If you’re into quotes, this post is for you! In episode 13 of the Propaganda Report, I mentioned pseudo environments as described by Walter Lippmann in his 1922 classic book, Public Opinion. The concepts discussed in his book are as relevant today as they were back then. Lippmann was an elite. He was an author for the Council on Foreign Relations. He was an informal advisor to many presidents. He helped draft Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech, which is an amazing example of propaganda that utilizes the Art of Ambiguity. Lippmann breaks down the intentionally vague language and why it was chosen in the book. He also consulted for, and later criticized, the first large scale propaganda agency in the U.S., Woodrow Wilson’s WWI Committee On Public Information.
The point is that Lippmann is about as insider as it gets, especially when it comes to propaganda operations. His work provides great insights into how propaganda operates at the highest levels, and how it uses the various forms of available media to accomplish its goals.
His discussion on pseudo environments can be applied directly to the digital pseudo environment we live into today. In this post, I’ve included a few quotes from his book regarding pseudo environments with some thoughts below each.
“The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event.”
On a daily basis, the various media we take in provokes anger, fear, hatred, and anxiety in the public. They do this through an onslaught of stories presented in a way that are designed not to make us think and work together, but to make us fight and remain divided. And it works like a charm. Based on the news, the public picks sides, and directs its rage towards whichever group the media has made the object of its hate. We fight over political issues, social issues, and international issues, and everyone is certain that they’re right and “the other” is wrong.
Yet, in many cases, we have not experienced the events used by the media to polarize us, first hand. In fact, we often haven’t experienced them second hand. With a few exceptions, most Americans have never experienced Syria, yet they still hold strong opinions about what should or should not be done over there. Most Americans have not experienced the dangerous supposed rise in hate crimes the media promotes, yet many are still certain that we’re facing an epidemic. It isn’t reality that keeps Americans divided, it’s the pseudo reality that the media projects into our heads that does.
Powerful emotional appeals, and digital imagery can make a phony experience feel very real. Virtual Reality might be the most terrifying thing we face in the future.
“For it is clear enough that under certain conditions men respond as powerfully to fictions as they do to realities, and that in many cases they help to create the very fictions to which they respond…..Let him cast a stone who never passed on as the real inside truth what he had heard someone say who knew no more than he did.”
The pseudo reality creates realty. This is how self-fulfilling prophecies occur. This is why something can be a false flag while still being a real event. Edward Bernays talks a lot about public demonstrations. One of the propaganda purposes of a public demonstration in the age of mass media is to create a domino effect, a chain reaction of real events, sparked by the initial demonstrations. The initial demonstrations target anyone who identifies with the movement that can be reached through the various forms of mass media. The symbolic actions taken by the protesters serve as a demonstration for others who are reached. They know that if they want to be a part of whatever the movement is, they can go out and mimic the actions they witnessed the protesters doing.
This is why Colin Kaepernick’s protest changed from simply sitting down to taking a knee.
Sitting down on the bench where you can’t be seen is not a powerful symbol that demonstrates to others what to do. A public relations person/propagandist stepped in and they transformed it to taking a knee. He wasn’t going to be on the cover of time magazine sitting on a bench. Taking a knee in line next to his teammates who are mostly standing is a far more powerful symbolic action. This gives those watching at home an action they can go out and mimic, the meaning of which will be clear to everyone who witnesses it.
Watch the link below to hear Bernays describe how to start a movement. Pay attention to how he describes provoking people who feel oppressed.
“In all these instances we must note particularly one common factor. It is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo-environment his behavior is a response. But because it is behavior, the consequences, if they are acts, operate not in the pseudo-environment where the behavior is stimulated, but in the real environment where action eventuates.”
The media plays negative stereotypes off of each other. For example, police officers and young african americans in struggling communities. The media fills both sides with fear. The media makes both groups fear the other is out to get them. They do this by focusing the spotlight only on tragic, divisive events and making the public believe that these events are the norm, when they’re not. They’re the rarity. But because the rarity is played on repeat by the media and treated like its the norm, people affected by this will react not to reality, but to the pseudo environment. This increases tensions in the real environment, increasing the likelihood that real violence will occur.
“When the stimulus of the pseudo-fact results in action on things or other people, contradiction soon develops. Then comes the sensation of butting one’s head against a stone wall, of learning by experience, and witnessing Herbert Spencer’s tragedy of the murder of a Beautiful Theory by a Gang of Brutal Facts, the discomfort in short of a maladjustment. For certainly, at the level of social life, what is called the adjustment of man to his environment takes place through the medium of fictions.”
I just love the quote, “Tragedy of the murder of a Beautiful Theory by a Gang of Brutal Facts.”
“Without some form of censorship, propaganda in the strict sense of the word is impossible. In order to conduct a propaganda there must be some barrier between the public and the event. Access to the real environment must be limited, before anyone can create a pseudo-environment that he thinks wise or desirable. For while people who have direct access can misconceive what they see, no one else can decide how they shall misconceive it, unless he can decide where they shall look, and at what.”
I personally believe that social engineers have reached a level of sophistication where they can in fact decide how people can misconceive events. They’ve been spending billions on the study mass manipulation of the crowd for over a hundred years now. But they too are human and flawed, and an understanding of their methods can help overcome their manipulative attempts.
Lippmann talks about how far removed the public is from the real story. There is the press secretary who presents the official story, which are a version of the facts that paint the organization in the best light possible. There are the journalists whose world views and personal agendas skew the story. There are the editors who impose restrictions and agendas onto the journalists. There are the editors bosses who impose restrictions and agendas on the editors. There are space and time restrictions that the information must be conveyed within. The list goes on.
For anyone interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend checking out Public Opinion.
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