04 January, 2012

Propaganda: Gentle Reader Series #2

Gentle readers:

Many of you may be legitimately wondering what the heck I mean by “propaganda”, and some of you may suspect that I am simply trying to portray people with whom I disagree in a negative light by using this term. You are right to be skeptical, so I need to begin by defining the term “propaganda”. 

First of all propaganda is much more than what we commonly call “persuasion”. A useful definition of propaganda is put forward by Jowett and O’Donnell (Jowett, Garth S., and O’Donnell, Victoria. What is Propaganda and How does it differ from Persuasion?” in Propaganda and Persuasion. p. 4):

“Propaganda is the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve responses that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.” 

Jowett and O’Donnell also provide us with sub-categories of propaganda:

White Propaganda – this propaganda “…comes from a source that is identified correctly, and the information in the message tends to be accurate.” (ibid., p.8.)

Black Propaganda – this propaganda “…is credited to a false source, and it spreads lies, fabrications and deceptions.” (ibid., p.9.)

Grey Propaganda – this propaganda “…is somewhere between white and black…the source may or may not be correctly identified, and the accuracy of the information is uncertain.” (ibid., p. 13.) 

The above sub-categories of propaganda are useful, because some propaganda is relatively benign (e.g. national symbols such as flags are used by government to induce patriotic sentiment towards one’s country), yet other examples can be downright destructive. 

Emotion usually plays an important role in forming an individual’s attitudes and behaviours (notwithstanding the rational responses we tend to espouse when confronted by a challenge to our cherished attitudes). It is therefore little wonder that we find emotional appeals as the basic building block of propaganda. Good propagandists appeal first to emotion, and then provide the audience with a plausible rationale to paper over that emotion. The more negative the emotional appeal, the stronger and more plausible the covering rationale must be. 

To illustrate my point, let’s examine an article published on the website, Renew America. The article is entitled “Homosexuality and the Church Crisis “, and is written by Brain W. Clowes. It can be found on this link:

http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/100424

This article is a typical example of contemporary propaganda, and it is a good example of how Catholics are currently employing propaganda against gay men. Ostensibly, the article is a defense of Catholic priests and their role in the “sex scandal”. On its way to making some dubious points in defense of priests, it makes a number of anti-gay claims.

Firstly, the article links gay men to pedophilia. This is done to invoke the emotion of disgust in the minds of the audience. Interestingly, the author is not satisfied to simply raise the emotion of disgust. He is also quick to give his assertions an air of scientific validity by quoting a number of scientific studies. As I will point out later, the author fails to draw valid conclusions from a number of the studies.

Secondly, the article presents the audience with a ready-made set of “scientific” reasons that buttresses a negative attitude towards gay men. Nothing in our society is more legitimating than science, and consequently, this article is littered with scientific titles, terms, scientific studies taken out of context, and pseudo-scientific studies inserted where necessary.

Most readers will not actually check each reference in the article to ensure that the studies which are cited in fact support the conclusion being drawn. The propagandist counts on this fact – otherwise why list studies that do not support your conclusions, if not to give your article the veneer of “truthiness”? Those folks who rely on such articles as a reasonable basis for their own anti-gay bigotry (after all bigots are only those folks without good reasons for their opinions), should not be judged too harshly for not checking the individual studies cited. In fact, the anti-gay propagandist is relying upon this common behavior.

This article is a great example of grey to black propaganda. Most of the sources are credible studies, however, the conclusions drawn are entirely invalid.

Lastly, Mr. Clowes’ PhD features prominently in the article, however, the fact that his PhD is in Civil Engineering is not disclosed in either the article, or on the Renew America website where it is printed. 

The anti-gay claims in the article are designed to support the alarming proposition that “…there is indeed a very strong link between male homosexuality and child sexual abuse.”

Please ask yourselves this question: if the scientific evidence was so clear cut that gays are overwhelming pedophiles, and they are a significant threat to our children, then why would secular courts and governments appear to be utterly unaware of this fact? Why would world renowned medical research clinics, such as the Mayo Clinic, clearly state that the studies referenced by Mr. Clowes in his article, in no way implicate gays as being disproportionately pedophiles?

Outrageous or extraordinary claims require credible evidence. As I will demonstrate - none is to be found in this article – notwithstanding the article confidently suggests the opposite.

Cheers…Martin

2 comments:

  1. Martin:

    Good definition of propaganda. However, then you went on to write an article of propaganda, the purpose of which is elusive to me at the moment.

    You are trying to diminish an article written by the Research Director of HLI, in part because, though he holds a PhD, it is in Civil Engineering and Systems Science. I think if I wanted someone to dig through reams of data to find a valid conclusion, I might like someone with those qualifications, and would find that his team leading skills from the Green Berets would not be a bad adjunct as well. What is your PhD in, and does it matter that neither of us has one?

    Apparently your reading skills are not up to snuff, Martin, unless of course, it is mine that aren't - a distinct possibility, as well.

    I thought I read the same article that you are trying to dissect (at least that is what it appears you are trying to do). Somehow you concluded that the article by Clowes is an example of black propaganda, and maybe if he wrote what you claim, it might be, though I guess being true kinda flies in the face of that maybe.

    Clowes examines data from the John Jay study mainly, and draws conclusions that even an idiot like me can grasp.

    The primary conclusion he makes is that Ephebophilia, or the sexual desire for adolescent boys, is a hallmark of homosexuality. This is very different from pedophilia, as you stated.

    This article is not in any way anti-gay propaganda. I do not see how you can figure that a male priest (or any other male for that matter) who takes sexual advantage of post-pubescent males has not had a homosexual attraction to that male and acted upon it.

    The Church is not against homosexuals, but against homosexual sexual activity, as it is against fornication, and all sexual activity that is not unitive and creative, and between a man and a woman who are married, such that their union is a trinity of the man, woman and Christ.

    I am disappointed Martin. I really thought you were going to write something better than this.

    Michael

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  2. Hi Michael,

    Today’s post is only the second in a longer series of posts. I will examine Mr. Clowes’ individual anti-gay claims in much greater detail as we go along. At this point I am simply setting the stage and defining my terms.

    I do not hold a PhD. in any discipline. I simply note that Mr. Clowes has no more expertise in the area of social science and psychology than any other lay person in these areas. I believe the lack of transparency about Mr. Clowes’ real area of expertise on the Renew America site is a telling sign that we may be dealing with propaganda. By itself, this is not definitive proof – simply a warning flag. In later posts I will examine the actual evidence Clowes’ presents in support of his anti-gay claims. You can then decide whether or not he has deliberately misrepresented the evidence in an attempt to manipulate your response towards homosexuals.

    For the record, I in no way condone the sexual exploitation of children – regardless of the orientation or disposition of the perpetrator.

    You claim that the Church is not “against homosexuals but homosexuality”. I will grant you that the Church takes great pains to make a hair splitting distinction between orientation and behaviour. I submit that this is a distinction without a substantive difference.

    Allow me to illustrate with an analogy: If I were to call for the criminalization of the practice of the Roman Catholic faith, I might justify this stance by claiming that it does not constitute discrimination against individual Catholics per se. I am simply expressing my disapproval of what Catholics do…not what they are.

    You would be correct to object to my stance by pointing out that an essential element of being a Catholic is the freedom to practice (or not practice) your religion. Criminalization of the activity amounts to persecution of the practitioner. The distinction between identification and behaviour is really an empty one. In practice, the distinction means very little to either the Catholic or the homosexual.

    Cheers...Martin

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