Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Propaganda: There Is No Big Lie

Last time, I argued that the human brain evolves slowly --so we are basically the same creature today as we were millenia ago.    Not matter how advanced our technologies or how superficially complex our societies, and despite micro evolution, we are still fundamentally Stone Age men. By the same token, our cultures are rooted in the Paleolithic.  Accordingly,  rationalized, top-down control will always fail.    No Hitler, or Mao, or even the Koch Brothers will bring real order.
There is no System.  No Big Lie.  For all you 'ism's' lovers  -- No Big Truth either.  Culture is a "Kluge".

What’s the difference between Don Draper and Ugluk the Hunter? 

Not much actually.  Neither of them believed in the Big Lie, or anything like it.  Rather they believed in small lies woven together into stories.  The Art of Advertising is the Art of Life --fiction.  And in fiction it is details that matter.

Don told stories about his past; he told his clients stories about the future of their products. And all those attractive women?  When is a good line, not a story?   Go figure....

Ugluk told stories about his success as a warrior and a hunter and buddy of the Gods, who "friended" him via the Stone Age version of Facebook -- hallucinations.  So Ugluk was popular in his tribe. He would get along just fine today.Oh, and he got a lot of sex -- which proves everything I saying is true.

Don and Ugluk used their  imaginations to make things more than they were---to make themselves more than we were, manipulating not only others perceptions, but their own perceptions of themselves.  They did this smoothly, rarely missing a beat – it was natural and largely unconscious. So everybody loved it. Well, other than their competitors!

Don and Ugluk--of course-- pretended to be 'experts'. On MadMen, we all watch with a little in awe as Don does his magic show with  media, branding and marketing -- winning nods from All Powerful Clients-- and bedding beautiful women.  Ugluk does his own show at the campfire.  His is about how to hunt and kill all sorts of animals.  His listeners seem mesmerized -- even the Gods.  But Don and Ugluk's real expertise is at satisfying-- and therefore guiding -- social expectations.

My colleague at Trinity Communications in New Zealand, Dwight Whitney, calls this "expertation", where "expertise" is understood relative to "expectation".  Propaganda, PR, and Advertising are "Great Expertations".

Did you think that that propaganda, PR, and advertising were really invented in the 20th Century?    The words may have been coined at that time –but the behaviors have been with us always, just like we had psychology before Freud. That was really the main point of what I wrote last time. Much of what we see as "change" or "progress" is nothing of the kind.
As Stone Age men (or women) we  lie reflexively and unconsciously--unaware that we are doing it, as individuals and in groups because we are social beings. Think of life without this kind of “advertising”.  No one would get laid and the species would die out.  Of course, we like to think we know what we are doing.  We want to be in control.  And we think we know what we want.  But sorry to to tell you -- it isn't that simple. Because our conscious thoughts are often unconsciously decided -- not by propaganda of any kind -- so much as by biology, which is driven by strong but often contradictory needs --or by the lies embedded in culture, which is also an expression of biology.

 We are social animals. There is a tradeoff for everything.  And nothing is free.

The Ad above is an example.  For most women, picking up a "hot"  guy is about getting laid, if only because "hot" guys are more into casual sex.  At the same time, most women want to find committed partners -- who want more than casual sex -- who are usually not the "hot" guys and don't need to be 'picked up". That's why we have the expression, "Nice guys finish last".   So, we need various fictions to gloss over these apparent conflicts of interest.

Without the made-up world of our minds,  life would be so much simpler -- but boring.  There would be no TV and no consumerism.  Women would stop wearing bras and makeup.  Men would lose interest in football and baseball and “manly” stuff in general and start wearing pink a lot.  Omigod -- no porn!    WYSIWYG would take on real meaning.
Thank god   – everybody lies.

A lot of small lies - all the time, everywhere.

Still, so much attention is paid to the Big Lie.

The  Big Lie means someone is in control and we are just victims.   No, said the Germans, we didn’t hate Jews – Hitler made us hate them. No, say Americans we don't hate Ragheads, we just bomb them.

It wasn't the Gestapo that rounded up most of the Jews -- it was ordinary people,  friends and neighbors.   One can argue that  Hitler was merely expressing a tribalism basic to human nature -- fear of the "Other".  Antisemitism was not unique to German culture.  And we should never forget that it wasn't only the Jews who were persecuted --but anyone who was different -- the Roma for example -- as I said, the "Other".

There was no "System" of Control --not one that worked -- there was only the worst part of human nature, something dating back millennia.  Hitler just rode the wave. He, like George W Bush,  had hit his personal Trifecta with the Wiener Republic.

The idea of the "Big Lie" deflects attention from the multitude of may small lies that weave the tapestry of our lives, not to mention, culture in general. It is a way of avoiding responsibility.  So Don is right -- there is no Big Lie -- just a Big Excuse.   We are still primitive beings.  And cultures, for all their technologies are primitive too..

Ask Don.  Ask Ugluk.  They know.

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