Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The power of propaganda

An important part of all totalitarian systems is an efficient propaganda machine. The very purpose of this structure has always been to protect the "official opinion" as the only opinion that one is effectively allowed to have. Whoever disagrees with such an "official opinion" must be destroyed either physically or by the propaganda machine. If an execution is not an option, he or she must be stripped of the very basic human dignity.

In the 1970s and 1980s, dissidents in Eastern Europe were no longer executed - but the propaganda machine was running at full steam. A useful example from Czechoslovakia were the Plastic People of the Universe, quite possibly the greatest obscure rock band of all time. Its members were relatively average people with a deep interest and somewhat extraordinary talent in music. Some of them were married - and reportedly great husbands - some of them were single, most of them had no experience with crime whatsoever, one of them had had a single physical incident on his record, and they represented a broad scale of rather ordinary jobs. They were not drug addicts either. Because they promoted the Western values and a different music genre than the official one, they were permanently prosecuted by the communist regime, banned, and jailed. The communist newspaper "Rude Pravo" (Red Law or Red Right) - a leading newspaper in the country - was consistently describing them as criminals, drug addicts without a proper job - simply losers that everyone else must avoid.

Václav Havel allowed them to play on his farm and he was so shocked by the trial against the Plastic People that he decided to do something about it. In fact, this is how Charter 77, the dissident organization, was created in the first place. Needless to say, Havel and others became a target of the propagandistic attacks, too.

Havel was always described as an asocial son of a Nazi family (a very misleading description of his parents - a respected capitalist family) who is an alcoholician and his other physical parameters were analyzed in detail in order to induce hatred among the readers. You know that Havel probably always liked beer (and cigarettes, like many other people) - and we may add other criticisms (and I am the last one who would imagine that the dissidents were perfect) - but he probably was not that terribly asocial if he could become a president for nearly 13 years and one of the world's top intellectual authorities of the late 20th century.

Even if you notice that Havel's lifestyle and physical dispositions are far from being extraordinary, you must kind of feel that these observations don't make a communist regime more acceptable. Havel's beer can't change the fact that the regime was wrong.

Needless to say, all this propaganda was designed in order to personally damage the politically inconvenient people (and their families). Although there always existed people who endorsed such an approach, I hope that today, most of us - including the people of Eastern Europe - find a similar attitude of the governments against its own citizens unacceptable.

But there will always exist people with a deeply totalitarian way of thinking who simply find the very existence of other opinions unacceptable and who will always be ready to go after those who bear different opinions, infiltrate their personal lives and anything else that can do the job - and they will actually do so as soon as they get the opportunity. Indeed, they don't find it sufficient to dismiss the arguments they don't like. They will try to connect these arguments with everything else that they may find helpful to damage those who bear the inconvenient ideas and insights. Everything seems OK with the life of the person whom you don't like? Try to go after his or her family, childhood, and if you don't find anything against them either, just invent it.

Unfortunately, this is also the case of the recent debates about the "innate aptitudes". What kind of an answer to the thoughtful, convincing, and quantitative statistical and neurobiological analyses do you expect from those who prefer the naive paradigms of universal egalitarianism? Try this one:

The author believes that those who don't like his reptile ideological anachronisms about egalitarianism from the 19th century - something that many of us have considered to have been essentially dead for several decades - are on the "wrong side of history". Right. But that's not the peak of that article. The main "argument" in that text is that the people who disagree with the author's childish version of egalitarianism are surely discriminating against various groups all the time. Moreover, he even accuses them of thinking that women are beautiful. Imagine the breathtaking crime! ;-)

The author's analysis is so "deep" that he also describes how the adolescence and the social skills of the people with different opinions than his own, including their ability to play American football, had to look like. Imagine that he is correct and many of us are really bad players of the American football. (I have not asked Steve Pinker.) Imagine that some of us - like me - had never sports as their highest priority (as opposed to music, science, and similar things) and with a few exceptions (such as high jump or long jump in my case), they were never among the best athletes among their peers.

Imagine that some of us - and this is really not me, according to all testimonies - have discriminated against colleagues of the opposite sex once or twice. (We're really putting a very diverse group together and be sure that a unified description of their social attitudes and favorite sports won't work.) I still don't follow how these possibilities might contribute as a rational argument in the debate whether the cognitive skills of men and women differ.

As far as I can say, they can't contribute a millimeter because they are as independent from the actual truth as Havel's beer and poor health is independent from the question whether the communist regime was right. Only completely stupid people can think otherwise.

Of course, every piece of crap will find its readers - and several readers with IQ below 60 have applauded the author. The message of this article for me is absolutely different and not really new. The message is that the left-wing ideologies have always been, they are, and they will always be inherently totalitarian in nature. Egalitarianisms of all sorts are about the denial of reality, the actual differences that imply many other differences and break all possible naive symmetries that you may imagine to exist between complex objects in the world as long as there is any freedom in such a world.

In a free society, it is all but guaranteed that people will choose different activities and their level of success will be different, reflecting not only their efforts but also their talents and other pre-determined quantities. Also, people will have different opinions about the origin of various social phenomena.

And the only way how reality may be denied and how one can impose the - completely unnatural - egalitarianism in talents, outcomes, as well as the uniformity of opinions (which is what the author obviouly not only wants but finds extremely important) is to execute political power, attack the inconvenient people ad hominem, and promote dishonest and intellectually defective arguments like those in the article "The wrong side of history". The author who has revived the worst methods of the notorious totalitarian regimes should be deeply ashamed.

The article I mentioned is what I call the ultimate breakdown of moral values and of the rational approach of the author.

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