yoga Language and Thinking

Frames and Propaganda

Frames can be appreciated as devices that help us sample and present aspects of bigger pictures. A frame is real device that encloses a picture or selects a part of a larger picture. The view finder of a camera frames a photo to be taken. A good photographer frames a photograph with a sense of composition. The photo will be cropped and sized according to its final use. Paintings are placed on the wall and their display is considered to be an expression of taste and wealth.

Framed samples are appealing to humans and represent a fundamental strategy of coping with the profusion of events that occur in the real world. A photograph in a magazine or on a gallery wall is one selection from hundreds or thousands of images. Movie directors understand how to use successions of frames to present a story. Cameras are mounted on moveable platforms that allow shots from below, above, moving toward, moving away. The audience is guided by the director’s point of view to consider only some possibilities among many.

Language is also framed for presentation. Indeed, all media rely on framing devices to present selected samples of what is going on out there. A proud newspaper such as the New York Times has a tradition of responsible journalism and its writers attempt to report factual events truthfully. The front page of the Times is an important frame that is viewed internationally. Readers trust that the writers and editors have worked hard to use that frame responsibly. In contrast, the front page of a tabloid paper may reach a large audience, but readers should know that the contents of that frame are fictional and cannot be trusted.

Lakoff and others have used frames as metaphors for words and phrases used to create categories that direct and limit permissible discourse. While I admire Lakoff’s work and mostly agree with his social and political analysis, I tire quickly of his persistent use of the frame metaphor and believe he sometimes confuses content with form.  The advantage of understanding the frame metaphor is that it awakens interest in the semantic and pragmatic analysis of language.

It is important to understand that all words and phrases are limited samples. Humans are story tellers. Thinking is speaking. The main purpose of story telling is to persuade others that you are a good person and that they should agree with you.

It is important to investigate the pragmatics of language. All speakers and writers present a limited sample of all possible descriptions. Names artificially abstract objects and events from the contexts that give them meaning. Clever speakers and writers chose words and phrases to direct attention to their point of view and to advance their vested interests.

Professional propagandists have detailed understanding of the techniques of persuasion and control using language tools. They know how to direct and limit discourse and can imbed commands in polite language that influence the behavior of their audience. The goal of a propagandist is to develop a slogan that is propagated as a meme, infecting millions of minds. In each mind, an associative network of meaning is activated whenever the slogan is heard or seen.

The political strategists for the Republican party got George Bush elected by concentrating on slogans propagated through radio, television and printed media. Republican candidates would not engage in meaningful discourse. An observer could not decide if they were actually dumb, or just acting dumb on the advice of strategists. The Bush group was prolific in the production of slogans and succeeded in propagating a series of memes. For example, Bush cut taxes for the wealthy and claimed "tax relief" for all citizens. All citizens want relief from some burden or other and taxes are high on the list. A reasonable person would reduce spending so that the burden of taxes was legitimately reduced. But the Bush group were also big spenders and borrowed vast sums of money to finance their misadventures.

The real world consequence of “tax relief” was that the US government borrowed increasing amounts of money so that as of 2007 every man woman and child in the country owed at least $30,000, almost half to foreign investors. Also, large sums were borrowed from the pension savings of citizens that should have been invested and protected from political squandering. Concerned economists did not believe that tax relief was the work of heroes, but of reckless and dishonest politicians. As of 2007 about 600 million US dollars was spend destroying buildings and killing people in Iraq. This cost was cleansed of all moral wrongdoing by calling the misadventure a "war to defend freedom." The war was against "terrorists" but waged in Iraq that had not contributed to the terrorist attack on the World Trade center in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 attackers came from Saudi Arabia. Since the Bush family and Members of the Saudi royal families were friends and fellow investors, it was not socially appropriate to attack Saudi Arabia. A study of a Bush administration propaganda is now a prerequisite for the understanding of language framing as a tool of propaganda.

Many years ago, Chomsky described the merging of commercial interest with political agendas that conspired to control the public mind in the US and most other affluent countries. The media in the US achieves a biased mass consensus, despite a declared intention to present just the facts and to fairly represent all points of view. Chomsky wrote: "The guardians of history in every society are acutely sensitive to the faults of officially-designated enemies. The crude way to murder history is to lie. A more effective device is to set the bounds of permissible discourse. In coverage of contemporary affairs, the practice is a virtual reflex, as has been extensively documented. It is also standard in media critique, ensuring that unacceptable truths are banished from the mind. Thus, it is child's play to demonstrate the docility of the media with regard to US depredations (in other countries)…One factor is the power of business propaganda in the U.S. This is the country where the public relations industry was developed, where it is most sophisticated. It’s the home of the international entertainment industry, which is mainly propaganda. Huge funds are put into controlling the "public mind," …this is toward the capitalist end … there’s a huge expenditure on marketing, which is a form of manipulation and deceit... something like one-sixth of the gross domestic product goes to marketing. A large part of that is advertising. Advertising is tax-deductible, so you pay for the privilege of being manipulated and controlled."

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