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Tuesday
Jan192010

Stealth Propaganda

A friend sent this along and I had to post it. It comes from John Stossel's blog over at Fox Business. It would be comical if it weren't so disturbing... or is it the other way around?

Cass "Bad Hair" SunsteinAn obscure 2008 academic article gained traction with bloggers over the weekend. The article was written by the head of Obama's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein.  He’s a good friend of the president and the promoter the contradictory idea: "libertarian paternalism". In the article, he muses about what government can do to combat "conspiracy" theories:

...we suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies ... will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.

That's right. Obama's Regulation Czar is so concerned about citizens thinking the wrong way that he proposed sending government agents to "infiltrate" these groups and manipulate them. This reads like an Onion article: Powerful government official proposes to combat paranoid conspiracy groups that believe the government is out to get them...by proving that they really are out to get them. Did nothing of what Sunstein was writing strike him as...I don't know...crazy? "Cognitive infiltration" of extremist groups by government agents? "Stylized facts"? Was "truthiness"  too pedantic?

Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald explains why this you should be disturbed by this:

This was written 18 months ago, at a time when the ascendancy of Sunstein's close friend to the Presidency looked likely, in exactly the area he now oversees. Additionally, the government-controlled messaging that Sunstein desires has been a prominent feature of U.S. Government actions over the last decade, including in some recently revealed practices of the current administration, and the mindset in which it is grounded explains a great deal about our political class.

... What is most odious and revealing about Sunstein's worldview is his condescending, self-loving belief that "false conspiracy theories" are largely the province of fringe, ignorant Internet masses and the Muslim world.

It's certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive "false conspiracy theories" have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power:  namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, "crazy conspiracy theorist" has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.

It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein's desire to use covert propaganda to "undermine" anti-government speech so repugnant.  The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned -- rationally -- to distrust government actions and statements. Sunstein's proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is.  In other words, people don't trust the Government and "conspiracy theories" are so pervasive precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.

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Reader Comments (2)

This guy, like many others in the Obama Administration, is a dangerous loon. If given total power, it's no telling what these kooks would do to us.

January 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoPa

Those people that voted for change, I wonder what they think now.

January 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterelby.

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