When I taught high school English in the Sixties, the “English” textbooks included a section on propaganda, which was a list of errors in logic that are often used to persuade people. Like “glittering generalities” that try to skip over the smaller facts that undercut a statement. For instance, all that raving about the pipeline that some people thought would provide jobs is ALREADY BUILT! It’s merely too small and the last part from Oklahoma to Houston was never built, so -- small or not -- it ends in a tank farm -- hundreds of them -- where years of too much oil has been stored waiting for refineries, which is where the real bottleneck is. So where’s the roadblock? Not in Canada or Montana or the Dakotas, etc. etc. but in the pro-oil state of TEXAS. Are they building new refineries? No, they are closing the old ones down. And (I'm guessing) trying to force relaxation of regulations or maybe subsidies.
Another lapse of logic often came up at seminary. It was “misplaced concreteness.” Elaine Pagels has a fascinating book out at the moment that’s an analysis of the Book of Revelation. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/february-24-2012/elaine-pagels-on-the-book-of-revelation/10372/
Not only is she able to distinguish among the several “Johns” (John of this and John of that), she is able to decode the whole book in terms of the politics when it was written and the actual events being described were happening. The exploding mountain was simply Vesuvius and “666” is the numerology code for Nero. You can read her book to find out the rest. As she says, this is not an intellectual New Testament book, but an emotional one. (I’m prompted to think of getting a dragon tattoo -- a small red one with one head. Seven head with horns seem excessive, but a crown might be a nice touch.)
Another major thinking error is called from “is” to “ought.” This is going to be a tough one through the approach to the presidential election because the wrestling between keeping everything the same (to the advantage of some people) and changing everything (to the advantage of a different set of people) is already ferocious and will get more so. Everyone is always wary of change. (Better the known enemy than the unknown good -- which might turn out to be even worse.)
More than that, what is familiar -- whether a lifestyle or a phenomenon -- always seems “right” while everything else strikes us as out of whack. I once read a brilliant essay about this in terms of environment. One always wants the landscape to be the way it was when first sighted. So to someone from elsewhere who came here when the spotted knapweed was in bloom might find the huge mists of purple very beautiful and worth preserving, not knowing about the plants this invasive weed has managed to strangle out, plants that were good food for animals, which spotted knapweed is not. (Goats might like it, but you know about goats -- they’ll eat the laundry off the clothesline and used to be pictured eating tin cans!)
Most propaganda against Obama is plainly straw man stuff, attacking him for being someone he’s factually not at all. They claim he’s not American, that he’s Islamic, that he’s a robot, and on and on and on. Every characteristic that would be seen as praiseworthy in any context -- patience, reflectiveness, poise, and intelligence -- are construed as either an evil plot of a character defect.
But I hardly know what to call the phenomenon among the Repub candidates where some exhibit behavior that is marginally criminal and certainly immoral but it just doesn’t stick. The phrase “the Teflon president” is not really about propaganda but about a willfulness on the part of the people listening. How is it that a man who abandons dying wives, lies about his sources of income, changes his position on political matters to the point of being erratic, and has a wife/former mistress (with hair no one likes) can come out of all that being considered brilliant and fit to run the United States?
I googled to look for lists of propaganda techniques and found them easily, but it surprised me that they were rather clearly from conservative, right-wing, “from is to ought” sources. All the examples of over-promising things that couldn’t be delivered, forcing issues into black and white polarities instead of leaving them the tangle of gray most real life is, urging people to stay with the crowd (get on the band wagon), changing policy to fit what will get a candidate elected and so on were examples from liberal ideas.
One of my little truth tests is reversal, turning the accusation back to test it against the accuser, because people’s ideas of what is painful and wicked are created by their own experience without any awareness that the same thing might not hurt their victim -- in fact, might not even come across as an attack. So old fat mean and vindictive people will accuse me of being old fat mean and vindictive because to THEM those are terrible offenses. They pride themselves on being young, thin, kind and forgiving -- or so they think.
There is a whole series of quips based on this reversal thing. Legend has it that a statement on the wall of a biffy at Reed College in Portland (notoriously brainy but unruly and liberal): “God is dead, signed Nietzsche.” Under it someone wrote “Nietzsche is dead, signed God.” And under that was a whole series of bold assertions turned on their heads: “Religion is the opiate of the people, signed Marx.” “Marxism is the opiate of the people, signed ?” (I forget who. Surely not the Pope, though he’s a bold Capitalist.) Particularly vulnerable are all the hoary bearded prophets of the Victorian era that produced so many patriarchs. (Some would like to have them back -- the return of Daddy.)
We are in a time of tumultuous change, which is not so unusual, but we can see it all day every day, even photograph it ourselves on our smart phones and send the snap to the media where it might or might not be presented out of context. Politicians trim their sails to suit the wind but then the media plays tape of them doing the opposite days earlier. And the greatest thinking error of all is that money counts. That money can save us. That the source of our troubles is not enough money. That money is any kind of indicator of value or virtue.
A recent study asserts that rich people are more greedy than poor people, suggesting that having a lot makes you want more. It seems obvious to me that the way some rich people get rich in the first place is by being greedy. It's a circle. We could call it the 666 effect.