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"Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world" - Henry Kissinger

and yet...

"Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences" – Robert Louis Stevenson

Propaganda: weaponisation of words

In response to the impact of dozens of FT articles over the past 18 months…and a specific piece by Gillian Tett on 2nd February 2017, entitled ‘Should business people collaborate with Donald Trump, or resist?’

The Prologue:

A combination of words can evoke anything from blind terror to deep love…and that’s just when the listener is awake.  Put the listener to sleep and something far more dangerous becomes possible…obedience. 

Words are spells. In the mouth of a skilled hypnotist such as the late Milton Erickson, they can be balm for a troubled mind, body or spirit. In the mouth of a salesman, they are the means to get people to say ‘yes’ to something. In the hands of men and women of power, they are a means of galvanizing belief…and from belief…action. The consequences of this are governed by the ‘intent’ of the speaker, but more importantly…the ‘consciousness’ of the listener. How awake are we to the ‘intent’ behind the spells being woven, consciously or unconsciously, by the media and the self-appointed ‘elites’, who seek to get us to believe something and then act upon that belief?

There are many types of spell. A metaphor can be a thing of beauty if it triggers a journey of self-discovery. An analogy can be an elegant tool if it guides a person to new understanding.  The ‘joke’ of an observational comedian can delight as well as amuse if it points out an idiosyncrasy that we all recognize about ‘us’…but never voice out loud. On a mundane level, a pre-supposition is a convenient way of leading someone without the need to check every detail first – saying to a dinner guest ‘when we go through sit anywhere you like’ probably helps the evening flow better than asking each individual if they will be joining you at table or if they’d prefer to eat alone in the sitting room, or perhaps skip the chat altogether and leave with a doggy bag.

Most of the time we take all this for granted. Most of the time that’s just fine. Right now…watching TV…reading a newspaper…listening to an ‘expert’…unconsciously…is…in my totally non-humble opinion…as smart as putting your child’s education in the hands of a ‘religious’ or ‘philosophical’ school you’ve never visited. It may be OK, it may not be OK, but you’ll have no way of ever knowing what they are being ‘taught’ until they start presenting you with strange ‘attitudes’ that are now thoroughly ingrained.

Our politics and our media are toxic. Since my main paper of choice, and the other platform on which I share my thoughts, the FT, is a ‘liberal’ newspaper, the toxic spells I encounter most frequently are those of the ‘left’.  The ‘right’ have their own crack dealers but someone else is going to have to take them to task…I haven’t got enough hours in my day, or strength in my stomach to write at the Daily Mail as well.

Today it is the propagandistic use of the pre-supposition that I wish to highlight:

The FT has presented Donald Trump and his ‘deplorables’ as Nazis, Racists, Fascists, Misogynists and Xenophobes for the past 18 months. I have written countless pieces pointing out the absurdity of attacking the symptom rather than addressing the genuine concerns that underpin people's utter disgust with the status quo…which have largely been a waste of breath, at least as far as the ‘journalists’ are concerned – they have learned nothing.

What has changed recently – since Trump’s election – is a subtle shift from suggesting that Trump is a Fascist, to assuming that it is ‘commonly agreed’ that he is, and from there…attempting to ‘shame’ people into resistance. This ‘spell’ is increasingly obvious in the articles, patent in the comments sections, and is physically apparent on the streets of some US cities, where it is becoming dangerous to be a Trump supporter.

Irrespective of any agreement or disagreement with Trump, Clinton or Uncle Tom Cobbly - I am naming this as ‘propaganda’, and suggesting that if left unchallenged, it doesn’t lead anywhere nice.

What follows is a snippet from the aforementioned article by Gillian Tett, my comment, and then just a couple of the ‘energetic’ dialogues that this combination evoked!  You will notice my chosen antidote to the insidious usage of pre-supposition is an ancient spell consisting of an ‘observation’ followed by a ‘question’…devilish stuff…

But before we go there, here’s one from an old favourite of mine that might tickle your taste buds with the ‘taken for granted-ness’ of words:

“We still name our military helicopter gunships after victims of genocide. Nobody bats an eyelash about that: Blackhawk. Apache. And Comanche. If the Luftwaffe named its military helicopters Jew and Gypsy, I suppose people would notice.”

Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics, MIT


“A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a heated conversation between two American luminaries. One man, who I shall call “Richard”, has served a former US president, but now holds private sector financial roles — and opposes Donald Trump.

The other, who I will call “Colin”, is a chief executive who criticised Trump last year but recently decided to help the president.

In normal times, Colin’s decision to co-operate would be unremarkable: most executives take it for granted that this is their patriotic duty. Not now. “You’re acting like a collaborator!” Richard told him. “You’re legitimising Trump!”…

…It is easy to imagine a scenario where firebrands such as Stephen Bannon take control of policy; if so, this would take the White House down a path of nationalism, protectionism and militarism…

But it is also possible to imagine a scenario where men such as Mr Cohn and Mr Tillerson exert more power and work with Congress to enact sensible reform…

…anybody who pretends to know exactly what will happen is a fool; a bitter battle is raging inside the White House. And while this battle is under way it is critical that CEOs make their voices heard. The corporations might — just possibly — turn out to be the one outside voice that Mr Trump hears.

However, there is a caveat: if those CEOs do not use that voice powerfully, then further down the road the collaborator tag will be correct…” – Gillian Tett

The term ‘collaborator’ is frequently used as a reference to Nazi ‘collaborators’ – people who enabled, through intent or omission, the invasion of Europe and the imprisonment and slaughter of 6 million Jewish people, along with hundreds of thousands of Gypsies, and other people considered by their persecutors to be of genetic inferiority

My question to ‘Richard’, but mainly to you and this newspaper Ms Tett, is this: Are you suggesting that Donald Trump holds the same ideology, or has the same intentions as Adolf Hitler?


Reader S:

Quoting two opposing viewpoints doesn't mean they only endorse one. Did you even read the article??!


Yes. Very carefully.

Reader S:

I don't think you really did though. I guess I missed the section where the actual author or the Financial Times made the implicit leap that you did. In fact the author at the end of the piece said she supported the other guy called the "collaborator." You're just projecting your own worldview onto Ms Tett and the FT. 


Would the following sentence make any sense if you were talking about someone or something that you hadn't pre-judged as 'bad'?

…if those CEOs do not use that voice powerfully, then further down the road the collaborator tag will be correct.

Secondly - you haven't got the foggiest idea what my worldview is. 

Finally, given the amount of times the words 'fascist', 'xenophobe', 'racist' and 'Nazi' have been used by senior FT journalists in the 'Trump debate', and given that these words are often used to 'shame' people - as, I believe, in the case of the anonymous 'Richard'...what I am doing is asking the question. 

I am asking the question because the 'agreement' seems to growing in the media, and in comments sections, that it is perfectly OK to 'brand' someone, but it is not OK to question the validity of that 'branding', or even to question if the 'branding' is taking place. Please know that I am aware that promoting this 'agreement' may NOT be your intention here.  But to anyone who thinks it's OK, my stance is: not good enough. 


Reader T:

"The term ‘collaborator’ is frequently used as a reference to Nazi ‘collaborators”

Perhaps but as in your sentence the qualifier 'Nazi' is used in those cases. Try reading your post without the word 'Nazi' - anyone would stumble over the equation implied. 'Collaborators' is a far broader term as you yourself note. However I agree it is frequently pejorative (as it clearly is in the FT article) implying dubious cooperation judged by some standard of value - moral, political, patriotic etc. As Tett makes clear 'Richard' doesn't consider Trump legitimate, ergo cooperation is wrong in his opinion.

From your later post it seems that you are reacting more to condemnatory epithets from across the FT and from readers' comments than to Tett's article itself which only seems to endorse the 'xenophobic' epithet - a sentiment that is very widely shared - and a conclusion that those who get close to the Trump administration and conform their views to its policies will be laying themselves open to blame. The assumption that there will be blame flying around seems entirely reasonable, however just or unjust you may consider the blame to be. It doesn't imply that these CEOs will appear at a latter-day Nuremburg.

There will be plenty of contentious policies without Trump approaching anywhere close to genocide.


Very thoughtful points - thanks.

I do not believe that the cause of effective opposition is served by massive generalisation or demonisation. There is very little questioning taking place, very little seeking to understand, and ‘bucketfuls’ of bile and hypocrisy. E.G. Consider these words:

"We are a nation of immigrants, but we are a nation of laws"

"Our nation is rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country...

Illegal immigrants take jobs from citizens or legal immigrants; they impose burdens on our taxpayers...

That is why we are doubling the number of border guards, deporting more illegal immigrants than ever before, cracking down on illegal hiring, barring benefits to illegal aliens, and we will do more to speed the deportation of illegal immigrants arrested for crimes...

It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws that has occurred in the last few years... and we must do more to stop it."

Sounds a bit like Trump doesn't it? Except it's not - it's Bill Clinton from a 'State of the Union' address. You can see it here followed by a standing ovation from Democrats and Republicans in Congress. I wonder if 'Richard' was clapping back then?



I'll leave you with a link to a few thoughts from one of my heroes, the latest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the one and only Bob Dylan. I started to listen to him when I was 8 years old in 1963, which may explain quite a lot, but you’d have to ask my wife about that…


Such sweet irony - not

The Empire Strikes Back