Friday, February 15, 2013

PR and the Evolution of....?

Everything evolves?

Last time, we talked about the idea of the public as a “child” – vis a vis propaganda.  And it is clear that this is a very attractive argument – especially for those who feel victimized and powerless, clued to their TV set, struggling with cognitive dissonance as the corporate media spouts “disinformation” and simple lies.

 But what exactly is a child?   Do you really know

Let's see.  Are babies “children”.  Yes.! Cute! 
Are teenagers children?  Yes!   Can’t have sex with them, for one thing. Although they can go to war and kill people.
 And everything  in-between?  Yes!  Although they do handle computers better than you and download a lot of porn.
How is that babies at the breast are the same as a  six foot tall 75 kilogram teenager, who reads Proust and could beat the shit out of you?  How can they be the same as kids who talk  the talk and walk the walk and shop at the Gap?  Oh come on, you say -- you know what we mean!  Anyway, it's just a word.

That’s the point.  The idea of the “child” is …well… just an idea -- one of many  memes that we take for granted today .  It is also one that did not appear in their present form until after the Industrial Revolution -- and has huge legal and social ramifications.

children newsies- body

Before the 18th Century people (of course)  used the  words "child” and “children”  – but the meanings and associations were different .  As the French historian Phillipe Aries points out children --excluding infants  were just little people.   They wore adult clothes, scaled down. adult things (scaled down) as soon as they walked.  What we call “teenagers” were young adults.  There was no such thing as statutory rape -- not as we know it today.   Imagine Shakespeare having to rewrite Romeo and Juliet, with Romeo sent to some Renaissance Reform school for diddling the barely pubescent Juliet.  Now that would have been a crappy ending.
Today, if you are a liberal , children are wonderfully innocent, cuddly and cute. You love them, along with puppies or kittens. You get cute kiddy clothes and kids toys for the younger kids -- and you don't have them working 18 hour days in a coal mine or a brothel.

  If you are a conservative, children are primal, if not feral and dangerous - so, you have a duty to  teach them  and socialize them-- which,  for authoritarians,  means to discipline them-- nowadays, to handcuff them and tase them.  You regard children as Not-People-Yet --simple animals that must be trained and taught the Bible.  Definitely no brothel-work, however – although minimum wage slavery at McDonalds or Walmarts has been substituted for the mines.

Before the Victorian period at least, children were not more innocent or dangerous than older people; they were considered responsible under law -- and neither protected – nor restricted as they are today.
All that changed in the 19th Century , which put an end to child labor and mandated universal education both useful in the “progress” of the industrial state.  Keep in mind that the first legal protections for children in the labor market where enacted in Victorian England under laws designed to protect animals!
Industrialism brought with it not only a new concept of “child” – but other new ideas -- notably the “public”….you, me, Bill Gates and the homeless man without shoes. Us, the People –one big, solid mass of solidarity, pledging allegiance to the flag and Exxon.
It also brought the “democracy” meme.  Which to the Greeks  literally meant“power to the people”, with “the people” excluding women and slaves.  In our “democracy” everyone is equal, except for those can’t  vote –that is,  those without driver’s licenses, which makes registration difficult in some states, , or the rather huge numbers of people who have been sent to prison for smoking pot, or old people who have trouble getting around, or people who are doing three jobs and can’t get time off, or the large numbers of people of color accidentally purged from the voting lists..
And  then there are “corporations”  . Another meme.  Corporations are also ‘people”--which makes them part of the “public”.   We know they are just like us  because they have Facebook pages.  Wonderful! I can be Best Buds with Microsoft. .

298251_288780321149129_109173325776497_1243379_16505578_n -

All these memes are implicitly tied to evolving social narratives, such as One Nation Under God, in which God  is played by Sylvester Stallone, with a scowl and an automatic weapon and a few tats, mowing down swarthy Un-American bad guys.
The bird in the photo is actually a scavenger that mostly lives on dead fish and is bullied by flocks of sparrows, but don’t let that distract you. Our modern day concepts of the child, democracy, the public and so onhave, as I have indicated,  existed in some form before.  But as the world changed, the meanings of the words did, too.   Dawkins will tell you that memes are like genes and handed down from generation to generation and that like genes, they mutate and spark a kind of evolution – in this case, social evolution.


Let’s recap high school – or what you should have learned in high school – assuming you didn’t grow up in Kansas or Missouri, where the World was created in 6 days by a hairy and apparently Homeless Old Guy.   Genes evolve through random mutation.And useful genes persist if they confer a survival benefit as the environment changes – contributing to biological evolution.  (Remember that --test next week.)
And just as genes determine the character of an organism and its capabilities, memes determine the character and capability of a culture, where we think of “culture” as the sum total of the various narratives that define a given social group, from your family to a corporation to a nation.   Memes mutate, --a few persist over time.
In the case of societies and cultures, environmental challenge comes about through major events such as plagues and famines – and of course intercourse (yes, double meaning intended) with other cultures,  and conflicts, too -- war.  The evolution of memes generates new technologies – new social capabilities.  The opposable thumb helps us survive –that’s genetic.   But fire and the wheel represent memes.   As does spectator sports. And, um, jeans.

Stone age men lived in small groups, without demim.   
Then came  today’s mass societies – and the Gap and the Superbowl
What’s the difference?  Denim, yest.  But mostly size.  Which matters.  Mass societies involve new capabilities, new tools – bombs and footballs for example  and functions such as texting.   All these things represent social evolution, or in the case of (say) online dating, some would say, social devolution.
But we must
 keep in mind the respects in which  “memes” and “genes” are not the same.
Genes refer to real things – you can see them under the microscope. 
You cannot see a meme.  For one thing, the idea of a ‘meme” is well, a meme! And “childhood”, “democracy” , “the public” and so on are not in the same category as the your frontal lobes or bipedalism.
Ultimately while social evolution is remarkably plastic  -- it always limited by biology. Biology mediates everything.  And the medium is the message.  No matter how much our societies may have evolved,no matter how advanced our technologies – we are still Stone Age Men. A nuclear missile is just a very, very, very upgraded spear in flight.
modern man and early man
The architecture of the human brain defines everything .  We have to keep this mind -- it is so easy to get lost in abstraction and find ourselves down that “slippery slide” away from fundamentals.
Which brings us back to propaganda and PR.  To understand these things and how they work, we must  first understand how the human mind works; then how we function as social animals.  Then the memes and narratives that we respond to in regard to specific issues.    Obama’s strategy in the last election ?
The Oil Industry’s various PR campaigns? 
These  things are like software – they depend on the hardware that biological evolution has supplied us with .

For more on that, tune into my next post.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Propaganda as Parenting

Jack Daniels announces its new strategy of marketing to children?   More real than you know.

One of my readers, wrote to me
“WTF are you talking about? On the one hand, propagandists manipulate the public, but on the other, the popular mind manipulates propagandists? Were Hitler and Stalin and Mao just doing what people wanted, brainwashed by their own cultures? Weren’t they outliers – psychopaths who managed to indoctrinate millions and murder all those of a different opinion—and create a new culture, in lock step with their perverted view of humanity. The public are children, helpless innocents –ever. We suffer because psychopaths rule”.
This is a “default” view, in which the public is seen as a victim -- prey to demagogues and dictators and all those with the power to control of the media and the organs of public information --and, if necessary,  to impose their will with violence.  Of course, dictators really, really like being the Fathers of their countries.  They just love puppies and kittens and children. 

From this point of view, the Many – that’s us –are a collective Child, if not passive, certainly powerless -- and dumb.  So, relax – there is nothing you can do. If things go right -- well and good.  If things go wrong -- you're a victim -- but you probably won't know that anyway.

In dictatorships, the child’s ‘parents”  are abusive and controlling; in our nominal democracies such as the US, authority figures are more benign – but in the end, no matter what the system and who controls it, the public – is not really equipped to think for itself – and not able to distinguish between propaganda and truth, information and misinformation. Or so the theory goes.  And, if the Big Baby gets  restive and cries?

Well, spare the rod and spoil the child!    Yes, we need discipline. We need order.


Of course, you can cuddle distraught kids and tell them some nice story with a happy ending.

This kind of thinking  is seductive.  The “public” is lied to.  We all know that.  But who are actually the most lied-to people in the world? Children, of course. Santa, the Tooth Fairy -- parents are not honest with their kids – truth must wait until the kids are “mature” enough--which is basically never --or until they have learned to lie as well as we do -- also known as  "growing up".


Of course, kids have so many questions. You’re watching the Game and the kid says: “Daddy, why is the sky blue? “. How do you know? So, you just make shit up. “God likes blue, honey”. When in doubt, blame it on God
. Blaming-God-image

That's the trick.  Fault other people -- preferably some up there --like God, the President, the One Percent, Congress, teachers, the police, your Mom and Dad... there are lots of targets.   Parents -- like politicians and pundits and corporate CEOs--  are "responsible".  But, here, the Peter Principle takes over.  People in "authority" often just don’t know things they should or what they are doing – but they have to look like they do to remain in control?  Hence, the inherently deceitful Blame Game,. 

Then again,  lies make life easier....


  I have to agree on one level with my correspondent –   thinking of the public as a child sort of works – although that necessarily means society is the Modern Dysfunctional Family writ large.


"Dysfunctional" means consumerist.  And " Family" includes  Mom, Dad, the kids and the TV. 

That said,  there are problems with this line of thought – which nag at me -- and next time I will I explain why – the extent that he is right -- my correspondent is also wrong about the public as a collective child.