Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Wholly Unsatisfactory Response to John Wright's "Parable of the Messengers"

I've been reading through John C. Wright's A Universal Apologia for the Catholic Church. It's good.

Now Mr. Wright is not my favorite author, but One Bright Star to Guide Them may be my favorite novella. For any fan of Lewis and MacDonald, it's an absolute feast. My only complaint is that it is not a ten-book cycle.

Unlike Mr. Wright, I was born into a church and believed in the teachings of Christianity from a very young age. Indeed, I have never had any doubts in the existence of God or the truth of the Bible. This, in fact, is what caused me to hate God for a portion of my life.

You see, I attended a Christian school which railed against the usual litany of movies, rock and roll, and indeed Science Fiction. Being unable to find any evidence in the Bible that these things were sinful, I realized with a shock that men in pulpits were lying about God. Worse, they were doing so without being struck down by bolts of thunder.

For some reason, I transferred my hatred of these men to a hatred of the God who did not turn them into pillars of salt for their lies. Later on I was reconciled to God by the mercy of God, but that time of my life has left scars that will perhaps only be healed after this life (other-inflicted and self-inflicted.

At any rate, I have much respect for Mr. Wright's logical thought and intellectual consistency, despite the very different origins of his faith. However, while his Parable of the Messengers is absolutely correct from the Catholic perspective, it misrepresents the Protestant perspective.

I am not speaking of those who believe in a secret line of Southern Baptists stretching back to the apostles or anything of that sort. As Protestant and Protestant-descended denominations abound, there are certain to be ten thousand different versions of why the Church of Rome is a Den of Vipers. I am aiming for the mean, not to cover every single lizard-man conspiracy theory.

At any rate, here is a Protestant Reform of the Parable of the Messengers:

From league 0 to 300, we Protestants have no essential dispute with Mr. Wright's account.

We do need some additional clarification at the 300-400 league mark. At this point, there is already a general consensus among the messengers as to which written orders are legitimate, with a chain of documentation leading back to the followers of the Twelve General Officers (Matthias, Mr. Wright). There are essentially four groups of written orders in circulation:

1). Those which almost all messengers recognize as valid
2). Those which most messengers recognize, but a few dispute
3). Those which a few recognize, but most dispute
4). Those which almost no messengers consider valid

After debating the merits of the written orders in the second and third categories (the first are beyond dispute, the fourth are beyond salvage), the messengers settle on a list comprised of orders from the first and second categories (some of the second category orders are excluded).

In other words, the written orders were chosen in recognition of the fact that they were recognized as legitimate by the overwhelming majority of messengers. The sheep, as it were, recognized the voice of the Shepherd. And indeed, most of the orders in the third and fourth category contained teachings that flatly contradicted the teachings of the first two categories.

There is no mystery over why some orders were considered valid, understood only by the messengers. They were guided by that Holy Spirit which guides this army but also by the plain evidence of the written orders. A written order that claims the King is evil and must be rebelled against may be rejected out of hand.

We also have no essential dispute between 400-1000 leagues.

Around the 1000 league mark, something strange began happening in the camp. Little by little, the messengers started refusing direct access to the written orders. This, they said, was to strengthen the chain of command and keep unqualified messengers from misrepresenting the written orders.

And indeed, there had been problems with disagreements and divisions in the camp, It was deemed a wise precaution. All existing copies of the original orders were locked away and replaced by a secret, unbreakable code understood only by the messengers.

For the next 500 leagues, no one but the messengers were permitted to hear or read the original written orders. It was taken on good faith that the words of the trusted messengers were in line with the written orders.

During this stretch of the road, the messengers took from the war chest vast quantities of food and treasure for themselves, assuring the foot soldiers that this was in line with the written orders. They used these funds to build lavish buildings and fill them with works of art, and to fill their bedchambers with wine, gems, and whores.

They also introduced many new orders which the common soldiers had never heard before. Again, the soldiers were assured that these new orders were perfectly in line with the written orders. And because the messengers had been well trusted in the past, the soldiers were content to believe them.

Now around the 1500th league, a young man was raised up to the position of messenger and taught how to read the secret code. To his shock, he found that many of the orders of the messengers were in plain contradiction to the written orders. There was indeed no reconciliation possible between the spoken orders and the written orders.

Then he turned his eyes to his fellow messengers, and saw that their lives were also in complete opposition to the written orders. They fraternized with the enemy, raped and pillaged the innocents of the countryside, and unjustly looted supplies that belonged to their subordinates. Indeed, the army had become less of a fighting force and more of a carnival of indulgence run on behalf of the messengers and their lackeys.

This young messenger was torn. On one hand, he fully believed in the mission of the army, the greatness of the King, and the authority of its true commander. On the other hand, the written orders clearly showed him that the highest messengers were liars and opportunists in open rebellion against the written orders.

A war broke out within the camp, much bloodier and more vicious for being a civil war. When previous messengers had split away, they had taken their soldiers with them to other battlefields, preventing most bloodletting. But this young messenger was not content to leave the camp, and the other messengers would not have been content to let him escape alive.

For the young messenger had done the unthinkable and the unforgivable: he had broken the secret code and began distributing copies of the written orders in language the soldiers could understand. Any man with eyes could see that the high messengers were liars, and taught things in most obvious contradiction to the written orders.

So they called themselves "Loyalists," for they desired to be loyal to the King, High Commander, and written orders in the face of wicked and corrupt messengers.

Sadly, they were not in agreement on all points of the meaning of the written orders. Fearful of again being led astray by false messengers, they fell to fighting among themselves as well. The war was long and many friends and brothers slew each other.

As a result of the war, the high messengers instituted a series of reforms to curb the old excesses. They decoded the written orders and allowed all soldiers to read them in a language they understood. But the damage could not be undone.

The Loyalists would never again trust the orders of the camp. How could they? For five hundred leagues, the army had been turned from its mission by the messengers. The messengers had conspired together to suppress the written orders and then profited by lying about their contents.

The messengers of the camp have a few arguments against the Loyalists:

1). The excesses of the messengers have been exaggerated
2). The excesses of the messengers that led to the rebellion have all been reformed
3). The so-called "loyalists" do not agree on the meeting of the written orders
4). The so-called "loyalists" cannot explain why the written orders should be trusted
5). The so-called "loyalists" do not have an unbroken chain of command stretching back to the King

To this, the Loyalists respond:
1). Perhaps we were slightly less betrayed than has sometimes been claimed. What of it? The conspiracy to deny us access to the written orders cannot be denied, nor can the betrayal of the written orders. Who in their right mind would trust a liar and a traitor twice?
2). Perhaps the messengers of the camp have truly reformed. What of it? They still claim the same authority as before, the same authority than once almost snuffed out the written orders from the minds of men. The authority to make the written orders say the opposite of their plain meaning exists in the hands of liars and traitors.
3). This is true and cannot be denied. But honest disagreement is better than blind obedience to traitors and liars. It was not us who breached trust with the messengers, but the messengers themselves.
4). Bupkis! We know there is a King, and a High Commander. We know the history of our army. There are written orders which have always been considered legitimate, and we reject any that disagree with these. It was on the basis of this universal agreement that some written orders were declared authentic; that reason remains.
5). The so-called "true army" has nothing but a chain of liars, thieves, conspirators, tyrants, tricksters, sorcerers, and unrepentant whore-mongers. You claim as your pride the wicked men who lied to us, betrayed us, stole our wealth, and kept us in bondage. And you may keep them.
This, at least, is the story as it has come to me. To ask a Protestant to accept the authority of the Roman Church is to ask him to accept his ancestor's slave masters. I will not say that the Romans have no argument, only that wise men do not trust those who have betrayed them once already.

It did not take very many evil men to turn the Roman Church to evil the first time. It will not take very many the second time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Interesting Bits: "Propoganda" by Edward Bernays

I've been recently perusing Edward Bernays' 1928 classic, Propaganda. The book is considered by many to be the foundational text of Public Relations and indeed much of Marketing.

It's a fascinating text for many reasons, not the least of which is that it comes from a time when society was still coming to terms with mass markets and globalism. It provides a look into the birth of mass communication controlled by a handful of men - for we who live in the death of that system. It is easy to lose sight of just how defenseless the masses once were to official ideologies and party lines in this age of social media.

At any rate, here are a few excerpts for your perusal. If these book bits interest you, here's a link for the Kindle version.

"Not many years ago, it was only necessary to tag a political candidate with the word interests to stampede millions of people into voting against him, because anything associated with “the interests” seemed necessary corrupt. Recently the word Bolshevik has performed a similar service for persons who wished to frighten the public away from a line of action."
The more things change, eh? The only parts that we would update for the 2016 edition would be "interests" to "special interests" and "Bolshevik" to "Socialist" or "Racist." Frankly, the most surprising part is that Bernays implies that there was a window where these tricks didn't work!

"While the concrete recommendations of the public relations counsel may vary infinitely according to individual circumstances, his general plan of work may be reduced to two types, which I might term continuous interpretation and dramatization by high-spotting. The two may be alternative or may be pursued concurrently."
"Continuous interpretation" refers to the process of subtly molding the public image of a product or policy in a favorable fashion, whereas "Dramatization by high-spotting" refers to special events to bring a product or policy into the public imagination. For example, Continuous Interpretation would be subtly drawing public attention to the benefits of toothpaste by funding/spreading research on tooth decay and Dramatization would be a highly publicized tooth-brushing competition ("The World Series of Tooth Brushing!!!").

"The only propaganda which will ever tend to weaken itself as the world becomes more sophisticated and intelligent, is propaganda that is untrue or unsocial."
It is unclear to the extent Bernays actually believed this, but it seems to have held up, particularly the untrue. Blatantly untrue propaganda requires more upkeep and suppression of free speech to succeed.

The Big Lie is effective in the short term, but not in the long term.

"Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses."
Sound familiar? Bernays was an instrumental advocate of Democracy From Above. In his mind, there is a natural oligarchy made up of the people who drive public opinion - people like himself. The interest in this book is not only in the techniques of propaganda, but the mindset of social engineers.

"[Women] can justifiably take the credit for much welfare legislation. The eight-hour day is theirs. Undoubtedly prohibition and its enforcement are theirs, if they can be considered an accomplishment. So is the Shepard-Towner Bill which stipulates support by the central government of maternity welfare in the state governments. This bill would not have passed had it not been for the political prescience and sagacity of women like Mrs. Vanderlip and Mrs. Mitchell."

I have been somewhat suspicious of claims that extending the vote to women caused the growth of the welfare state, but here is Bernays trumpeting the accomplishment. This is merely one more point of data - but one wonders if a perusal of more old books on the subject would turn up more triumphal announcements of the role of women in creating the Nanny State.

"As an example of this new technique: Some years ago, the Consumer’s Committee of Women, fighting the “American valuation” tariff, rented an empty store on Fifty-Seventh Street in New York and set up and exhibit of merchandise tagging each item with the current price and the price it would cost if the tariff went through. Hundreds of visitors to this ship rallied to the cause of the committee."

Women vs. Tariffs. Quite interesting given the recent reemergence of the tariff topic.

"Yet if this is the case— if the university shapes its whole policy toward gaining the support of the state legislature— its educational function may suffer. It may be tempted to base its whole appeal to the public on its public service, real or supposed, and permit the education of its individual students to take care of itself. It may attempt to educate the people of the state at the expense of its own pupils. This may generate a number of evils, to the extent of making the university a political instrument, a mere tool of the political group in power."
Can there be any doubt that Bernays' fears proven true? The university system is nothing if not a political instrument, and it is due to public funding.

This section is the crux of the whole book, and unfortunately Bernays himself did not seem to realize it. The marriage of propaganda, oligarchy, and politics repeats over and over in the following chapters, but the university is the only place Bernays sees any potential problems.

"In such a case, it is not the work of the public relations counsel to urge that the courses be made better known, but to urge that they first be modified to conform to the impression which the college wishes to create, where that is compatible with the university’s scholastic ideas."
If the SJW has one true skill, it is in convincing institutions that they are the public opinion to which institutions must appeals. Bernays' naivety in thinking universities will maintain their scholastic ideas is adorable.

"And since social service, by its very nature, can continue only by means of the voluntary support of the wealthy, it is obliged to use propaganda continually. The leaders in social service were among the first consciously to utilize propaganda in its modern sense."
Interesting to see where propaganda first took root.

"The great enemy of any attempt to change men’s habits is inertia. Civilization is limited by inertia."
Oh Bernays, you stupid fuck.

"Today the privilege of attempting to sway public opinion is everyone’s. It is one of the manifestations of democracy that any one may try to convince others and to assume leadership on behalf of his own thesis."
True, but Bernays actively sought to undermine this by putting control of public opinion in the hands of a few unelected puppet masters. Social media really is a miracle by the grace of God.

"When art galleries seek to launch the canvases of an artist they should create public acceptance for his works. To increase public appreciation a deliberate propagandizing effort must be made."
The fine arts are as susceptible to market pressures as anything else.

"Propaganda can play a part in pointing out what is and what is not beautiful, and business can definitely help in this way to raise the level of American culture."

Can, sure can. Didn't, sure didn't. The same political pressures Bernays predicted on the university affect the museum as well (more often than not, directly through the university).

"A piano manufacturer recently engaged artists to design modernist pianos. This was not done because there existed a widespread demand for modernist pianos. Indeed, the manufacturer probably expected to sell few. But in order to draw attention to pianos one must have something more than a piano. People at tea parties will not talk about pianos; but they may talk about the new modernist piano."
Not everything Bernays says infuriates me. This is actually very clever and explains a lot about loss leaders.

"A recent annual report of an art museum in one of the large cities of the United States, says: “An underlying characteristic of an art Museum like ours must be its attitude of conservatism, for after all its first duty is to treasure the great achievements of men in the arts and sciences.” Is that true? Is not another important duty to interpret the models of beauty which it possesses? If the duty of the museum is to be active it must study how best to make its message intelligible to the community which it serves. It must bodily assume aethetic leadership."
And we're back to fury. Nothing Bernays says is technically untrue - it would be great if museums had a leading role in raising aesthetic standards in the community. The issue is that the marriage of political oligarchy and propaganda in the arts has had the opposite effect: the uglification of culture.

"There is no means of human communication which may not also be a means of deliberate propaganda, because propaganda is simply the establishing of reciprocal understanding between an individual and a group."
And people wonder why I'm paranoid.

"It was not many years ago that newspaper editors resented what they called “the use of the news columns for propaganda purposes.” Some editors would even kill a good story if they imagined its publication might benefit anyone."
Can we go back to this? Please? Pretty please?

"In the New York Times— to take an outstanding example— news is printed because of its news value and for no other reason. The Times editors determine with complete independence what is and what is not news. They brook no censorship. They are not influenced by any external pressure nor swayed by any values of expediency or opportunism."
Lol, New York Times was an pillar of journalistic integrity.

"If the public relations counsel can breathe the breath of life into an idea and make it take its place among other ideas and events, will receive the public attention it merits. There can be no question of his “contaminating news at its source.” He creates some of the day’s events, which must compete in the editorial office with other events. Often the events which he creates may be specially acceptable to a newspaper’s public and he may create them with that public in mind."
False flags, paid demonstrations, and fake outrages are extremely effective in creating propagandistic news. And I love the way that he hand-waves the charge of "contaminating news at its source" by immediately jumping into "creating some of the day's events," which is the very definition of contaminating news at its source.

"Large groups, political, racial, sectarian, economic or professional, are tending to control [radio] stations to propagandize their points of view."
As depressing as reading what we've lost in newspaper ethics is, it pales in how compromised other media sources have been since their beginning.

"The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because pictures are made to meet market demands, they reflect, emphasize and even exaggerate broad popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. The motion picture avails itself only of ideas and facts which are in vogue. As the newspaper seeks to purvey news, it seeks to purvey entertainment."
Bernays underestimates the ability of movies to create new ideas and opinions, but absolutely nails its role as the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda and its reliance on the vogue. But once you become the source of vogue information, you become the voice of what is vogue. That's when you can start introducing new ideas/fashions/messages.

"Yet the vivid dramatization of personality will always remain one of the functions of the public relations counsel. The public instinctively demands a personality to typify a conspicuous corporation or enterprise."
Older than print: “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

"Undoubtedly the public is becoming aware of the methods which are being used to mold its opinions and habits. If the public is better informed about the processes of its life, it will be so much the more receptive to reasonable appeals to its own interests."
You have to love Bernays' optimism here. Maybe it would have worked out better if the propagandists had more (any) concern for our interests, and less for oligarchical control over our lives.

"Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos."
Ordo ab chao; indeed, Novus ordo seclorum ab chao . But Bernays is correct. The propagandist will always be with us, and it behooves us to use his arts wisely. Shedding light on these techniques is the first step to building defenses against their misuse.

It is for this reason that I highly recommend Bernays' book. Whether the propagandist is your idol or your enemy, it can only benefit you to learn his tricks.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Dread Ilk Reads

Shout out for The Dread Ilk Reads, a book discussion group reading Aristotle's Rhetoric. I've been interested in the topic since reading Vox's excellent discussion of it in SJWs Always Lie and diving into it deeper is a great opportunity.

Here's a link for a free version of W. Rhys Roberts' translation, which I've found quite clear and readable. Any translation is fine for the reading group, but this one is quite easy on the eyes and brain.

I've been using this Kindle version ($0.99) since I like to read across a number of different devices. Many classics end up poorly formatted and typo-ridden on Kindle; this version is mercifully free of defects.

Here's looking forward to fruitful discussion!