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Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Dictator behind/in front of the mob

Rhetorical Traps

If you use the arguments of your enemy you risk falling into their rhetorical traps. If you fail to recognize what your enemy is you fall into the same thinking that makes your enemy your enemy. This is because we humans are tricky people who use language in a tricky manner.

Tricky language has so many names we sometimes even claim it is virtuous to use tricky language; sophism, rhetoric, advertizing, psychology all use language to convince people to do the bidding of the speaker and the person paying the speaker. Images like "the mob" or "puppet" can illustrate a reality or they can deceive people. Appeals to emotion convince more surely than appeals to reason.

If other's want to "kill all the lawyers" sometimes I just wish all the marketeers would get a new job. We need to wake up to this reality without being afraid of it. Because fear is a marketing tool too. Marketing is an art based on the science of psychology. And all art plays games with reality. Some games are relatively harmless. But these games are not.

And our enemies are dangerous when they play dangerous games.

Marketing versus Reasoning

The great devious games of the 20th century debates were that they moved from the realm of at least pretended reasoning to marketing power projects. Both left and right tried to craft messages using psychology. They reduced arguments to slogans and pinned the slogans to emotional messages. They deliberately distorted arguments to push their messages or their policies. Karl Marx's laundry list of goals in his "Communist Manifesto" reads like a politicians laundry list of reasonable demands. His movement would bait their political goals with such messages and slogans. In the end most of it proved bait and switch. Their political enemies also advanced reasonable sounding messages, that also were a cover for a more esoteric set of goals and beliefs. In the 20th century ideology became esoteric. That just means the real rationals and ideology became secrets. And the projects that resulted produced ugly fruits.

Reason versus Slogans

Reason is the combination of rationale, stating the goal of the argument; "Do this and This will benefit you in this way" and the use of logic to tie those reasons to the rationale in some causally plausible way. In a rational debate one can examine the connect between goal and rationale and they match. Reason requires people to engage with a message and accept it based on factual arguments. Unfortunately there are ways to short circuit and subvert reason that are easier for advertisers and the power hungry.

Slogans sound like reasons, but often the tie between the reasons, the stated goals and the desired outcome is tenuous. At worst slogans are asking people to do the opposite of their stated reasons. "Right to Work" becomes "Right to Not Work and accept a horribly low wage." "Job Creation", etc... The trouble is that the results are the subversion, degradation and ultimately inversion of the outcomes they claim to support. Many modern Politicians are modern Sophists. I quote Hannah Arendt:

“The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the arguments at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality. In other words, one destroyed the dignity of human thought whereas the others destroy the dignity of human action. The old manipulators of logic were the concern of the philosopher, whereas the modern manipulators of facts stand in the way of the historian. For history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility — based upon the fact that it is enacted by men and therefore can be understood by men — is in danger, whenever facts are no longer held to be part and parcel of the past and present world, and are misused to prove this or that opinion." []"

Of course to combat this we have to use slogans that tie back to reasonable arguments and thus risk becoming our enemies.

Behind the Mob is the dictator

Hannah Arendt talked of the mob. She was very clear about what the mob is. When the Right wing talks about "The Collective" they are using a slogan that evokes the image of the mob. The Right uses the word "collective" to label direct democracy itself. But their arguments are devious (newspeak) because the examples they use are inevitably not dangerous because they are collective behavior but usually because they are mob behavior and manipulated behavior. Mob has two senses of meaning. One is the mass of people moving in the street and maybe lynching and stringing up a victim. The other is the movement behind them. The movement behind a mob tends to be like a mafia or like the Girondists and Jacobins of the French Revolution or the Bolsheviks and Fascists of the 20th Century. There is a movement and minds behind the mob and it's collective behavior reflects the factional aims of the minds directing it.

Behind the mob is a dictator. When collectives have no government or have arbitrary and chaotic government then dictators are usually waiting behind all that movement or being groomed by the movement. A collective is just a gathering of people. What makes it good or evil are the virtues or vices of it's thoughts, words and deeds summed and sometimes multiplied by collective action.

Towards a Virtuous Alternative

Our Modern politics labels people. Virtue is when people do what their role in life sets out as the best path. Vice is when they take advantage of a role or behave "sinfully" or immorally. Sin is when people miss the "mark" set by society (virtue). It's not a scarlet letter unless it becomes a habit or harms others. The viciousness of modern times is that we label people based on claimed vices as if those define them, while at the same time failing to support, enforce, reward or sustain people's virtues individually and often selectively enforcing vices. Our viciousness is to label people instead of deal with their sins on an individual basis. We criminalize illness, our failures and scapegoats, while stealing their power to where people have little real control over the choices and outcomes. But that is a topic for another post, though it is a product of our modern sophism. [The Third Republic Vice and Labels]

We need to use our tools to fashion a functional system rather than focusing on labeling scapegoats (admittedly sometimes for how they are behaving) as vicious felons. Our current failures are a result of mislabeling people and problems and self serving arguments. And as humans we are all at risk of those. The first step is rejecting nonsense arguments like "the collective versus ??? non existent (mythical) rugged individual???" for ones that focus on better outcomes.[See Locke/Collective]

Further Reading

Bob Altemeyer is a name suggested to me because of his book on authoritarianism. I didn't cite him in this post, but I'll be reading him to get more depth on the subject.
I've continued digging into these theories in the following posts:
Understanding Social Dominance Theory
Authoritarians and Totalitarians

Sources & related Articles:

Be the Change you want to see, Hannah Arendt & origins of Totalitarianism
Modern Sophists
Totalitarianism, Socialism and Capitalism
Hannah Arendt, Scam and Snafu
The Third Republic, vice and labels
Off Topic more or less and esoteric
Review of Truthdig's last interview of Hannah Arendt:

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