Posted by: Dan | March 31, 2010

Manufacturing Consent and Manufacturing Dissidence: Abandoning Propaganda Models in Pursuit of Life-Giving Change

[Now that the smoke has cleared a little, I feel comfortable posting this here.]

One need not spend a great amount of time exploring matters related to economics, politics and the media before one becomes aware of the amount of spin that dominates the massive mainstream media corporations and their presentations of public events. This spin is certainly evident in the ways in which these corporations have presented the Olympic Games and those who oppose them. However, these (mostly successful!) efforts to manufacture consent have been well-documented elsewhere, so I don’t feel it is necessary to explore them in detail here.

Instead, I would like to comment upon the ways in which those who seek to counter the death-dealing economics of global capitalism (which is particularly evident when events like the Olympic Games occur) also buy into propaganda models of communication in order to attempt to manufacture dissidence. Of course, such efforts are probably inspired by good motives – after all, given the deeply rooted violence, exploitation and oppression that are connected to our current socio-economic and political ways of structuring life together, it is tempting to think that any effort to produce life-giving change is worthwhile. However, I would like to suggest that engaging in a propaganda model of communication, and thereby mirroring the activities of those whom we resist, is ultimately detrimental to our efforts to produce positive social change.

I will begin by providing two clear examples of the functioning of this model in the communications released by those who protested the Games. First of all, after the action that occurred on February 13th, and after the arrests that occurred that day, a public statement was made by those who claimed to speak on behalf of the protesters. In that statement, it was said that no members of the black bloc were amongst those who had been arrested. Now, I understand that this statement was probably made to try and protect those who had been arrested, but this statement was false. I won’t speak about anybody else who was arrested, but I know that this statement was false, because I was arrested that day, and I had participated in the black bloc. Further, given that I was arrested with black clothing, apple cider vinegar-soaked sleeves (which I much prefer to bandanas), ski goggles, and a black toque, it probably wouldn’t have been difficult for the police to convince the mainstream media of my involvement.

Secondly, after the action occurred, some of the organizers of the action released a statement stating that no physical altercations had occurred between bloc participants and bystanders. Again, I know this statement to be false, because I personally witnessed two such altercations – as did the CBC news cameras, and so the CBC was sure to comment on this statement, while also running some of the footage (of course, what they did not show was how the bystanders – given their jackets, I think they were security guards working for private companies – had provoked the bloc members, and they also did not show how other members – myself included – quickly diffused those two situations to prevent any harm from being done).

Unfortunately, by engaging in this dishonest propaganda model of communication, we end up damaging rather than furthering our goals. To lie about events – and then to be shown to be lying – is to risk losing our credibility. This is a serious problem, given that we are constantly trying to demonstrate the dishonesty of the political and economic powers we oppose. For many people, it is difficult to grasp this message, and so when we lie, we can very easily be written off and the narrative that those powers seek to impose upon us (i.e. that we are just assholes, misfits, or hooligans looking to fuck shit up, and not really people committed to the things we talk about) gains a lot more credibility in the public eye. Further, when we deny events that occurred, we lose all possibility of contextualizing those events. Thus, in the altercations that did occur on the 13th, the CBC was able to manipulate the footage they had to their great advantage (for example, the CBC footage left the viewer with the impression that other bloc participants were rushing in to gang-beat a fellow, when in fact they were rushing in to deescalate the situation!)… and the organizers of the action were left saying, “That didn’t really happen!” or nothing at all. Therefore, at the level of basic tactics, the propaganda model does not serve us well. Given the finances, technology, and man-power arrayed against us, we must understand that we will be found out if we lie.

However, there is a more serious underlying issue motivating my writing in this regard. It is this: by participating in the propaganda model of disseminating dis/information, we end up performing the same actions as those performed by the powers whom we oppose and we therefore end up becoming like them. The problem is this: motivated by a higher goal we end up sacrificing our higher values. So, even as we oppose the dishonesty of the powers-that-be, we end up doing so by practicing dishonesty – although we believe we do so for that sake of that which is life-giving, while they do so for the sake of that which is death-dealing. However, when we are willing to make these kinds of sacrifices, we must wonder what else we might be willing to sacrifice along the way. Here, of course, one cannot help but recall the example of the October Revolution and the lesson demonstrated on Orwell’s Animal Farm. If we act like those whom we resist, there is a good chance we will end up becoming like them.

Therefore, if we desire to pursue change that is genuinely life-giving, instead of simply continuing to perpetuate structures or models that are death-dealing, we must abandon the propaganda model and practice truth-telling. That means we must speak the truth about ourselves, just as much as we speak the truth about the powers (of course, this does not mean we volunteer information, snitch, or rat, but it means we need to think twice about blatantly lying to the public). So, if we engage in a certain action, it is up to us to take responsibility for that action. If we publically make mistakes, we must own up to them (without naming names, of course)… or if we do not believe our actions to be mistaken, it is up to us to try and demonstrate why this is the case, instead of simply denying those actions altogether. It is by these means that I believe genuine positive change can be produced.

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Responses

  1. did the bloc protest the paralympics?

    :)

    jude

  2. A group called Gimps Against the Games (GAG) did do some protesting but no bloc tactics were employed (cf. http://mediacoop.ca/story/3129 ).

    Actually, people who engage in black bloc tactics have done a lot of work over the last ten years to build credibility and alliances in the broader community of people who engage in things like protests. So, if they are requested not to attend an event, or if they are requested to attend and be available if needed, they have honoured these requests.

    For example, during the major rally/protest that occured during the Opening Ceremonies around 1500 people showed up, including a couple hundred people in a black bloc. The bloc was relatively subdued but when things started getting tense and the police started pressing the front-line, the Native Elders (who did a lot of organizing work during the Games) asked the bloc to come forward, take, and hold the line. This was a really good example of people employing diverse tactics working together respectfully for a common goal.

  3. Amen. Important, I think.


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