to men. It also shows, if one review the repeatedly stressed importance of “the traditional family”, is an effort of keeping these structures intact. Millet sees the family as the smallest unit to ensure the preservation of patriarchal structures.
 This is just one example of how Sexual Politics have survived without further notice or widespread criticism, posing the threat of resulting in the deterioration of marginal groups situations as we have witnessed in the US, should such a severe financial crisis really occur.

Re-establish social justice before it hits — A global counter movement

“Man [sic] becomes mature and able to exist as a human being in a complex society.” (Polanyi, Karl. 1945.)

Polanyi’ ideas provides some valuable inspiration.

The redistribution of wealth is much less a side effect than a goal to be reached. With the EU falling apart, this might indeed be the moment of a movement laying the cornerstones of a global change of thinking. The most important aspect the genuine transfer of power and changing the institutional structures of market societies.

This conclusion is supported by one of Millet’s arguments: the structures of legal systems provide a “hideaway” for remaining patriarchal structures. Based on the dynamics, which have become visible in combining feminism and theories from political economy, and stressing the fact, that the human itself seems currently emotionally incapable of fundamentally changing to improve his situation, it shows, that what is most important, is to detect and erase within the imbalances of power, in any form whatsoever.

The Role of Social Media

Social media has been taken over by Populists. Most essential channels of communication are poisoned by the spread of fear, hatred, and lies. Conquering these issues is an extremely difficult task for several reasons.

Polarized Networked Spaces

Isolation (filter bubbles) increases insufficient falsification. Important details and the context of information fall behind. After a while, this systematically and deeply affects people’s perception of what is real and leads to increased political polarization:

“With increased political polarization, amplified by homophily — our preference to connect to people like us — and algorithmic recommended systems, we’re effectively constructing our own realities.” (Lotan, Gilad. 2016.)

Viral spread of information

Mass media distribution has changed due to multimedia interconnection. But especially since the rise of social media/networks, the amount, and speed of information circulation has increased drastically. Thus, once “fake news” is out there, there are likely not to stop before causing damage. Populists didn’t miss their opportunity to use this to their advantage. Because the viral spread of information measured and projected ahead based on simple mathematical calculations, knowing them, one has the capacity to increase the range of influence many times over the organic range. This can be achieved by buying ad space (Twitter vend ads e.g. to the Russian Telegraph) from common platforms. It can also be achieved by” Media Hacking” and utilizing “bots”. When it comes to these techniques, Twitter has become the most important platform. Evidently shown by the conspiracy theory known as “pizza-gate”.

If the information is distributed in this way, fact checking is nearly impossible. Concluding, that efforts to detect content like this will likely be insufficient in the undertaking of conquering “fake news”.

Information oversupply

As social media being part of neoliberal market, overproduction, and overconsumption of information throughout these platforms just as many key patterns of economic dynamics as they are in conventional production. The increase of information leads to the preference of “content easy to digest” and less consumption of credible and investigative journalism.

Data is money and viral posts are an essential source of data distribution. Which leads to the conclusion that also stopping viral propaganda by educating users. For once, because social media does not tolerate quality over quantity. Further, because quality content is unlikely to be created in a way, it could go viral.

Despite claims to take effective measure against the spread of hate fueled rhetoric, recent studies published by the “Oxford Internet Institute” suggest these claims remain unconverted.

Sexual Politics, social media, and AI

“Control of these fields is very eminently a matter of political power.” (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

Not only is the viral spread of propaganda and rhetoric of hate groups a reason to be concerned. Concerning the matters of feminism and re vitalized forces patriarchy, there is another, more pressing issue. Biased ML techniques. According to Millet, one of the second important cornerstones of patriarchal societies is the media. In terms of a woman’s self-image, these biases are, to say the least, “harmful”. Additionally, it confronts us with the emerge of another battlefield. The combination of stereotypes, spread virally via biased AI and the fact, that women are still a minority in IT, raises serious concerns.

“As patriarchy enforces a temperamental imbalance of personality traits between the sexes, its educational institutions, segregated or coeducational, accept a cultural programming toward the generally operative division between “masculine” and “feminine” subject matter, assigning the humanities and certain social sciences (at least in their lower or marginal branches) to the female — and science and technology, the professions, business and engineering to the male.” (Millett, Kate. 1971.)

But it also means to compensate a critical loss of influence on what and how is spread in the media.

Including the missing counter movement into Social Media — Revolution 2.0

“Second, a new generation has grown up that sees the technologies of communication and connectivity not as a threat but as a tool for building stronger ties of community and solidarity. Younger people do not appear to share their parent’s fears or ambivalence About a greater degree of social interdependence; they simply take it as a given. These changes could mean that today’s protective counter movement has the possibility not only of protecting societies and the planet from the grave dangers posed by global markets but of finally ending the double movement itself. However, such a radical transformation would require social mobilization on a global scale, the creation of new global institutions, and the elaboration of a new paradigm for conceptualizing individual freedom in a complex society.” (Polanyi, Karl. 1945.)

Due to the fast-paced media consumption, platforms like BuzzFeed are crucial for transporting these ideas. As argued above, the information overload generated a preference for “light” content. Reaching an audience in an effort to falsify propaganda, information flow and underlining the uniqueness of content must be placed into the center of attention.

Polanyi’s theory of the “Counter movement” requires left — centrist actors to form a “Movement of protection” to re-establish social justice. A counter movement must first and foremost unmask the real source of misinformation and confront the movement with their underlying agenda. It must outline the causes and consequences of polarization and come up with constructive ideas to solve the issues hidden underneath increased social and political tensions. It further needs to establish online communities and networks of its own and establish groups in social networks that are “virtual safe-spaces”. Based on support among marginal groups within our societies.

Works Cited

Colander, David, Michael Goldberg, Armin Haas, Alan Kirman, Katarina Juselius, Brigitte Sloth, and Thomas Lux. “The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics.” Lessons from the Financial Crisis (2011): 427–36. Print.

Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. New York: Avon, 1971. Print.

Polanyi, Karl. Origins of Our Time: The Great Transformation. London: V. Gollancz, 1945. Print.