Jul 24, 2013

Motivation, Means, Ends, Propaganda,and Why Telling the Truth can be Evil

  Recently a topic came up where a person who makes their living as a blogger reposted a propaganda film supposedly issued by the North Korean government. He was pointing out that the (rather long, as such things go) film seemed accurate in its assessment of American culture, especially pop culture. I objected to this for two reasons: first, the vapidity of pop culture is no secret; and second, this is actually assisting North Korea's propaganda.
  At this point the writer, and others, disagreed stating (paraphrase) 'its true, so repeating it is OK,even good'. As I tried to explain why this is not the case the response was just a series of variations of 'but its true'. But does the fact that you are stating something that is true mean you are not performing or participating in an evil act?
  Of course not!
  Once more we must point out that just as you cannot separate means from ends you cannot separate motivation from means or ends. Robbing a bank to fund an orphanage is not a good act. Raising funds through charitable means for an orphanage is good, but doing so for the internal motivation of vanity is not. Quietly speaking to a friend about his gaffes during a speech and offering to coach him on public speaking is a good act; publicly mocking him and regaling others with tales of his failures is not a good act.
  But how can repeating well-known things be improper? After all,  'defamation' traditionally means 'to harm another by revealing facts not generally known', not 'commonly known things'. Again, we must look at motivation, ends, and means. Let's use an example.
  In the 1930's various journalists, religious leaders, and others warned of the rise of organized crime in America. They discussed the influence and power of these criminal groups and urged others to oppose their bribery and threats to weaken them and return control to proper civil authority. In these cases we know their motivations (they stated what their motivations were - improvement of civil society - and confirmed it with their actions), we know their means (public discussion of facts and the presentations of strategies to oppose crime), and we know their desired ends (reduction in crime and lawlessness). Their use of the facts was good because their demonstrable motivations, means, and desired ends were neutral or good.
At the same time the National Socialists of Germany were writing about how degenerate America was, pointing out that many of its urban areas were controlled by gangsters. They were speaking of the same facts as were the journalists and reformers in America - does this mean repeating the propaganda of the Nazis was good, or at worst neutral? After all, they were just telling the truth!
  But we know the motivations of the Nazis (they told us they wished to undermine American society and weaken it, which their actions confirmed), we know their means (public disclosure of the facts), and their desired ends (the political and military defeat of the United States). So we can conclude that the Nazi's use of the very same facts was evil because their demonstrable motivations, means, and dersired ends were evil or neutral. 
  Now we must speak of association and support. During the time period of the example people who repeated and spread the articles of journalists and activists about crime were seen as doing good by educating others while people who repeated the Nazi's articles about the same facts were seen as subversive and evil. Why? After all, even if the Nazis were enemies, they were right, weren't they? Members of the various National Socialist groups in the UK and USA weren't lying, were they? So why were they looked down on while others were winning civic awards for discussing the exact same facts?
  This is because of association and reputation. The journalists and such were doing good while the Nazis were doing evil. When you repeat the words of another in a direct manner you are associating your own reputation with their actions and words; you are basically giving your assent to not just the facts but also their motivations (if known), means and desired ends (if known). Whatever legitimacy, trust, or positive reputation you have is being imputed not just to the facts but also to the motivations (if known), means and desired ends (if known).
  Indeed, this is one of the primary goals of propaganda - to tell the truth in such a way that it defames the enemies of the propagandists while also adding to the credibility and positive reputation of the propagandists by having others repeat it. This is why propaganda posters have eye-catching art, why propaganda fliers include attractive, humorous drawings, why propaganda songs are as 'catchy' as possible, and why propaganda speeches come from the mouths of professional orators.
  And why propagandists engage in defamation as much as they do in slander and libel.
  Luckily, the vast majority of such information in the world is just information; an encyclopedia has no motivation other than to present data and no desired ends other than presenting data - repeating such information has no moral dimension other than what the person repeating it gives it. But we must still be careful of what we repeat and why.
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