A reader whom I respect has hurled his gauntlet at me. Allow me to show that respect by answering at length, and answer every point seriatem:
In reference to my post here Joetxxx says
I understand, and, indeed, even respect your position, but I cannot back down from mine. Your entire argument pivots on giving the word “propaganda” the most invidious possible connotation.
This is a misstatement of the argument. Even if the word “propaganda” is taken in its less deceptive connotation, to mean merely the propagation of a partisan point of view, disguising propaganda as journalism, which by its nature professes to be objective, is a deception.
Hence, opinion journalism on the opinion page can be honest propaganda, but when placed on the news pages, the same omissions and slants when directed to the purpose not of informing the readers but of propagating to them without their conscious knowledge a doctrine become a species of deception.
My argument does not pivot on this point.
You also make an absolute opposition between ‘propaganda’ and ‘persuasive speech’ which I find – unpersuasive.
Your use of the word “absolute” here is itself unpersuasive. Even if the distinction I make is clearer in some situations than others, or exists in some as opposed to others, the point of the argument is my objection to persuasive rhetoric being disguised as journalism. No one, I assume, except a philosopher objects to watching an advertisement which advertises itself to be an advertisement.
That same advertisement when presented by a trusted speaker to be an honest and objective truth, when in fact it is the sophistry, imagery, and decorated rhetoric of a partisan trying to sell his master’s product with no concern for truth, that becomes propaganda. At that point the opprobrium with which the word is vested becomes fair.
I am not proposing an absolute distinction between the two, merely a distinction: I am objecting to the terms being used interchangibly.
(quoting Wikipedia) While the term propaganda has justifiably acquired a strongly negative connotation … propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous…
As I said, the word originally meant anything that propagates a doctrine. Certainly there can be benign uses of indoctrination and instruction. That is irrelevant to the discussion here.
Even when the term is used in its benign meaning, indoctrination becomes deception when it passes itself off as objective news reporting.
I can see that I do not disagree with the title of your post: it is true that not all propositions are propaganda; one may affirm a proposition simply to bear witness to the truth. One may even do so without caring at all whether one’s affirmation leads others to embrace the truth or not.
I am glad we agree on this point. Perhaps with this as a starting point we can identify the ramifications of our disagreement, or at least find the point at which we disagree.
Why, seriously, do you make this distinction, nay, complete opposition, to exhibiting the truth, and influencing the thoughts and feelings of others?
I don’t understand the question. I quoted from the smarmy youth who thought himself able to father his own father, and instruct his conservative parents in the ways of the world.
His axiom, which he kindly put at the beginning of his screed, was that all journalism was art, and all art was propaganda, which he defined in the words you quoted (1) an attempt to exhibit the truth and (2) an attempt to influence the thoughts and feelings of others.
My contention is the purpose of persuasive writing is to influence the thoughts and feelings of others. If done without their awareness or consent, or under false colors or false pretenses, this is deception, the very opposite of exhibiting the truth.
I do not maintain that the truth cannot be ornamented with rhetoric. That is no part of this argument. We are not discussing the nature of the words being used, whether partisan speech or nonpartisan speech; we are discussing the nature of the speaker’s goals. We are discussing the final cause or purpose for which he speaks.
The smarmy youth was attempting to invalidate any discussion of motives, any distinction between honest and dishonest use of words, by defining the words themselves as innately nonobjective, and hence impossible to be used in a nonpartisan fashion, in order to forestall, without addressing, any criticism of the use of words in a nonhonest fashion.
Do you see the distinction I am drawing? The smarmster is talking about the words in and of themselves, in order to deny the objectivity of any word-use. I am talking about the difference between (1) objective nonpartisan speech (2) honest but partisan speech (3) dishonest speech.
When he speaks of “exhibiting the truth” and “influencing the thoughts and feelings” he seems to be talking about nonpartisan speech and honest but partisan speech; but in reality is denying the possibility of the first. For him it is an empty set. And he is conflating the second and third, in order to excuse the third.
While the word “propaganda” has been used before World War Two to mean persuasive speech meant to propagate a doctrine, since that time the common use was to mean deceptive speech, practiced on those who are unaware that they are the targets of persuasion.
Philosophy and religion have always known that it is as important to train the sentiments and emotions as it is to convince the intellect.
True, but irrelevant. We are not discussing a teacher honestly indoctrinating a child, or even a reader willingly letting himself be swayed by a poet or an advertisement. We are discussing the use of journalism as a tool of partisan propaganda, without honesty, and without willingness.
I never disputed nor denied that the passions must be trained in order to train the appetites and that the reason must govern the passions, and that in all this the sentiments of man must be addressed. Indeed, I have argued forcefully against the opposite error, that man by his reason alone can create his reality or his human nature for himself. I am not denying the usefulness or beauty of poetry or persuasive writing.
I am denying that all propositions are written for the sake of influencing other men rather than for the sake of the truth, and I am denying that all attempts to influence are equally dishonest, hence equally above criticism.
You have always identified yourself as a Stoic; I see now in how deep a sense that is true. I will not hesitate, sir, in Chesterton’s phrase, to salute a passion so implacable and so pure; let the truth be told, though the heavens fall.
Since I cannot imagine any honest man acting any other way, I am not sure for what you salute me. Please do not salute my honesty since this is a minimal precondition for being a human being at all, rather than a human-shaped animal. I agree with Chesterton as I do in all things save his economic musings: I do not see what advantage having the heavens erected above me would be were I not honest, or the world not honest.
An honest man would not tell a lie except perhaps to avert a grave and lasting evil; but a philosopher would not tell a lie to save his life. Socrates was clever enough with words to have talking himself out of prison. But he preferred death to treason against the truth.
Perhaps you begin to understand my contempt for a man who makes comments he knows to be false merely to appear in his own mind not to be at a loss for words in an argument when he has nothing else to say. Such a man (and longtime readers will know to whom I refer) tells lies merely to save himself from the theoretical embarrassment before a random stranger.
But do you not see how an absolutist concern for truth in the Stoic sense rules out any concern for those to whom the truth is addressed?
You use the word “absolutist” and you use the euphemism “concern” and you introduce in the discussion a fact not in evidence. This is the informal logical error of a false dichotomy. You are in effect that if I draw a distinction between honest persuasive speech and propaganda, that I am dismissing any attempt to use the ornamentation of rhetoric to gladden the ears of my hearers.
Obviously I do not think that: I am a poet, or, at least, a novelist. I also write opinion pieces and editorials. Indeed, most the output here on my journal is editorializing, which is rhetoric and exhortation by its very nature.
I am not objecting to honest persuasive writing. (And if I were, it would be a paradox, for how could I persuade you to accept my conclusions as your own unless I persuaded you?)
I am objecting to using the axiom that all writing is persuasive (it is not) to support that conclusion that all persuasion is propaganda in the deceptive sense of the word (it is not, and, even if it were, that conclusion does not follow from that premise.)
All Christian evangelism and witness is meant to persuade and influence…This is propaganda, in the strict sense ….
Agreed, but this is not the sense of the word being used here.
A pagan Stoic may affirm the truth, not caring if his hearer rejects or misunderstands it…
More accurately, please say that the Stoic knows he cannot control what is beyond his control. The judgments and consent of other men are beyond his control. If you lay the truth before another man, it is within your control whether you do so carefully and clearly, and it is within your control whether you correct errors in logic once pointed out to you. But once you have pointed out an error to your brother, and he will not heed you, his consent is not within your control, and so if he withholds it, you are not to blame. Your duty is done.
…. The Christian has no such luxury; St. Paul did not desire power over other men but he most certainly meant to influence them.
Again, this is a false dichotomy. Your distinction between the Stoic and Christian makes sense if and only if we assume here that rhetoric, ornamental speech, deception and sophistry influences men but that truth and true examples do not. The reality is that both truth and lies influence men to some degree, but that lies are condemned both by Stoics and Christians NOT because lying is useless (obviously it is very useful), but because it is morally wrong.
As with all things, you cannot achieve what you desire by seeking it, but only by seeking something higher. Aim at telling the truth, and whether or not your words are fair and ear-pleasing, you will find them influencing the kind of men you want to influence. But aim at influencing men, mixing truth and lies as need demands, and you will find yourself influencing only the gullible and stupid, men you do not want to influence.
Again you may wish to argue that the modern connotation of propaganda is now so pervasive that one may no longer legitimately use it in a neutral or positive sense.
Such a stance is not necessary for my argument. Merely semantic disputes do not concern me: I hold them in contempt. If you wish, you can run my argument through a search-and-replace tool, and change everywhere I use the term “propaganda” with the term “dishonest propaganda” and you may replace everywhere I use the term “persuasive writing” with the term “honest or neutral propaganda.” Or, if you like, you can replace the terms with X and Y or any arbitrary label you wish. It will not change the argument.
But I believe that my use of the term is entirely defensible, on historical grounds and even on the grounds of commonly accepted usage.
This is not a point in dispute in the argument.
You have caused me to think very seriously about this issue. In particular, I realize how often I have made arguments to sound clever, or test out my writing or argumentative skills, rather than simply affirm the truth as I saw it.
I am pleased that I have influenced you in this regard, though obviously that could not have been my intent. Not knowing you, was not criticizing your attempt to use arguments to sound clever, or et cetera. I was criticizing the smarmy youth’s argument that since all news reporting, and indeed all human speech, was partisan, therefore no ground exists to object to deception practiced by journalists.
I do not think I sinned in this manner in the present argument; I stand by what I said.
Well, then stand by it. Where have I been unjust to the smarmy youth who thinks to correct his parents? Does he retract or modify his axiom later on in his article? If so, indeed I do him the injustice of not heeding his full argument, or, if I may smirk, I do him the injustice of assuming he actually meant what he said in the paragraph quoted, and that his conclusions are those that follow logically from it.
But I wish, sincerely, that could exemplify you passion for truth more fully. It is, by far, the most impressive thing about you.
No, the most impressive thing about me is the size of my belly.
If you are claiming here that I am not exemplifying a passion for truth in some particular where I have been untruthful, please justify the claim, or retract it. Were I sensitive, I might take exception about being called a liar when I am discussing with you the smarmy youth who calls me a liar because he calls all journalists liars and all mankind liars.
I am not sensitive in this case because I think you are making an error, not attempting to upbraid me. If you are like most men of this generation (and I make no assumption where you are or not) then like them, you have taken in the doctrine of the subjectivists with your mother’s milk, and make assumptions that the nature of reality is such that we never have true knowledge of it, etc., and therefore with them you semi-unknowingly repeat the bromides of the modern age designed to excuse untruthfulness without pausing to ponder the logical implications of those bromides.
I am not in sympathy with the bromides of the modern age. I do not think Socrates would agree that all human speech is art and that all art is an attempt to manipulate other men’s minds, and that since lying by journalists is also an attempt to manipulate other men’s minds, therefore it is no more blameworthy that all human speech. I do not think the man who coined the term PHILOSOPHER, lover of truth, would agree that all truth is mere opinion, and that all methods of spreading opinion, honest and dishonest, are valid and blameless.
If I have to choose between the ignorant mob and the doomed Socrates, I say that the mob has already drunk the hemlock they intend for the philosopher, the hemlock of a smug and lazy lie which even now is robbing their heavy limbs of motion, and soon will reach their heart.
This hemlock is hatred of philosophy. The dominant philosophy of the modern age is a deconstruction of, or, to be blunt, a hatred of love of truth. Modern ethics is relativism, the denial that ethics exists; modern aesthetics is subjectivity, the denial that beauty exists; modern logic is polylogism, the denial the man of different races, classes and backgrounds can reason together; modern ontology is materialism, the denial that thoughts (including thoughts about ontology) exist; modern epistemology is empiricism (a theory which by definition can enjoy no empirical support); modern metaphysics is nihilism, the belief that the truth is a formless void on which the human will writes whatever it wills. Modernism hence denies and deconstructs philosophy at every point. And modern theology is a muddy atheism lacking even the fire and dignity of Nietzsche or Celsus.
The poison is all these fields is that, once one accepts the modern axiom, all reasoning and all conversation and all investigation perforce must stop. If everything is mere opinion, or mere taste, or merely ideological rationalization for self interest, or mere arbitrary will, then everything is nothing. The poison kills the host.
Excusing the dishonesty of journalists, men paid to be honest, is merely a symptom of the poison.