Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Art of The Con

"The self-fulfilling prophecy is in the beginning a false definition of the situation, evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning."

- Robert Kenton, 1948

If you take information and strip it of context, you end up with propaganda. It is no different than manipulating visual perspective in a magic trick. Replay the magic act from different angles and you will eventually expose the trick. Likewise, restore context to information and you will always expose the propaganda.

Propaganda is the cocaine of partisan politics. It is an artificial rush that takes you up to the heights of "telling it like it is", only to slam you back down to the dirt-eating "we left something out". Without contextual information politics is a zero-sum game. It takes what it gives and it gives what it takes. 

There are 3,143 counties and county-equivalents in the US. Over six US presidential elections ago, an Australian immigrant named Rupert Murdoch observed that counties, not states, are the DNA of the US. There are still mainstream media outlets today that don't understand our national genetics. They talk about fifty red-white-and-blue states in time-wasting analyses. 

Murdoch astutely noticed that a vast majority of those counties see "red" when it comes to politics. By vast I mean, more than 90% of these counties are home to a red majority. A true color map would actually show more purple than red, as most of these counties are not 100% red. Be that as it may, the challenge for the Heartland was that Blue America had just been resurrected by centrist William Jefferson Clinton. Among the top reasons for this blue revival: it turns out trickle-down economics didn't actually trickle from Wall Street to Des Moines. The trickling was diverted and offshored to the brown fog of Beijing and Mexico City. The red Heartlanders who refused to wait forever packed their bags and decided to give Blue America a chance. 

Between 1992 and 2016 there have been seven presidential elections. In six out of seven the blues outnumbered the reds. In two of those six the reds were bailed out by the Electoral College. You can draw your own conclusions as to where that trend is headed.

Bucking the trend and with a little help from a red freshman class, Murdoch didn't just see a rise of blue Heartlanders marching to a promised land. In a glass half-empty vision he saw red folks being left behind. He saw the void, but more importantly, he knew the power of that void. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Murdoch bet on the wide open spaces and went to every county of the Heartland. A land abandoned by the new American majority, but not by the founding fathers. The large TV screen in the living rooms and bars of the Red Heartland was playing only one magic show: Fox News. 

Hillary Clinton did not lose to Donald Trump, she lost to Rupert Murdoch. The man with the largest share of Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox. A man who, in the ultimate twist of cynical fate, must fiducially consider the interests of Saudi Arabian prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the second largest shareholder of 21st Century Fox.

To be fair it is not that Fox News is a lone outlier in our fulfilled Orwellian prophecy of Newspeak. It's just that they are one of the worst offenders. Their kind of magic appeals to simpler folk, whose appetite for the truth has been exceeded by their need for work and dignity. These are not unintelligent Americans, certainly not any more or less intelligent than any other segment of the country. These are left-behind Americans, whose anger has been poked by the peddlers of half-truths.

Propaganda sells zero accountability. It cons the illusion where nothing is your fault. Your responsibility is magically removed from your perspective. This is not just a red problem by the way: this is a red-white-and-blue problem, a black-lives, brown-lives, and every other lives problem. The peculiar thing about human nature is that, barring a few outliers who literally believe in magic, most folks know that the magician is manipulating their field of vision. It's just that they can't resist the thrill of the illusion at a time when reality is dull to them. The temporary absolution from reality is comfortably numbing, the rush of quasi-truths leaves them craving for more.

For their part, the Saudi Prince and his Chief Information Amputator can't really be bothered with the problems of America's Heartland. In exchange for the feel-good experience from self-fulfilling prophecies, at the end of the evening the magician always takes your money home. 

"...Now every time that she performed,
Oh, everybody cried for more.
Soon all she had to do was step into the light,
For everyone to start to roar.
And all the people cried, you're the one we've waited for..."

-"Duchess" (1979)

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