How to Spread Revolutionary Knowledge

There isn’t any one right order. There are many that will work very well. In a complex evolving culture we can spread our revolutionary concepts, knowledge, information in many possible ways. We can’t know for sure how well any particular way will work. We can only rely on general principles — about how ideas and information spread through a culture.

So let’s go back to the original list and first put related chunks of information together.

There are a number of these chunks related to cooperation. Let’s group them under the heading of Cooperation:

It is natural for people to cooperate in almost all situations.

Cooperation can be taught.

Conflict and competition are not the same.

Competition is a form of cooperation.

Conflicts exist but they can be limited.

Next let’s group things having to do with fear and anger:

The specific things we fear have been learned and therefore can be unlearned.

We can learn to control anger and many people can learn to eliminate anger from their lives.

Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars.

Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools.

Learning:

Almost everybody can learn new things at any age.

Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught.

We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others.

Thinking:

Thinking requires feelings.

Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking.

Depression is dangerous, even deadly and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help.

Mania is dangerous.

Authority is dangerous.

Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps.

Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself

Force and threats are counter productive.

Some big statements:

Human nature is not fixed.

Perfection is an illusion.

Utility theory is grossly simplistic.

Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit.

Propaganda:

Repetition is very effective.

Propaganda works.

Truth has an advantage.

Sense of Justice:

People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning.

Influence and Control:

The superrich run things, or think they do.

No one controls anything.

At most we can have some influence.

Information leaks always.

Individuality:

Most people are not stupid.

We must take care of ourselves.

From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse.

Sociality:

Not everyone is greedy all the time.

Altruism exists.

In everything we do we are helped by others.

We are almost never alone.

Complex Systems:

Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time.

Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things.

There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system.

Evolution:

Everything evolves, only faster or slower.

Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture.

Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture.

Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution.

Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge.

Secrecy limits cultural evolution.

There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system.

Big changes can occur quickly.

Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical ideas make sense.

OK, so we have somewhat chunked the items on the list. Next we want to put these bigger chunks in some pragmatic teaching/learning order. It would seem that chunks like Thinking and Learning should come earlier on the list. Economics is mostly BS should come later, along with the other “Big Statements” since they require an understanding of Evolution. So should complex Systems and Evolution. Cooperation should occur near the middle. Fear and Anger should be near Thinking, probably before it. Propaganda should come just after Thinking.

There are other considerations besides ease of learning that must be considered in trying to determine a good strategic order for spreading our revolutionary ideas. For example the Economics is mostly BS meme maybe should be spread early because there is already a huge amount of information circulating in the population to that effect. We must remember that not everyone needs to understand all the details supporting the validity of some chunk of knowledge in order to accept and use that chunk of knowledge. You may not need to know and understand all the neurological details of how excessive fear and anger degrades your thinking in order to learn to influence your use of fear and anger. You don’t need to know all the details of how a car works in order to drive one.

Maybe the “Occupy” movements will prepare a large chunk of the population for learning about how propaganda works, or how our democracy does not presently work well, or how the powers that be can corrupt and co-opt popular movements. So then the population has been prepared for different revolutionary knowledge to go on top of what they have just learned from these Occupy movements.

So for now, I’ll leave the subject of the strategic spreading of our revolutionary knowledge. 

Strategic knowledge part 4

We continue with our list of strategic information.

Information leaks, always. No ideology can be 100% sealed off from the rest of the world. No secrecy regime can absolutely prevent leaks of information. No encryption system is 100% secure. The algorithms may be unbreakable with present day computers in a time less than billions of years. But mistakes by humans (or machines) cannot be prevented. They will occur with some positive probability. Simple mistakes can result in information being sent unencrypted; the identity of the encryptor is revealed; then keys and future communications are revealed. Nothing is perfect. Information leaks, always.

The importance of these facts is not just that revolutionaries cannot count on being able to hide from government agencies and corporations. The importance really goes the other way: Governments and corporations cannot hide what they do for very long; and ideologies cannot prevent the leaking in of information which is critical of, contrary to, and ultimately destructive of the ideology. Just as there are no closed systems — a closed system has no energy, resources, or information either coming into it or going out of it — except the whole universe, there can be no completely, 100% closed ideologies. So no matter how dreary, tyrannical, repressive, authoritarian an ideology, or governments, or corporations try to be, they cannot control the information coming in or the information going out. We always have hope of being able to change the system by spreading new information to people.

And as a practical matter it is completely absurd for any person or any group to think they could prevent the creation of new ideas or significantly limit the circulation of existing ideas among seven billion people. Modern technologies — world-wide travel, world-wide internet, world-wide cell phones — are speeding up the circulation of existing ideas as well as the creation of new ideas. Information not only always leaks, it often pours.

Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. I know someone who used to say “My keys are not lost. I just don’t know where they are.” I would say “If you don’t know where your keys are, they are lost.” But what she meant was “My keys are not lost in the sense that they are gone forever. I know they are here somewhere. I just have to find them.” Similarly almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Most people just do not know that they can. They go with the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well we can teach old dogs and we can teach almost all people new things regardless of their age. Some things like sports and playing musical instruments are easier to learn when a person is young. And the people who are the very best at these almost always start learning these physical procedures when they are very young. But older people can learn these things too if their body will still allow it. But mental things — new ideas, concepts — can be learned by older people, in many cases, more easily than by younger people because older people may have had more experience, more accumulated knowledge, on top of which new ideas and concepts can easily be accepted. This assumes their brains are healthy, that their brains have not deteriorated as in Alzheimer’s disease, and that they do not have beliefs which shut their minds to accepting new knowledge — for example being an adherent to a restrictive ideology or believing “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

This is important for the revolution because, as we have said, to make a revolution is to change people’s minds. If enough older people can’t change their minds to accept the revolutionary goals and methods, then the revolution will take longer than if most of them could. This has been long recognized. Many scientific revolutions were not complete until the old guard died off. (Read “ The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas S. Kuhn.) If enough adults can’t change their minds and accept new revolutionary knowledge, then the revolution will have to wait for new generations to accept the new knowledge.  

Force and threats are counterproductive. This has been analyzed in the post The Strategic Advantage of Non-violence.

Altruism exists. This simple fact wasted a lot of minds. The assumptions of classical economics  and utility theory were so strongly held that some people wasted huge amounts of time and mental energy trying to prove that altruism does not exist or that it is really just some special case of utility theory. Altruism exists. (Read the book “The Heart of Altruism” by Kristen Renwick Monroe.) This book shows beyond any reasonable doubt that there are some people who are willing to put their own lives at risk in order to help others. It is hard to understand what all the fuss is/was all about. It is obvious altruism exists. Almost all of us are altruistic at various times in our lives! Let’s start at the beginning. Consider childbirth. Many women have died during childbirth. I’m sure we could find some women who refused to have children for this reason. And most women are/were aware of this risk of death. The very fact that seven billion of us exist right now proves that almost all women were willing to accept this risk for the benefit of their unborn children. We even assume altruism by soldiers who die to save their buddies or who die for their countries. Everything we do has risks. Therefore any time we do anything to help others we are being altruistic. The existence of altruism is a fake problem. Most people in many, many situations throughout their lives cooperate with, work together with, and help other people without thinking about — much less calculating — benefits, losses, gains, or profits. They do it because they want to, because it’s more enjoyable, because they believe it is just a better way to live, at least in those situations where they do cooperate or help one another. People do not always cooperate. They do not always work together. People do not always help others. People are not always altruistic. But most people often are.

Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. These and many other human behaviors relevant for getting along with others, relevant to a fair and just distribution of human necessities — can be taught. They can be taught in that people can be shown how to recognize situations where more, or less, of these behaviors is better. The amounts of and the situations that are appropriate for all these behaviors vary from culture to culture. This proves they are mostly taught by our cultures. Thus in any particular culture we can change them.

We must take care of ourselves. Our body and brain warn us of various human needs — when we need food, water, when it’s too hot or too cold, of dangers, when we need sleep, when we need to be with other people. We actually take care of all these needs with the help of other people. nobody lives their whole life alone. Even hermits had to have been helped by other people from birth up until the time they become crazy enough to wander off into the mountains or desert to live alone. So if you want to think of a person taking care of his or her individual human needs as a form of selfishness, go ahead. But as I have just said this “selfishness” is almost always accomplished with the help of other people.

You may have noticed that many of the things we are talking about seem to be variations on a single theme — that we are social creatures — that almost everything we do, we do with other people. We are social creatures. But most emphatically this is not to deny the importance of individual autonomy, maximal individual freedom consistent with non-violence. (This does not apply to governments and corporations.) We must have both individuality and sociality. Neither can be allowed to dominate, or smother, or try to control or limit the other. The social groups we are a part of strongly influence individuals’ behavior. And of course individuals’ behavior strongly influence our social groups. Each continually influences the other through billions of feedback loops. Our cultures influence us. We influence our cultures. We don’t want our cultures to repress our individuality, our autonomy, our freedoms, our creativity, our development in any ways we may choose to go, all consistent with not harming others and our physical world, consistent with peace and non-violence. Nor do we want individuals or groups trying to bend our cultures, constrain our cultures in ways that prevent or limit maximal individual development for each individual person. We don’t want to have some individuals privileged over others or groups privileged over individuals.

The above may be too abstract. I am trying to think about and talk about in a general way that we must avoid two extremes. One is where the culture, the system works in some sense but it restricts individual freedom and individual development for the sake of a smooth running, or efficient operation of the system. The other is where individual freedom is given so much importance that violence is allowed against others and/or necessary resources are diverted from huge numbers of people. We want a system where there is both maximal personal individual freedom and where there is a just distribution of human necessities so that almost all individual people truly have an opportunity to develop themselves maximally all with non-violence and consistent with the limited earth’s resources.

For many people this will seem impossible. But that’s because they can think only in terms of our present very crude economic and political systems. But when you think about all the feedback loops between individuals and their groups, their cultures, we have to try to get to such a balance.

Let me put it more crudely. We don’t want a well running, efficient, stable system where almost all the people are well fed zombies. And we don’t want a system which seems to work fine for a small minority of people but in which there are all kinds of wars and violence and some people are grotesquely rich and others are starving  and the earth’s resources are being used up as if there were no tomorrow.

The remainder of the list is below. I’ll look at some of these in the next post.

In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We are almost never alone. Conflict and competition are not the same. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflicts exist but they can be limited. Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. We can influence social change. From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse (or better). Depression is dangerous, even deadly and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help. Mania is dangerous. Authority is dangerous. Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time. Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things. There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system. Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture. Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture. Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution. Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge. Secrecy limits cultural evolution. There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system. Big changes can occur quickly. Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical idea makes sense. The foundation is already there and when the new idea is heard even once the reaction in the vast majority of people is “Yes!, Yes! That’s exactly right. That is what we must do.”

Strategic Knowledge part 3

We are going through a list of facts, ideas, chunks of information that in so far as these are spread to and accepted by a large enough number of people, we will have made a revolution, we will have modified the goals of enough people, so that the goals of our political/economic system will be to provide a socially just distribution of the earth’s limited resources. Our goal here is to analyze these chunks of information so that we can determine which ones should be spread to whom first, etc. We want to develop a good strategy for spreading these ideas.

People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning. We have a strong sense of injustice, of unfairness, of cheaters, of freeloaders — people who are not doing their fair share in some cooperative human activity. This sense of injustice is a feeling we have when we discover someone cheating. We don’t like it. We will make various efforts, we will work to get the person to stop cheating and to do what he or she can to cooperate, to play, to work, by the rules. In extreme cases if the person won’t cooperate, we may force them to leave the game or the group. Almost everyone has this feeling. This feeling developed in humans through our evolution perhaps partially biological and partly cultural. That is, it may be partly coded in our genes and partly learned as we are raised in our culture. It doesn’t matter very much how we have come to have this feeling of injustice. Even if it is mostly genetic It, like most other behavioral traits, can be modified during individual development — it can be strengthened or weakened and it can be applied in different circumstances. From an evolutionary point of view we almost have to have it. Since we are a species in which cooperation is essential for our individual survival, we will have developed mechanisms to encourage cooperation and we will have developed mechanisms to discourage non-cooperation. So we have this feeling of injustice and thus the feeling for justice. We want justice in our dealings with other people. We don’t like cheating. We don’t like people who don’t do their fair share when they are able to, and we don’t like people who take way more than their fair share of what the group produces.

Since almost all people have this sense of justice, most people will easily agree with the goals of the revolution: Move towards a system which provides social justice — a system that provides basic human needs for every person, where basic human needs are food, clothes, shelter, health care, as much education as anyone wants,  the opportunity to work with others, peace, and maximal individual freedom consistent with non-violence — and all this compatible with protecting and sustaining the natural world.

And if the sense of justice is not strong enough in some people we can teach it.

Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit. First most economic theories start with false assumptions so we cannot rely on any of their conclusions. A large part of economics depends on utility theory as an explanation of human decision-making. And we have discussed how utility theory is not at all a correct description of human decision-making. In addition there are clear errors in the mathematics used in classical theories. The aggregate supply/demand curves do not follow from the individual supply/demand curves. (Read “Debunking Economics” by Steve Keen.) And modern economists still refer to these incorrect aggregate supply/demand curves. This is still taught to economics students.

And Milton Friedman said assumptions don’t matter. This has led economists to waste time and energy generating theories from absurd assumptions. (Google “Black-Scholes”, “Efficient Markets”. There are many others.) Then other people apply these absurd theories to decide how to invest or gamble with their and other people’s money.

Finally there is real world proof that economics is mostly useless: Consider the recent crash (2008) and following Great Recession, preceded by the housing/finance bubble, and then go back in history. There are booms and crashes at irregular intervals as far back as 5000 years ago. All a surprise to economists. All not predicted by economic theories. (Read “Debt: The First 5000 Years” by David Graeber.)

People need to understand that economic theories are almost totally wrong because there is great resistance to change by many people who believe in some of these invalid theories. Those who adhere to these theories limit their thinking to their particular theory. They refuse to consider any political/economic system outside their theories. They are trapped by their own ideologies. And they would like to trap the rest of us too. So it is critical that if we are to have the revolution we want we must not be limited in our thoughts by any of these economic ideologies. Management consultants used to say “Think outside the box.” It is critical for us to think outside of any and all economic theories. They are traps, they are “closed boxes”, they do not accept any information outside their theory, they are epistemically closed.

The superrich run things, or think they do. No one controls anything. At most we can have some influence. We see that our politicians, our representatives, our senators have almost all been bought and paid for by bankers, banks and other large corporations, the rich or the super rich. The rich and super rich contribute so much money to the politicians for their campaigns, and that money is used to buy advertisements from the corporate controlled (influenced) mass media that influence the people voting so they effectively have no real choices. It doesn’t matter who wins an election, the parties are essentially the same, we get the same results, the same policies, the same law changes to make the poor and middle class poorer (the 99%) and the rich (the 1%) richer.

So do the rich run things? Are the rich in control? Well they surely influence things. But they do not control everything. They cannot control everything. They cannot control our thoughts. They cannot control our communications with one another. They can monitor Facebook all they want. Information wants to be free. Information leaks, always.

They cannot control our behavior. This has been obvious for a long time. They pass unjust laws like alcohol prohibition and anti drug laws. We (the 99%) mostly ignore those laws. They themselves (the 1%) also pretty much ignore any laws they care to. There is not much respect for laws anymore. The whole system — laws/police/courts/punishment/fines/prisons — seems to be nothing but a cruel joke to harass, intimidate, control, the poor and middle class (the 99%) by the rich (the 1%). They can’t control us. They can only influence us in so far as we let them, only in so far as we buy into and accept the present system.

Many people have already been forced out of the system. The poor are only marginally in the system. The working poor are contributing by their work. Some of the non working poor are also contributing by their community activities, some by developing themselves in various ways such as education, developing artistic abilities. But many have been pushed to the edge of or out of the system — those who have no interest in educating themselves, those who may have an interest in developing themselves but who don’t have enough money and support to do so, those who see no prospects for “success” —  a steady job, enough money to marry and raise a family reasonably comfortably. We could go on and on here. The point is the system works well only for the rich and the upper levels of the middle class. And those for whom the system is not working have less and less incentive to participate in it. The system itself, in its deterioration, in its unpredictable future course, is promoting revolution. The system is pushing people to reject the system. If the 1% think they are controlling the 99%, they are seriously mistaken. They and the system they think they run are forcing people out, are forcing people to be way less than they could be. “Be all that you can be” says the military. Yeah. Right. The 1% don’t control shit. They don’t even know what they are doing. We must help them see that a socially just system will be better for almost everyone, even for most of them.

The present system is uncontrollable. The present system cannot be understood by any one individual. The same is true for any similarly complex system. The most we can hope to do is change our systems to ones that are more understandable and more controllable. The super rich do not run things. Nobody does.

It is important to understand this because if you believe the super rich run things, control everything, then you might believe change is impossible, that you are powerless, and you are less likely to work for a revolution. The truth is change is inevitable. Unexpected, unintended change is inevitable. But we can influence it. We must.

The remainder of the list is below. I’ll look at some of these in the next post.

Information leaks always. Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Force and threats are counterproductive. Altruism exists. Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. We must take care of ourselves. In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We are almost never alone. Conflict and competition are not the same. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflicts exist but they can be limited. Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. We can influence social change. From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse (or better). Depression is dangerous, even deadly and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help. Mania is dangerous. Authority is dangerous. Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time. Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things. There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system. Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture. Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture. Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution. Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge. Secrecy limits cultural evolution. There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system. Big changes can occur quickly. Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical idea makes sense. The foundation is already there and when the new idea is heard even once the reaction in the vast majority of people is “Yes!, Yes! That’s exactly right. That is what we must do.”

Strategic Knowledge part 2

We are going through a list of facts — chunks of knowledge — that will help people understand that we can make a non-violent revolution to transform our economic and political systems into more socially just systems. We are analyzing these facts to see where they come from, to see how they are related, to see what other information they depend on, so that we may put them in an order that will most easily allow their spread to a large enough chunk of the whole population. We analyzed some in the previous post. Here are swveral more from the remainder of the list.

Thinking requires feelings. Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking. We talked about the emotions fear, anger, hatred, disgust, and grief above. Emotions are changes occurring in your body in certain situations. In fear your heart beats faster, your blood is circulated to your muscles, your muscles tense, cortisol and adrenalin are secreted into your blood stream. This is the emotion — the actual bodily changes. The feeling associated with the emotion is your experience, your awareness, your sensing of these bodily changes. The feelings are inside you. Some of your emotional responses can be seen by other people since tensing of muscles can be seen by others, in particular your facial muscles, since each emotion has a unique pattern of facial muscles tensing and relaxing. (Read “Emotions Revealed” by Paul Ekman.) Your feelings can’t be seen by others. But they can be inferred from your facial and other bodily expressions. Feelings are stored away with all our memories. Some amount of the feelings we experience during some memorable episode are stored away with the other information about that episode such as where it was, when it was, who you were with, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes (if any), the pain (if any). The feelings stored away with a memory are recalled along with the other information when that memory is used in thinking. For example if you are in a restaurant looking at the desert menu and you see pumpkin pie listed and when you were a child you once ate too much pumpkin pie and got sick, you might have very bad feelings regarding pumpkin pie, and thus you decide not to have pumpkin pie for desert. So you used your feelings about pumpkin pie, stored in your memory from long ago, in the process of thinking about what desert you might want, and you decided not to have pumpkin pie. Your feelings helped you decide. Your feelings were necessary for your thinking. When a person has damage to particular areas of their brain that connect feelings and thinking, they cannot make decisions. They can go round and round considering all the possibilities, but they cannot decide, they cannot “make up their minds”. This is especially true for social decisions like whom to marry, whom to trust. (Read “Looking for Spinoza” by Antonio Damasio. One person with such brain damage spent more than a half hour trying to decide which of two possible appointment times was better.)

OK, thinking requires feelings. So what’s the big deal? There are several reasons why this is important to understand. The fundamental reason is that it explains many distortions of thinking, poor thinking, that lead to irrational and inappropriate behaviors. Another reason is that it used to be thought that the best thinking should be totally detached from emotions and feelings. And some people still try to eliminate all feelings from thinking. To actually do that would degrade their thinking. The amount, the intensity, of feelings associated with some thought can be too much or too little. The feelings associated with one thought can spill over and affect another thought. And there are phobias. Some people regularly have fears of some things way out of proportion to the actual danger: fear of spiders, fear of snakes, fear of heights, fear of closed spaces, fear of open spaces, some people are afraid to leave their house or apartment. There are many others. (Read “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, M.D. The whole book is about the multiple ways people use distorted and unrealistic thinking about themselves and the world.)

We need to understand how good thinking and poor thinking actually work so we can teach ourselves and others how to think better. Then our choices, our decisions, will be better. We will be more effective in our actions, in everything we do. We will be less susceptible to propaganda.

I have said that thinking with fear and anger degrades thinking; yet here I say feelings are essential for thinking well. The degradation of thinking comes because the amount or intensity of the feelings is wrong, or the feelings are associated with the wrong object. Anger toward one person often spills over to nearby people. So thinking with fear or anger really means having too much fear or anger or it’s directed at the wrong object.  

Repetition is very effective. Repetition is how we memorize things  — basic facts like 3 X 8 = 24 or Columbus is the capitol of Ohio. These are facts — chunks of knowledge, chunks of information we use in our lives to make decisions, to do whatever we do. We learn and remember these chunks of information by hearing them spoken or seeing them written over and over during our education in schools as well as everywhere else. We also learn and memorize chunks of information that are less basic, more speculative, incomplete, somewhat useful, misleading or just wrong. Some examples: people are selfish; people are greedy; buy low, sell high; speed kills; follow your gut; look before you leap, etc. There are thousands of facts, factoids, rules of thumb, aphorisms, etc. that we have learned, memorized, through hearing or reading them over and over again. Repetition is the process by which we learn, store, memorize these chunks of information, treat them as knowledge, and use them in thinking and making decisions in our daily lives. Most of the information we accept and use as knowledge we get this way. Only sometimes do we carefully assess the usefulness, the truth, the consistency, of new information we accept and use.  

Propaganda works. Propaganda works by repetition, by excessive generation of fear, anger, hatred, disgust, contempt, by demonizing individuals and groups, by simplistic thinking — thinking in terms of absolutes and binaries such as good and evil and rejecting gradations in between the absolutes. Another form of simplistic thinking propaganda uses is focusing on people rather than issues and policies — the advantages and disadvantages of proposed changes to our systems. The person becomes a symbol for the policy. The character of the person is substituted for the policy. Propagandists then glorify or demonize specific people rather than discuss the proposals the glorified or demonized people make. We can call this thinking in terms of people. It goes along with thinking in terms of excessive fear and anger.

Propaganda is made easier by mass media — which send information from a very limited number of sources to millions of viewers or listeners such as TV and radio. But propaganda can be sent through any media. One possible advantage of the internet as the medium of information spreading is the large number of possible sources should be harder for a small number of people to attempt to control. But on the receiving end, which sources will people listen to? If we group people by their main sources of information will we have millions of groups, or thousands, or hundreds, or three (like we had when there were only 3 TV networks)?

Propaganda also occurs in person-to-person conversations. Just talk to someone who has been propagandized by one of the TV so-called news channels.  The propagandaness (the essence of propaganda) is still there: distorted thinking, simplistic thinking, thinking with excessive fear and anger, thinking in terms of caricatures of people. There is no question that propaganda works. It clearly leads people to support war, promote war, go to war. It easily convinces people to vote against their own interests.

So should the revolution use propaganda? The answer has to be no for several reasons. It’s like violence. Implicit in our goals of social justice is the goal of eliminating or continually reducing violence in our societies and cultures. We also surely want to reduce propaganda as I have characterized it. We want to eliminate distorted thinking, simplistic thinking, thinking with excessive fear and anger, thinking in terms of caricatures of people. We want more and more people to see and understand how our social systems can be improved, to bring them closer to our goals of social justice. It would be absurd to try to teach and spread methods of better thinking by using distorted and simplistic thinking. As with violence, if we try to use propaganda to make a revolution, then we will not be successful, we will have changed very little.

Another reason we must teach, promote, and spread better thinking is to undo the neoliberal propagandistic thinking that has led to the present neoliberal dominance. How do we get our Democracy back? One way might be to teach better thinking — thinking without excessive or mis-directed fear and anger, etc. — so that a large enough number of people have learned to recognize propaganda and therefore reject it. This is not impossible. All it requires is spreading the necessary knowledge to enough people. Part of the revolutionary program, part of the revolutionary strategy, must be to spread the knowledge of how to avoid propagandistic thinking to as many people as possible, and ultimately to almost everybody in the world.

Truth has an advantage. This may seem to be an odd assertion. It used to be thought that all a scholar or scientist had to do was to discover the truth, publish it, and our societies and cultures would accept it and act accordingly, and all would be well. It’s not that simple. Philosophers still argue about what truth is. Truth is or was one of those absolutes that modernists or post-modernists rejected. Absolutes seem to be quasi mathematical concepts. They may not actually apply to everyday human activities. Some have embraced this idea to claim then that truth does not matter. And from that they have concluded that anything goes — lies and tricks are OK in trying to convince people about something — maybe even Milton Friedman’s stupid assertion that the assumptions of an economic theory don’t matter comes from this mindset. Absolute truth may not matter, but relative truth surely does matter. Relative truth is how accurate a theory is or how well it works, or how useful it is in making predictions. Relative truth is how well some rule of thumb, some fact, some factoid, some statement, some rule, some knowledge, some information actually works in the world for people using the information. And we have systematic ways of checking, testing, finding out how well some theory, statement, fact, idea, etc. works. It is called the scientific method. Some theories, statements, facts, ideas work better than others. By the methods of science we find out which are better or worse than others. Truth matters.

The remainder of the list is below. I’ll look at some of these in the next post.

People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning. Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit. The superrich run things, or think they do. No one controls anything. At most we can have some influence. Information leaks always. Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Force and threats are counterproductive. Altruism exists. Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. We must take care of ourselves. In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We are almost never alone. Conflict and competition are not the same. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflicts exist but they can be limited. Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. We can influence social change. From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse (or better). Depression is dangerous, even deadly and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help. Mania is dangerous. Authority is dangerous. Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time. Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things. There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system. Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture. Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture. Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution. Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge. Secrecy limits cultural evolution. There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system. Big changes can occur quickly. Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical idea makes sense. The foundation is already there and when the new idea is heard even once the reaction in the vast majority of people is “Yes!, Yes! That’s exactly right. That is what we must do.”