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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Persuasion, Propaganda, and Perfidy in Costa Mesa 
The campaigning for November’s election is developing into a study of how to get other folks to vote for your preferences. Three techniques are popular, but let's first look at two methods of changing people’s beliefs, or persuading them, that aren't being used to earn your vote.

The first is science; and science is immune to consensus. It deals with repeatable tests and provable explanations for phenomena. Politics focuses on consensus, not facts, so science isn’t of much help in examining Costa Mesa’s election choices, although many opinions and outright falsehoods are being promoted as fact.

The other major way of “proving” a viewpoint is “appeal to authority.” This method is being attempted, although without qualifying the “authority” as knowledgeable, just as devoted, loyal, and committed.


Some other methods of persuasion include generalization – “a key premise is that, in a complex world where people are overloaded. . ., they fall back on . . .generalizations. These generalizations . . .allow people to usually act in a correct manner with a limited amount of thought and time. However, they can be exploited and effectively turned into weapons. . .”
So, persuasion by using generalizations can be honest and useful; for example, “the best way to know what the charter says is to read it.” Hard to argue with that if you’re talking to reasonably capable adults. Or it can be an invitation to err, as in “we have to build checks and balances into the charter to prevent the City Council from taking advantage.” This is true enough as a generalization, but it neglects the current law that continues unchanged under the charter – the checks and balances that are needed – are present already
Similarly, “we must have a rule to insure honest audits,” is correct, but misleading, because such rules are also present in the current laws that govern how the city does business. And, the feared “power grabbing” Council Members are forbidden by law from interfering in the conduct of city business, so they cannot now, and could not under the charter, interfere with the audits scheduled and controlled by Costa Mesa’s accountants. This is sliding into technique two, propaganda.


Here are a few propaganda techniques I’ve seen so far in the campaigning. Keep in mind during this campaign, that one of the most successful propagandists in history, Adolph Hitler (in a statement that was originally formulated by Joseph Goebbels) insisted that,  "The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Even if they are lies . . .

Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. It is referring, often very subtly and with “due respect,,” to the monster under the bed. (Ask, “has this happened before? Will it become more likely if this happens (Charter is passed, for instance)? No? Well then, there ain’t no monster under the bed.”)

Demonization of the opposition, as in, “Defeat the three M’s, they’re enemies of organized labor.”

Distraction by semantics involves using euphemistically pleasing or frightening terms to obscure the truth. For example, “No Bid contracts allow council members to award contracts to their friends.” The term  "no bid contract" refers to a specified procedure for high dollar value contracts. It’s handled safety and apparently honestly now, and the procedures won’t change under the Charter. The various levels for approval will be set by the council, though. Further, Council Members, by law, can’t process contracts or any other city business, either now or under a Charter.

Or, how about the term “grassroots” which means "the common or ordinary people, as distinguished from leaders or parties." Ever wonder how common people can come together to support candidates without being involved with leaders or parties? The term is being used right now to imply support from the population, regardless of political persuasion. Propagandists, on the other hand would be a group, often a small and elite group, that repeats slogans, defames opposition, and refuses to confront facts. Does either term, grassroots or propagandist, remind you of citizen input at City Council meetings?

We’ll take another look at what’s in vogue this year for influencing Costa Mesa Voters in a later blog, but, just for fun, look for the following Propaganda Techniques in the news during the next week:

Watch for

Misleading by Distracting This method injects false issues into the opponent's message or attempts to create connections with falsities. Repetition of falsehoods from numerous outlets, nearly simultaneously, is one of the most effective means to mislead by distraction.

An ad hominem attack is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it. It’s often described as an informal fallacy and an irrelevance, attacking the man instead of the issue. (Or even the man’s appearance!)

The "plain folks" or "common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist's positions reflect the common sense of the people. See also grassroots, above.

And, look for examples of Perfidy, which is being deliberately deceitful or dishonest. Attorneys, when acting in their official capacity as officers of the court, are forbidden to deceive or lie. That is, they’re not supposed to certify a lie, and can lose their license for doing so. (As in the City Attorney certifying the meaning of sections of the Charter.) But attorneys are free, as we all are, to deceive and mislead when not certifying as true – they deceive and mislead very skillfully to win in court. And winning is why they can charge such high-dollar fees.

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