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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Propaganda and labeling 

Now let’s get back to propaganda in Costa Mesa's elections.

A lot of fear-mongering mailers warn Costa Mesa voters against passing the Charter and “going bankrupt like Stockton.” Is that an opinion, a fact, or just propaganda – information designed to influence (voters) through appeal to emotion instead of facts and logic?

Using a broad brush

This warning is an example of “painting with a broad brush” or “…describing a class of objects or phenomena in general terms without attention to individual variations. And, the warning can also be used to illustrate the concept of malicious intent. Malicious intent describes a desire to cause injury.

A look at the facts shows that Stockton has burned through its pension-obligation bonds; these resemble a family taking out loans they can’t pay off to fund their mortgage. And, Stockton city benefits include a lifetime medical benefit for all city employees.

The fear-mongering is designed to make voters fear a Charter because Stockton had one and Stockton declared bankruptcy. This is broad brush painting with no mention of the very significant, even crucial differences in the charters. For example, Costa Mesa’s Charter was made without input from organized labor, so it doesn't contain those unsustainable provisions.

Is it malice or something else

Raising unwarranted fears through misleading implications is a well-documented propaganda technique. The question, when we consider malice, lies in the concept of “intending harm.” Do the mailers raise an irrational fear because Big Labor wants to hurt the 3M’s or Costa Mesa? Or does it just want to scare Costa Mesa citizens into voting against the charter to help with its own political fundraising?

Watch out for claims of malice; the most likely reason for Big Labor's fear mongering in Costa Mesa isn’t malice. (Greed comes to mind.) 

It’s harder to decide if the intent is harm -- malice -- when speakers from CM4RG (see 10 Oct Blog) repeatedly lambaste Council Members for having evil intentions. But they could have other motivations than malice, such as wanting attention.

Back to labeling

This leads us to re-visit labeling. A label is applied to put the person into a group, hoping that all the bad attributes of the group will appear to be linked to the person labeled.

Terms like homophobe, racist, Neanderthal, and misogynist are bandied about in a few of the blogs, trying to show the labeled person as a personification of the evils of their label. This is generally untrue and unfair. Like much of the propaganda in our mailboxes, these blog labels are deliberately false and designed to influence opinions through emotion rather than fact and logic.

Three labels, all wrong

As an example, say a man built a den in his house, and called it his “Man Cave.” Then a neighbor started referring to him as a misogynist because of his “Man Cave;” that would be labeling. It indicates that the man hates or dislikes women. It implies that this guy watches pornography and treats women with contempt.

In reality, he may have built his den to have a TV-watching room that kept the sound from annoying his wife and daughters who don’t care for TV sports. But then he, in turn, might speak of that neighbor as “wallowing in misandry – the hatred or dislike of men.”

And, his wife and daughters may be pleased about his concern for their comfort and label him with the term philogynist; having love or fondness for women. So the labels indicate: a man who hates women, the same man who loves women, and a neighbor who hates men. None of the labels is likely to be accurate; like most labeling, the intent is to degrade or denigrate someone.

Racist is a popular label

Right now, racist is a hot-button label, and it’s being used on some blogs to paint political opponents with a broad brush. For Costa Mesa voters, the issue isn't how well the label applies, which is irrelevant, anyway. It’s the truth of the political stand of that person that is important.

If a person is labeled a racist, does his assertion that the Charter offers more benefits than deficiencies become untrue? Or, if a person labeled a homophobe (a hot-button label in the recent past) advocates cutting down the number of parolees released into Costa Mesa, should we assume his rationale is faulty?

Does it even matter

If you read or hear that someone is a homophobe or a misogynist, examine the facts. It may be true, it may not be true. But, does it matter? There’s no need to examine two years of blogs to decide if someone shows a pervasive dislike of homosexuals or women. Just ask two questions: does his political assertion meet the test of being based on facts and logic? And, why is the labeler so upset?

Like flu, it's going around

Labels are shortcuts, much like slogans: it’s best to check the facts. The shortcuts of labeling and broad-brush painting may lead the unwary toward error. Vote the facts not the slogans.

There’s a lot of falsehood going around. After all, it’s election time in Costa Mesa.

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