Tuesday, March 19, 2013 25 Comments

Jacques Ellul on the demand for propaganda

Usually I only post excerpts of very good books or very bad ones.  Jacques Ellul's Propaganda (1962) is neither - it is a pretty good book.  It's dated in many ways and has many of the faults of the postwar French intellectual. 

Nonetheless, Ellul lived and observed in Vichy France, a great laboratory of this black art in which fascist and communist propagandas of every conceivable flavor competed, interacted, and interbred.  Here, for instance, is a great summation of the 20th-century achievement in the form:
The idea that propaganda consists of lies (which makes it harmless and even a little ridiculous in the eyes of the public) is still maintained by some specialists; for example, Frederick C. Irion gives it as the basic trait in his definition of propaganda.  But it is certainly not so.  For a long time propagandists have recognized that lying must be avoided.  "In propaganda, truth pays off" -- this formula has been increasingly accepted.  Lenin proclaimed it.  And alongside Hitler's statement on lying one must place Goebbels' insistence that facts to be disseminated must be accurate.(*)

How can we explain this contradiction?  It seems that in propaganda we must make a radical distinction between a fact on the one hand and intentions or interpretations on the other; in brief, between the material and moral elements.  The truth that pays off is in the realm of facts.  The necessary falsehoods, which also pay off, are in the realm of intentions and interpretations.
This is Propaganda 101.  The footnote is also interesting:
* - This idea is now generally accepted.  In the United States it is the Number One rule in propaganda manuals, except for unbelievable and harmful truths, about which it is better to remain silent.  SHAEF said in its manual: "When there is no compelling reason to suppress a fact, tell it... Aside from considerations of military security, the only reason to suppress a piece of news is if it is unbelievable... When the listener catches you in a lie, your power diminishes... For this reason, never tell a lie which can be discovered." 

As far back as 1940 the American psychological services already had orders to tell the truth; in carrying them out, for example, they distributed the same newspapers to American and German soldiers.  In the Communist bloc we find exactly the same attitude: Mao has always been very careful to state the facts exactly, including bad news.  On the basis of Lenin's general theory of information, it is incorrect that the dissemination of false news does not create problems.  French propagandists also have discovered that truthfulness is effective, and that it is better to spread a piece of bad news oneself than to wait until it is revealed by others.

There remains the problem of Goebbels' reputation.  He wore the title of Big Liar (bestowed by Anglo-Saxon propaganda) and yet he never stopped battling for propaganda to be as accurate as possible.  He preferred being cynical and brutal to being caught in a lie.  He used to say: "Everybody must know what the situation is."  He was always the first to announce disastrous events or difficult situations, without hiding anything.

The result was a general belief, between 1939 and 1942, that German communiques were not only more concise, clearer, and less cluttered, but were more truthful than Allied communiques (American and neutral opinion) -- and, furthermore, that the Germans published all the news two or three days before the Allies.  All this is so true that pinning the title of Big Liar on Goebbels must be considered quite a propaganda success.
See, you've already learned something today! (And it can't be repeated too often that when Hitler talks about the "Big Lie," he is accusing his enemies rather than revealing his plans - not, of course, that his own propaganda is anything but propaganda.)

The core of Ellul's work is his explanation of why both the State and the People need propaganda.  The former is a straightforward matter we've considered many times here at UR:
Ergo: even in a democracy, a government that is honest, serious, benevolent, and respects the voter cannot follow public opinion.  But it cannot escape it either.  The masses are there; they are interested in politics.  The government cannot act without them.  So, what can it do?

Only one solution is possible: as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government.  One must convince this present, ponderous, impassioned mass that the government's decisions are legitimate and good and that its foreign policy is correct.  The democratic state, precisely because it believes in the expression of public opinion and does not gag it, must channel and shape that opinion if it wants to be realistic and not follow an ideological dream.
The most benevolent State will inform the people of what it does.  For the government to explain how it acts, why it acts, and what the problems are, makes sense; but when dispensing such information, the government cannot remain coldly objective; it must plead its case, inevitably, if only to counteract opposing propaganda.  [...]  And because pure and simple information cannot prevail against modern propaganda techniques, the government, too, must act through propaganda.
The American writer Bradford Westerfield has said: "In the United States, the government almost always conducts its foreign policy on its own initiative, but where the public is interested in a particular question, it can only proceed with the apparent support of a substantial majority of the people."  Westerfield stresses that at times concessions must be made to the people, but "if the President really directs opinion, and if the public accepts the foreign policy of the government as a whole, no great concessions will have to be made to elicit the necessary support."  Here we find confirmation that any modern State, even a democratic one, is burdened with the task of acting through propaganda.  It cannot act otherwise.

In 1957, when the Soviet people were called upon to study and discuss Khrushchev's Theses on Economic Reorganization, we witnessed a truly remarkable operation.  The underlying theme of it all was, of course, that everything is being decided by the people.  How can the people then not be in agreement afterward?  How can they fail to comply completely with what they have decided in the first place?

The Theses were submitted to the people first.  Naturally, they were then explained in all the Party organizations, in the Komsomols, in the unions, in the local soviets, in the factories, and so on, by agitprop specialists.  Then the discussions took place.  Next, Pravda opened its columns to the public, and numerous citizens sent in comments, expressed their views, suggested amendments.  After that, what happened?  The entire government program, without the slightest modification, was passed by the Supreme Soviet.
When Fidel Castro wanted to show that his power was based on democratic sentiment, he organized the Day of Justice, during which the whole population was called upon to sit in judgment of the past regime, and to express its sentiments upon massive demonstrations. These demonstrations were meant to "legalize" the death sentences handed down by the State courts and thus give a "democratic sanction" to the judgments. In doing this, Castro won the people's profound allegiance by satisfying the need for revenge against the former regime and the thirst for blood. He tied the people to the government by the strongest of bonds: the ritual crime. That Day of Justice (January 21, 1959) was undoubtedly a great propagandistic discovery. If it caused Castro some embarrassment abroad, it certainly was a great success at home. It should be noted that such provocation of popular action always serves to support governmental action. It is in no way spontaneous, and in no way expresses an intrinsic desire of the people: it merely expresses through a million throats of the crowd, the cry of governmental propaganda.

Second - and this is a subtler process -- governmental propaganda suggests that public opinion demand this or that decision; it provokes the will of the people, who spontaneously would say nothing. But, once evoked, formed, and crystallized on a point, that will becomes the people's will; and whereas the government really acts on its own, it gives the impression of obeying public opinion -- after first having built the public opinion. The point is to make the masses demand of the government what the government has already decided to do. If it follows this procedure, the government can no longer be called authoritarian, because the will of the people demands what is being done. In this fashion, when the German public opinion unanimously demanded the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the German government had no choice but to invade that country in obedience to the people. It yielded to opinion as soon as opinion -- through propaganda -- had become strong enough to appear to influence the government.
Yeah, yeah.  We know all this - I hope.  But the People need their propaganda too:
A common view of propaganda is that it is the work of a few evil men, seducers of the people, cheats and authoritarian rulers who want to dominate a population; that it is the handmaiden of more or less illegitimate powers.  This view always thinks of propaganda as being made voluntarily; it assumes that a man decides "to make propaganda," that a government establishes a Propaganda Ministry, and that things just develop from there.  According to this view, the public is just an object, a passive crowd that one can manipulate, influence, and use.  And this notion is held not only by those who think one can manipulate the crowd, but also by those who think propaganda is not very effective and can be resisted easily.

In other words, this view distinguishes between an active factor -- the propagandist -- and a passive factor -- the crowd, the mass man.  Seen from that angle, it is easy to understand the moralist's hostility to propaganda: man is the innocent victim pushed into evil ways by the propagandist; the propagandee is entirely without blame because he has been fooled and has fallen into a trap.  The militant Nazi and Communist are just poor victims who must not be fought but must be psychologically liberated from that trap, readapted to freedom, and shown the truth.  In any case, the propagandee is seen in the role of the poor devil who cannot help himself, who has no means of defense against the bird of prey who swoops down on him from the skies.  A similar point of view can be found in studies on advertising which regard the buyer as victim and prey.  In all this the propagandee is never charged with the slightest responsibility for a phenomenon regarded as originating entirely outside of himself.

This view seems to me completely wrong.
For propaganda to succeed, it must correspond to a need for propaganda on the individual's part.  One can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink; one cannot reach through propaganda those who do not need what it offers.  The propagandee is by no means just an innocent victim.  He provokes the psychological action of propaganda, and not merely lends himself to it, but even derives satisfaction from it.

Without this previous, implicit consent, without this need for propaganda experienced by practically every citizen of the technological age, propaganda could not spread.  There is not just a wicked propagandist who sets up means to ensnare the innocent citizen.  Rather, there is a citizen who craves propaganda from the bottom of his being and a propagandist who responds to this craving.
I think that propaganda fulfills a need of modern man, a need that creates in him an unconscious desire for propaganda.  He is in the position of needing outside help to be able to face his condition.  And that help is propaganda.  Naturally, he does not say: "I want propaganda."  On the contrary, in line with preconceived notions, he abhors propaganda and considers himself a "free and mature person."  But in reality he calls for and desires propaganda that will permit him to ward off certain attacks and reduce certain tensions.
We have stressed that the State can no longer govern without the masses, which nowadays are closely involved in politics.  But these masses are composed of individuals.  From their point of view, the problem is slightly different: they are interested in politics and consider themselves concerned with politics; even if they are not forced to participate actively because they live in a democracy, they embrace politics as soon as someone wants to take the democratic regime away from them.

But this presents them with problems that are way over their heads.  They are faced with choices and decisions which demand maturity, knowledge, and a range of information which they do not and cannot have.  Elections are limited to the selection of individuals, which reduces the problem of participation to its simplest form.  But the individual wishes to participate in other ways than just elections.  He wants to be conversant with economic questions.  In fact, his government asks him to be.  He wants to form an opinion on foreign policy.  But in reality he can't.  He is caught between his desire and his inability, which he refuses to accept.

For no citizen will believe that he is unable to have opinions.  Public opinion surveys always reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority (usually the most informed and those who have reflected most).  The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation.  For this they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a "key" that will permit them to take a position, and even ready-made opinions.

As most people have the desire and at the same time the incapacity to participate, they are ready to accept a propaganda that will permit them to participate, and which hides their incapacity beneath explanations, judgments, and news, enabling them to satisfy their desire without eliminating their incompetence.  The more complex, general, and accelerated political and economic phenomena become, the more individuals feel concerned, the more they want to be involved.  In a certain sense this is democracy's gain, but it also leads to more propaganda.

And the individual does not want information, but only value judgments and preconceived positions.  Here one must also take into account the individual's laziness, which plays a decisive role in the entire propaganda phenomenon, and the impossibility of transmitting all information fast enough to keep up with developments in the modern world.  Besides, the developments are not merely beyond man's intellectual scope; they are also beyond him in volume and intensity; he simply cannot grasp the world's economic and political problems. 

Faced with such matters, he feels his weakness, his inconsistency, his lack of effectiveness.  He realizes that he depends on decisions over which he has no control, and that realization drives him to despair.  Man cannot stay in this situation too long.  He needs an ideological veil to cover the harsh reality, some consolation, a raison d'etre, a sense of values.  And only propaganda offers him a remedy for a basically intolerable situation.
This is all true.  Even in 2013, it is true.  And yet, it offers some hope.

It is a frequently observed truth of con men that it's impossible to con an innocent man.  It is also impossible to propagandize an innocent man.  It is your political ambition - an original sin if there every was one; when I translate "original sin" into 21st-century English, it comes out as "evolutionary psychology" - that makes you fall for this con.  Somehow excising this libido dominandi, the lust for power, would leave you as immune to propaganda as a tonsillectomy to tonsillitis. 

Or a castration to porn.  Indeed, what Ellul is telling us - a fact which is obvious today, though much less so in 1962 - is that the modern propaganda addict (we cannot call him a victim) experiences political authority, a delicious taste instinctively desired by all men and women of true chimpanzee descent, entirely as porn.  That is, as a simulation entirely without substance.

Is there life after porn?  In 1962, this seemed impossible and indeed it was.  Then again, in 1962, democracy, though not real, included many more living remnants of an age when it was once real.  The organized political riot, for instance, remained a reality in every democratic country.  Even in America, in the resistance to desegregation, we see political crowds using crude hand weapons and sheer weight of biomass to actively pursue their collective interests against the agenda of the State.  It's true that these crowds were weak and were defeated, but it's also true that they existed.  They would be unthinkable today.  The Tea Party, the closest thing to their successors, doesn't even litter.

There are two ways to imagine a realistic life after porn.  First, the political libido of the average Westerner has greatly decreased, through absence of reality and overstimulation of falsity.  Engagement remains, but has much diminished.  Apathy is proverbial.

Apathy, which is a passive reaction, is not by any means conquest of desire.  But it provides a platform for conquest of desire.  Moreover, the extraordinary increase, not in the intelligence of the crowd, but in its philosophical sophistication, must be reckoned with.  Imagine the impact of a movie like Inception on the audience of 1962.  Irony and "meta" are old hat to quite a large population.  Conquest of desire?  Zen, or at least the idea of Zen (Zen is an exercise, not an idea), is familiar to essentially anyone who can read.

And second, conquest of desire need not mean elimination of desire.  It can mean control of desire.  It is possible to reject porn in favor of celibacy.  It is also possible to reject porn in favor of sex.  It is true that all superficially plausible channels of conventional political activism are more or less what Patri Friedman calls "folk activism," ie, porn.  But when the impossible is rejected, the implausible becomes possible.

Power porn, that is, political action compatible with official propaganda (even supposedly anti-government actions can reinforce the narrative, often strongly; Timothy McVeigh was a better propaganda asset than Bill Moyers), is essentially a safety valve that prevents real and effective collective action by bleeding off its energy source.  To realize that porn and celibacy are effectively the same choice is also to refocus your sex drive on achieving actual sex.  To the porn addict, actual sex seems undesirable, because actual women are never as desirable as porn stars.  Learning to overcome this, and becoming accustomed to actual women with actual pubic hair, is the essence of the exercise.

Of course, sex differs from power in that sex is individual, where power is collective.  It is not sufficient for an individual to overcome his phobia of political pubic hair.  It is necessary for a substantial number, if nowhere near a majority, to do so.  Is it possible?  Is there space for a new and more genuine propaganda, which would genuinely satisfy the libido of the masses, by offering at least the genuine opportunity for genuine authority?  Perhaps we'll see.


Blogger DR said...

My guess is that there's a steeply diminishing marginal utility to holding power with regards to the size of the population that you're holding it over.

If you accept power as an intoxicating drug that people crave, its intensity certainly does not follow linearly with the number of subjects.

Power over 10 people is almost as delicious as power over 100. Power over 10 million people probably feels virtually indistinguishable to power over 100 million.

The vast majority of people would prefer to be the sole Prince of Monaco than a lifetime member of the Senate, (even if the Senate was made absolute).

A simple formula would be:

Utility(Power) ~ Proportion * Log(Population)

The simple but non-obvious truth that this reveals is that voters in smaller polities should feel more powerful than voters in larger ones.

Being a voter in a 5,000 person Swiss canton means that your vote actually does carry a non-negligible influence. The sweet intoxication!

Sure it might mean its only power over a podunk Alpine village, but my guess is you're far more satisfied than being a rounding error in a hundred million person election.

Once you get over the Dunbar number, the human monkey brain doesn't really care or even have the ability to distinguish.

It suggests an easy free lunch. Break democratic polities into smaller units. Either by breaking up nation, or distributing power from central to local entities, i.e. Federalism.

It allows the power addict to get his fix, with far more ease and less distortion.

March 19, 2013 at 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cue 100-200 vastly stupid comments entirely unworthy of reading.

MM should disable comments and have done with all you insects.

March 19, 2013 at 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cue 100-200 vastly stupid comments entirely unworthy of reading.

Shut up you faggot.

March 19, 2013 at 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MM should disable comments and have done with all you insects.

No he should just ban faggots like you.

March 19, 2013 at 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Ave Maria said...

tl;dr: Reading Reddit or Google News every day is like jacking off. Blocking Reddit in your hosts file is like going cold turkey.

(implied: Being a sane husband with a 4-year-old daughter makes both Reddit and porn a lot less enticing.)

March 19, 2013 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Debra said...

Perhaps before posting an article, or a comment, one might take a quick look at what still passes as authority (and not yet authoritarian exercise of linguistic power, but for how much longer ?...), the Oxford English Dictionary.

"Propaganda : from the modern Latin title, Congregazio de propaganda FIDE, congregation for propagating the faith.
1) More fully, Congregation or College of the Propaganda. A committe of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church having the care and oversight of foreign missions, founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.
2) Any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice."

A succinct observation : it is important to note that the negatively connoted expression "propaganda" was first employed in the West's first globalization effort : the Catholic Church, which historically has been in competition with Renaissance/Enlightenment ideology for some time now...

The Jesuits, an order founded, I think, around the time that the term "propaganda" entered CHURCH vocabulary, were not only missionaries, but.. teachers.

It is impossible to separate the activity of teaching from "propaganda", and always has been...
Why any form of teaching and missionary activity has become negatively connoted is.. worthy of note, and analysis... and relevant to understanding the tremendous competition still at work between two conflicting.. empires ? the Catholic Church, and its secularized human rights offspring.

March 19, 2013 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Crackpot History and the Right to Lie said...

"It suggests an easy free lunch. Break democratic polities into smaller units. Either by breaking up nation, or distributing power from central to local entities, i.e. Federalism."

The former case works until Genghis Khan decides that your scattered villages' women are cute, and your thatched-roof cottages would look better if they were on fire.

The latter case works until local entity A (we'll call it Massachusetts) decides that some of the habits of local entity B (we'll call it Dixie) are unconscionable.

March 19, 2013 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

M^2 has nothing about Germany's surprise attack against Russia at Cyprusgrad? Oh yes, this bureaucratic farce isn't exactly the tragedy of Barbarossa, but shouldn't seeing Russia and Germany
at eachother's throats again stir warm memories on this revisionist blog?

March 19, 2013 at 7:25 PM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

Addendum - the leftist American media's coverage of Cyprus was, as usual worthless compared to the leftist European press.

Even Ye Olde-toothless prostitute, le Grinaud, had orders of magnitude better live coverage of the Mediterranean drama than any American outlet. From here on out I'm sticking to the online Euro papers, especially those which are UK (except for the idiotic Financial Time) any those named Spiegel* for any further international news.

By Chuck Darwin's divine beard, if our liberal arts educated presstitutes were taught to think** in college then why is it they can't write for shit?

* For some inexplicable reason, I have been unable to find any English translation of the French dailies.

Most curious.

* Presumably the implication of the old saw "the liberal arts teaches you to think" means the math nerds at MIT solve Navier-Stokes equations without thinking of Maya Angelou or HBO's Girls?

March 19, 2013 at 7:27 PM  
Blogger DR said...

"The former case works until Genghis Khan decides that your scattered villages' women are cute, and your thatched-roof cottages would look better if they were on fire.

The latter case works until local entity A (we'll call it Massachusetts) decides that some of the habits of local entity B (we'll call it Dixie) are unconscionable."

Both valid points. I don't know if any Federalist solution is stable in the long-run, eventually all power centralizes.

But it does indicate that there's an optimal nation size. And it's probably a lot less than 300 million people, or for that matter even 10 million people. I doubt that if every US state was an independent nation that any wouldn't be able to defend themselves from Genghis Khan, or an intercontinental invasion.

Tiny Taiwan has been safe from invasion from the much larger PRC for the better part of a century, despite being extremely politically desirable for historical reasons.

8 million person Switzerland has also been safe from the giants around it for centuries, even during the nastier points of European history.

In the age of nuclear weapons the need for large nations to maintain large armies is largely unnecessary. Any territory under the protection of a sufficiently large nuclear arsenal with ICBMs and subs will be able to deter any non-suicidal invader.

Historically confederations were defeated because of the difficulty of coordinating armies between states.

But coordinating nuclear arsenals is quite easy. Establish a nuclear confederation of tiny states, so that their shared resources allow them to maintain a large and scary arsenal.

Outfit each nuclear missile with permissive action links that utilize secret sharing encryption. Require some reasonable super-majority of the confederation, say nine tenths, to authorize a missile launch.

Without crypto-permission the weapons are useless so it doesn't matter which confederation members physically hold them. Reasonably though we'll distribute them across a diverse set of members.

Any attack on a confederation member is a hostile act on the entire confederacy, meaning super-majority retaliation is assured. Retaliation leads to deterrence, and deterrence leads to peace.

However the structure prevents the confederacy from devolving into a centralized state. There's no centralized government or even military to begin with. Even if a super-majority disapproved of one state's internal policies, no one's going to be crazy enough to risk nuclear confrontation just to de-segregate schools.

The nukes have a nice threshold effect that a centralized state and army don't. With a central state any confederacy can begin legislating small issues, backed up by its army, until it snowballs into more control. With nukes you either go big or you go home, so the process never starts.

That only leaves the case of one confederacy member conventionally attacking another one. I.e. Massachusetts raising an army and marching on Dixie. In the case of an outside invader the confederacy will almost surely take it as an act of aggression against all members and retaliate. But in this scenario some states might side with MA and some might side with Dixie. So a super-majority to retaliate, and hence deter, is infeasible.

A final tweak can solve this. There's no reason that each state can't belong to multiple nuclear confederacies. There's no requirement for members to be geographically contiguous. ICBMs are globally mobile.

If every state subscribed to say a dozen or so confederacies, any besieged state would have at least one confederacy to fall back on that did not contain the attacking state. All attacks become outsider attacks in some way.

Thus in this case even if Dixie and MA shared a confederacy then at least one of Dixie's confederacy's would not contain MA. In this case they would view this as an outside act of aggression and respond to MA accordingly, thus setting up a deterrent.

March 19, 2013 at 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For no citizen will believe that he is unable to have opinions. Public opinion surveys always reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority (usually the most informed and those who have reflected most). The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation. For this they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a "key" that will permit them to take a position, and even ready-made opinions."

Jacques Ellul died 9 years ago. If only he had lived to see people reposting George Takei links on Facebook.

March 19, 2013 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger Debra said...

Undiscovered Jew, for what reason could you possibly believe that... INFORMATION in France is more palatable (or... diverse) than what you are hearing in the mother country ? (Incidentally, in France, the word "information" produces "les informations", which is the French equivalent to "the news", an expression that existed some time ago, in "les nouvelles".)
It would be interesting to linguistically oppose... "information", which etymologically, contains the idea of imprinting something in, giving form to, to... "propaganda".
Is there any information on a babelized planet that is not propaganda at this time ? (Keep on looking for the holy Grail of that elusive truth...)
(Propaganda to the extent that the information of the masses has become an instrument to forge a sense of world community, around a particular ideology not recognized as.. doctrine. To tell us that "we are all one", in a "It's a small, small world" scenario.)
If you listen to the French radios, and media, you will ask yourself this question.
In my memory, but I could be wrong, Ellul as a French intellectual had ties with the Roman Catholic Church.
Why be surprised ?
Historically, the Church has produced some of the Western World's best minds...
Who knows ?
Maybe... the war of the worlds isn't over yet...

March 20, 2013 at 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Outfit each nuclear missile with permissive action links that utilize secret sharing encryption. Require some reasonable super-majority of the confederation, say nine tenths, to authorize a missile launch.

If even a small fraction of the members of the confederacy were to disagree, then a member could be left helpless. This could easily happen in an internal conflict.

You can't separate a state from its ability to project force and have it remain a state.

>With nukes you either go big or you go home, so the process never starts.

I think you overestimate the power of nuclear weapons. They no more prevent war than the Gatling Gun does. "Nuclear Apocalypse" is just a cultural meme.



March 20, 2013 at 2:29 AM  
Anonymous failed child prodigy said...

It suggests an easy free lunch. Break democratic polities into smaller units. Either by breaking up nation, or distributing power from central to local entities, i.e. Federalism.

It allows the power addict to get his fix, with far more ease and less distortion.

Did you know this idea is not original? (Which one is, right?) This was one of the theses, expressed in his manifesto, of the Unabomber. He was interested in math, too, Dr Kaczinsky, enough to get a Phd. I wonder what would be (or was? I only read excerpts from him) his formulation.

March 20, 2013 at 3:04 AM  
Anonymous failed child prodigy said...

> Ave Maria
> (implied: Being a [...] husband [...] makes [...] porn a lot less enticing.)

I do not know he implied that. He said that, "To the porn addict, actual sex seems undesirable".

> "Learning to overcome this, and becoming accustomed to actual women with actual pubic hair"

He says, pubic hair is an acquired taste, so to speak; [for porn addicts, of course- what did you think]. It is my conjecture, not his implication, that he might be an ex-addict himself.

An alternate title to this post could be: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the President Merkin Muffley

March 20, 2013 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

He's got 2 kids, not the one. Perhaps Ave was referring to himself.

At any rate one is reminded of GK Chesterton's famous misquote:

"a belief in God is not replaced with a belief in nothing, but a belief in everything."

I'm pretty sure I first read that here at UR.

Humans are predisposed to pattern recognition and religious belief (sure, you can google up better resources but you get the jist). This means that without an intrinsic system of belief, we go in search of one.

Propaganda provides that handily. By design, indeed. Note its development (thanks, Debra) post-reformation in the RCC. Note also its use in the post-religious 20th century.

It's rather amusing that UR not only points back towards not just monarchy but the divine right sort of flavor.

March 20, 2013 at 5:57 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

most people have the desire and at the same time the incapacity to participate

there’s also a viagra joke in there somewhere…

March 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

btw, why is <BLOCKQUOTE> blocked? is that under MM’s control, or a global rule from the goog?

March 20, 2013 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

@G. M. Palmer:

It's rather amusing that UR not only points back towards not just monarchy but the divine right sort of flavor.

i don’t think MM’s ever come right out and said that the Reformation was a mistake in its entirety, but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion without resorting to pure motivated cognition, as Carlyle did.

relatedly, i’ve been thinking recently about an AU where the Reformation stopped with Luther—no Calvinists, no Anglicans, no Baptists. basically it’s the “Lesser Schism”, and afterwards there’s a Northern Church, or German Catholic Church, or something. i haven’t really gotten much further than outlining it, but it seems like it might be an interesting framework to think about.

March 20, 2013 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Debra said...

Thank you, G.M. Palmer for your kind words...;-)

I have my own version of the Chesterton misquote, that I found myself (while standing on the shoulders of giants, naturally...). It goes this way : "When you kick God out the door, he comes back in through the window while you're not looking."
There are some important linguistic differences to not gloss over :
the difference between believe something/believe somebody/believe in something/believe in somebody.
The little word "in" is there for a reason. (The words are always there for a reason, so there really is no... reason to gloss over them.)
The 20th/21st centuries are not post religious.
They are post institutionalized religion. And that depends where... The Catholic Church is doing quite well in Latin America, still. The Evangelist Protestants are doing o.k. too.
Scientism is our new creed.
And it is taking the scientific method down, unfortunately...
There is a... reason why nuclear weapons are not a deterrent. It is because we are not rational animals. Particularly as a society...

March 20, 2013 at 3:41 PM  
Anonymous fsascott said...

Had a reformer like Luther arisen two hundred years earlier than Luther did, his objections to the vices of the Roman prelates would have been taken up within the church. There might have been turmoil, might have been accusations of heresy, and might have been some actual reforms within the church, but there would have been no lasting schism. The Franciscan movement was similar to Lutheranism in its objections to the opulence of the church; Savonarola was similar to Luther in his calls for moral reform and purity of living. Their calls for reform remained within the church, unlike those of Luther.

Apart from his objections to the doctrine of purgatory and to the salvific value of good works - which were rooted in the abusive fund-raising practices of Rome - Luther's theology contained more that was in continuity with the pre-Reformation church than was radically at odds with it. Luther himself was much more "Catholic" than many subsequent generations of self-described Lutherans.

What determined the schismatic course of Lutheranism were, I believe, factors that were extraneous to its theology, but which happened to coincide fatefully with it.

One was the printing press and the rapid spread of literacy that it permitted. No longer was reading about religion and theology confined to the clerical class, who might have debated them within their universities and cathedral chapters without involving the laity. Printed books, and controversies carried on in print, made this impossible in the early sixteenth century. Another was the change that the introduction of gunpowder and artillery had made in warfare. No longer were the castles of the feudal nobility or the heavy cavalry of the knightly class decisive in warfare. Carlyle pointed to both of these along with the Protestant Reformation as harbingers of the modern age.

The third, and I believe, essential component that not only permitted but encouraged the Reformation was the ambition of the north European princes, who contemplated the riches of the church with greed. Again, this was nothing new; Philip the Fair had persecuted the Templars for the sake of their property, and had brought the papacy itself under his domination. However, even he had never considered schism as a means of enhancing his wealth and rewarding his henchmen.

Thus, the coincidence of several circumstances set Luther on the path to schism, and once schism took place, sub-schism was destined to follow.

On the point of the greed of princes, it's worth pointing out that even though Henry VIII, who fancied himself a theologian, had written a criticism of the Lutheran heresy and received as a result the title of "Defensor Fidei" from the Pope, his anxiety to produce a male heir and the allure of expropriating church revenues and properties were sufficient to bring about the Anglican schism without any significant theological or liturgical reform during his lifetime. After his death Anglicanism became the object of a tug-of-war between Calvinising and Catholicising factions, and ended up a sort of parallel to Lutheranism. By the late 17th century, when Swift wrote his "Tale of a Tub," in which three contentious brothers stood for the three branches of European Christianity, Martin (obviously named after Martin Luther) stood for the moderate Church of England, while Peter (after St. Peter) stood for Rome, and Jack for John Calvin and "Knocking Jack of the North," i.e., John Knox, the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism.

March 20, 2013 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Debra said...

Really interesting, fsascott, thank you.
Some additional points on the revolution of the Protestant heresy...
Its backdrop is egalitarian democratization in several forms :
wresting the official control of language from the clerics, and cracking open Church Latin to shift power to the people ? in the form of the vernacular.
Attacking the idea of intermediaries/screens between man and God, to favor the concept of a DIRECT relationship. (Think... direct democracy, right ??)
I agree that prior to the Reform, the Church was handling heresy within its midst adequately, and that the Pope who welcomed Francis within the ranks of the Church was well aware that a former rich man preaching (and living...) poverty, and giving value to it represented... diversity, and diversification within a church which also historically spoke to men's imaginations, and love of beauty with... pomp and circumstance.
Probably as you say, the Reform came about due to the increased power of an increasingly centralized monarchy in Europe (particularly in France...).
It's when you're down that you get kicked the hardest, right ?
If you look at the language that we are speaking right now, you will notice that... there are "experts" still using Latinized jargon... and they are not Church prelates or clercs.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh ?
Have you ever wondered why, when we invent new words for our "modernity", we go right back to... Latin and Greek, and not the older, Anglo-Saxon words ? (Outside of the accessibility of the Greco-Roman literature..)
One might think that resorting to a "dead" language to talk about a "living" world would be strange.
The only thing stranger is that most of us know diddly shit about Antiquity now, but we are still speaking the words that originate in it. Without even realizing to what extent language determines what and how we think...
And we think we are superior to our ancestors...

March 21, 2013 at 12:56 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...


Regarding the post-religious modern world, as much as MM has already argued that "scidolatry" (neither his nor my word) is an atheistic religion, I agree.

But then one wonders in the comment section how many folks have read how much of UR.

I didn't, however, say "post-belief." It's valuable to separate religion from belief. Religion gives you a structure for that belief--which makes it at least more logical from an apologist's standpoint (try getting into an argument with someone who practices not science but scidolatry and you'll see this in action).

March 21, 2013 at 5:03 AM  
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March 21, 2013 at 5:15 AM  
Anonymous ashr said...

fsascott, regarding reformation before Luther's time, consider John Wycliffe and the Lollards, as well as Jan Hus and the resulting <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussite_Wars>Hussite Wars</a>. Perhaps it could have gone the way you described, but the violent rejection of these reformers appear to have significantly curtailed the possibility of a peaceful resolution in Luther's time. (In particular, Luther was aware of the murder of Hus, and described him as unjustly condemned by the Church.)

I largely agree that universalism is a descendant of Christianity via the Puritans, but that doesn't mean the Reformation or the Puritans got everything wrong. :) Furthermore, the Reformation didn't come out of nowhere. The Roman hierarchy had the opportunity to clean up its act long before, but ignored the warning signs. If there hadn't been an actual schism, it's not at all clear that the Counter-Reformation admissions of actual problems would have occurred.

March 26, 2013 at 2:15 PM  

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