Monday, October 22, 2018

2 + 3 + 1

I read a bit more fantasy than I intended. I wound up reading a whole trilogy - which actually turned out to be science fiction! So I read another fantasy to get 3 in.

1st I read "A Song For Quiet" by Cassandra Khaw, 2017, 112 pages - so, a novella. This is #2 in the "Persons Non Grata" series - I have bought #1 in the series because I liked the title, "Hammers On Bone". This is a fairly simple story of a black jazz musician in a Jim Crow type society fighting against some kind of mind-eating thing. Very much Lovecraft. The cheap supernatural detective from the 1st book makes another appearance. OK, I guess.

Next up, "The Last Days of New Paris", by China Miéville, 2016, 225 pages. This was billed as a novel, but presented more as a novella, as there were a couple of appendices that padded its slim 225 pages. I had read one of Miéville's novels probably over a decade ago - and, hah, I also about 3 years ago read a collection of his short stories, which I had forgotten about. He is a good writer. This story is about a Nazi-occupied Paris in which a mystical weapon causes images from surrealistic paintings to come to life - they are called "manifs", short for manifestations. Meanwhile, the Nazis recruit demons for the fight. An interesting read. There is an appendix listing the various manifs and the paintings they are based upon that cried out to be a web page where you could see the paintings rather than have them described. Maybe some fan will create it one day.

Then I read the 1st novel of the Shattered Seas trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, "Half A King". 2015, 386 pages. I read his "The First Law" trilogy in early 2016. Like the earlier trilogy, this is a page turner. Sword and sorcery, but mostly sword, lots of intrigue. I went on and blasted through books 2 and 3, "Half The World", 2015, 400 pages, and "Half a War", 2016, 384 pages. I stayed up til 4am finishing the 2nd one, I haven't done that for a while. Good characters, good plotting, good dialogue.

Once I realized this was actually post-apocalyptic science fiction rather than fantasy, studying the map of the Shattered Sea, I noticed it looked suspiciously like the Baltic Sea. Some shorelines are different and a lot of Finland is underwater, but still, see for yourself:

And in I think the second book, they take a journey via 2 rivers and a portage to the capital of the great southern kingdom, which sounded suspiciously like the routes the Vikings took to get to Constantinople via the Black and Caspian Seas. The Wikipedia article was titled "Trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks". I don't know that I'd heard of Varangians before - apparently the name the Vikings were called by the Greeks and the Rus. Here's the map from the Wikipedia page:

So a little history lesson to go with a very readable story.

Ha ha, here's a quote from the 1st book - can't seem to get away from economics.

The wealthier a man is, the more he craves wealth.
I noticed that the 6th book of the Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone, "The Ruin Of Angels", 2017, 576 pages, was on my iPad but not in the unread shelf. So I decided to read it as my 3rd fantasy novel. It looks like I read the 1st 3 of these in late 2015, blogged here. It took me a while to realize that some of the characters were from the earlier books. Fantasy just doesn't seem to form that much of a lasting impression. Still, a fun read. I'm pretty sure I read books 4 and 5 but I can't find them in this blog??? It looks like I read them???

I was going to go back to economics, but some sci fi I preordered came in, so I guess that's what I'll be reading next.

Monday, October 08, 2018


"Propaganda" is a 1928 book by Edward Bernays, "the father of public relations" (PR), and a nephew of Sigmund Freud. So it's 90 years old. Some of the ideas seem very quaint - or odious - by today's reckoning, and sometimes you have to remember what was going on 90 years ago to make sense of what he is saying. It was mercifully short, only 175 pages.

I was made aware of Bernays in "Doughnut Economics", by Kate Raworth, where he was identified as "one of the early pioneers of consumerism".

The book has an odd cover: "opaganda" going down the page with each letter starting a blurb. The 1st of these gives what is possibly the main assumption of the book:

Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act on new ideas.
Can you say, elitism? Elitism upon elitism. as we shall shortly see. And Bernays explains why it has to be that way.

The Introduction was written in 2004 by Mark Crispin Miller. The book attempted to remove the stigma that had come to be associated with the word "propaganda". It failed, but it was a great advertisment for Bernays, who was the premier PR consultant of his time.

Interesting, Miller states that many of the early propagandists were 'the sons of ministers". Ha ha, they grew up in houselolds where selling "pie in the sky" was how you made your living.

Bernays' hero was Walter Lippman.

Lippmann had arrived at the bleak view that “the democratic El Dorado” is impossible in modern mass society, whose members—by and large incapable of lucid thought or clear perception, driven by herd instincts and mere prejudice, and frequently disoriented by external stimuli—were not equipped to make decisions or engage in rational discourse.
Here's a scary thought re propagandists. Were the seeds of the post-truth era we seem to be struggling to avoid now planted so long ago?
those who do such work are also prone to lose touch with reality; for in their universe the truth is ultimately what the client wants the world to think is true.

Moving into Chapter I, titled "Organizing Chaos", we start down the elitist path. I'm not going to comment a lot on many of the passages I am including. I think they speak for themselves.

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
So who gets to decide who "the masses" are? And who elects this invisible government?

In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if every one went around pricing, and chemically tasting before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would be hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to it attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method, that of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition function with reasonable smoothness. To achieve this society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda.

Some of the phenomena of this process are criticized—the manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.

As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented

So, you'll take your propaganda and like it, cause you'd be overwhelmed otherwise.

Chapter II is titled "The New Propaganda". Wow, 90 years later, and this quote could be about Trumpism right now:

When an Imperial Wizard, sensing what is perhaps hunger for an ideal, offers a picture of a nation all Nordic and nationalistic, the common man of the older American stock, feeling himself elbowed out of his rightful position and prosperity by the newer immigrant stocks, grasps the picture which fits in so neatly with his prejudices, and makes it his own.
You can also watch Scorsese's 2002 movie "Gangs of New York" for the 1863 version.

Ahh, "regimenting the public mind".

It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war [World War I] that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind.


But clearly it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically. In the active proselytizing minorities in whom selfish interests and public interests coincide lie the progress and development of America. Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas.

Chapter III is titled "The New Propagandists". I'm sure this next is true - hah! Well, the book is an apologia for propaganda and propagandists.

The profession of public relations counsel is developing for itself an ethical code which compares favorably with that governing the legal and medical professions.

Chapter IV is titled "The Psychology of Public Relations". This is probably the meatiest chapter.

The systematic study of mass psychology revealed to students the potentialities of invisible government of society by manipulation of the motives which actuate man in the group. ... the group has mental characteristics distinct from those of the individual, and is motivated by impulses and emotions which cannot be explained on the basis of what we know of individual psychology.
Here's an example of a "blast from the past". Bernays discusses an "international flight" as something to be propagandized. ??? Then you realize, Lindbergh had just performed the 1st solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in the prior year, 1927.

Trotter and Le Bon concluded that the group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, and emotions. In making up its mind, its first impulse is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader. This is one of the most firmly established principles of mass psychology.


But when the example of the leader is not at hand and the herd must think for itself, it does so by means of clichés, pat words or images which stand for a whole group of ideas or experiences.

There are so many people mentioned in this book that I had never heard of. You look them up, and apparently they were well known in their day, and maybe for 30-40 years thereafter? But not after 90 years.

Meanwhile, here are some early researchers into herd behavior, which I have mentioned in the past as being hard to find. It's really hard, tho, to want to expend energy into researching old stuff from guys who did not stand the test of time - i.e., nobody remembers them.

Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, so it is no surprise he gives props to the subconscious (the Freudian Id?):

This general principle, that men are very largely actuated by motives which they conceal from themselves, is as true of mass as of individual psychology. It is evident that the successful propagandist must understand the true motives and not be content to accept the reasons which men give for what they do.
Ha ha, here's a good one. What a great PR campaign! Only in the 1920s! (Or not.)
An example of this is the nationwide competitions for sculpture in Ivory soap, open to school children in certain age groups as well as professional sculptors. A sculptor of national reputation found Ivory soap an excellent medium for sculpture.

The Procter and Gamble Company offered a series of prizes for the best sculpture in white soap. The contest was held under the auspices of the Art Center in New York city, an organization of high standing in the art world.

Apparently, though, the Invisible Hand will occasionally produce good outcomes.
The leaders who lend their authority to any propaganda campaign will do so only if it can be made to touch their own interests. There must be a disinterested aspect of the propagandist’s activities. In other words, it is one of the functions of the public relations counsel to discover at what points his client’s interests coincide with those of other individuals or groups.
Here's the concluding paragraph of the chapter:
I have tried, in these chapters, to explain the place of propaganda in modern American life and something of the methods by which it operates—to tell the why, the what, the who and the how of the invisible government which dictates our thoughts, directs our feelings, and controls our actions. In the following chapters I shall try to show how propaganda functions in specific departments of group activity, to suggest some of the further ways in which it may operate.

The next 6 chapters deal with the application of propaganda to different domains. Chapter V is "Buainess and the Public", in which the domain is business.

Twenty or twenty-five years ago, business sought to run its own affairs regardless of the public. The reaction was the muckracking period, in which a multitude of sins were, justly and unjustly, laid to the charge of the interests.
Ha ha, "justly or unjustly", sounds like v0.5 of "fair and balanced".

Wow, I have been following Peter Barnes in "Capitalism 3.0" in stating that we went from an economy of scarcity to an economy of plenty (Capitalism 2.0) in the 1950s. This sounds like Bernays felt it was there in 1928. Of course, the Great Depression, which started the following year, followed by World War II, were quite a setback.

The result is that while, under the handicraft of small-unit system of production was that typical a century ago, demand created the supply, today supply must actively seek to create its corresponding demand. A single factory, potentially capable of supplying a whole continent with its particular product, cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda, with the vast public in order to assure itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable.
One of the odious aspects of the book is of course the blatant sexism. Can you say "double standard"?
Yet the beneficial effect of this branch may be canceled, if the wife of the president is involved in a scandal.
We get a little presaging of Chapter XI, "The Mechanics of Propaganda".
While the concrete recommendations of the public relations counsel may vary infinitely according to individual circumstances, his general plan of work may be reduced to two types, which I might term continuous interpretation and dramatization by high-spotting. The two may be alternative or may be pursued concurrently.


the principles familiar to the propagandist—the principles of gregariousness, obedience to authority, emulation, and the like.

We are (quaintly) reminded that Bernays was decades before the gnome of Chicago, Milton Friedman, and "a corporation's only concern is to increase profits for itself and for its shareholders".
The responsibilities are of many kinds. There is a responsibility to the stockholders—numbering perhaps five persons or five hundred thousand—who have entrusted their money to the concern and have the right to know how the money is being used. ... It has a responsibility toward the dealer which it may express by inviting him, at its expense, to visit the home factory. It has a responsibility toward the industry as a whole which should restrain it from making exaggerated and unfair selling claims. It has a responsibility toward the retailer, and will see to it that its salesmen express the quality of the product which they have to sell. There is a responsibility toward the consumer, who is pressed by a clean and well managed factory, open to his inspection. And the general public, apart from its function as a potential consumer, is influenced in its attitude toward the concern by what it knows of that concern’s financial dealings, its labor policy, even by the livableness of the houses in which its employees dwell.
I remember reading about the CEO of Dean Dairy, who resisted a huge salary and stock options because he felt they were immoral and would adversely impact inequality. I was reminded of that by this statement about the owner of Beach-Nut Packing Company, and its acquisition by Postum Cereal Company (Post?):
He absolutely controls the business and flatly stated that he would never sell it during his lifetime ‘to any one at any price,’ since it would be disloyal to his friends and fellow workers.
"Disloyal to his friends and fellow workers"??? Who cares! Greed is good! What a maroon!

Another formulation of how propaganda works on the subconscious:

The application of this principle of a common denominator of interest between the object that is sold and the public good-will can be carried to infinite degrees.
Again, here is something that seems really anomalous for 1928 - again, possibly because starting in 1929 came 10 years of the Great Depression and 6 years of WWII. Or maybe it is just pro-business propaganda - always popular.
Public opinion is no longer inclined to be unfavorable to the large business merger. It resents the censorship of business by the Federal Trade Commission. It has broken down the anti-trust laws where it thinks they hinder economic development. It backs great trusts and mergers which it excoriated a decade ago. The government now permits large aggregations of producing and distributing units, as evidenced by mergers among railroads and other public utilities, because representative government reflects public opinion. Public opinion itself fosters the growth of mammoth industrial enterprises. In the opinion of millions of small investors, mergers and trusts are friendly giants and not ogres, because of the economies, mainly due to quantity production, which they have effected, and can pass on to the consumer.

Chapter VI is titled "Propaganda and Political Leadership".

The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion. It is composed of inherited prejudices and symbols and clichés and verbal formulas supplied to them by the leaders.

Fortunately, the sincere and gifted politician is able, by the instrument of propaganda, to mold and form the will of the people.

Wow, foreshadowing of the day of Agent Orange and reality TV politics? Agent Orange is definitely a master of drama (if nothing else).
The political apathy of the average voter, of which we hear so much, is undoubtedly due to the fact that the politician does not know how to meet the conditions of the public mind. He cannot dramatize himself and his platform in terms which have real meaning to the public. Acting on the fallacy that the leader must slavishly follow, he deprives his campaign of all dramatic interest. An automaton cannot arouse the public interest. A leader, a fighter, a dictator, can. But, given our present political conditions under which every office seeker must cater to the vote of the masses, the only means by which the born leader can lead is the expert use of propaganda.
More cheerleading for propaganda:
It will be objected, of course, that propaganda will tend to defeat itself as its mechanism becomes obvious to the public. My opinion is that it will not. The only propaganda which will ever tend to weaken itself as the world becomes more sophisticated and intelligent, is propaganda that is untrue or unsocial.


“When the interval between the intellectual classes and the practical classes is too great,” says the historian Buckle, “the former will possess no influence, the latter will reap no benefits.”

Propaganda bridges this interval in our modern complex civilization.

Concluding the chapter, "clear understanding and intelligent action"? Ha ha, how about "fake news and gaslighting"?
Is this government by propaganda? Call it, if you prefer, government by education. But education, in the academic sense of the word, is not sufficient. It must be enlightened expert propaganda through the creation of circumstances, through the high-spotting of significant events, and the dramatization of important issues. The statesman of the future will thus be enabled to focus the public mind on crucial points of policy and regiment a vast, heterogeneous mass of voters to clear understanding and intelligent action.

Chapter VII is titled "Women's Activities and Propaganda". The 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote had just been adopted in 1920. Bernays credits the Women's Suffrage movement with making skillful use of propaganda. He also credits them with the 8 hour workday, something I had not heard before.

Ha ha, "music police, you are under arrest".

A music club can broaden its sphere and be of service to the community by cooperating with the local radio station in arranging better musical programs. Fighting bad music can be as militant a campaign and marshal as varied resources as any political battle.
The chapter concludes with a somewhat condescending endorsement of women in politics. I sure am glad I live in the future.
Just as women supplement men in private life, so they will supplement men in public life by concentrating their organized efforts on those objects which men are likely to ignore. There is a tremendous field for women as active protagonists of new ideas and new methods of political and social housekeeping. When organized and conscious of their power to influence their surroundings, women can use their newly acquired freedom in a great many ways to mold the world into a better place to live.

Chapter VIII is titled "Propaganda For Education". Kind of an odd chapter. Bernays is all in favor of education, but feels that teachers have a problem with self-image because they are so poorly paid. I'm glad he seems to feel that this is a sad state of affairs.

The public is not cognizant of the real value of education, and does not realize that education as a social force is not receiving the kind of attention it has the right to expect in a democracy.


In a democracy an educator should, in addition to his academic duties, bear a definite and wholesome relation to the general public.


The teacher finds himself in a world in which the emphasis is put on those objective goals and those objective attainments which are prized by our American society. He himself is but moderately or poorly paid. Judging himself by the standards in common acceptance, he cannot but feel a sense of inferiority because he finds himself continually being compared, in the minds of his own pupils, with the successful businessman and the successful leader in the outside world. Thus the educator becomes repressed and suppressed in our civilization. As things stand, this condition cannot be changed from the outside unless the general public alters its standards of achievement, which it is not likely to do soon.


It is possibly, by means of an intelligent appeal predicated upon the actual present composition of the public mind, to modify the general attitude toward the teaching profession. Such a changed attitude will begin by expressing itself in an insistence on the idea of more adequate salaries for the profession.

Chapter IX is titled "Propaganda In Social Science". Here's the opening paragraph.

The public relations counsel is necessary to social work. And since social service, by its very nature, can continue only by means of the voluntary support of the wealthy, it is obliged to use propaganda continually. The leaders in social service were among the first consciously to utilize propaganda in its modern sense.
Wow, where would be without the wealthy?

Chapter X is titled "Art and Science". We get examples of the art and fashion world manipulating taste and trends to further the goals of specific industries. He references another figure of the time that I had never heard of - Edgar Brandt - as a "famous French iron worker, the modern Bellini, who makes wonderful art works from iron". Per his Wikipedia page, Brandt was "a French ironworker, prolific weapons designer and head of a company that designed 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortars that were very widely copied throughout and subsequent to World War II. He also invented discarding-sabot artillery shells, and contributed substantially through his development of HEAT rifle grenades to the development of effective HEAT-warhead weapons for infantry anti-tank use. ... He also was a very fine artist." Who knew?

Bernays feels that the arts should do a better job promoting themselves. Of course, he thinks everyone should do a better job promoting themselves, because that is more business for him and his profession.

Why should not the museum, instead of merely preserving the art treasures which it possesses, quicken their meaning in terms which the general public understands?
On propaganda and science:
Propaganda assists in marketing new inventions. Propaganda, by repeatedly interpreting new scientific ideas and inventions to the public, has made the public more receptive. Propaganda is accustoming the public to change and progress.

Finally, the last chapter, #XI, "The Mechanics of Propaganda". I pointed out some places earlier where there were some preliminary examples of this. Not really that much more here.

There is no means of human communication which may not also be a means of deliberate propaganda, because propaganda is simply the establishing of reciprocal understanding between an individual and a group.


Fifty years ago, the public meeting was a propaganda instrument par excellence. Today it is difficult to get more than a handful of people to attend a public meeting unless extraordinary attractions are part of the program. The automobile takes them away from home, the radio keeps them in the home, the successive daily editions of the newspaper bring information to them in office or subway, and also they are sick of the ballyhoo of the rally.

Hmmm, I guess public meetings for commercial propaganda purposes are pretty passé, but town halls and political rallies seem to still be popular.

Bernays draws a distinction between newspapers and magazines: newspapers don't care if an item is propaganda or not, as long as it is news; magazines, on the other hand, are pretty much propaganda organs by design. Other propaganda modes:

The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions.


Another instrument of propaganda is the personality. Has the device of the exploited personality been pushed too far?


Yet the vivid dramatization of personality will always remain one of the functions of the public relations counsel. The public instinctively demands a personality to typify a conspicuous corporation or enterprise.

We almost, but not quite, made it out of the book without another condescending, sexist double standard anecdote.
There is a story that a great financier discharged a partner because he had divorced his wife.

“But what,” asked the partner, “have my private affairs to do with the banking business?”

“If you are not capable of managing your own wife,” was the reply, “the people will certainly believe that you are not capable of managing their money.”

Finally, here is the last paragraph of the book:
Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.

Well, I guess the main thing I learned from this book is that propaganda is not advertising. Advertising targets the conscious mind, propaganda is targeted much more at the subconscious mind. And I guess I will try to figure out how to better appreciate the invisible government that actually runs the world. [sarcasm]