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Tag Archives: propaganda

The Emperor’s New Truth

So there’s been another boat.

Never mind that Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison have been insisting for years that “the boats have stopped”, now, during a contested election that’s not all going the Coalition’s way, suddenly the people smugglers have started up again. Bit of a coincidence, that.

One might be tempted to suspect that perhaps the boats had not stopped at all. As all knowledge of such matters falls into the Coalition’s “on-water” black hole, there’s no way we would know. Reasonable people may entertain the glimmers of doubt about the information we’re being fed. But the Coalition’s latest announcement is not aimed at reasonable people.

On any reasonable metric, the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition government has been an abject failure since 2013.  On the domestic issues, whichever your primary priority – economic success, reduction of the deficit, unemployment rate, government spend as share of GDP, real wages, broadband speed, and even general standard of living – every metric has declined since Abbott toppled the Gillard/Rudd government. If you turn your attention to the “moral” issues – those that have no immediate, material impact on the national economy – the Abbott / Turnbull government is similarly unimpressive. From environmental protection, to action on climate change, to refugees and immigration – both in how we “stop the boats”, and in how we treat those who have reached our shores – Australia’s performance over the past three years has dropped from substantial to dismal. So why would people still choose to vote for the Coalition, with this litany of failures behind them?

The reason, of course, is that voters do not vote on the basis of performance and record. They’re voting on the basis of promise and expectation. But the promises of the Coalition don’t fare much better than their record of successes. Delving deeply into the government’s budget and forecasts, it’s reasonably fair to say that their entire policy platform rests on a single “innovation” – a $50bn tax cut for businesses.  In all other areas, they promise more of the same. More of the ineffective, expensive Direct Action plan – a plan which Liberal true believers still think is efficient, but which most of Australia has recognised as wasteful and well insufficient to the task. More attempts to implement the 2014 budget of cuts to health and education. More attempts to establish a co-payment by stealth, more attacks on Medicare, more invective directed towards those who haven’t been successful in acquiring one of the increasingly sparse jobs in our “exciting” economy. But thank goodness, no more of those juvenile “knights and dames”, so that’s okay.

For some, the pertinent measure of a good government is stability. For these voters, the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years were a debacle to be resolutely punished, and punished the Labor government was. It’s a good thing that the Abbott government is so committed to stability. Sorry, the Turnbull government. At least their policy platform is stable – it has barely changed since the 1950s, and the Coalition parties wouldn’t dream of proposing half-baked policy.

So if people aren’t voting on the basis of what the Government has done so far, and they’re not paying attention to what the Government is promising to do should it be returned, why then does Malcolm Turnbull stand a good chance of being reelected in his own right on July 3?

The reason is that voters are voting on the basis of a fiction. They’re playing a game of Fantasy Government in their heads and they’re voting for their imagined Good Government. Their vision of governance is informed by the established truths that attach to each of the major parties. For Coalition supporters, this might be the established truth that the Coalition is better at managing the economy and that Labor will put the country further into unsustainable debt. For Labor supporters, it might be that workers’ unions always act in the best interests of its members. Greens supporters cling to the belief that the party is above normal politics, and every action and position is taken on the basis of the best outcomes for the environment and social equality rather than grubby vote-grabbing. All of these established truths are at best open to debate, but to the true believer they are sacrosanct.

To someone with an interest in politics and attention to the actual facts and statistics, it can be eye-gouging to watch voters in critical electorates responding to voting intention questionnaires with platitudes about Labor’s debt and the Coalition’s savings. On this site and others, the usual suspects may be relied upon to always populate the comments section with their opinion on any political topic of the day, and their opinions are always the same and undented by being shown proven, empirical evidence that what they’re claiming just isn’t true.

It is well known that people seek out and pay credence to evidence and opinion that matches or reinforces their own beliefs. Confirmation Bias is a phenomenon recognised sufficiently to warrant its own term in psychological textbooks.  However, it doesn’t work alone. Recent research shows that attempting to debunk a political rumour – or an entrenched belief – may have the contrary outcome of making them stronger.  Possibly, this is due to the believer discounting the efforts of the debunker because of perceived bias. Once Fairfax media acquires a reputation as a left-wing outlet, nothing printed in one of its mastheads is likely to change the minds of a conservative voter and may instead reinforce perverse beliefs in the face of published evidence.

So it seems that propaganda exists in two phases. The first phase is the implantation of an idea. Think about it in terms of “brain ownership”: once you’ve acquired someone’s loyalty, it’s extremely hard to dislodge. Political strategists know this. There is strength in the approach of lying with impunity, in order to seed a belief in the understanding that it will become a new truth. Tony Abbott’s government was a master at this technique, but really it’s been a modus operandi for conservative politics for decades.

Once seeded, repetition is the fertiliser that helps it to flower. Repetition of an idea plays directly into confirmation bias, and every repetition makes it harder for a contrary idea to cut through.

Finally, once the idea has been seeded and watered and has taken root in the desired electorate, it is important to discredit all potential sources of contrary information with allegations of bias. This explains why Gillian Triggs has been represented as such a threat. Her empirical report into offshore processing camps had to be discredited, and the best way to do that is to taint the figurehead with allegations of bias. The Coalition succeeded in creating this impression, and from that point on any reference to her report simply reinforces the Coalition’s position of the necessity and tolerability of those camps.

This is why a boat has suddenly appeared on our borders for the first time in years. Logically, both things cannot be true: either the boats have stopped, or the people smugglers are still “trying our resolve” and sending the boats. But voters don’t think about it in this manner. The Coalition is having its cake and eating it too. For those who wish to believe the Coalition’s policies have been successful and should continue, the Boats have Stopped. For another part of the electorate, fear of the incoming hordes is the stronger motivator, and the news of a new boat reinforces that fear. Both things do not have to be true; one of these things simply needs to be accepted as true for the Coalition’s stance to be justified.

So how can a propaganda-driven New Truth be combatted by those with facts and data on their side?

First, it is important to be – and to be perceived to be – impartial. Opponents of the inconvenient facts will attempt to discredit them as biased. If possible, it is best to lead people to discover the facts on their own, rather than simply telling. Contrary to normal argumentative rhetoric, it may be most effective to find out first what sources of information would be regarded as acceptably impartial before presenting any facts at all.

A single instance of leading a horse to water may not be enough to make them drink. The second component of re-education is repetition. You can never allow a statement of New Truth to pass unchallenged. Much of the time this is a recipe for frustration: New Truth will regularly be spouted in the media and there is no immediate way to respond to this. But on a one-to-one basis, in daily communication with your friends, family and workmates, a response is possible – and indeed, the only ethical choice.

Whether you’re interested in the virtue of truthfulness and data rather than lies and misinformation, or you’re concerned for the future governance of the country, or if you just want to prevent the next generation being implanted with New Truth before they’re old enough to make up their own minds with the evidence, we must respond. We must do so carefully, without reference to the information resources we ourselves find so convincing. But respond we must. Otherwise the New Truth will live on to poison the next election – it’s probably too late for this one.

The Propaganda Machine

In recent weeks there has been much commentary about the formation of Bjorn Lomborg’s “Consensus Centre” within the halls of the University of Western Australia. We have been aggrieved at the profligate use of taxpayer funds during a “budget crisis”. We are offended, but hardly surprised, at the disbanding of the independent Climate Council, saving $1.5m at the cost of losing internationally-recognised expert climate change opinion, followed by a $4m grant to the Consensus Centre, whose methodology and outcomes are universally panned. We have been repeatedly shamed by our government in its statements and actions on the world stage in relation to climate change, and this latest move is simply the most recent in a long list.

However, the issue goes deeper than this. Beyond our anger at the heedless use of money and the slap in the face to reputable Australian scientists whose contributions are valued far more cheaply than an imported demagogue; beyond our shame at being led by people who not only deny the recognised scientific truth but who paint Australia (and the rest of the world) as misled fools; and beyond our bemusement that our government could lend support to, and expect support from, an internationally derided charlatan who is good at manufacturing numbers. Beyond these things is the undeniable fact that our government is spending our money in an attempt to lie to us more effectively.

The Consensus Centre is a propaganda machine. Nothing more, nothing less.

I have written before about the cruel bind in which the Coalition finds itself. It is in the unusual, perhaps unique, position of having been voted into power to rule over a people who disagree with its central beliefs. The outcomes of such a conflict are seen in the 2014 budget – a budget true to the Coalition’s ideology, but absolutely rejected by the vast majority of the Australian people. We see the conflict in a hundred big and little ways, from the attempts to squeeze pensioner entitlements to the risible knighthood for Prince Philip. We have seen it in the government’s attitude to climate change: a conflict which will only grow as the outcomes of climate change become progressively more undeniable, as the rest of the world leaves Australia in the dust on climate change action, and as Australia’s coal assets become progressively more undesirable.

Our government, in toto, does not believe in climate change. We are led by a Prime Minister who, recent avowals that climate change is real notwithstanding, still truly believes that “The climate change argument is absolute crap”. Tony Abbott presides over a government whose overriding principle is to promote and support the continued use of coal for energy, both as an ideological position and an economic imperative. Australia’s current economy relies absolutely on coal, and everything the Coalition has done since coming to power has simply increased that dependence.

For the Coalition, the imperative is clear. Put simply, there are only two possible ways to make sense of the government’s avowed acceptance that climate change is happening and humans are responsible, and its actions upon coming to government.

  1. The first possibility is that the government does believe in climate change and sees future climate action as inevitable. However, Australia stands to lose, and lose big, if it accepts this publicly and is forced into action. Reforging the Australian economy as a 21st century society is seen as far too hard, a preferable approach being to deliberately sabotage and delay consensus in any way possible. In this way it can support its own temporary position, granting two or more terms of government, notwithstanding Australia’s increasing reliance on fossil fuels. In this analysis, the short term benefit which accrues to Australia and to the current cadre of politicians will eventually and inevitably lead to dire outcomes for Australia and likely disrepute for members of the current government. The current government’s actions to date do not appear to indicate that they particularly fear disrepute.

  2. The second probability is that the government really doesn’t believe in climate change. It has chosen to accept the (well under) three percent of scientists who profess any doubts at all. It prefers to listen to economists and accountants and fossil fuel lobby groups, to Heartland Institutes and Peers of the Realm, instead of the vast weight of scientific consensus in Australia and abroad. If you don’t believe in climate change, the only position with integrity is to frustrate the creation of any kind of global, binding emissions standards. To long-time watchers, it is quite clear that this government does not believe in climate change. The Emissions Reduction Fund that Greg Hunt is so proud of was always going to be a success because, in the government’s eyes, it is not expected to address any real problems, only political ones.

Thus we see Australia’s obstructive approach to global standards and agreements. We see Tony Abbott dismantling and disbanding and defunding every climate change body over which he has the least power. It’s a rearguard battle, one that will be lost, and soon, but the Coalition can’t afford to recognise that or they will see that a large portion of their policy platform is bankrupt.

At the same time, they recognise that the real fight is not against science. The unstated position of the Coalition is that the science is wrong, that the world is wrong. The Coalition does not intend to fight on that battlefield; the science is not the main game. The main game, for any political party at any time, is the beliefs of the people and the fight for re-election.

Thus the Consensus Centre. The Centre is the Coalition’s next piece of artillery in the war for the minds of the people.

The climate change war of ideas in Australia has not yet been won.

A large proportion of Australians accept the truth of AGW, at least intellectually, but there remains a reluctance to accept the ramifications. Tony Abbott knows this. The anti-renewable lobby knows this and is relying on it.

“The politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.” That was Tony Abbott’s unguarded commentary at the same event where he made the infamous “total crap” comment. In the government’s eyes, the problem is not climate change, desertification, the loss of arable land, or global action to decarbonise the world’s energy and bankrupt Australia’s coal economy. In the government’s eyes, the problem is the people, and their stupid belief in “the global warming religion” (as Tony Abbott’s chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, calls it).

The real purpose of Consensus Centre is not science. It is propaganda.

Lomborg is being paid to manage the “tough politics”, not to actually influence the science of climate change. The saying goes “Lies, damn lies and statistics…”, and this might be doubly true for an institution such as Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre, the body on which UWA’s Consensus Centre will be modelled. “[Lomborg] is famous for using economic modelling as a mercenary gun for hire, saleable to governments and jurisdictions requiring climate inaction, climate distraction, or just straight-out climate crisis denial.

On the surface, Lomborg’s Consensus methodology seems reasonable, perhaps even visionary. On the basis that we cannot fix all the problems in the world, Lomborg attempts to prioritise the various issues across the globe in terms of best return on money invested. The Consensus Centre methodology is primarily an economic one, and it judges climate change to be a low priority. It does this on the basis that addressing climate change will be very expensive for comparatively little gain. If this were true, there would be some validity to Lomborg’s approach. Unfortunately, this result can only be arrived at through underestimating the impacts of climate change, underestimating the amount of benefit global action could bring to the problem, and overestimating the cost of these efforts. Lomborg uses the “locked-in” climate change that is currently unavoidable to argue that our efforts to address climate change will be largely in vain, deliberately ignoring the exponential increase in climate damage that will come about if we don’t address global warming. He also claims that the required cost of decarbonising the world economy is too expensive, and our efforts would be better spent addressing more modest issues.

The consensus methodology is specifically intended to apply economic modelling to produce a predetermined outcome. This is the antithesis of science. Science operates on the basis of disproving hypotheses, measuring real-world data in order to be sure that it matches the theory. In science, there is no room to adjust the parameters of reality to make the answers say what you want.

In statistics, on the other hand, if the result comes out counter to what you hoped, you have the ability to change the inputs, say by valuing people in different places with different economic worths.

Lomborg’s Consensus Centre methodology has no academic credibility. “Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjorn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.”

Fighting back without fighting

The Abbott’s government propaganda efforts are seeming more and more like George Orwell’s 1984. We are being led by a government that actively works to silence dissent; that seeks to criminalise protest; that has access to secret police and legislation that can effectively make its citizens disappear without trace, announcement or recourse; a government whose defining characteristic from well before it was elected was that it lied to the people it sought to govern. Now that same government is using taxpayer money to help set up a body with the primary purpose of lying to its electors more effectively.

When your government actively engages in deliberate propaganda, what can a concerned citizen do?

Some have proposed campaigns of civil disobedience. However, the March in March rallies, union actions, or currently the thousands-strong marches in protest of the closure of indigenous communities appear to have little effect on the extraordinary thick-skinned government. Following each rally, government ministers and conservative columnists pop up to say things like “Twenty thousand people marched, but that means four million people did not” and “These are union troublemakers, not ordinary people” and “We will not be swayed from what’s right [in our opinion]”. Does that mean that we should not march?

Obviously not. It may be too much to expect that the government would pay attention to the desires of its people when they go directly against Coalition ideology. But the one thing that currently separates this government from facism is our system of free elections. It is only at the ballot box that we can expect to address the wants of this government. So we must fight – not to change government policy, but to keep its failings in clear view. We must keep up the protests at the lies.

We must also be informed. We cannot rely on this government to give us the information we require to make effective decisions at the next election; in fact, this government relies on its people not receiving, or not paying attention to, real information on climate change, on the economy, on the budget and on asylum seekers. We must keep reading (and writing in) independent media vehicles such as the AIMN. We should bear in mind that most of what we hear from politicians and establishment media is liable to be designed to keep the populace misinformed and compliant. And we should keep our sources of primary information close to hand.

On climate change, to counter the “modelling” of the new Consensus Centre, there are a variety of primary sources. Skeptical Science is a vital resource. For those interested in understanding not just the truth of climate change, but the reasons behind ongoing climate change denial, this author can recommend the free online course Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, offered by the University of Queensland via ed-X. The course largely consists of a range of short online videos and interested participants can put as much, or as little, time into it as they prefer.

Whatever your preferred approach, however, just bear this in mind: your government is lying to you.

Who are the real whingers?

Photo: www.publiclibrariesnews.com

Photo: www.publiclibrariesnews.com

Australia is a wonderful country and we are blessed to live here.  We have challenges that need addressing but the heartening thing is that we also have the means and the time to do that.

What I do not understand is why our government is telling us we have a crisis and making people feel afraid.

They say we have a budget emergency and that the primary goal of this government is to reach a surplus.  What difference will a surplus make to your life?  It’s a number on a fiscal statement.

They say our debt is increasing faster than anyone else’s.  There is some truth in this in percentage terms (the only time they use percentages you will note) but it is because we are starting from such a low debt.  As I have said before, if I spend $10 this week and $20 next week, my expenditure has doubled.

To say our children will have to repay our debt, and to even give it a per capita figure, is a ludicrous spin deliberately designed to scare ordinary people.  No-one will come knocking on your door with a bill from the government accompanied by a foreclosure notice.  That’s not the way it works so why portray it that way?

We have been made to fear asylum seekers (though, sadly, it is they who should be fearful of us).  Some think they will impose their laws on us, some think they will kick back having a fat old time on welfare, some think they will take our jobs, and some politicians are concerned about them clogging up our roads and hospital waiting rooms.

Neither of the major parties have any credibility or decency on this issue.  They should be thoroughly ashamed for not condemning these cowardly, greedy, xenophobic, racist, selfish attitudes let alone pandering to them.

Tony Abbott also used fear in his campaign against the carbon tax.  Towns will be wiped off the map, lamb roasts will cost $100, the cost of living will skyrocket, pensioners will not be able to afford to heat their homes.  None of this eventuated, many low income earners were better off due to the compensation packages, polluters were contributing to the cost of their pollution and being encouraged to invest in more sustainable practice, demand dropped partly due to dirty industries closing down and partly due to more energy conscious behaviour, and investment in renewable energy was increasing.

The mining tax was a no no because it would halt investment in the country and we would go into recession.  That didn’t seem to happen either.

We were told the NBN had no cost benefit analysis and would go over budget and over time and would be a huge waste of our money.  It appears Malcolm’s is forging ahead without a CBA and unfortunately his inferior offering will be over budget and over time and slower than promised.

In the midst of this funding emergency we are able to find countless billions for roads that, contrary to promises in Opposition, need no CBA nor approval from Infrastructure Australia as a priority.

Tony’s slogans and campaign were designed to make his constituents fearful, and anyone who tries to disagree is silenced or called a whinger.

Well who are the real whingers?

The mining companies squealed like stuck pigs when asked to pay a small contribution to us for the right to make billions digging up our finite resources.

The polluters did not want to take any responsibility for the cost to society of their profit-making ventures.  Even though the most trade-exposed industries were given assistance to help transition to cleaner practices, they chose instead to mount a climate change denial campaign, rather than help in any way with co-operative action.

Ask developers to comply with environmental safeguards and listen to the complaints about paperwork.  No-one seems to remember the amount of paperwork that was thrust upon small businesses with the introduction of the GST.

The salary sacrificing and car lease companies had a huge dummy spit when the government had the temerity to ask that people justify their car business usage claims.  We can’t ask people to tell the truth…this tax dodge is an entitlement I tell you!

When the richest 16,000 superannuants were asked to pay a small amount of tax on anything they earned above $100,000 pa it was class warfare!  They had worked hard to avoid paying tax on that money and were entitled to reap the rewards of having good accountants.  The superannuation companies backed their cries saying “it would be too hard to administer”.  When I suggested to Joe Hockey’s adviser that it could be administered by the ATO through a simple tax return he said “that is not my area of expertise”.

Ask Gina to pay tax and she moves to Singapore.  Ask her to pay a decent wage and she imports slave labour.  Ask her to give you your inheritance and you may end up in court.

Any inquiry into media ownership laws will hear howls that echo around the world.  “Stalin”, “censorship”, “freedom of speech”, “attack on democracy”…..Rupert has an absolute tantrum at the very idea that the media should be held in any way accountable in presenting the truth.

The introduction of gambling reform laws had the hotel and gambling industry donating millions to political campaigns rather than have their profits hurt by addressing this most destructive social problem.

Financial advisers from big banks, like those exposed in the Four Corners program the other night, point blank refused to accept transparency and regulation.  Expecting them to disclose kickbacks or vested interests is apparently unreasonable.

Parliamentarians from both sides have been dragged kicking and screaming to repay claimed entitlements for personal pursuits.

This government is built on propaganda – slogans, ridiculous analogies, fear and lies.  Call me a whinger if you like, but it seems to me the real whingers are the ones who can pay for lobby groups.

 

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