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What we don’t know is killing us
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, where he has taught courses on media (including cinema) and propaganda since 1997.
Dr Miller recently wrote an article for Propaganda in Focus on the importance of studying the dark art.
For those of us who study propaganda critically, and seek to do this all-important work as public intellectuals, these last two years have been uniquely challenging, and even dangerous, forcing us into a painful double bind.
On the one hand, we have never had so much to work with, nor has there ever been a greater need for our peculiar expertise. Whereas, in the “democratic” West, propaganda used to be most evident as an intensive episodic practice, flaring up in wartime, in political campaigns and following immense state crimes like JFK’s assassination, 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks (among other national traumas engineered by governments), the propaganda blasting all of us non-stop today is no longer national, or merely multinational, but global; and the former intermittency of those most awful crises, with decades going by between one trauma and the next, has given way to a mind-numbing strategy of serial bombardment — one cataclysmic fuss after another (with, sometimes, one within another), as under openly totalitarian rule.
As Mark has argued previously, we in Western Societies have not come to terms with how deeply entrenched propaganda is in our own societies as the journalist John Pilger argued just before the Ukraine-Russian War broke out, it is now the norm.
Marshall McLuhan's prophecy that "the successor to politics will be propaganda" has happened. Raw propaganda is now the rule in Western democracies, especially the US and Britain
On matters of war and peace, ministerial deceit is reported as news. Inconvenient facts are censored, demons are nurtured. The model is corporate spin, the currency of the age. In 1964, McLuhan famously declared, "The medium is the message." The lie is the message now.
But is this new? It is more than a century since Edward Bernays, the father of spin, invented "public relations" as a cover for war propaganda. What is new is the virtual elimination of dissent in the mainstream.
From Chomsky and Herman’s manufacturing of consent to Piers Robinson’s work on the CNN Effect, to the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, the studying of propaganda, media and the abuse of historical narratives is quintessential if we want to navigate the modern world as free and independent minds.
I maintain that if there are two subject that school students should study it is a course in propaganda and basic epistemology. Mark and I dug into this topic and I hope that you also enjoyed the conversation.
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